Archive | December, 2017

Don’t You Forget About Bea…

22 Dec

Dear Mr., Ms., or Otherwise Academy Member:

In my last post, I asked, and humbly I believe, for you not to forget Jeremy Renner’s taut performance in Wind River when marking your ballot for Best Actor. Are you listening? I hope you are. If so, no one else is, apparently. So far, save for a Golden Satellite nod (being the far less respected cousin of the Golden Globe), Renner has been glossed over the by the likes of the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the DFW Film Critics Association, not to mention the nominations pool for the likes of the Critics Choice awards (per the Broadcast Film Critics Association), the Screen Actors Guild awards, and the almighty Globe awards. Heck, Renner didn’t even make the cut for an Independent Spirit Award. Really? Is it because the film came out too early? If August can be considered “early.” Is it because the movie carries the unfortunate stench of being too closely associated with Harvey Weinstein? I hope not. Renner’s performance as a wildlife agent with a powerful motive to find a young Native American woman’s  murderer is the real deal.  So, what are you going to do about it?  As often as not, the year end awards bonanza doesn’t always foretell what Academy members like. Surprises frequently abound.

Right now, the various societies, associations, and guilds are gravitating toward the likes of Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), natch, Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), and Tom Hanks (The Post) for Best Actor—with Daniel Day Lewis (The Phantom Thread), James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) still in the game. For now. Kamail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) holds a slim chance for the semi-autobiographical flick he also co-wrote with wife Emily V. Gordon. Alas, not much traction for Renner or even Sam Elliott for The Hero, and I seriously wonder what Elliott will ever need to do in order to be considered Oscar-worthy.

The race for Best Supporting Actor appears to be led by Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) though Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) may have very well found their breakthrough roles for Academy consideration. Woody Harrelson, no stranger to the Academy (with a pair of nominations, one leading and one supporting), looks strong for a nod as well, also for Three Billboards etc. Oh, and then there’s Christopher Plummer, already a winner in this category for 2011’s The Beginners, who could emerge as a heavyweight in light of his speedy call to action to replace Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. Stay tuned.

Best Supporting Actress may turn out to be a furious fight to the finish between (in no particular order) Laurie Metcalfe (Ladybird), Holly Hunter (The Big Sick),  Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Alison Janney (I, Tonya),  and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), all of them formidable candidates. Of course, Hunter and Spencer are Oscar veterans, each with a trophy of her own and additional nods as well. If nominated, Blige, Janney, and Metcalfe will be in their first ever Oscar race though they are awards derby newbies with prizes and/or nominations in multiple arenas: TV, film stage, and music; meanwhile, now that I have seen Darkest Hour, I’m a little perplexed that Lily James isn’t getting more buzz for a role that largely positions her as the audience surrogate.

Now, about Best Actress.  Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards…), and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) are all well situated, and I don’t even want to try to guess who brings the most to the table, but of course, they only represent three of five possible nominees. With that in mind, how else might this go? The presence of Meryl Streep (The Post) can never be underestimated, and Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) has two Oscar runs to her credit; meanwhile buzz surrounding Margot Robbie’s turn in I, Tonya builds daily, what with her status as a contender confirmed by way of the SAG nominations.  And, as with Streep, Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul) should never be dis-counted. Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) is another frequent nominee looking for another shot. Last year’s winner Emma Stone perhaps holds a whisper of a chance for Battle of the Sexes, but not really. Also, I guess pretty much nobody can visualize a nod for Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it happens.

McDormand reminds me how important timing is in the Oscar race. Twenty-one years ago she won Best Actress for playing Fargo‘s straight-arrow police chief Marge Gunderson, well deserved at that. I know only a few people who objected at the time. Interestingly, McDormand’s victory runs counter to the well-known trend of studios releasing Oscar caliber films in the last 4 months of the year, more likely the last 1-2 months. For example, Fargo was a March release. Right off the top of my head I can add that Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs, 1991) and Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich, 2000) also won Oscars for movies released in the first quarter of their respective years, but they–like McDormand–are exceptions. The more widely prevailing strategy is that movies released too early in the year tend to be forgotten during the crush of year-end releases.

With that in mind, I’d like to direct Mr. or Ms. Academy member to this past summer’s well reviewed Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek. Of course, the actress made headlines recently with a blistering attack on Harvey Weinstein with whom she collaborated on Frida, the 2002 Miramax biopic of legendary Mexican-born artist Frida Kahlo for which Hayek ultimately earned a Best Actress nod.  The project was an obsession for Hayek, a point of national pride, and Weinstein–allegedly–used his power against the more vulnerable actress in a predatory way. Allegedly. Hayek’s account is devastating and raw though Weinstein, not surprisingly, offers a slightly different take, attempting to recontextualize certain charges as a savvy  businessman no doubt would.

