Friday, January 31, 2014

Reverend's Preview: And the Oscar Goes To…

With gay producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan returning to oversee the show, out comedian/daytime TV goddess Ellen DeGeneres hosting, and the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club up for six awards in major categories (including Best Picture), this year’s Academy Awards may prove to be the most GLBT-relevant yet. The 86th annual star-studded extravaganza will be broadcast live on Sunday, March 2nd on ABC.

While there are no openly GLBT actors among this year’s nominees, several performers received nominations for playing characters belonging to or at least friendly toward our community. Leading the pack are Matthew McConaughey, as an AIDS-afflicted straight man who establishes a life-saving business relationship with a trans woman (played by fellow nominee Jared Leto) in the eye-opening Dallas Buyers Club. Leto and McConaughey are considered the front-runners in their categories, having won both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards as well as numerous critics’ group honors.

Upsets, though, are always possible at the Oscars and either old timer Bruce Dern (Nebraska) or younger favorite Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) could steal McConaughey’s thunder as Best Actor. Leto could similarly find himself beaten as Best Supporting Actor by Captain Phillips charismatic newcomer Barkhad Abdi or the popular Bradley Cooper from American Hustle. Still, I’m putting my money on McConaughey and Leto.

Jonah Hill was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his turn as DiCaprio’s literal partner in crime, a bisexual stock broker, in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Wolf of Wall Street. Hill’s portrayal of a closeted member of our community is not a favorable one but it is frequently entertaining in a hedonistic sort of way. Finally, Dame Judi Dench received a nod as Best Actress for her moving performance as a mother searching for the gay son she was forced to give up for adoption in Philomena, which was inspired by a true story.

Philomena was directed by Stephen Frears who, while not gay himself, previously helmed the 1980’s gay classics My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears. Frears was passed over by the Academy branch as a Best Director nominee this year but Philomena racked up several other nominations including Best Picture (a surprise), Adapted Screenplay and Original Music Score. The five men vying for Best Director are David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Scorsese. Cuarón is favored to win for his technologically groundbreaking, breathtaking work, but Russell and McQueen can’t be counted out entirely.

Other nominees beside Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club in the all-important Best Picture category are American Hustle, Captain Phillips (whose star, Tom Hanks, was a surprising snub in the Best Actor category), Gravity, Spike Jonze’s futuristic romance Her, Nebraska (this year’s most overrated contender, in my opinion), 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. As of now, there is a three-way race between Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years — all of which are very deserving — for the main prize.

Apart from the higher profile Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena, the most significant GLBT entry in this year’s Oscar race may be found among the Best Documentary Short nominees. Jason Cohen’s Facing Fear relates the powerful story of a gay man, Matthew Boger, who found himself unexpectedly reunited with a former neo-Nazi skinhead, Tim Zaal, who savagely beat Boger 25 years earlier. After a challenging process of reconciliation and forgiveness between the two, Boger and Zaal today consider each other friends and regularly give presentations together about their journey. Cohen does a terrific job and it would be great if Facing Fear won. Facing Fear and its fellow Documentary Short nominees, as well as all the Animated and Live Action short film nominees, will be screening at a theater near you starting today.

Gay favorites in other categories include Disney’s Frozen, up for both Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”); Baz Luhrmann’s ravishing adaptation of The Great Gatsby, nominated for Art Direction and Costume Design; and Best Documentary Feature candidate 20 Feet from Stardom, which focuses on the backup singers behind several legendary performers (including Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder).

Curiously absent among this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees is Blue is the Warmest Color, the scintillating lesbian drama that won the Cannes Film Festival’s grand prize and has swept critics’ group foreign film awards. It turned out to be not eligible this year due to a quirk in the Academy’s submission rules, even though it received a US theatrical release. The movie will reportedly be eligible for next year’s Oscars. Hopefully, it will still be remembered then.

Meron and Zadan, who are producing the show for the second year in a row, promise “no shortage of comedy with Ellen DeGeneres as our host.” DeGeneres MC’d the ceremony once before, in 2007, and was well received as the first openly lesbian or gay person to host the event. The producers also announced a special celebration of movie heroes that will anchor this year’s show. “People around the world go to the movies to be inspired by the characters they see on the screen,” Zadan and Meron said in a statement. “By celebrating the gamut of heroes who have enriched our movie-going experience, we hope to create an evening of fun and joy.” And for all us "friends of Dorothy", there will be a special tribute to The Wizard of Oz in honor of its 75th anniversary.

Prior to this year’s Academy Awards but on a related note will be the broadcast of a new documentary, And the Oscar Goes To…, by gay filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, Howl). It will premiere February 1st on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to kick off their annual "31 Days of Oscar" celebration, and will be repeated several times on TCM, as well as on CNN, throughout the month of February. The duo, who are themselves Oscar winners for 1988’s Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, will chronicle the nine-decade history of the world’s most popular awards show. It all sounds like must-see TV to me!

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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