Could ‘True Detective’ have been an Oscar player if it were a film?

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I don’t watch a lot of television, honestly. Most of my time is filled up with movies…for obvious reasons. Every so often though, a show catches my eye, and True Detective was one of those. Eight episodes later, I think I saw an all time great TV series. Since I’m a film guy though, it got me thinking about the awards chances of the show, particularly if it had been one long movie (lets say three hours instead of the eight it actually is) instead. Yes, we all know it’ll do well with the Emmys and Golden Globes next year, but could it have been an Oscar player too?

If True Detective had been an epic motion picture instead of an anthology television series, I truly believe that it would have caught the Academy’s attention. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but considering how the show wrapped up the season, I feel like it would have been a surefire Best Picture nominee and perhaps even a winner. It’s an incredibly dark show, but the final moments brought in some unexpected optimism, and Oscar voters love a happy ending, as we all know. Since both No Country for Old Men and The Silence of the Lambs both won Best Picture, a show that has much in common with both (to me at least) could very well have followed in their footsteps with the big prize.

Among the actors, both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson would be surefire nominees for Best Actor, with McConaughey undeniably a frontrunner (perhaps both of them if Harrelson went Supporting). The women on the show weren’t handled quite as well, but Michelle Monaghan really did shine when she had opportunities, so I could definitely have seen a Best Supporting Actress citation coming her way.

You can’t leave out director Cary Joji Fukunaga and writer Nic Pizzolatto, who saw this vision through to the end. Fukunaga made a visual rich show that looked better than some of the most beautiful films of last year, while Pizzolatto created a dense procedural that turned out in the end to be a poignant character study. If that’s not Oscar friendly, I don’t know what is. One or both could have won, though I’d have expected Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominations for both.

Down the line, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing would be locks too, especially considering the now famous long take featuring McConaughey’s character from the middle of the season. It’s a classic shot that would have likely gotten the nod all on its own, while the way the show jumped time periods was so brilliantly handled by the editing, which would have gotten a nom for sure as well. Moreover, T Bone Burnett contributed a score that was nomination worthy as well, so had it been ruled eligible, Best Original Score could have been in the cards too.

Obviously, this is all conjecture since it’s a television program and not a movie, but it’s a bit of an interesting subject that I wanted to mention briefly. True Detective is a classic first season of a potentially classic show, so it just got me thinking due to its unique structure. We’ll never actually know if it would have been a major awards player as a film, but it’s fun to think about nonetheless…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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