What Killed Country Strong’s Shot At Gold?

On Tuesday morning, shortly after the Academy Award nominees had been announced, I settled into a mostly empty theater for a screening of Screen Gems’ Country Strong. I was admittedly unsure of what to expect from the film. Although it had, for a brief period of time, been considered an awards contender, Country Strong was almost universally panned by the critical community. And, after seeing the film, I left the theater equally confused. While in no way perfect, Country Strong was much better than most of its reviews would have you believe. Moreover, it seemed like exactly the type of film that would dominate at the Golden Globes where Comedy/Musical and Drama are split into two different categories. And, it had Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow. All of which got me thinking, what killed Country Strong‘s shot at gold?

I’m sure some of the blame falls on the film’s negative critical reception, but that didn’t stop films like Bobby, Nine, and Mama Mia! from scoring nominations at the Golden Globes. Heck, bad reviews couldn’t even stop universally panned films like Burlesque and The Tourist from earning nominations this year. But, both of those films were able to secure eligibility in the Comedy/Musical category, whereas Country Strong was not. This is somewhat perplexing given that Burlesque was no more a musical than Country Strong. Nor, for that matter, were Ray and Walk the Line, both of which were deemed musicals by the HFPA in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

Is, perhaps, Screen Gems to blame? The studio gave Country Strong a qualifying run for the Oscars, indicating that they had faith in their product, but they failed to mount a successful campaign. A smaller arm of Sony Pictures, Screen Gems isn’t used to having even 1 horse in the race. Yet, in 2010, it had 3. Burlesque which, as aforementioned, was able to overcome bad reviews is a Screen Gems film while critical darling Easy A also hails from the studio. Neither of those films are the type of movie that would impact at the Academy Awards, but Country Strong ostensibly is.

Part of me wonders if Crazy Heart fatigue hurt Country Strong’s chances, given how similar the two films appear to be on paper. Ultimately, however, I think Country Strong was a victim of its own marketing. Most every trailer I’ve seen for Country Strong presents it as a tale of redemption, when in reality it is quite the opposite. The film takes a turn in the last 20 or so minutes that likely upset voters in much the same way it did critics. But, I applaud writer-director Shana Feste for averting a cliched ending, in which all of Kelly Canter’s problems had been solved. Life is rarely that cut and dry.

Every year there a multiple movies that go unappreciated by the average movie-goer, and still more that awards voters fail to recognize. Last year, The Vicious Kind failed to secure a single Golden Globe, SAG or Oscar nomination. This year, Blue Valentine has been largely ignored, with only Michelle Williams nominated for an Academy Award. This is the nature of the game. But, both The Vicious Kind and Blue Valentine are dark indie films whose omission from ballots, while disheartening, is hardly surprising. Country Strong, on the other hand, seems like a movie that voters would have eaten up, making its dearth of nominations somewhat confounding. Everything that could have gone wrong for Country Strong this voting season did. On February 27th, Country Strong will have one last shot at a trophy, for its lone nomination (Best Original Song) at the Academy Awards, but a win won’t salvage what should have been a much better winter for the film.

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2 Responses to What Killed Country Strong’s Shot At Gold?

  1. @sspignese says:

    Good post, and good point. Certainly not a terrible movie, and Paltrow (and Meester for that matter) put in solid acting and musical performances. I think you nailed it with your point about the ending– when was the last time an actor playing a role with that kind of twist was awarded with a nomination? I’d also like your take on The Company Men– another surprisingly good movie released to qualify, but then disappeared upon release.

    • Having yet to see The Company Men, I have to think it was a lack of studio support that killed its chances. The Weinstein Company had better candidates in The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine, so they spent their promo money there. Also, it probably didn’t help that Affleck had another movie he was campaigning for.

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