“American Sniper” has all the right ingredients to be an awards-contender, including positive reviews, timely subject matter, a heroic true story, and an Oscar-friendly director (Clint Eastwood) and star (Bradley Cooper), but it hasn’t had much luck in the awards derby so far. Why not? And is there still hope for Oscars?
Though Eastwood won Best Director from the National Board of Review, the film was completely overlooked by SAG and the Golden Globes, and it’s only present in two lower genre categories at the Critics’ Choice Awards: Best Action Movie and Best Actor in an Action Movie (Cooper).
But the reviews so far have been positive: 70 on MetaCritic and 72% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. Its Metascore is on par with films that have performed better this awards season like “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” both of which scored 72, though those two films have significantly higher Tomatometer ratings: 81% for “Theory,” 88% for “Imitation.”
Rotten Tomatoes scores using a pass/fail system (fresh or rotten, with no distinctions in-between), which indicates fewer critics dislike those films, but their comparatively low MetaCritic scores (based on a more comprehensive scale from 0-100 points) indicate less passionate support, which is the key to scoring an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
The academy often thinks differently from critics, of course, but voters still tend to favor acclaimed films over those with poor reviews.
In that case, it’s interesting to note that “American Sniper” has significantly outscored another end-of-year war film, “Unbroken” (58 on MetaCritic, 51% on Rotten Tomatoes), which despite its more mixed reviews was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director (Angelina Jolie) at the Critics’ Choice Awards and still ranks among our top 10 Oscar contenders for Best Picture, ranking seventh with 16/1 odds, compared to “Sniper’s” 100/1 odds.
So is it possible we’re underestimating “Sniper” for Oscars?
Remember that in 2007, Tommy Lee Jones came out of nowhere to earn a Best Actor nomination for another film about the Iraq War, “In the Valley of Elah,” despite missing all major precursor events. So let’s not discount Cooper, who ticks the usual Oscar boxes: he plays a real person and physically transformed himself for the role (he gained 40 pounds).
Cooper is also a recent Oscar favorite, earning consecutive nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook” (Best Actor, 2012) and “American Hustle” (Best Supporting Actor, 2013), so academy members may already be inclined to consider his performance.
And if Cooper doesn’t draw them, director Eastwood certainly might. He’s a four-time Oscar-winner, including two victories for Best Picture (“Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”). Though the director’s output has been uneven of late – he received mixed reviews for “Jersey Boys,” “J. Edgar,” and “Hereafter” – “Sniper’s” positive notices indicate a return to form.
In fact, “Sniper” has received better reviews than Eastwood’s “Changeling,” which earned a Best Actress bid for his current directing rival Jolie in 2008.
“American Sniper” also claimed a spot on the AFI’s list of the top 11 films of 2014, which has proven to be a strong Oscar indicator. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, AFI cited seven out of nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture. And in 2010, AFI predicted nine out of 10 Oscar contenders.
Might the academy still welcome the film with open arms? Use our drag-and-drop menu to make your Best Picture predictions, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar categories, as well as Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and more.