Wow. What a week. Last Sunday was the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual Golden Globes shindig complete with disheveled and disoriented Jacqueline Bissett. Oscar nominations followed bright and early on Thursday morning; then, that very night, there was another soiree–the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics Choice awards. Last night the stars were out in droves again for the Screen Actors Guild prizes. I covered the Globes last week. Now, I’m going to try to make sense of the rest of it, major category by major category. Meanwhile, read about Oscar’s biggest snubs and surprises in the sidebars to the right.
Oh, and I as I correctly “predicted,” the race is led by American Hustle and Gravity, both with 10 nominations, while 12 Years a Slave is right behind with 9. Okay, here we go in the order in which the roll was actually called at Saturday’s Screen Actors Guild awards…
^ Oscar Surprise No 1: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) – Hawkins snagged the slot on the final ballot that many prognosticators had marked for Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler; however, Winfrey is not the only person associated with her film to be snubbed (more to follow). Meanwhile, props to Hawkins, for making the best of Blue Jasmine and earning her first Oscar nod after such triumphs as Happy-Go- Lucky and Made in Dagenham.
SAG: Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Yay! This woman fills my heart with gladness. Not only did she win the SAG award, thereby surging to the head of the pack in her Oscar category, she also scored a Broadcast Film Critics Association award the same day that she earned her Academy nod.
I still have issues with the trend of actresses being asked to prove their mettle by portraying suffering, especially at the hands of masculine brutality, but Nyong’o’s gut wrenching performance–as a woman debased and robbed of all her dignity through the horrors of slavery–transcends such considerations. It’s simply too excruciating in its every detail to ignore. Nyong’o biggest competition for the Academy statuette is likely Nebraska‘s June Squibb, an octogenarian who’s been acting for decades, including multiple Broadway gigs, but has apparently only now hit her stride in movies, holding her own against the likes of Bruce Dern of all people. I’m glad that Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) give such wonderful, crowd-pleasing performances in their respective films, but these are movie stars in secondary roles, rather than true supporting players (especially in Roberts’ case), and I can’t imagine either of them winning in this category.
Finally, if Nyong’o wins an Oscar, she’ll be the fourth black actress in less than 10 years honored in the supporting category, which shows some sign of progress–considering the 16 year lapse between Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)–but mainstream moviemakers still need to work harder to get the stories of black women, in leading roles, onscreen. In the meantime, I’m still floored that between the Emmys, the Golden Globes, and the SAG awards, Kerry Washington, the star of TV’s hot, hot, hot, Scandal, continues to go home empty-handed.
^ Lupita Nyong’o
Oscar’s Final Five: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), June Squibb (Nebraska)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
SAG: Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
^ Oscar Snub No. 1: James Gandolfini (Enough Said) – The late and much beloved Gandolfini, best known for his Emmy winning turn as mobster Tony Soprano, was presumed to be a likely favorite for his final film, but his slot appears to have been filled by Jonah Hill for ever-more-popular The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, Hill was just nominated in the same category two years ago for Moneyball. Also subbed? Will Forte (Nebraska)
Seeing Leto give an incredibly humble and moving speech at the SAG ceremony–with his mother in the audience–served as a powerful reminder of how remarkable his performance in Dallas Buyers Club really is. It’s not just that his HIV positive transgender hustler “Rayon” provides such a startling physical transformation–that’s the easy part…aside from the drastic weight loss. What’s remarkable is how deep Leto goes inside the character. It’s a complete reinvention: voice, body language, etc. Of course, skeptics will argue that Leto is just doing what any good actor would do. That’s his job, true enough, but many fine actors and actresses never go as far as Leto does as Rayon. Often times, actors, even good ones, get by on personality as much as anything else. Leto’s work in Dallas Buyers Club is a true tour de force. Dig the scene in which Rayon summons all her courage in order to make a tremendous sacrifice. Okay, no spoilers.
Like Nyong’o, Leto won a BFCA award this past week as well as a Golden Globe. Among his other honors this season are prizes from the New York Film Critics Circle and the DFW Film Critics Association. He will almost certainly be called to the podium to accept an Oscar next month, but I’m not willing to rule out Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) though his film did not do as well in total nominations as expected. Regarding Leto, there’s also the consideration that while actresses have taken home awards for crossing gender lines, the same does not hold true for males. William Hurt’s turn in Kiss of the Spider Woman being a possible exception.
