It’s a shocker that, even at this late date, there are movies that can still wildly shift the race. One is 1917, which will be seen this weekend, and the other is Richard Jewell, which screened last night at AFI and for select press at a different screening with a Q&A afterwards.
Without even getting to Oscar talk, let’s just talk about the movie. You might have to have seen Paul Walter Hauser speak in the Q&A to get just how different, exacting and — frankly — astonishing his performance is as Richard Jewell. I kept waiting for him to drop the ball, to somehow slip out of character but he never does. It is SO good, in fact, that you really do believe this is how he talks in real life.
Richard Jewell is the true story of a man wrongly accused by the FBI, and an impulsive journalist eager to get the scoop, as the bomber in Centennial Park back in the mid-90s. Eric Rudolph was arrested in 2003 for that bombing, and Jewell sued for defamation against NBC News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Rudolph is a real piece of work. Back then, when we talked about terrorism we talked about guys like this.
The film shows, because of a well written script by Billy Ray, how easy it was to slip into thinking someone like Richard Jewell was a terrorist seeking recognition. The idea was he plants the bombs, saves people from it and becomes a somebody. Everything that comes out of his mouth makes him sound guilty but lucky for him he befriends an outsider lawyer who knows him, trusts him and takes on the FBI on his behalf. This is a smooth and adept ensemble, among many this year.
Hauser’s performance is matched and very nearly upstaged by Sam Rockwell as his lawyer. Rockwell is always good. How is this possible? I can’t begin to articulate what it is about him that catches fire when the camera is on him but there is magic there, no matter what part he plays, no matter what film he’s in. And here, he is a joy to watch as a guy who has a sign on his wall that says “I trust terrorists more than I trust government.”
Indeed, Richard Jewell is very much an “anti-government” movie and most definitely in the Clint Eastwood wheelhouse of the higher up they are the least trustworthy they are. His politics will be brought up again and again – because we are not living through a time where these things can be separated. I can separate them quite easily. I have no problem appreciating the work, especially with this director whose films I have loved for so many years. It doesn’t matter to me what he thinks – I am not one of those in the business of policing thought. But you know, likability is always key in the Oscar race. At least 50% of it is that. The work comes secondary to it. It even comes secondary to the character the actor plays. If they like the actor or the filmmaker that often rises above everything else. That’s one of the things that make the Oscar race tricky: knowing who “they” like and who they don’t like.
Kathy Bates has to be considered for the Best Supporting Actress race, which is a bit “thin” this year. As with everything else with this film it will depend on how big the shitstorm is regarding various elements in the film. Some will be about the film’s accuracy, namely whether or not the Olivia Wilde character actually traded sex for information, or whether that is something that can be used in a semi-fictional script and just how bad the reaction to that will be. Who knows. Also the hatred for Trump and all republicans by association will also come into play.
As far as Best Actor goes, it remains impossible to figure out how such a competitive category will land but at some point in the next few weeks, nominations will come down, hierarchy will be determined and you’ll hear one door slam shut after another.
It isn’t. I can’t even start to think about how this shifts the acting race. I don’t know which one gets sacrificed but the performances that really have landed for me this year, without taking into consideration buzz would be:
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell
That’s six, not five. I know, I know: kill me now. Just KILL ME NOW. I don’t even know where to start but of course these are the names being most urgently checked this year and will probably get in:
Robert De Niro, Irishman
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
And then the great performances that won’t have a shot because the race is just too damned crowded:
Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Michael B. Jordan, Just Mercy
Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters
Edward Norton, Motherless Brooklyn