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Does 'Hereafter' have a 'Ghost' of a chance at the Oscars?

November 3, 2010 | 12:27 pm

'Hereafter' has a lot in common with "Ghost" (1990). Both are commercial flicks about the afterlife pooh-poohed by some major film critics. And both were dismissed by many Oscar-watchers.

Hereafter ghostIn fact, Premiere magazine said in the summer of 1990 that "Ghost" had as much hope of reaping Oscars as "Ducktales the Movie." The New Yorker hated it, growling, "There's not a trace of wit or irony to it." The Wall Street Journal said, "'Ghost' isn't awful enough to be a great trash movie, but it often comes close."

"Ghost" ended up nabbing a surprise nomination for best picture, plus four other bids: music score, editing, original screenplay and supporting actress (Whoopi Goldberg as the kooky psychic). It won the last two.

"Hereafter" hasn't had a very good reception from film critics, scoring only 56 at Metacritic and 50 at Rottentomatoes, but it was just received enthusiastically by the folks who matter most: members of the motion picture academy. According to Steve Pond (The Odds, The Wrap), its official screening last Saturday night was "very well-received by an AMPAS crowd that I'm told filled as much as 85 percent of the 1,000-seat Goldwyn.  One Academy member who was at the screening said the reaction to the film was 'terrific,' with sustained applause at the end of the film. Others concurred, but thought the attendance might have been a bit overstated."

Creators of "Hereafter" are not only Oscar veterans they're Oscar royalty: producers Steven Spielberg ("Schindler's List," "Saving Private Ryan"), Kathleen Kennedy (six nominations for best picture, including "E.T." and "The Sixth Sense") and Clint Eastwood ("Unforgiven," "Million Dollar Baby"), who also directed. Peter Morgan (nominations for "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon") wrote the script. It stars Matt Damon, who won an Oscar for writing "Good Will Hunting."

The problem with "Hereafter" is that it's not doing fantastically at the box office. L.A. Times scribe Nicole Sperling notes that it has "grossed only $22 million since it debuted in limited release Oct. 15. 'Invictus' had grossed similarly after its first 10 days in theaters, and the film was shut out of Oscar's top 10 film nominees last year" despite being a Clint Eastwood production.

Box office used to matter a lot at the Oscars. In fact, there was a general rule that movies usually need to have the potential to top $100 million in ticket sales in order to win best picture. Not anymore. Consider what won last year. When weighing net box-office revenue instead of gross, "The Hurt Locker" actually lost money. It became profitable once released on DVD, but it was a bona-fide financial disaster heading into Oscar night.

Some Oscar cynics say that the special appeal of "Hereafter" and "Ghost" to Oscar voters is its subject matter: the promise of life after death. It's not a possibility in both films it's a fact. Considering the average age of academy voters, that's a very comforting thought that may help to breathe life into the film's Oscar hopes.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photos: "Hereafter" (Warner Bros.), "Ghost" (Paramount)

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