^ Jared Leto
Oscar’s Final Five: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips),
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave),
Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street), and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
SAG: Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Oscar Snub No. 2: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) – Whew! What a shocker! Did anyone, ANYONE, see this coming? Hanks has been in this race every inch of the way the whole season: Golden Globe nod, SAG nod, and Broadcast Critics nod. Plus, his film is a Best Picture contender–and a true story on top of that. Is it because Hanks is already a two-time winner? Could it be that he campaigned just a little too hard? Since American Hustle’s Christian Bale was never considered anything close to a sure-thing, it’s easy to peg him as the actor who knocked Hanks out of the running. I don’t consider the omission of Robert Redford (All is Lost) a true shocker since the movie barely made a blip on the mainstream radar.
This Texas native is proving to be the favorite, what with a SAG, a Globe, a BFCA award, and an Oscar nod in one week. He’s also a DFW Critics Association recipient. Like Leto, McConaughey underwent a jaw dropping physical transformation in order to portray colorful real-life Texan, Ron Woodroof. Barely more than skin and bones when given a mere 30 days to live (circa 1985), Woodroof (who may not have been as stridently hetero as depicted in the film) lived for several more years, metamorphosing into an activist for more humane treatment of AIDS patients. Woodroof’s is an incredible story, and McConaughey more than does it justice, but–also like Leto–there is more here than a gimmick. We’ve all known that besides being good looking, McConaughey is a heck of an actor, We’ve known it since he played creepy ex-high school jock Wooderson in Dazed and Confused; however, once McConaughey became a star in the heavily-hyped A Time to Kill (from the John Grisham novel), he lost focus and appeared to take roles, mostly in romantic comedies, based on the size of the paycheck or the exoticism of the locale. His road back to respectability began with The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and then continued with the likes of Bernie and Magic Mike (both 2012) and 2013’s Mud, which enjoyed a healthy run in the spring/summer months.
Even with all of these recent victories, I’m not entirely convinced McConaughey is a lock for the Oscar. For example, Bruce Dern (Nebraska) looms as a sentimental favorite. Plus, if 12 Years a Slave pulls ahead in the Best Picture race, Chiwetel Ejiofor might benefit as well. Also, consider that the lineups for SAG prize and the Oscar do not correspond 100%. Golden Globe winner–for comedy–Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street) was out of the SAG race, but his movie is proving to be quite popular in spite of polarized reviewers.
Meanwhile, consider that Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), shockingly absent in this race, won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing an AIDS patient exactly 20 years ago.
^ Matthew McConaughey
Oscar’s Final Five: Christian Bale (American Hustle),
Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street),
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
SAG: Best Actress – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Oscar Snub No. 3: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) – Emma Thompson earned raves–as well as Golden Globe and SAG noms–for portraying P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, in Saving Mr. Banks. It’s Thompson’s best role in years, but the movie itself received a lot of bad press for the way it doctored the story about how Travers repeatedly balked at the idea of selling the rights to her books to corporate entertainment maestro Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). Thompson’s omission is not a true head scratcher since there were always only three sure-things: Blanchett, Bullock, and Judi Dench (Philomena). Thompson, Adams, and Streep (August: Osage County) were always waiting in the wings for only two slots. Btw; Streep is now in Oscar race number 18, y’all.
I’m still not ready to rule out Sandra Bullock (Gravity) just yet, but I can see that Blanchett is far and away the frontrunner. She’s had a great week, what with the SAG award, the Globe, the BFCA Critics Choice award, and, of course, the Oscar nod; moreover, at this point, Blanchett has won well over a dozen prizes for her portrayal of the titular character in Woody Allen’s latest, a bi-coastal variation on A Streetcar Named Desire in which a former high-riding Manhattanite (Blanchett) hits the skids and moves to San Francisco where her working class sister and single mom (Hawkins), lives, but things go steadily from bad to worse.
Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2004’s The Aviator, in which she impersonated Katherine Hepburn. Since then, she’s been scarce in the movies per her theatre work in Australia. It’s possible she’s being recognized as much for a “comeback” as she is her actual performance, which shows a lot more skill than heart in my estimation. Maybe I’m just bummed that Blue Jasmine is so obviously a retread. And, yes, Blanchett has portrayed doomed Blanche DuBois–Jasmine’s antecedent–onstage.
Additionally, even though Blanchett was declared “Best Actress” at the BFCA Critics Choice awards, there were strings attached because both Bullock, also a People’s Choice winner, and Amy Adams (American Hustle) were named winners at the same event: Best Actress in an Action Movie and Best Actress in a Comedy, respectively. Adams won a Golden Globe for her work in the allegedly comedic American Hustle as well. Her current Oscar nod is the first time the Academy has recognized her as a leading actresses after an incredible four races for Best Supporting Actress.
