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Can 'The Book Thief' steal into the Oscars derby?

By Tom O'Neil
By Tom O'Neil
Oct 28 2013 12:01 pm
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The Book Thief news

Once it opens in theaters on Nov. 8, we'll know better whether or not "The Book Thief" can steal into the Oscars derby. Only one major review is out so far – from Variety and it's good – but more are needed and the film seeks solid box office to establish its success. Certainly, there's strong early interest among movie-goers. The book version was on the New York Times Bestsellers List for 230 weeks.

The screen team has socko awards cred. "The Book Thief" stars Geoffrey Rush (Oscar champ for "Shine") and Emily Watson (Oscar nominee for "Hilary and Jackie" and "Breaking the Waves") and it was directed by Brian Percival (Emmy winner for "Downton Abbey"). And it's clear that they deliver a solid dramatic wallop. Performances are deeply felt. Every screen frame of the production is artfully crafted.

But it's unclear if all of that is enough to make it a top Oscars contender, as Variety's review notes: "This tale of Nazi Germany seen from a child's perspective translates into solidly engaging drama, albeit one that may not be starry, flashy or epic enough to muscle its way into the front ranks of awards-season contenders. Bolstered by the novel’s fans, the Fox release should ride solid reviews and word of mouth to midlevel prestige returns in line with such comparable medium-scaled WWII dramas as 'The Reader' and 'The Pianist.'"

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"The Reader" and "The Pianist" reaped top Oscars, of course, as have many other Holocaust-themed films. In Feb., 2012, the L.A. Times reported, "In the 52 years since Shelley Winters won a supporting actress Oscar for 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' there have been 20 nominated features — including foreign-language and documentary films — that treated the Holocaust from the perspective of its victims. Only two have gone home unrewarded."

But not all well-reviewed Holocaust movies break into the derby, leading us to wonder: Has Holocaust fatigue set in at the academy? In 2008, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" didn't nab any nominations and the only bid "Defiance" could reap was for its music score by James Newton Howard. He lost.

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