How the apocalyptic The Road could be a sci-fi Oscar winner

Sci-fi films rarely get serious consideration for Academy Awards outside of technical categories such as visual effects, but that could change this year with the post-apocalyptic thriller The Road, which will be making a serious push for the Oscar.

The Road stars Viggo Mortensen in an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's grim book. Mortensen plays a character simply called The Man, a survivor who traverses a scarred American wasteland with his young son. The film's director, John Hillcoat, said the Oscar campaign would center around Mortensen.

"Certainly everyone knows Viggo is an amazing actor," Hillcoat said in a group interview earlier this month in Beverly Hills, Calif. "In this, he's in every scene. He covers every emotion. There's nowhere to hide. He went 110 percent. It's a very powerful performance that they thought, 'Well, it deserves recognition.' So, obviously, they do all that. I mean, they have to market a film, so they're trying to find any way in."

Producing and distributing studio Dimension Films is a division of The Weinstein Co., which is known for aggressive Oscar campaigns. Mortensen senses the studio will invest its resources behind The Road, as the Weinstein brothers have in the past for films such as The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love.

"You see that a movie company or distributor is aware of the fact that people are liking the movie," said Mortensen, who was previously nominated for an Oscar for 2008's Eastern Promises. "They probably know more than me what the reactions are. I can just go by the people I've spoken to in audiences. Then you hope that that will translate into them saying, 'Oh, yeah, it's worth investing some money in promoting it so people don't forget about the movie.'"

The film opens this week for the Thanksgiving holiday. After its first few weeks in release, awards campaigns will begin in December. The Road's continued box office could depend on building awareness at awards shows.

"It's a movie that really needs word of mouth," Mortensen said. "It sounds tough. It is tough, but it's really worthwhile, and you'll feel enriched by seeing it, which you can't say truly about that many movies. There's no better word of mouth than reading in a newspaper, 'Nominated for Best Picture, nominated for Best Actor or Best Director.' Those things do matter, and in the case of this movie more than most movies, it could certainly use that."

The film's November release also puts it in a key position for awards consideration. November and December releases tend to have the strongest chances for Oscars. The studio held The Road from release earlier in the year, but Hillcoat said the November release was about more than just Oscar chances.

"Well, we always knew the right time to release it," Hillcoat said. "I think there's no better time than Thanksgiving, given the film is all about giving thanks for what we have and focusing on what really matters. So I think that's great. It's not a summer movie, let's face it. It was ready. We could have released it in the summer or earlier this year, but we knew that this was the right time. It was to do with it's more of a fall type movie."

Until Academy voters announce their nominations, Mortensen is encouraged by the reactions of audiences who have seen the film at screenings. He feels their reactions indicate strong chances for the film to resonate after its initial theatrical release.

"In the Q&A sessions I've done, I can tell," Mortensen said. "Audiences by and large stay, which is the first accomplishment. They don't all leave because they don't know what to ask or say. People really have an investment in talking about it. They feel an urge to talk about it and ask questions. That, to me, is an indication. They come right out and say that they really liked it or it really moved them or it made them think about their family and their life. It doesn't happen very often, so they get excited, and that makes us excited. We go, 'Well, maybe we have a chance there.'"

The Road opens tomorrow.

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