A funny thing is happening in the Oscar race. A film that most people haven’t seen, that hasn’t been reviewed by critics – major or otherwise – is being touted as this year’s Best Picture winner. At first it seemed business as usual. Then the film premiered in Australia with a strict embargo of December 1. The film is currently being screened with that embargo in place. I Many of us will see on November 30. But the weird thing is, everyone is acting like it’s a go, like it doesn’t really even matter if the film is seen or not. She’s really that big of a star, that beloved by fans and the industry that it will get into the Best Director and Best Picture race anyway.
If Universal pulls this off it will be unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 16 years. We’ve had actors in the director race many times – big ones, like George Clooney and Ben Affleck. But their movies were seen first and the accepted or rejected by the awards voters. In fact, Clooney’s Ides of March seemed like it was going to get very close to the Best Picture race but did not. Ditto for Affleck’s The Town. I’ve never seen a movie star lead the hype as the film’s director. They always do it when actors are involved. This film is being rolled out as though Angelina Jolie were the star. And maybe, in the end, that will prove true.
The surprising thing about movie stars and Best Director is that they really can be like a supernova descending. Ben Affleck’s star power during Argo was a major force for the film’s success. If you’ve ever stood in a room with an actor-turned-director you can feel their charisma from all the way across the room and it’s nearly impossible to resist it. Affleck’s charm offensive was notorious. No one was safe from it. Everyone fell immediately in love with him upon sight – men, women, forget it. But Affleck had a movie a lot of people thought was really good. They saw the movie and then they celebrated him. With this, they’re celebrating Angelina long before they even see the movie – and I’m wondering if anyone cares.
Jolie is as big a star as Affleck and already has one major blockbuster behind her this year with Maleficent, to name just a tip of the Jolie iceberg. She was also given an Oscar last year for her humanitarian efforts. She even flew off to make another movie with husband Brad Pitt while Unbroken was still in post – all the while raising six kids.
You have to wonder if, indeed, it doesn’t matter if Unbroken is good or not. The story is already so big perhaps it will devour the need for the film to be good. After all, they vote for whom they like anyway, right? This past week I’ve been told by Oscar pundits from experts to amateurs that Unbroken will win, including Entertainment Weekly and Oscar blogging veteran, Dave Karger.
I find myself conflicted over this. On the one hand, I’ve long championed women filmmakers and if Jolie and Ava DuVernay (whose film has been seen and highly praised already, which put her in the race – no star power needed) manage to get in the same year that would be a record breaking year for women and something to celebrate. Worse case scenario the movie is bad and she gets in on her star power. That’s still a woman in the race and lord knows they’ve nominated enough men who didn’t deserve to get included either.
On the other hand, if she does get in and she doesn’t deserve it that could be more devastating for women in the long run because people will say all you have to do is be pretty and popular and you can get nominated for Best Director with a sub par film. We already have one woman in the race whose movie is being praised with standing ovations at press screenings, which hardly ever happens. And yet, all I hear from my Oscar pundit pals is all about Angelina Jolie. I’m perplexed, Oscar watchers.
Then again, maybe the movie really is that good and her star power and popularity only enhances her position in the race, one she would get anyway even if she weren’t Angelina Jolie. Maybe it’s really that good – as good as Selma, as good as Gone Girl and Boyhood and Birdman. That would be the most awesome thing to happen to the Oscars since Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won on the same night.
Though stars can’t lose if they have a reasonably good movie, they are often looked upon negatively in the years to come, especially if they beat a much better film. Robert Redford beating Martin Scorsese, Kevin Costner beating Martin Scorsese. Clint Eastwood beating Martin Scorsese.
What I sense with Unbroken and Angelina Jolie is a tsunami of good cheer and encouragement towards her. I do not know if those accolades are well deserved or not. Yet. I will find out on November 30. Either way, I’m fascinated by the way Universal is controlling the conversation with that embargo, while also taking full advantage of who Angelina Jolie is in American culture. That’s some really hot shit publicity at work, folks.
May the best woman win!