Oscar contender ‘Life of Pi’ dazzles in debut at New York Film Festival

Life of Pi” unspooled for critics on both coasts this week in advance of Friday’s world premiere as the opening night selection of the 50th annual New York Film Festival. All found Lee’s lavish film version of Yann Martel’s 2001 best-selling fantasy novel to be a visual delight. Oscar nominated scripter David Magee (“Finding Neverland,” 2004) adapted this fanciful tale of a boy who survives a shipwreck only to find himself sharing the lifeboat with an orangutan, hyena, zebra and Bengal tiger. 

Among those weighing in already is Pete Hammond (Deadline) who calls the film: “An instant awards contender with real shots at Oscar nominations across the board in Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Music, Sound, Film Editing and Special Effects for a series of dazzling sequences that certainly will catch the eye of Lee’s colleagues in the Academy.” He adds, “there are also outstanding human performances to consider from Suraj Sharma as the 17-year old Pi and Irrfan Khan as the older version of Pi who tells his incredible tale to a reporter.”

Says Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood): “This movie will play for critics, audiences and awards givers all over the world. It has the right elements: globally popular literary source (7 million copies sold); heart-warming family story from an A-list Oscar-winning director (‘Brokeback Mountain’); and epic VFX. While ‘Life of Pi’ will be a leading contender for Oscars, the film’s technical accomplishments should certainly be recognized (especially ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button; D.P. Claudio Miranda), as well perhaps as actors Sharma and Kahn. Richard Parker deserves a nomination as well.”

For Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter): “The leap of faith required for Lee to believe this could all be put up onscreen in a credible way was necessarily considerable. His fingerprints are at once invisible and yet all over the film in the tact, intelligence, curiosity and confidence that characterizes the undertaking. At all times, the film, shot by Claudio Miranda and with production design by David Gropman, is ravishing to look at, and the 3D work is discreetly powerful. Mychael Danna composed the emotionally fluent score.”

Justin Chang (Variety) thinks it: “A gently transporting work of all-ages entertainment that melds a harrowing high-seas adventure with a dreamy meditation on the very nature of storytelling,” 

Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) says: “I think that Life of Pi is going to be regarded as a major visual feast by the visual-delight-for-the-sake-of-visual-delight crowd — the pure cinema geeks — and as a visually enthralling curiosity by the vast majority of the viewing public, as a non-starter by a significant portion of the family audience (i.e., as a bore by kids and their legendary short-attention spans) and as a respectable also-ran in the Best Picture contest.”

And Kris Tapley (HitFix) notes: “The film ought to play well for Academy types, particularly given the focus with which 20th Century Fox can campaign it to them. Best Picture and Best Director are certainly in play, though acting and writing nominations could be hard to come by. Nevertheless, recognition throughout the crafts, from cinematography to film editing, original score to sound fields and, of course, Best Visual Effects, ought to help it to a bountiful tally.”

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