‘White Noise’: Will Oscar’s literary love affair extend to Noah Baumbach’s Netflix film?

Until recently, the literary pedigree of a motion picture could clear a path to an Oscar nomination and often a win. Best Picture champs such as “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) and “The English Patient” (1996) all began their lives on the page in works by Cormac McCarthy, F.X. Toole and Michael Ondaatje, respectively. This year, “White Noise,” Noah Baumbach‘s Netflix film based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel, is angling for such a Best Picture nomination.

The tradition dates back to the earliest days of the Academy Awards when classic novels were regularly adapted for the screen. The 1930s saw “All Quiet on the Western Front” (by Erich Maria Remarque), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (by Charles Nordoff and James Norman Hall) and “Gone With the Wind” (by Margaret Mitchell) walk off with the top prize. The subsequent decade was also fortunate for novelists, as adaptations of “Rebecca” (by Daphne du Maurier), “How Green Was My Valley” (by Richard Llewellyn), “Mrs. Miniver” (by Jan Struther), “Gentleman’s Agreement” (by Laura Z. Hobson) and “All the King’s Men” (by Robert Penn Warren) were all awarded Best Picture.

“White Noise,” which won the eco-friendly Green Drop Award at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, has surefire ingredients liked by Academy Awards voters, most notably the presence of previous nominees. Director and screenwriter Baumbach is a three-time Oscar contender for 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale” (original screenplay) and 2019’s “Marriage Story (picture and original screenplay). As for the cast, Adam Driver was recognized for both 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman” (supporting actor) and 2019’s “Marriage Story” (lead actor), Greta Gerwig is a three-time also-ran for 2017’s “Lady Bird” (directing and original screenplay) and 2019’s “Little Women” (adapted screenplay), and Don Cheadle earned his bid for 2004’s “Hotel Rwanda” (lead actor).

In the film, protagonist Jack Gladney (Driver) is a professor of Hitler studies at the fictitious College-in-the-Hill whose life is adversely affected by a train accident that unleashes chemical waste upon his town. With its cerebral style, DeLillo’s words are difficult to adapt and reviews of “White Noise” have been mixed, with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a rating of 7/10 or 74%. Its Metacritic score is 88 out of 100, indicating “generally favorable” reviews. The film’s performance on Netflix, where it will stream on December 30 after a short theatrical run, may decide its ultimate fate.

The Best Picture field is incredibly competitive this year, with much hyped films such as “The Fabelmans” clinging to the top spot in Gold Derby’s odds in light of tepid box-office and a Rotten Tomatoes ranking—86%—a good 10 points behind its closest competition, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Can “White Noise” break in? We’ll all find out on Oscar nominations morning, January 24, 2023.

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