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'Fury' enters new battle zone: The Oscar Race

By Tim GrayMovies - 20 October 2014 11:59 AM | Updated 11:59 AM

'Fury' enters new battle zone: The Oscar Race

Sony's 'Fury' arrives in theaters this week with critical approval and positive box office predictions. As for awards, the WWII drama's outstanding artisan work could enlist it in this year's race.

Writer-director David Ayer and his team -- including cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, production designer Andrew Menzies, composer Steve Price, editors Jay Cassidy and Dody Dorn, hair/makeup person Alessandro Bertolazzi, supervising sound editor, Paul N.J. Ottoson, and sound mixer Lisa Pinero -- are likely to stir up enthusiasm within the guilds, as well as from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' below-the-line branches.

Beyond that? It depends on the quality of the upcoming, unseen, films. But word of mouth on 'Fury's' below-the-line work will encourage voters in other guilds and AMPAS categories to see thefilm, which is an important factor during these months when voters are being flooded with viewing options.

Logan Lerman seems an outside possibility in the supporting-actor contest; Brad Pitt, despite a strong performance, may have too subtle a role for this year's crowded actor race.

After its US launch, 'Fury' makes its European bow 19 October as the closer of the BFI London Film Festival. The dates are similar to Sony's rollout last year for 'Captain Phillips', smart timing that gave voters an opportunity to see the film in advance of the fourth-quarter rush of contenders. 'Captain Phillips' scored six Oscar noms, including best picture.

Considering the current headlines, will a war film be a tough sell to voters? Sony needs to remind folks that they may have seen a lot of Yanks-vs-Nazis films, but this one is different, thanks to Ayer's meticulous filmmaking. Yes, it's about war, but it's also about fellowship, compassion and faith, and it keeps the adrenaline pumping as it weighs these matters.

Another possible advantage: World War II is part of Hollywood's DNA.

Exhibit A: Even before Pearl Harbor, studio toppers ordered scripts to stir up public support for the war. During the war and in the 70 years since, it's been the setting for a gazillion films, much more than any other war before or since. Exhibit B: Eight WWII movies have won best picture (and that's not counting 'The Sound of Music' and 'The King's Speech', where the war was background, but key to the plot). In comparison, the best-pic roster includes just three for WWI, two for Vietnam, one for the Civil War, one for the Mideast, and zero for endless other wars throughout history.

That familiarity could be a liability, but in the case of 'Fury', it's an asset. Audiences (and voters) bring immediate emotional connections to WWII, but not too much connection (latter is the case with depictions of Mideast conflicts). We don't need heavy exposition for WWII; heroes and villains are clear-cut. In addition, the look and battle methods of WWII seem more cinematic than most other wars (in the same way that boxing is for some reason more movie-friendly than skiing or tennis).

A trio of films this year -- 'Fury', 'The Imitation Game' and 'Unbroken', not to mention the pre-war 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' -- are reminders that there are still new ways to tell WWII stories. Like the heroes in 'Fury', the team is fighting for survival in a chaotic situation. But the Ayer force may save the day.

'Fury' opens in Singapore 22 October