^ Cate Blanchett
Oscar’s Final Five: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine),
Judi Dench (Philomena), Sandra Bullock (Gravity),
and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
SAG: Best Ensemble: American Hustle
Oscar Snub No. 4: Lee Daniels’s The Butler – With an all-star cast led by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, the likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, along with cameos by such luminaries as Jane Fonda (as Nancy Reagan) and James Marsden (as John F. Kennedy), this loose adaptation of a true story about a man who worked behind the scenes in the White House for three decades seemed ripe for Academy consideration. Generally well-reviewed, and a solid box office hit (spending at least two weeks at #1 and earning over 100 million dollars), the movie was consistently recognized in one form or another throughout the entire season, including a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble. Alas, the movie was shut-out of every single category. Hard to fathom in a year with nine Best Picture nominees. Also shut-out entirely: Fruitvale Station.
Why did American Hustle capture the SAG award that many, including the promoters of the SAG event, believe can be used to predict the Academy’s pick for the Best Picture Oscar? Simply, it’s because American Hustle is all about acting. That’s right, the movie is all about acting. Okay, it’s also about the Abscam Scandal from the 1970s, but only loosely. The plot is just the framework upon which to show off the flashy performances. Actors love that. It makes them feel better about what they do. Of course, the characters in American Hustle are not actors by trade, not really, but they’re always acting. Two of the principles are con-artists, which means they’re always performing, playing a part (or parts); meanwhile, another character is a Federal Agent way in over his head, orchestrating (or trying to orchestrate) an elaborate sting operation. (The Sting? Now, that was a great movie!) Anyway, the agent is also often playing a part as he clumsily finesses his way into the inner-circle of politicians and other shady characters. And, of course, those shady characters are pretty good at bluffing as well.
American Hustle sends a meta-signal right from the beginning. The first scene shows Christian Bale, always known for extreme physical transformations, at it again. Instead of being shockingly thin, as in his Oscar winning The Fighter, Bale sports an obvious bloated and/or flabby gut through his unbuttoned shirt. Then, the actor, who indeed has a full head of hair, wears some kind of appliance to appear completely bald on top with fringe on the sides, per Ben Franklin; however, because his character is so self-conscious about his baldness, he quickly goes to work fashioning a hairpiece (stage/yak hair with spirit gum) that forms the basis for an elaborate hairpiece. Okay, do you get that? A normally thin actor with a full head of hair appears fat and all but bald, which is one form of costume, and then adds another layer of costume. See? Again, the movie is all about performance–that and outrageous wigs. The director tells you that in the first scene. Without slipping a single spoiler, I’ve just told you everything you need to know about American Hustle. Actors love it.
Even so, the SAG Ensemble prize doesn’t always translate into a Best Picture Oscar. Yeah, sure, last year’s Argo snagged both awards, but that was a movie with a large cast–and an actor/director (Ben Affleck) running the show. On the other hand, 2011’s The Help, a massive hit with a predominately female cast, took the top SAG prize while the Best Picture Oscar went to the gimmicky over-hyped The Artist. If American Hustle goes on to win the Academy’s top prize, I’ll understand why, but I still think 12 Years a Slave represents traditional Academy fare, history lessons, movies with strong humanitarian messages that voters can feel good about honoring. In this case, deservedly so. On the other hand, Gravity is pure cinematic magic, and, oh, isn’t this race fun!!! Just keep in mind that historically movies with corresponding nods for Best Director have a better shot at the top prize, which doesn’t bode well for, say, Her, Philomena, and a few others.
Members of the award winning cast of American Hustle: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence
Oscar’s Final Ballot: American Hustle, Captain Phillips,
Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena,
12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Surprise No. 2: Alexander Payne (Nebraska) – Payne, a previous Best Director nominee (aside from his work as a screenwriter) for 2004’s Sideways and 2011’s The Descendants, occupies the slot on the ballot that seemed destined for Paul Greengrass, a 2006 nominee for United 93, as indicated by DGA roster. Interestingly, back in 2006, Greengrass was Oscar nominated by the Academy though his picture was overlooked for top consideration. Additionally, that same year, he was overlooked by this peers in the DGA. What a switcheroo,
Oscar’s Final Five: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) David O. Russell (American Hustle), and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Oscar Snub No. 5: Best Cinematography, Claudio Miranda (Oblivion) – Miranda won in this category last year for Life of Pi, and he should be back in the race for the exquisite Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough (above). Miranda was also shut-out of the American Society of Cinematographers race. Oblivion really would have been an ideal fit for Best FX, Best Editing and Best Art Direction as well. Happily, the movie’s production designer, Daren Gilford, has been recognized by members of his own guild if not the Academy.
Thanks for your consideration…
Complete list of Oscar nominees: http://oscar.go.com/nominees