“Captain Phillips” is having a stellar maiden voyage, taking in $25 million on its opening weekend. It has also been smooth sailing with critics, with an 83 on Metacritic. At the helm is the acclaimed Paul Greengrass who got a surprise Oscar nomination for “United 93” in 2006. Manning the deck in front of the camera is a beloved industry veteran, and two time Oscar champ, Tom Hanks.
“Captain Phillips” really shows that no-one can do a true story on film like Greengrass. It has the frenetic pace of an action film with the character moments and realism of a documentary. It builds the drama and, despite a slightly too-long running time, doesn’t drag in the way that “Zero Dark Thirty” did last year. It’s an accessible movie, while being based on the true struggle of an American hero. That gives it an aura of importance that Oscar voters tend to look for, see “Argo” last year.
So a film with these credentials and obvious appeal to the academy should have a great position in the Oscar Best Picture stakes. It does look firmly positioned to do great with nominations, but currently no GoldDerby expert or editor is predicting it to win picture or director. The biggest problem on the horizon for “Captain Phillips” is another film that could be taking the wind out of its sails. That movie is “Gravity,” which made $43 million last weekend (in its second week) and has landed on 96 at MetaCritic, leading to stronger buzz. It also has an acclaimed director in Alfonso Cuaron with respected Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney starring.
The problem is all of the “Captain Phillips” strengths are either matched or eclipsed by “Gravity.” In many ways they appeal to similar voters. Both are heart-pumping thrillers that immerse you, with populous appeal and artistic acclaim. “Gravity” is by no means unbeatable in the Best Picture stakes, but it’s going to be hard for another artistic thriller to overtake it. As the season rolls on maybe the “Gravity” hype loses oxygen and the seas clear for “Captain Phillips,” but at the moment it’s on the back foot.