“Carol,” which opens Friday in limited release, is one of the best reviewed films of the season, scoring 96 at both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Todd Haynes directed and Phyllis Nagy adapted Patricia Highsmith‘s 1952 novel “The Price of Salt,” in which a housewife (Cate Blanchett) falls in love with a store clerk (Rooney Mara). It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May to raves and won the Best Actress award there for Mara. It then played to acclaim at the New York filmfest in September and should be a frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race by now. But, shockingly, it isn’t.
As of this writing, only two of our 22 experts — Michael Hogan (Vanity Fair) and Christopher Rosen (Entertainment Weekly) — are predicting it to win Best Picture. And with only 13 of the other 20 experts predicting it to even be nominated, its overall odds are 12/1. That leaves it sitting in seventh place to win the top Academy Award.
Yet, we are predicting it to reap Oscar bids in seven other categories — Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Production Design and Score. And it is a strong contender for Cinematography and Makeup & Hairstyling as well, being ranked sixth in both those races.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the film follow-up its Gotham Film Award and British Independent Film Award nominations with wins from the New York and Los Anglese film critics and National Board of Review.
With so much Oscar-friendly talent both in front of and behind the camera, “Carol” has the potential to be this year’s come-from-behind, dark horse challenger in a number of races. Let’s take a look at the fields where “Carol” is most likely to contend and evaluate why it might be the most underestimated contender of the year.
If Haynes is to be considered a threat for the Best Director prize then Best Picture may roll right along with him as the two awards are often given in conjunction. But its below-the-line strengths are what make “Carol” a real threat for the big win. Before it’s even nominated in Best Picture, “Carol” could amass nine nominations. And with 10 in total, it could have the broadest support and be undeniably a threat to win it all.
It’s impossible for one to laud the below-the-line accomplishments of a film without giving credit to the director. With “Carol,” Haynes brings each element — the music, the camera, the script — together to present a singular vision. Never before has a Haynes feature film been so expertly guided, a sign that perhaps he is now truly worthy of his first Best Director nomination. That’s right, although his name is familiar to even the most casual Oscar observer, Haynes has never been nominated for the award even when his films were recognized in other fields. And in a season dominated by two sides of a coin — one being category stalwarts like Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell and Quentin Tarantino and the other being newcomers like Lenny Abrahamson, Cary Fukunaga and John Crowley — Haynes sits squarely in the middle as someone both respected within the industry and overdue for a first nomination. The narrative couldn’t be better if he directed it himself!
The safe bet is on Brie Larson in “Room” but how much of that is based on the idea that it’s too soon for Blanchett to win again? She won Supporting Actress in 2004 for “The Aviator” and Best Actress two years ago for “Blue Jasmine.” As the title character in “Carol,” she delivers a reserved and controlled performance, a complete 180 from her work in “Blue Jasmine.” The notion that it is too soon to award Blanchett again is not rooted in fact. Of the 13 actresses to have won multiple Oscars in the lead category, two (Katharine Hepburn and Luise Rainer) did so in consecutive years and four (Oliva de Havilland, Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson and Jodie Foster) won only three years apart.
Best Supporting Actress
Though the Golden Globes has deemed her to be a lead, Mara is listed in supporting on the SAG Awards ballot. She has been the frontrunner in that Oscar category since winning at Cannes (which does not distinguish between starring and featured roles). As the naive Therese Belivet, she delivers her best performance to date, eclipsing her Oscar-nominated turn in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
This marks the first screenplay for Nagy, an acclaimed playwright who adapted Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” for the stage. Blanchett had appeared in the 1999 film version of that novel. Other Highsmith works to come to the screen include Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” in 1951 and “The Two Faces of January” last year. While Nagy faces fierce competition from Aaron Sorkin (“Steve Jobs”), Nick Hornby (“Brooklyn”) and Charlie Kaufman (“Anomalisa”), it’s time a woman broke into the boys’ club.
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Frequent Haynes collaborator Edward Lachman was nominated for his work on “Far from Heaven.” That film has a different texture but is thematically in line with “Carol” in the way they both gaze at mid-century women maneuvering through a male-dominated society. In “Carol,” Lachman’s camera works similar to Burwell’s score, plays a game between interior spaces and exterior places, showing the women as they appear through doorways and windows, often sitting on the side of the camera’s frame rather than in the center.
Best Costume Design
“Carol” is a nice fit for a branch that traditionally recognizes both fantasy and historically-set films. Sandy Powell is a leader in her field, having won three of her previous 10 Oscar bids. She was nominated for her work on one previous collaboration with Haynes, “Velvet Goldmine” but not for another, “Far from Heaven.” She could also contend this year for “Cinderella,” which featured Blanchett.
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
With only three nominees, this is a tough category to crack (and predict too). While most prognosticators will be looking at the tricky accomplishments of “Black Mass” and “The Danish Girl,” one cannot ignore the meticulous detail taken to fit the characters of “Carol” firmly in the 1950s. “Carol” is an exquisite production from top to bottom and its beauty is evident even in something as fine as a stroke of blush across Mara’s cheek.
Best Production Design
This branch loves to nominate fully realized period pieces. Judy Becker was nominated two years ago for recreating the 1970s in “American Hustle.”
Though he’s never been nominated for an Academy Award, composer Carter Burwell’s filmography is littered with prestige pics including “True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Adaptation.” In 2011, he won an Emmy for his work on the critically acclaimed miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” also a mid-century, feminist tale directed by Todd Haynes. In “Carol,” his score underlines the forbidden love of Carol and Therese by giving movement and sound to the temptations and truths living inside the women’s souls. Period pieces and romances tend to fare well in this category, considering recent nominations for “The Theory of Everything” and “Anna Karenina.”
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