Oscar spotlight: ‘Downsizing’ is Alexander Payne at his best

Can “Downsizing,” which debuted to great acclaim at the Venice film festival, make a dent in this year’s Oscar derby? At the helm is writer/director Alexander Payne who is one of the most reliable Oscar contenders of the past 15 years. His last three films have all scored him Oscar nominations for Best Director: “Sideways” (2004), “The Descendants” (2011) and “Nebraska” (2013). All three films also received Best Picture nominations. The two of those films that Payne helped write (“Sideways” and “The Descendants”) won Payne the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. He is the only person to win multiple Oscars for writing this century.

His new film, which is due out Dec. 22, follows Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) who undertakes an irreversible procedure to become five inches tall in a miniaturized community with less financial pressure. While that sounds like an unusual concept for an Oscar contender, remember that “Birdman” was about an actor launching a Broadway show while being haunted by his old superhero film persona. And “Her,” a 2013 Academy Award winner, was about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

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Downsizing” taps into the quirky journey of middle aged self-discovery that has so successfully appealed to the appetite of Oscar voters in other Payne works. The film also takes on pertinent issues such as global warming, overpopulation and sustainability. This should make the film even more Oscar friendly.

So, “Downsizing” has the themes and pedigree to be a real Oscar contender this season. The biggest problem for this film’s award hopes is, ironically, size. It is not as small as “Nebraska,” which earned Payne a Best Director bid. That black and white independent film had a passionate group of voters cheering on the little engine that could. “Downsizing” is also not the Oscar Goliath that was “The Descendants.” That film marked Payne’s return to cinema after a seven-year hiatus and entered the Oscar race as a Best Picture frontrunner; it lost to “The Artist.”

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Considering Payne’s pedigree and the film’s merit, “Downsizing” should not be counted out especially in a Best Picture race that can have as many as 10 contenders

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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