Can a low-budget summer release challenge flashier year-end offerings in the race for Oscar glory? Salma Hayek (center) as the title character in Beatriz at Dinner is certainly worthy of such consideration. Btw, that’s Connie Britton on the left, and John Lithgow on the right. (IMAGE: IMDB)

I’m inclined to believe Hayek, mostly because I already know too much about Weinstein NOT to believe her. In the meantime, I’d like to praise Hayek for her particularly deft portrayal of title character Beatriz in the Mike White scripted comedy-of-manners, that is, a dark, particularly well-timed, comedy-of-manners, directed by Miguel Areta. Simply, Latina Beatriz, a  gifted, hard working massage therapist (“a healer”) with a hefty list of clients spread out all over Los Angeles, arrives for an appointment one afternoon at the opulent home of a frequent contact, Cathy (always affable Connie Britton), who shares a sad history with Beatriz. Previously, Beatriz had helped treat Cathy’s cancer-striken daughter. In so doing, at least Cathy believes, a familial bond developed, but the danger of that kind of bond in a one-sided relationship is that thinking of Beatriz as family effectively diminishes Beatriz’s agency; after all, she has her own family, her own concerns. She may very well love what she does and feels kindly toward the people she serves, but it’s still a business transaction and to characterize it as anything else is a dangerous mistake. It sets up a sense of entitlement on the part of the employer by blurring what should be a clear boundary. In this regard, Beatriz at Dinner partially resembles 2017’s breakout smash Get Out, but I digress.

That evening, after experiencing car trouble for the umpteenth time that day, Beatriz finds herself stranded in the client’s driveway. No problem, Britton enthuses, Beatriz can stay for dinner and even overnight if needed. Of course, the client’s husband (David Warshofsky) is celebrating an important business deal, and that means a small dinner party with likes of Chloe Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and John Lithgow–the latter whether intentional or not evokes the one and only current POTUS, Donald Trump. You know the type: a wealthy real-estate developer–hotels, especially–who confidently blurts whatever is on his mind, no matter how seriously misinformed, ignorant, or hurtful. That’s the character. I guess the rest is a coincidence, but the resemblance to a certain real-life someone is hard not to notice.

With the exception of Lithgow’s ever-pragmatic Doug and Cathy’s nitwit-ish hubby, Britton’s character and her friends believe themselves to be generous and open-minded–but that’s only because they fail to recognize the privileged point of view from which they operate, especially the imbalance of power in relation to Beatriz, but Beatriz is nobody’s fool. She’s canny enough to “know her place,” especially as a guest in a client’s domain, but she will not subjugate herself, blend into the background, and pretend not to have an opinion. She knows how to defend herself and her beliefs. White’s script hits all the right notes–if hitting all the right notes means keeping the audience in knots for most of the film’s running time.  I felt tense the whole time, but exquisitely so, given that the movie unfolds at what should be a simple dinner party. No zombies, no mass-murderers, but the unshakeable feeling that something awful will erupt. Again, the film approaches a dynamic similar to that of Get Out.

At first glance,  Hayek’s performance might seem to rely too heavily on Beatriz’s drabbed down appearance: what with her shapeless clothes, ponytail, and truly unflattering bangs; after all, Hayek ranks as one of the most glamorous women in all of moviedom. Seeing her as plain-faced Beatriz is a slight jolt,  but the performance is more than a cosmetic makeover (or makeunder, as the case may be). Beatriz’s strength is her ability to listen, to assess. It’s what makes her empathic, essential to being a healer; plus, again, she has acclimated herself to an employer-employee dynamic especially as that entails being a woman of color in white dominated society. She’s not going to rock the boat. Not easily, that is, and not at once. Until she does, and the effect is jarring, we see in Hayek’s face the constant processing of information, building and building, and we applaud the release as much as we are shocked by it.

I think Hayek’s performance is a winner, and I tried to imagine whether it could go the distance when I first saw it over the summer, early summer. Michael and I both loved it, and talked about it for days, both Hayek, White’s screenplay, and the movie itself.  Alas, the movie appears to be almost forgotten–not entirely, but close.  Yes,Ha the movie was one of the top indie picks, per the National Board of Review, and Hayek was nominated for an Imagen Foundation award (for promoting positive portrayals of Latino culture) though she actually lost to herself for How to be a Latin Lover. Director Arteta earned an Imagen award for Beatriz though the film lost the Best Picture trophy to the aforementioned How to be a Latin Lover. Currently, Hayek and White are in the running for “Spirit” awards, aka the Independent Spirit Awards, but Hayek is a contender in a category featuring the likes of the aforementioned McDormand, Robbie, and Ronan, so she faces an uphill challenge to overcome the competition, all of whom inhabit much showier roles, but maybe the interest of “Spirit” award voters will catch the attention of Academy members, thereby spreading word-of-mouth and renewed interest.  To clarify, I can’t imagine Hayek winning an Oscar for Beatriz at Dinner, but a nomination would be timely, all things considered, and well-deserved.


Thanks for your consideration…

Hayek’s New York Times article: