We Bought A Zoo: Worthy Of Awards Attention And Your Money

If you happen to follow the Oscar Derby as closely as I do, it helps to have a horse in the race. Obsessing over which 5-10 films the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters will select is significantly less interesting when you’re not rooting for a particular film. To give you a better idea of what I mean, I’ve included a brief list of the films I’ve campaigned for the last 5 years.

2007: Little Miss Sunshine

2008: Atonement

2009: In Bruges

2010: Up in the Air

2011: The Social Network

Of those 5 films, 4 of them of were fortunate enough to earn Best Picture nominations (In Bruges being the lone outcast) and 2 of them (Up in the Air and The Social Network) were seen as frontrunners to win said award leading up to ceremony. Sadly, none were victorious.

Earlier this month, I found myself in a precarious position. Though I’d yet to see a number of the Best Picture contenders (The Descendants, The Artist, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), those that I had seen (Ides of March, Hugo, The Tree Life) fell short of my expectations. And, most of the films that I had responded to (Another Earth, Like Crazy, Red State) were small independent features with next to no chance of a nomination let alone a win.

Then, last weekend, I attended an advance screenings of 20th Century Fox’s We Bought a Zoo, and found my horse. Cameron Crowe’s family dramedy had me beaming from ear to ear when I walked out of the theater. Like most of Crowe’s previous fare, Zoo wears its heart of its sleeve; but, it had mine beating in time. Simply put, it’s the feel good movie of 2011.

Still, there’s so much more to We Bought a Zoo than the film’s TV spots and trailers have been able to adequately convey. In the film, Matt Damon stars as Benjamin Mee, a recently windowed father of two and a one-time thrill seeking journalist. A series of unfortunate events convince Mee that it’s time to move to a new neighborhood. With his darling daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) in toe, Benjamin begins house-hunting, eventually finding a place that both he and Rosie love. The only problem? It’s a zoo… literally.

On paper, that idea might seem a bit hokey, but Crowe’s script is heartfelt and honest. The writer/director, who took an unfair beating for 2005’s Elizabethtown, does a terrific job capturing the anguish and frustration that both Mee and his son Dylan (Colin Ford) feel, all while impressively avoiding maudlin territory.

Crowe also manages to craft 3 well-rounded female characters, which is more impressive than it should be in 2011. Jones, as Rosie, is the heart of the film. She is adorable, no doubt, but she also has an acute ability to bounce off her co-stars. Likewise, the consistently impressive Elle Fanning brings out a softer, less angst ridden side to Ford’s Dylan. As sheltered local Lily, Fanning is awkward and unguarded, both qualities the actress herself exudes in interviews but has to yet to play on screen. Then, there’s Scarlett Johansson as young zookeeper Kelly. Crowe nods to the fact that Johansson is undeniably attractive early on, but he doesn’t let that define Kelly as a character. Instead, Kelly is defined by her less than desirable social life, neurotic tendencies and her fierce commitment to her work.

As THR’s David Rooney pointed out in his review, “Fox is positioning the PG release as wholesome holiday fare.” Hopefully this helps make it the type of four-quadrant hit AMPAS voters can’t ignore (see the woefully manipulative The Blind Side). Though I could just as easily see We Bought a Zoo relegated to the Best Original Song category for Jónsi’s “Gathering Stories.” If the latter scenario comes to fruition, I’ll be more upset than shocked. Either way, expect to see me touting We Bought a Zoo from now until January 24th, when nominations are announced.

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One Response to We Bought A Zoo: Worthy Of Awards Attention And Your Money

  1. jenna says:

    i like camerons films. have yet to be disappointed. This film looks cool, and I heard you can win a trip for 4 to the san diego zoo. check it out https://www.facebook.com/Weboughtazoomovie?sk=papp_252032334854668

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