As Guy points to the changing face of the typical “Oscar movie,” I’m reminded of a number of Oscar-related conversations as of late. One question keeps popping through the “What can crack the 10″ debate, and that is, “What can actually win?” Of course, going into the season, the films to beat seem to be “Precious” and “Up in the Air,” based on impressive festival cred. But other titles have been popping up as possibilities, too.
“The Lovely Bones” certainly seems like an across-the-board player. And if it lands a slightly unexpected PG-13 rating (it’s looking like it might), then it could prove even more accessible (i.e., commercially successful) than one might have anticipated. The emotion of the narrative may just be gravy after that.
I get the feeling that, of the other two unseen giants, “Nine” could prove a little too “been there, done that.” But I think “Invictus,” if it delivers, could land a zeitgeisty message of healing a nation after years of political unrest that might prove irresistible to the Academy (from a McCain supporter, no less).
In truth, however, I keep coming back to “Precious,” with just the right level of art house appeal, social consideration and dramatic flare to make good on its current frontrunner status and survive the season. And this recent Lynn Hirschberg profile on director Lee Daniels in The New York Times Magazine is stuffed with insights and asides that make the bet feel safer and safer.
First, there are intriguing (though perhaps I’m stretching) parallels to “Slumdog Millionaire” going on both in front of and behind the camera. As much as I hate to play the “it’s this year’s such-and-such” game, it’s something worth considering. “Precious is a stand-in for anyone — black, white, male, female — who has ever been devalued or underestimated,” Hirschberg writes in the way of swift analysis. But there’s also this quote from Daniels:
It was very, very hard to get financing for ‘Precious.’ All the studios said no. They didn’t want to make a film about a 350-pound black girl who is abused. Everybody kept saying no. My whole life was no. It was just a bunch of nos.
There’s even an anecdote about Daniels’s (now former) manager who told the director that no one would see the film. Anyone disputing the film’s crown jewel status in an underdog season would benefit from a close consideration of this section of Hirschberg’s piece. And this is the kind of thing the industry is generally keen to reward.
The piece goes on to recount interesting moments along the film’s path to completion (like the fact that actress Gabourey Sidibe came to Daniels’s attention after the director suggested the role of Precious’s mother to Sidibe’s real life mom, a New York subway singer). It also suggests Mo’Nique’s supposed off-screen diva tactics in supporting the film are at the very least exaggerated given her unmistakable allegiance to Daniels.
Speaking of which, it’s been difficult to get the Best Supporting Actress contender’s comments on the film and her work in it given the lack of public and press appearances, but she gives a nugget of insight into her motivation in the role of a “demon” of a parent:
In part, Mo’Nique was intrigued by the role of Mary Jones because, she says, she was abused by a brother when she was a young girl. The abuse supposedly began when Mo’Nique was 7 and continued for four years. “We wanted people to see the illness,” Mo’Nique explained. “Lee said, be a monster. And my brother was that monster to me. When Lee said, ‘Action,’ that’s who I became.”
There’s more of course. Like how we have Wes Bentley, of all people, to thank for “Monster’s Ball”; how Helen Mirren, who previously worked with Daniels on “Shadowboxer,” almost ended up in the role that eventually went to Mariah Carey; and the phone call that brought Daniels the news that Oprah Winfrey “wanted to put [her] might behind the film.” Give it all a look here.
I’d say the film has performed this slow burn nicely, and now, just two weeks from release, it sits poised for public reaction. I expect it to land just right.