It’s ironic that in a year when the Weinstein Co has stepped up to promote some of the year’s most memorable and vivid films that the industry seems to be, thus far, ignoring those films for Best Picture. Well, to be specific, it’s really only been the Producers Guild. That no Weinstein Co. film was on their slate seemed to herald doom. There were snarky schadenfreude tweets flying around. People are wondering if this, of all years, will be the year the Weinstein Co. isn’t in the Best Picture race?
Here is their astonishing run since they broke through in 2008 (This, after dismantling Miramax, which changed the Oscar race and really did dominate in much the same way year after year):
2012: Django Unchained
2011: The Artist (best pic winner)
2010: The King’s Speech (best pic winner)
2009: Inglourious Basterds
2008: The Reader
Now, they are faced with too many good choices so that voters can’t rally around any one film. They picked two films directed by African Americans, one of them, The Butler has made over $115 million. Fruitvale Station is the other, launching the promising career of Ryan Coogler. Then there is August: Osage County, which is one of the few films in the Oscar race to feature a strong female ensemble cast, including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.
The Weinstein Co. is also backing Philomena, which has a shot at breaking through with the Academy – being that it’s probably the most Academy-friendly in their slate: British, Judi Dench, wonderfully moving drama with a tearjerking ending. Philomena is funny, too, thanks in large part to Steve Coogan’s contribution on the screenplay.
Four films – The Butler, Fruitvale Station, August: Osage County and Philomena are hovering just outside the circle of Best Picture and indeed any of them could push through at the last minute to find a spot. The trouble is, which one?
The Butler — Lee Daniels’ epic tale of the Civil Rights movement as told, for once, through the eyes of a black storyteller who lived through it, and continues to live it every day of his life. What I love about Lee Daniels is that he doesn’t particularly give a rat’s ass about what the white-dominated Hollywood industry thinks of him. Would he have made The Paperboy otherwise? He gets no respect from the snooty critic faction but he made a movie many people “out there” love and enjoy. It’s just that the mostlywhitethirtysomethingmalevotersincriticsandbloggersgroups just can’t relate, man. They think it’s manipulative and sappy and Oscar-baity. Whether it tells a good story or not (it does), whether it’s historically important or not (it is) seems to be beside the point. It doesn’t enliven nor connect with the kinds of people who do the selecting in the awards race.
The Butler is part of a trilogy of black storytelling in 2013. One that most of the people in my field haven’t really covered much. But looking back on this year some bright historian might note that 12 Years a Slave, The Butler and Fruitvale Station frame the Civil Rights movement from slavery up to today. That only one of them – the only one the snooty critics could approve of, 12 Years a Slave, has remained strong. Fruitvale Station would be their second choice because it isn’t The Butler. God forbid.
The Butler features a vibrant ensemble cast of black and white actors from legends like Jane Fonda and Oprah to virtual unknowns like the should-be buzzed David Oyelowo. It tells the story of two black men evolving through the Civil Rights era – a father and a son. The father was raised in the yasir/nosir South (which went on through the 1960s and maybe still goes on, in some places, even today) and taught to keep his head down and his opinions to himself. His son, on the other hand, represents the more outspoken generation, ready to fight for Civil Rights still absent from generations of Jim Crow segregation laws. It’s maybe the year’s most important story from an historical perspective and yet … because it doesn’t light the fire of mostlywhitethirtysomethingmalevotersincriticsandbloggersgroups it is looking like it will be ignored. What a shame. What a scandal.
As I write this I can hear the reactions floating back, “it just isn’t a good movie.” I would say we all have our different opinions of what defines a good movie, don’t we?
Producing a vehicle for not just actresses, but older actresses, is what George Clooney and others did bringing August: Osage County to the big screen. Panned by the New York Times, not deemed hip enough for the blogger set, and finally, rejected by fans of the play – that movie – which features some of the best acting of the year, suddenly seems to have no shot at a Best Picture nod.
Meanwhile, Fruitvale Station tells the story of Oscar Grant, a young black man not living in the South, with every right previous generations fought for, still being profiled because of the color of his skin. This takes us right up to Trayvon Martin. And yet, where is the unified celebration of Ryan Coogler? Is it just that the movie is ultimately too much of a bummer? Or is it that the majority of voters in the Oscar and critics races are white and they just don’t care enough for it to qualify as truly moving?
Either way, this year people might be inclined to talk about the Weinstein Co. in terms of “failing” to get a Best Picture nod. How could anyone see it that way and wake up with themselves the next morning.