ReelThoughts: January 12, 2014

"The Ignored and Forgotten"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


The nominations won't be announced for another four days but I thought I'd get a jump start on my gripes. When it comes to actual nominations, there's a pool and the Academy will draw about 95% from that pool. Let me hasten to add that there's nothing wrong with this approach. Many of the nominations - from Bullock to Ejiofor to Dern - are worthy. The problem is that a lot of little gems are overlooked. This is always the case, although the Academy occasionally throws a bone to indie productions by reaching out to the likes of Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) or Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). So there probably will be a "surprise" or two but they won't come close to acknowledging some amazing contributions. This is by no means an attempt at an exhaustive list but here are a few performances I remember that have about a 95% chance of being ignored by the Academy.

First up is Sam Rockwell from The Way Way Back. I enjoyed this film more than the average viewer/critic but the one thing just about everyone who saw the movie took away from it was how good Rockwell is. It's not an exaggeration to say that this is his movie, even though he only has a supporting role. Rockwell falls into the classic category of a "character actor." He's a chameleon and almost always nails his roles perfectly. To date, his best performance is in the tragically underrated Moon, but this is a very close second.

How about a trio of indie women? There's actually a chance the Academy will reach out and pluck one of these from the tree. They're in the category of "small movies few people have watched but Oscar wants to single out." I'm referring to The Spectacular Now's Shailene Woodley, Short Term 12's Brie Larson, and Before Midnight's Julie Delpy. For Woodley and Larson, this represents a coming-out party of sorts (Larson, in fact, had three notable 2013 performances: Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, and Don Jon). Delpy has been around for decades but this may be the most deeply one of her performances has affected me. I loved all three and will be disappointed if the Academy doesn't at least acknowledge one of them.

It's ironic that sometimes a movie is too big to be considered for acting awards. Such is the case with Thor: The Dark World. Yet, in the midst of all the comic book nonsense, special effects, and testosterone, we have one of the most stunning supporting performances of the year. Tom Hiddleston has played Loki in three films to date and he's gotten better with each appearance. The term "scene stealing" was coined for work like this. Put Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson in every Marvel movie and there will always be something worth seeing, no matter how generic and uninspired everything else may be.

Upon its release, Prisoners was supposed to be a "sure fire" Oscar contender. But there was a problem: no one saw it. The reasons for its box office failure probably aren't hard to guess: at a time when escapism is increasingly more prized in theaters, this movie offers a hard-hitting dramatic thriller about child abduction. Not exactly cheerful or lighthearted material. The disappointing financials of Prisoners will seriously limit its Oscar potential, and that's too bad, because there are two standout performances and one very good one. Hugh Jackman has never been better, and that includes his nominated turn in 2012's Les Miserables. Paul Dano is equally powerful. And Jake Gyllenhaal is the glue that held everything together. I'm hoping the Academy will remember this film when it comes to handing out nominations, but my optimism doth not overflow.

Then there's the strange case of Blue is the Warmest color, which isn't eligible for Best Foreign Language Film because it wasn't released early enough in its native country. There's no reason Adele Exarchopoulos couldn't be nominated in the Lead Actress category except that (a) the film is three hours long and in French and (2) it's rated NC-17. Still, those factors don't take away from the fact that this is not only the most powerful performance of the year (male or female, with all apologies to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who will get his nomination and possibly a deserved win in the Lead Actor category) but also the most brave. Regardless of how liberal your views are on cinematic sex, it takes a lot of guts to appear in scenes as graphic as these. Exarchopoulos makes the character come alive in a way that puts to shame a number of higher profile but more superficial performances that the Academy will consider primarily because of "name recognition" considerations.

A few years ago, I don't think I'd ever heard of Benedict Cumberbatch but now he's ubiquitous. Sherlock. Khan. A plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave. Smaug. The Necromancer. August: Osage County. Parade's End. Of all his 2013 projects, however, the one in which he probably gave the best performance is The Fifth Estate. No one saw it, however, because interest in a bio-pic of WikiLeaks Julian Assange wasn't high on many people's must-see list. As a result, Cumberbatch's remarkable recreation of a complex narcissist has been watched by few. Bill Condon's movie has its share of weaknesses but Cumberbatch nearly saves it single-handedly.

Finally, there's Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station. After seeing the film, I felt certain he'd get a nomination but he has largely been overlooked by the pre-Oscar barometers, so there's a sense he could be ignored. That's unfortunate, because here's a chance to nominate a deserving actor from a highly praised, powerful indie production whose recognition would garner cheers across the industry. And, while I don't want to get into racial politics, if the Academy wants to promote diversity and nominate a black actor, aside from Chiwetel Ejiofor, is there a better choice? But Jordan doesn't deserve to be nominated on the basis of the color of his skin; he deserves to be nominated because his work in Fruitvale Station is among the five best leading male performances of 2013.

Note: This year, instead of writing a column summarizing any thoughts I may have about the nominations, I'll use Twitter instead (@Reelviews). I won't dump everything in the morning but will space them out across the day's landscape. My strongest aggravation may be with Julia Roberts. Whether or not she's deserving of a nomination isn't the question, but she's definitely not a SUPPORTING actress and thus shouldn't be considered for that category.


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