David Fincher plays it cool with Academy on 'Dragon Tattoo'

Posted by · 4:44 pm · November 21st, 2011

In our newly revised (and newly two-headed) Contenders section, you may have noticed a slight uptick for one of the year”s last great unknowns, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Kris has placed David Fincher”s remake of the Swedish blockbuster thriller as a dark-horse Best Picture outsider, while Fincher himself cracked the top 10 in my own rejigging of the Best Director category. The film also pops up in a couple of tech categories, while Rooney Mara is waiting to pounce into the Best Actress inner circle.

With the film not yet seen, there”s no telling whether this is that start of greater upward movement, or if we”re just catching some December fever. I”ve been sceptical for some time that the Academy will warm to a nasty pulp remake by a director they seem to admire more than they like, however expertly executed it is, and I remain so.

Certainly, Fincher would discourage us from getting too excited. He”s taking great pains to distance his film from the Oscar race in the advance publicity trail: first, he quipped to Entertainment Weekly last week that his violent genre piece had “too much anal rape” to win over the Academy, and he pretty much repeats that statement in this Total Film interview, where he says he “can”t imagine anyone in their right mind” describing the script as Oscar bait.

He also plays up the “ugliness” and “pervy” quality of the material, which shouldn”t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the source material – though one imagines Fincher”s typically off-kilter sensibility will kick them up a notch.

All this is to be expected. Box-office glory is the first prize “Dragon Tattoo” has its eye on; assuming devotees of the franchise turn out in their droves next month, what Oscar voters think of the film is a secondary concern, to say the least. And after last year”s “Social Network” fizzle, I can”t imagine Fincher being terribly eager to get back on the campaign trail – everyone says they don”t care about awards, but Fincher”s one of the few I believe actually means it.

Still, I can”t help but wonder if he”s protesting too much here, and whether his loud dismissal of the film”s chances actually amounts to a sneaky reverse-psychology campaign. Is he really warning Academy types off the film… or just daring them to like it? In many ways, I”m reminded of the clever anti-campaign game Warner Bros. played in 2006 for another pop remake of a foreign genre hit, Martin Scorsese”s “The Departed.”

After the director”s two recent disappointing go-rounds with the Academy, we were told, this one was being treated strictly as a commercial play with no awards prospects – until, of course, the film scored with audiences and critics alike, and coolly scooped the Best Picture and Director Oscars a few months later. It was a smart strategy that was clearly rooted in the studio”s own confidence in the film”s ability to connect with viewers, and I wonder if Fincher is feeling similarly, quietly bolshy.

Of course, there isn”t anything like the level of sentimental industry attachment to Fincher as there was to Scorsese that year, and an all-star Boston gangster saga is closer to the Academy”s wheelhouse than a nihilistic Scandinavian hacker study, so the parallel ends there. But if critics cotton on to Fincher”s latest as much as audiences presumably will, there”s a chance the Academy will throw him a bone for switching tack. “The reason awards season was created was to sell movies,” he says, quite correctly, in the interview – and one way or another, he”s using it to sell his.

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