Oscar flashback: ‘The Revenant’ is the new ‘Dances with Wolves’

In an award season with more twists and turns than a soap opera, “The Revenant” has emerged as the frontrunner for Best Picture. This has confounded most pundits and experts with many commenting that they cannot think of a Best Picture winner like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s masterpiece. But, they might want to revisit 1990’s Best Picture winner “Dances with Wolves”.

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“Dances with Wolves” was Kevin Costner’s passion project. He produced, directed, and starred as Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War officer posted in the frontier. He befriends and immerses himself in Native American Culture while falling in love with a white woman (Mary McDonnell) who lives with the tribe. In one scene Costner, even eats a raw bison heart. Sound familiar?

“Dance with Wolves” won seven of its 12 Oscars bids: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Musical Score, and Sound (in 1990, the audio categories were Sound and Sound Effects Editing). It also contended for Actor (Costner), Supporting Actor (Graham Greene), Supporting Actress (McDonnell), Production Design and Costume Design.

The Revenant” is also nominated for 12 Oscars and overlaps with “Dances with Wolves” in nine categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, Production Design & Sound Mixing.

“The Revenant” is also contending in Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. “The Revenant” lacks the Screenplay bid (and eventual win) of “Dances with Wolves.” However, it is important to remember that “Dances with Wolves” was a heavily narrated film with long stretches of scenes explained as Costner’s character wrote in his journal.

The Globes awarded each film with three awards. Both won Best Drama and Best Director. ‘The Revenant” also picked up Best Actor (Drama) and was nominated for Score. “Dance with Wolves” took Screenplay and was also nominated for Actor (Drama), Supporting Actress,and Score. Both Hardy and Greene were snubbed but ended up picking up Oscar nominations.

And both “Dances with Wolves” and “The Revenant”  won the Directors Guild of America award. 

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“Dances with Wolves” faced tough competition at the Oscars from Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” which scored six nominations; Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Actress (Lorraine Bracco) with a win in Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci).

Also in the running was “The Godfather: Part III,” which lost all seven of its Oscar bids; Picture, Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Supporting Actor (Andy Garcia), Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, and Original Song (“Promise Me You’ll Remember”).

Neither of those films was considered a great technical achievement in filmmaking. That proved to be their undoing in their attempt to overtake “Dances with Wolves,” which contended both above and below-the-line. Likewise, the main rivals to “The Revenant” —  six-time nominee “Spotlight” and five-time contender “The Big Short” — are character-driven films.

Can “The Revenant” match the “Dances with Wolves” Oscar haul of seven?

It is the frontrunner to win four races: Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Cinematography. And it sits within striking distance of upsets in four other categories — Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing — over frontrunner “Mad Max: Fury Road.” 

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Photos: “The Revenant” (Fox); “Dances with Wolves” (Rex/Shutterstock)

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