Are we underestimating ‘Sicario’ as an Oscar contender?

Sicario Emily Blunt Benicio Del Toro Oscar predictions 13579086

Last weekend, Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” opened in limited release to stellar reviews and solid box office ($390,000 in just six theaters, a per-screen average of $65,000). The film, which competed for the Palme D’or at this years Cannes Film Festival, stars Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent who joins an elite task force which seeks to end the escalating war on drugs at the US/Mexico border. With a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 83 on Metacritic, the film should do well when it opens wide on Oct. 2. 

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Not enough has been said about the film in regards to awards potential, probably due in large part to its violent content and subject matter. Yet there are several categories in which “Sicario” could prove a factor come year-end, chief among them Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro. As Alejandro, a mysterious hitman whose motives are never entirely clear, the “Traffic” (2000) Oscar champ steals every scene he’s in, so much so that a sequel has been announced which will focus on his character.

Del Toro has twice competed in this category: once for “Traffic” and again for “21 Grams” (2003). He’s currently ranked in 9th place by our experts with odds of 33/1, but expect those numbers to rise in the coming months if the film continues to do well at the box office.

With veteran lenser Roger Deakins behind the camera, a nomination for Cinematography is a real possibility. Deakins is long overdue, with 12 nominations and no wins, including Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” (2013), as well as bids for “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Fargo” (1996), “Kundun” (1997), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007), “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “The Reader” (2008), “True Grit” (2010), “Skyfall” (2012), and “Unbroken” (2014). With its majestic landscapes and inventive use of night and heat vision photography, the film could once again place Deakins in the running for his first win.

Film Editing and Sound categories could also be a factor.

Cutter Joe Walker received his first nomination for “12 Years a Slave” (2013), and could receive his second for his deft handling of the films many sequences of action and suspense.

Alan Robert Murray and Bud Asmen, who won Sound Editing both last year for “American Sniper” and for “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006), should benefit from the academy’s love of explosions (the two also competed together for “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006), “Space Cowboys” (2000), and “Eraser” (1996); Murray received solo bids for “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989) and “Ladyhawke” 1985)).

Re-recording mixer John T. Reitz, who won for “The Matrix” (1999) and was nominated for “American Sniper,” “Argo” (2012), “Flags of Our Fathers,” “The Perfect Storm” (2000), and “Days of Heaven” (1978), should also find himself in contention along with his Sound Mixing team.

And don’t count out composer Johann Johannsson, who received his first nomination last year for “The Theory of Everything” and could find himself back again for his pulsating work.

A tougher category to crack could be Best Actress for Blunt, who currently sits in 10th place with odds of 40/1. It’s always hard for an actress to get nominated for an action film, yet if Sigourney Weaver could get in for “Aliens” (1986), there’s no reason to dismiss Blunt’s chances.

Josh Brolin, meanwhile, may have a hard time securing a Supporting Actor bid against the flashier Del Toro. As the leading commander of the squad, the “Milk” (2008) nominee hasn’t cracked our experts top 10. Ditto Villeneuve, who’s still building his profile amongst the elitist Directors branch.

Oscar experts’ predictions:
‘Spotlight’ now leads for Best Picture; ‘Joy,’ ‘Steve Jobs,’ ‘The Revenant’ tied for second

As for Best Picture, its hard to say at this point if it stands a chance at breaking through. However, with at least seven other possible nominations, it’s even harder to count it out completely.

Make your Oscar predictions beginning with Best Supporting Actor at the bottom of this post.  You could earn a place of honor on our leaderboard and a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Oscar nominations).

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Photo: Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt in “Sicario.” Credit: Lionsgate

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