It strikes me as entirely apt, and deliciously ironic, that I started out Thursday morning by doing a phone interview with legendary jockey Calvin Borel for an upcoming issue of Cowboys & Indians magazine. Apt and ironic, that is, because as soon as I set down the phone, I immersed myself in a different kind of horse race: The 86th annual Academy Awards.
Nominations for this year’s Oscars were announced early Thursday in Los Angeles. And now, after weeks and months of handicapping by professional and amateur showbiz observers – well, to borrow a key phrase from Mr. Borel’s primary place of business: They’re off!
Some observations from this veteran Oscar tipster:
AND THEN THERE WERE NINE: To be honest, I still don’t understand the intricacies and eccentricities of a Best Picture voting system that allows for a final outcome of five, 10 or any number in between. This year, we have nine finalists: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. We won’t find out who the winner is until March 2. But as we head into the home stretch, I view 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle as the front runners.
On the other hand: If those two favorites split the vote, don’t be surprised if long-shot Gravity breaks out of the pack and gallops into the winner’s circle.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: I wish there had been room for a tenth title – the under-Oscar-appreciated Inside Llewyn Davis – in the Best Picture lineup. And I really, really wish Will Forte could have slipped into the Supporting Actor category for Nebraska. As I have noted elsewhere: Forte’s non-nomination reminds me a bit of how Donald Sutherland fared with Ordinary People. While co-stars Timothy Hutton (who actually brought home the gold as Supporting Actor) and Mary Tyler Moore were duly anointed for their standout work, poor Sutherland was overlooked for his subtler yet equally important portrayal of a man torn by conflicting demands while trying to keep his dysfunctional family together.
GOOD RIDDANCE: On the other hand, I can’t say I’ll be losing much sleep over the total shutout of Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Coming on the heels of a similar shunning by the Hollywood Foreign Press, this latest brushoff indicates that, to paraphrase Sally Field, most people in Hollywood really, really disliked this film. I’m sure some people will see a racist motive in all this not-so-benign neglect. To do that, however, would necessitate a willful blindness to all the attention given 12 Years a Slave.
F**KIN’ A, MAC: Every movie buff worth his popcorn knows that Midnight Cowboy is the only X-rated movie ever to win a Best Picture award. This year’s list of nominations contains another singular sensation: The Wolf of Wall Street contains more F-bombs than any movie ever nominated in any category in the history of Hollywood.
WHERE’S BOBBY? – Despite all the online and in-print chatter about Robert Redford being a Best Actor mortal lock for All is Lost… well, it didn’t happen. Was it because, as some claim, Redford didn’t actively campaign for a nomination? That is, because he didn’t do his share of schmoozing at film festivals and meet-and-greet screening events? Or was it because – dare I say it? – not enough Academy members bothered to see his movie (or, if they were viewing at home, see all of his movie) because they thought it might be, well, you know, a bummer?
DISSED DISNEY –There also had been much pre-nomination talk about a possible gaggle of Oscar nods for Saving Mr. Banks. In recent weeks, however, there’s been what appears to be an organized campaign against the movie, which offers a romanticized account of how a sage and folksy Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) talked the prickly P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) into signing over the movie rights to her Mary Poppins.
First we heard from those who complained that Travers was depicted inaccurately, or at least one-dimensionally, in the movie. Then there was a lot of loose talk that Mr. Disney wasn’t really such a nice guy. The latter point was pushed to max by Meryl Streep at the National Board of Review awards presentation, where the much-respected actress presented the Best Actress prize to Emma Thompson. During her presentation speech, Streep felt compelled to note what she described as Disney’s “gender bigotry” and “racist proclivities,” and accused the late Hollywood legend of having “formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby.” (I’m certain – maybe not absolutely certain, but relatively certain — Streep wasn’t trying to sabotage Thompson’s Oscar chances, even though Thompson could be seen as her competitor in this year’s Best Actress race.)
Did any of this dissing have any influence on Academy voters? Well, you decide: Emma Thompson was conspicuously snubbed in the Best Actress category, Tom Hanks -- who could have been nominated for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor – got no Oscar love for playing Disney, and the movie itself couldn’t make the final cut in a nine-title Best Picture lineup. Indeed, Saving Mr. Banks landed only one nomination, for the Original Score by Thomas Newman – who, apparently, is considered a perfectly swell individual by Academy voters.
FOREIGN INFLUENCE: The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s acclaimed comedy-drama about a world-weary Italian journalist who takes stock of his life on his 65th birthday, is one of the five finalists in the Best Foreign Language Film category. If you missed it during its H-Town premiere run at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, take heart: MFAH has scheduled an additional screening at 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20.
AND THE LOCAL WINNER IS: Houston Cinema Arts Festival, for having programmed Cutie and the Boxer – one of the five Best Documentary Feature finalists -- as its official 2013 opening-night film.