The Sessions, John Hawkes, Helen Hunt

Fox Searchlight

The Sessions, a sensation at Sundance, a hit at Toronto, and in theaters today, has a lot to recommend it.

There's John Hawkes' "virtuoso" performance. There's Helen Hunt's "splendid" performance.

And the nude-tracking Mr. Skin is excited, too.

Here's what you need to know about the "Oscar bait" that puts the sexy back in iron lungs:

What It's About, in a Few Words: "Polio, sex [and] comedy." 

What It's About, a Few More Words: Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a polio-stricken writer paralyzed from the neck down, hires a sex surrogate (Hunt) to see to his virginity.

What's the Hook: You mean, besides the sex surrogacy? The hook is it's real—O'Brien, who died in 1999 at age 49, was real, the sex surrogate was real, and Hunt's full-frontal exposure is real, too. 

How Hunt Did It: "You obsess on your acting so you don't think about your backside or your, well, front side," the actress told E! News at the Los Angeles premiere.

Where You've Seen Hawkes Before: Where haven't you seen him? Briefly, Deadwood, Eastbound & Down and the 2011 Oscars, where he was up for Best Supporting Actor for Winter's Bone.

Why The Sessions Will Contend, Aside From the Aforementioned Buzz Points: One, it's got a killer, DIY backstory—made for less than $1 million by a sixtysomething writer/director, Ben Lewin, whose previous credit was an episode of Touched By an Angel. Two, it's got killer roles for its stars, always important come the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Three, it's just got something—an ability to make even Deadspin well up.

What The Sessions Will Contend For: Hawkes looks like a lock for a Best Actor nomination, while the pundits and oddsmakers are cooler to the chances of Hunt, a onetime winner. (For once, it seems, there's gridlock in the Best Actress race.) As for the movie, it might sneak into Best Picture if the category goes deep with nine or 10 contenders.

Three More Things, So That You Know You're Not Going Crazy: Yes, The Sessions used to be called The Surrogate and, after that, Six Sessions; yes, O'Brien's story previously was told in the Oscar-winning short film, Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien; and, yes, Hunt previously doffed her top when she played the girlfriend of a paralyzed man (Eric Stoltz) in 1992's The Waterdance.

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