Saturday, March 1, 2014

Yes...but not for this film


I have already wondered and vented about this year's Oscar nominations. But one final thought.

Is it just me, or did it seem like there was a preponderance of acting nominations that were deserving, but curiously for the wrong film. This happens often enough. Kate Winslet got nominated in 2008 for The Reader when she was far more indelible in Revolutionary Road. Nicole Kidman was nominated seven years earlier for Moulin Rouge when she had already put in a far more controlled, considered performance in The Others.

This year there were many examples of misspecified nominations:

Leonardo DiCaprio playing The Great Gatsby
  • Leonardo diCaprio picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his all-giving, all-inhabiting incarnation of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street. But he ought to have been recognized for a more restrained, layered take in The Great Gatsby, where DiCaprio took a character that has long been a cipher in American literature and opened him up. To the extent that I finally understood not just Jay Gatsby's behavior but also of those around him. DiCaprio's achievement is one of unlocking an iconic character, and he has not received near enough credit for that. 
Christian Bale in Into The Furnace
  • Christian Bale rode the coattails of American Hustle to secure an Oscar nomination for a role that is memorable more for its physicality than any emotional resonance. But consider Bale's orders of magnitude superior work in Into The Furnace this year, where Bale became his character, by fully embodying the blue-collar integrity and despair of a man trying to do right. It is a wonderfully humanistic performance, but American Hustle so sucked up all of the energy around year-end film discussions that the smaller Into The Furnace went by mostly unnoticed. 
Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond The Pines
  • Bradley Cooper received his second consecutive nomination with American Hustle. But like Bale, his role is patched together from hair and silliness. It is a befuddling nomination. If voters wanted to recognize a supporting actor from that film, wouldn't Jeremy Renner have been the more grounded selection? And if Cooper had to be recognized, should it not have been for his more devastating turn in The Place Beyond The Pines, for a movie that earns its epic feeling chiefly through the arc of Cooper's character. 
Matthew McConaughey in Mud
  • Matthew McConaughey is likely going to walk away with the Best Lead Actor, Male win for Dallas Buyers Club. And who is going to argue with rewarding one of the more fascinating and risky career resurgences of a leading Hollywood actor in recent memory. When he gets the prizer, the voters will be acknowledging the cumulative weight of his work in Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Mud and even The Wolf Of Wall Street. Incidentally, I fail to understand why McConaughey's work in the past two years has somehow reached that critical mass where he is worthy of being granted a best actor award, whereas someone like DiCaprio who has been putting in consistently high-quality work for more than a decade has yet to have his ship come in. But regardless, McConnaughey has been nominated for Dallas Buyers Club, a film that is not just misguided, but inept. Certainly, there is that tremendous physical transformation by way of losing a frightening amount of weight for this film. But did academy voters not see Mud, which also came out in the same year, and had McConaughey tackling a character far more complicated and amorphous. And dangerous. It is a character that could have crumbled into howling caricature, or worse suggested existence only as a plot device. But McConaughey walks the line in Mud, and comes out having depicted an individual who is heart-breaking in his inability to stop being who he is. Mud was the film for which he should have been nominated. 
Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • Jennifer Lawrence's character in American Hustle is problematic. And the folks at the Film Experience have articulated the problem with this performance so much better than I ever can. So that there isn't much more I can or want to say. Only that while Jennifer Lawrence imbues that role with a truly amazing vitality, it ultimately remains a character that is not very believable. As many have commented, the film might have been more rooted in authenticity if the roles played by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence had been switched. So while I admire, I really do, Lawrence in American Hustle, I do not for a minute believe it to be anything more than Lawrence in American Hustle. Compare that with Lawrence's other big role in 2013, in the obscenely successful second part of the Hunger Games franchise. Katniss Everdeen, the teenaged heroine of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games books is meant to be a wiry naif of a girl. During the course of the three books, Katniss grows up not only physically but also by way of her emotional and ethical construct. Jennifer Lawrence, the actress is neither skinny nor convincingly a teenager. And yet, when you watch Lawrence from the first frame of Hunger Games, Catching Fire, there is no doubt in your mind that this is Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence transcends the character's physical outline and so fully emotionally inhabits Katniss' psyche that it is hard now to imagine anyone else playing this role. What greater argument can then be made in defence of the contention that Lawrence should have been nominated for Hunger Games, Catching Fire instead of American Hustle

The Oscar ceremonies will be upon us in a few days, and this is enough ink spent on ruminating about the nominations already. Lets find out how the reality of the wins match up against the endless prognostications that have been going on for entirely too long. 

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