Oscar Watch: Tenet

If there’s something that could be called a breathlessly awaited review embargo, it lapsed today with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. The filmmaker’s latest time bending thriller is out in various foreign territories over the next few days with a launch (in somewhat limited fashion) planned for the United States during Labor Day weekend.

Tenet was already one of the year’s most anticipated titles as Nolan is one of the few directors that can guarantee an audience and potential awards attention. It was originally planned for a mid July global launch before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the strategy. The pic is being rightfully looked at as the first major test for theaters post COVID.

So what’s the verdict? Tenet, with just over 30 reviews in, stands at a solid 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. While some critics are hailing it as another visionary work from Nolan, there are others more measured and middle of the road in their write-ups. There is some negativity peppered in.

When Dunkirk was released three years ago, the WWII epic was an immediate Oscar contender and it ended up with 8 nominations. Same goes for Nolan’s 2010 summer smash Inception as it also scored 8 nods. With Tenet, my gut feeling based on early reaction is that it’s far from a shoo-in for the biggest categories.

In that sense, this could more closely follow the trajectory of 2014’s Interstellar. That Matthew McConaughey space tearjerker wound up with 4 nominations: Hans Zimmer’s Original Score, the two Sound races, and Production Design. Tenet could certainly be a player in those categories (Zimmer is scoring here too). Additionally, Visual Effects and Cinematography are definite possibilities.

However, Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay appear far more questionable. As for the cast, it’s worth noting that only one performance in any Nolan feature has been nominated. That would, of course, be Heath Ledger’s Supporting Actor win for the The Dark Knight in 2008. Critical reaction doesn’t indicate that the cast of John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh are likely to be in the mix.

Bottom line: Tenet did not establish itself as an immediate player in the top of the line races today, though technical nods seem assured. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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