vying for the gold on March 7 of this year likely represent the second-highest number of GLBT contenders in Academy Awards history.
Leading the pack is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. The film received six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Lee Daniels), Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe) and Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique). This deeply felt story of an abused, HIV+ teenager trying to escape her horrific home life features a sympathetic lesbian teacher (movingly portrayed by the lovely Paula Patton) and her partner.
Daniels is one of only a handful of openly gay directors who have ever been nominated for an Oscar, which is cause for rejoicing in and of itself. Not even Ang Lee, who won the Best Director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, is gay. Daniels’ homosexuality naturally informed his approach to Precious, resulting in a powerful film with broad appeal for anyone who has ever considered themselves oppressed or marginalized.
It is unlikely, though, that Daniels will win this year. While this is unfortunate on one hand, it is tempered by the fact that the likely winner will be Kathryn Bigelow for her highly acclaimed but little seen bomb-squad drama, The Hurt Locker. I haven’t yet seen The Hurt Locker (it’s next in my Netflix queue) but I’ve heard from other gay critics that it’s not without a homoerotic sensibility. Bigelow would be the first woman ever to win the Best Director award. I think this historical opportunity will be enough to clinch it for her, despite some competition from Avatar director (and Bigelow’s ex-husband) James Cameron.
Speaking of Avatar, it leads this year’s nominations, along with The Hurt Locker, with nine nominations each. While the ten-foot tall, loincloth-clad aliens and amazing 3-D effects of Avatar offer plenty of eye candy for GLBT and other viewers, its plot is a fairly familiar hybrid of such prior films as Dune, FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Cameron’s own Aliens. I think this will cost it the Best Picture Oscar, but I’m not convinced The Hurt Locker will win.
With a roster of ten Best Picture nominees for the first time since 1943 and a resultant new voting system for the top award, it is very possible that one of the other eight films will emerge as the winner. Precious is a candidate, as are Up in the Air (which is overrated, in my opinion) and popular favorite — and surprise nominee — The Blind Side.
Among this year’s acting nominees, gay and lesbian faves Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) and Meryl Streep (so convincing as Julia Child in Julie & Julia) are neck-in-neck for Best Actress. I expect Bullock will win, and her award will be well deserved. The sight of Matt Damon in short soccer shorts in Invictus was apparently too much for the acting members of the Academy to ignore, as Damon is among the nominees for Best Supporting Actor. It will be a startling upset, though, if Christoph Waltz fails to win for his supporting performance as the evil-but-charming “Jew hunter” in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
The most noteworthy, overtly gay role among the acting nominees, however, is Colin Firth’s grieving George Falconer in Tom Ford’s beautiful film, A Single Man. I was greatly disappointed that A Single Man received no other nominations, deserving as it is of commendations in the Screenplay and Art Direction categories, at least. Also, Julianne Moore, largely expected to be nominated for her performance as George’s overly devoted friend, was passed over in favor of Crazy Heart’s Maggie Gyllenhaal.
It would be most unjust had Firth’s performance been similarly neglected. Firth would likely be this year’s Best Actor winner, too, if it wasn’t for Jeff Bridges’ late-in-the-game performance in Crazy Heart. Also nominated for Best Actor, pleasantly so, is super cute star-on-the-rise Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker.
I find it interesting that the costume drama, historically a genre virtually guaranteed to dominate the Best Picture category, is increasingly on the wane. If not, such 2009 releases as The Young Victoria, Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel and The Last Station would have been included among this year’s top ten. While Last Station stars Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer are deservedly nominated in the acting categories, the other three films were relegated to the Best Costume category. Inglourious Basterds is the only costume drama among this year’s Best Picture nominees, and arguably so since it’s really more of a comedy.
So, who will win this year’s Academy Awards? Tune in on Sunday, March 7 to find out.
By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.