What If Les Miz Isn’t Earthshaking?

A few days ago a Tom O’Neil-fed notion about Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables becoming a “monster” Oscar sweeper crept into the conversation. Okay, maybe. But a couple of nights ago a counter-notion was implied (i.e., not firmly asserted) by a fellow who knows a Les Miz contributor. The notion is that it might be more of an acting vehicle thing (particularly benefitting Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway) than an overall Oscar fireworks thing. A solid, admirable, workmanlike job but that’s all.

This is joined in my mind with observations…reminders, I mean…from Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil as well as Glenn Kenny on yesterday’s Oscar Poker that the Les Miserables material is familiar and classic and not exactly thrilling in and of itself, and that the stage musical is over 25 years old and quite traditional and retro-defaulty by today’s standards, and Tom Hooper‘s innovation of having the actors sing live on the set is (this was a Kenny riff also) doesn’t necessarily mean that the film will work splendidly. Live singing may seem to some like an exciting new approach to shooting movie musicals, but what will finally matter is whether or not Les Miserables works altogether…whether the entire working mechanism harmonizes in a way that inspires “wow, that was truly exceptional!” or “that was an entirely respectable rendering of a classic musical that was all the rage in London and Broadway back in the ’80s.”

If the latter impression dominates and Les Miserables becomes merely one of the Best Picture contenders instead of (according to O’Neil’s maddeningly coy tipster) possibly the Best Picture contender, then you’ll have an uncertain and perhaps even mysterious Best Picture race on your hands — an egalitarian race without a frontrunner or heavyweight contender, a competition among jacks and knaves and outliers without a big gorilla (or gorillas) that everyone’s looking to beat.

I fully expect, mind, that many of your typical 62 year-old white male Academy members will default to Les Miserables because of its traditional, classical bones and humanist aspirations and because of its (presumed) showiness and those (expected) emotionally grandstanding performances, blah blah. But if it finally settles in as a highly respectable venture rather than a revolutionary knockout, the stage will be set for some kind of Best Picture street fight.

Les Miserables is the new favorite among the Gold Derby contributors….a sudden “massive shift,” in the words of Tom O’Neil.

  • tyjagi

    Who cares? Just as long as it’s a good movie that’s all that matters.

  • lbeale

    If ever a musical practically cried out to be opened up onscreen, this is the one. This will not only be a huge hit, the previews make it look like it’s really good.

  • EdHavens

    Screw Les Miz. Let’s get Chess on screen already!

  • roquentin

    tyjagi: Thanks for continuing the long-running and tiresome tradition of HE commenters’ artistic puritanism regarding Oscar talk. You do realize that Jeff is more or less able to earn his living because he’s invested in and writes about the Oscar horse race, right? And that A LOT of decent to great movies would never be made each year if not for the prospect winning an Oscar for their respective production company/studio/distributor? Take away the Oscars, take away the end of the year Oscar talk, and the fall movie season will be not-so-curiously devoid of ambitious human dramas. I understand that the quality of a film precedes the Oscar commentary, but you and the other Holden Caulfield reviewers need to let it go.

  • Thom Phoolery

    I take a massive shit on that “massive shift”. Battleship is still the frontrunner.

  • tyjagi

    roquentin: cool story, i just missed the part where that’s my problem. Then get another living, not my problem. Not like he’s earning less than minimum wage doing roadwork during the night shift. He sits behind a computer and blogs his ideas. Not even a writer, less than roger Ebert and the peter travers. Ok, so the movie isn’t winning an Oscar…the point being? And take away Oscars and no good movies would get made? HA!

  • roquentin

    My point wasn’t that it’s “your problem”, which is a stupid narcissistic way of looking at it. It’s that you clearly have little to no idea to what extent the Oscars contributes to studios’ willingness to take risks on less than surefire genre fare. Not that “no good movies” would get made, but that less of them, and perhaps significantly less, would be risked if the Oscars didn’t exist. And that, if you come here and read Jeff’s writing, you can drop the fucking puritanical attitude regarding Oscar talk, cause a) it’s not going away, and b) it’s stupid to think Jeff can or should whittle his site down to “just talking about the quality”.

    But what’s the point? You’re a guy (or girl) who thinks Jeff’s on the lowest rung of the movie writer’s totem pole, and you nonetheless spend your precious time commenting anonymously on posts you didn’t have to read in the first place.

  • tyjagi

    roquentin: Jeff, is that you?

  • tyjagi

    Oh yes, let’s make Cabin in the Woods to win some Oscars, Blue Valentine, Oh, I’m so sure PTA wanted to make The Master to win some Oscars, especially after losing for Blood. Hey, Ted made $200 million dollard, let’s wrap a campaign around it for some Oscars! Hey, Baz wants to make The Great Gatsby, maybe if we spend $100 million, then convert it to 3D, we’ll get some Oscars!

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Oscars, but all this build-up for unseen movies is disgusting.

  • Zach

    Musicals only work if the singing is bearable. My ears still haven’t forgiven me for Emmy Rossum in Phantom, and I think they’ll quit altogether if I watch Sweeney Todd again. If Anne Hathaway’s awful wailing from the trailer is any indication, I think I’ll bring an iPod to the theater and play Iron Maiden every time a song comes on.

  • Jack Razor

    Damn Crowe looks good badass in there. Love the Fleur-De-Lys

  • Bob Hightower

    Fortunately, I saw the trailer, so I don’t have to see this movie. Trailers are great for letting us know which movies to avoid.

  • Bob Hightower

    Orson Welles did a fine radio miniseries of LES MISERABLES when he was very young. Stay home and listen to that.