Five years ago, filmmaker Tom Hooper and a little film called The King’s Speech took an unlikely path to awards glory, pulling the rug out from under The Social Network and landing four Oscars in total—including Best Picture and Best Director. Two years later, Hooper returned an awards veteran with an ambitious adaptation of Les Miserables, though he failed to recapture his prior Oscar glory with that musical misfire. But now, with the drama The Danish Girl—a story about one of the world’s first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery—Hooper looks on track to land right back in that Oscar sweet spot.
On paper, the film is already a solid contender. Hooper and star Eddie Redmayne are recent winners, it’s based on a true story, and the drama is coming at a time when transgender rights are at the forefront of our cultural discourse. But does the film have the goods to be a serious contender, or does it just have the right pieces a la Les Miserables? Well it’s very much a Tom Hooper movie, but it tackles its central subject with sincerity, compassion, and tact (read Matt’s review here). Plus it boasts two tremendous performances from Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, so yeah, it’s likely to be a formidable force on the awards circuit this season.
Redmayne is, by all accounts, tremendous in his role as Lili Elbe, bringing wonderful subtlety to the portrayal of a man transitioning into a woman and the toll it takes on his marriage. This isn’t a blatant “Give Me an Oscar!” performance where Redmayne breaks down into tears every 20 minutes—it’s much more nuanced, and the film is all the better for it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Redmayne is incredibly likable. It’s too early to start predicting winners for this year’s race, but at this admittedly early stage, I would be surprised if he didn’t land a nomination. If he does go all the way to a win, he’d be only the third actor in history to win two Best Actor Oscars back-to-back, following in the footsteps of Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy.
But as good as Redmayne is (and he is good), 2015 breakout Alicia Vikander steals the film as Elbe’s wife Gerda Wegener. This is as much her story as it is Elbe’s, and Vikander brings such strength and shading to a role that is traditionally relegated to “wife support.” Credit to Hooper and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon for laying the foundation for Gerda to be a character, not simply a source of emotional material for Redmayne to mine. There’s some chatter about whether Vikander will be submitted as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress, but this is undoubtedly a lead performance so I would have to cry major foul if Focus Features attempted a Supporting campaign—she has more screentime than Redmayne for goodness sake!
Again, this is very much a Tom Hooper movie so the direction isn’t drastically different from his approach to Les Miserables or The King’s Speech, except to say this feels like a much more delicate film, and Hooper’s vision is appropriately careful and quiet. He does back off his signature framing a bit, and the cinematography by Danny Cohen is painterly so a nomination for his work could also be in the cards. And another collaborator from The King’s Speech, composer Alexandre Desplat, returns with a score that compliments the film’s compassionate tone (it’s a little Downton Abbey meets Imitation Game), so a ninth (ninth!) nomination for Desplat is a possibility.
Overall, The Danish Girl left critics with a mixed-to-positive response, though I imagine the film will be a strong hit with the Academy voters looking for something more traditional. And, to be honest, even if the filmmaking itself is somewhat conservative, the subject matter is quite timely and important, so it’s not as slight a film as The King’s Speech, which means it could go over better with voters as a whole.
There are a number of different films that will populate the awards race this year for Best Picture, but The Danish Girl makes a pretty strong case for nabbing the “traditional Oscar fare” slot. And while Hooper didn’t make the Best Director Oscar cut for Les Miserables, he did land a DGA nomination for that film—a film for which his direction is largely responsible for its shortcomings—so it’s probably wise to count him among those vying for a Best Director nomination.
I hesitate to use the word “lock”, but Redmayne is a very strong candidate for Best Actor this year, and while the Best Actress field is looking stacked (a refreshing change of pace), Vikander is undoubtedly one of the prime candidates at the moment—it doesn’t hurt that she’s already had a banner year thanks to her breakout turn in Ex Machina. But again, if for some reason Vikander is submitted in the Best Supporting Actress category instead of Best Actress, I will flip a table.
Basically The Danish Girl is a very Oscar friendly film, and is pretty much a solid contender all around—Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, Costume and Production Design nominations are also possiblities. We’ll have a much clearer idea of how serious a candidate the film is in the next few months, but for now it looks like Tom Hooper is back in a very big way.
For more of my Oscar Beat dispatches from TIFF 2015, peruse the links below: