Hollywood Contenders – Where does “Carol” fit into the awards season now?

Carol in coffe shop
It’s been a very interesting year so far for Todd Haynes’ film Carol. Beginning at the Cannes Film Festival, it was feted as one of 2015’s biggest Oscar contenders, and throughout the festival season (including the New York Film Festival), that has more or less continued. The thing is, slowly the buzz has died down as more Academy Award hopefuls have been released, creating a more competitive market and perhaps making this movie a bit late to the party. It’s still a major player, but is it still a sure thing in the race across the board? Well, let’s talk about that a bit right now…

The film is a high profile adaptation a Patricia Highsmith novel called The Price of Salt and concerns the taboo relationship between two women in 1950’s New York City. One is young department store clerk Therese Belivet (played by Mara), while the other is an older married woman named Carol Aird (Blanchett). What starts as a friendship of sorts (though Carol seems to clearly be interested in more, with Therese more than just along for the ride) slowly blooms into something more, even if they can’t explicitly speak it out loud. From there, it’s a choice of whether or not to risk everything for love in a time where this was not acceptable behavior. The decisions that follow are not what you’d expect, and that’s putting it mildly. Haynes directs from a Phyllis Nagy screenplay, with the cast in addition to Blanchett and Mara including Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, and Sarah Paulson, among others. The score is by Carter Burwell, while the cinematography comes from Edward Lachman.

What works here, without question, are the aesthetics put forward by Haynes and the performances from the cast, in particular Blanchett and especially Mara, who is best in show. The script is a bit on the nose at times and the pacing is a bit lax, but Mara more than makes up for that. She will break your heart in two. Haynes definitely puts forward another authentically period film, both in terms of the look and the feel, but it’s the acting that sets this one apart. Carol is the success that it is because of the way Blanchett and Mara interact with each other. It’s a dance that works in a big way.

I do wonder if this would have been better served by hitting earlier in the fall. The extra time might have allowed this to remain a top tier player in some of the major categories, as opposed to allowing some of its competition to get a leg up here and there. I don’t think it will ultimately matter much, but Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company usually keeps a contender like this in the conversation a bit more than they have this time around. Perhaps they’re planning to back The Hateful Eight more than Carol? I doubt it, but both will be in play and they’ll have to hedge their bets in some way. It’s just something that I’ve pondered, and if the nomination total winds up being lower than expected, perhaps the release date will be a contributing factor?

CAROL Cate Blanchett dancing 600x380
Now, if things break right, Carol should be a big time player across the board, especially if the precursors are as kind to it as they very well could be. Of course, Best Picture is certainly going to be in play, with Best Director (for Haynes), Best Actress (for Blanchett and/or Mara), Best Supporting Actor (for Chandler or Laxy), Best Supporting Actress (for Mara, potentially, along with Paulson), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Nagy), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography (for Lachman), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score (for Burwell). How well it ultimately does will depend on a combination of box office, precursor attention, and what else Academy members wind up being smitten by. I think Blanchett is a lock in Actress and Mara will get in for Supporting Actress if she stays in that category. Beyond that though…well, it’s up in the air. Still, don’t bet against it.

Audiences will decide starting this Friday if Carol gets that extra financial boost, but I have to suspect that the precursors will make this one a heavy Oscar favorite when all is said and done. Will those nominations turn into wins? That remains to be seen, but Carol is in no danger of being shut out, or anything of the sort. Ultimately, it will likely do just fine, so fans won’t have to fret, especially with Blanchett and Mara’s candidacies. Regardless, it’s a very good film that deserves to be seen, so in a few days, you’ll have that opportunity. Don’t miss out on this movie, trust me there. You won’t regret it one bit…

Stay tuned to see how Carol does with the precursors!

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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