“Into the Woods” leapt into the Oscar race joyously on Saturday night when it debuted to loud cheers at the DGA Theater in New York, dispelling all rumors that it was another disastrous movie adaptation of a Broadway musical following recent disappointments by “Jersey Boys,” “Nine” and “The “Producers.” (All three won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Perhaps it was good that “Into the Woods” lost that race to “Phantom of the Opera” in 1988?)
“Into the Woods” whipped up such passionate huzzahs from the audience that it’s obvious that it has a strong Rooting Factor – thus it’s a real contender for a Best Picture nomination, plus lots of crafts bids (costumes, production design, makeup, sound mixing) and at least one acting nom: Meryl Streep, who, curiously, competes in the supporting category even though she’s billed above the title.
Meryl will certainly be nominated — she owns this movie — but the Big Question is: Can she win? Her playfully fiendish witch casts a magic spell over viewers who cheer on her every dastardly deed and we can’t help but be surprised a bit. It’s easy to forget that Meryl is such a damned good singer. We heard hints of her crooner chops in “Mamma Mia!” and “Postcards from the Edge,” but not much more. In “Into the Woods,” she is in full diva form, her voice booming through the dark forests as she spins up into the air in a flurry of whirling wind and sparks as an orchestra swells.
Bravo! Meryl’s grand musical finale is the film’s emotional peak. “The Last Midnight” is one of those big, anthem songs that knocks your block off – just like “I Dreamed a Dream” in “Les Miserables,” which earned an Oscar for Anne Hathaway, and “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” in “Dreamgirls,” which reaped a chunk of academy gold for Jennifer Hudson.
Yep, Meryl’s already won three times (“The Iron Lady,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Kramer vs. Kramer”), but she can make a good case for needing one more. Katharine Hepburn holds the record for most victories among actors (four) and, hey, isn’t Meryl at least the equal of Kate? Or her superior? Meryl has her beat in terms of total nominations – 18 to Kate’s 12 (which was once a record). Several years ago Meryl won her third Oscar by not being shy about reminding voters that she was overdue to prevail again – that it had been nearly 30 years since her triumph for “Sophie’s Choice.” In the ruthless realm of Oscar campaigns, she shouldn’t be shy again.
Her role has one drawback – the cartoonish nature of a fairy tale witch. Voters usually want roles with more snob appeal and gravitas. But Heath Ledger managed to win for his grinning, villainous Joker in “The Dark Knight,” right? Or does that not count because voters responded sentimentally in the aftermath of his tragic death?
Calm down, Kate Hepburn fans! If Meryl does tie Kate’s Oscar record, Queen Kate will still rule in one regard. All four of her victories were in lead: “Morning Glory,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “The Lion in Winter” and “On Golden Pond.” Only two of Meryl’s were in the top slot: “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady.”
BELOW: Watch the Q&A discussion with the cast that was held after the DGA screening.