We’re more than halfway through our alphabetical Oscar march today with “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee’s beautiful 3D adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel about a seemingly impossible journey. And, with the possible exception of “Les Mis,” this movie might have had the rockiest road to Oscar of all of the Best Picture nominees. Three other directors — M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet — all tried their hand at adapting the novel; all gave up. Lee and screenwriter David Magee took on the challenge — only to almost lose it when Twentieth Century Fox came near to backing out of the project as expenses soared. Nonetheless, it finally got made — with a first-time actor sitting in a boat in a water tank on a Taiwan soundstage. Watching it, you’d swear he was on the open sea, with only a tiger (rendered in CGI for the boat scenes) for company. An amazing achievement; a lovely film.
Total U.S. box office: $111 million (putting it right in the middle of the Best Picture nominees)
Total Oscar nominations: Eleven, for best picture, director, adapted screenplay, original score, original song, cinematography, film editing, production design, sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects.
Best chance for a win: “Life of Pi” is a dark horse for the two top awards, but has a strong shot at cinematography (Claudio Miranda’s work is a revelation in 3D) and visual effects (you’d never believe that tiger wasn’t real).
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: If Lee wins best director, or “Life of Pi” takes the top award, it’ll shock Hollywood — but a movie doesn’t get 11 nominations without strong support. “Argo” and “Lincoln” are perceived as the front-runners for best picture and director — but this film just might surprise. Lee has experience in winning best director, only to see his film not win the top prize: it happened in 2006, when Lee took the directing statuette for “Brokeback Mountain,” but “Crash” won Best Picture.
Fun fact: Not only had Suraj Sharma (who played teenage Pi in the film) never acted in a movie before — he didn’t know how to swim. Lee and the crew taught him how, and Sharma ended up doing most of his own stunts.
Remember to join me this Sunday night to chat about the Oscars during red-carpet arrivals and the ceremony, starting at 4 p.m. at seattletimes.com.
(Photo: Suraj Sharma and the tiger in “Life of Pi,” courtesy of 20th Century Fox.)