Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscars 2014: The Butler Hustled Out

Hollywood Prom Night.  The Academy Awards.  The Gay Superbowl.  Whatever you want to call it, the Hollywood Gold Rush is now underway because the Oscar nominations were announced early this morning.  As expected, Meryl Streep got her annual Oscar nomination.  It's now a Hollywood law that she gets nominated whether she made a movie or not.  A big surprise that I heard mentioned on network morning news shows and Los Angeles radio stations was that Lee Daniels' The Butler did not get a single Oscar nomination.  It was such a hot movie last summer with critics and moviegoers.  My two young nephews, ages 10 and 13, enthusiastically told me it was one of the best movies they saw last year.  That made me proud.  The movie and the butler's civil rights experiences brought a few tears to my eyes.  But no Oscar nominations for movie director Lee Daniels nor for The Butler stars, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

You never can predict how the Oscar nominations and the Oscar awards will go. Oprah knows that.  Remember when she had Leonardo DiCaprio on her daytime show to promote The Aviator?  She'd just seen him in it and she made a prediction for his biopic performance as Howard Hughes.  Oprah stood up and with gusto declared, "Go get your Oscar, Leo!  Go get your Oscar, Leo!"  Then a movie called Ray came out.  Instead of Leo getting it, Foxx got the Best Actor Oscar for playing the late Ray Charles.

Three black actors are in the Oscar race -- two for 12 Years a Slave and one for Captain Phillips. Three black people up for Academy Awards.  That's three more black people than I saw in place as guest entertainment contributors discussing the nominations this morning on Today, CBS This Morning and Good Morning America.  With all the talk of 12 Years a Slave and The Butler, not one African-American movie journalist/film critic was present to talk about two top films focused on the African-American experience.  It was like a repeat of last year when two top Oscar contenders were Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained.  No nominations for The Butler.  Ten nominations for American Hustle.  Nine Oscar nominations for Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave.
The Steve McQueen film brought the British filmmaker a nomination for Best Director.  It's a nominee for Best Picture.
12 Years a Slave also earned nominations for Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael "12 Inches a Slaveowner" Fassbender) and Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o).
Did you see Fassbender as the New York City sex addict in Shame?  Woof!  He was a revelation.  Emotionally and physically naked.  His replica of Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia is the only reason to sit through the lame sci-fi adventure, Prometheus.

In my August 2013 blog piece, "Bobby Cannavale in BLUE JASMINE," I wrote that I felt Sally Hawkins was ripe for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as Jasmine's sister.  I am thrilled the Academy felt the same way.

This should be Hawkins second Oscar nomination.  Her first should have come for the 2008 British film, Happy-Go-Lucky.  Rent that movie and see what I mean.  She's brilliant as the steely, working class optimist who changes how people move through their lives a bit.  Cate Blanchett, as dozens of movie critics predicted, got a Best Actress nomination for Blue Jasmine.  Actresses have great luck performing Woody Allen material.  Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz all won their Oscars for Woody Allen films.  Judy Davis, Maureen Stapleton and Geraldine Page got Oscar nominations for a Woody Allen film.

Ironically, an actress who has given several excellent performances in Woody Allen classics has never been nominated at all in her long movie career.  Mia Farrow was never nominated for her shining and versatile work in The Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days, Alice, Broadway Danny Rose or Hannah and Her Sisters.  I would've mentioned that if I was on one of today's network morning shows.  Look at Farrow's stunning dramatic work in Roman Polanski's 1968 modern-day horror story, Rosemary's Baby.  Follow that with her Judy Holliday-ish comedy turn as the dumb blonde in Radio Days.
Mia Farrow and Robert Redford starred in the 1974 remake of The Great Gatsby.
Bruce Dern co-starred as the husband to Farrow's Daisy Buchanan.  Baz Luhrmann's opulent remake was Leonardo DiCaprio's other big moneyman movie of 2013.  Leo as The Great Gatsby didn't do nearly as well with American critics and moviegoers as The Wolf of Wall Street.   Scorcese's Wall Street drama puts DiCaprio in the Best Actor Oscar race opposite another veteran of The Great Gatsby -- Bruce Dern, nominated for Nebraska.

On ABC, CBS and NBC, the entertainment contributors talked about today's Oscar "snubs."  Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker didn't get nominated.  Tom Hanks didn't get nominated.  Robert Reford didn't get nominated.  That's true.  But... at least each one got nominated in the past.  Oprah was nominated for The Color Purple.  Forest won Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland.  Tom Hanks won a historic two consecutive Oscars for Best Actor.  Robert Reford won Best Director for Ordinary People, Best Picture of 1980.  Oprah Winfrey was bestowed an honorary Oscar for her humanitarian work.

As I've blogged before... Edward G. Robinson, Joel McCrea, Donald Sutherland, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid, France's Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and A Woman, Z, The Conformist, Amour) actress/director/screenwriter Ida Lupino and Mia Farrow do not have one single Oscar nomination to their credits after decades of solid work.  The fact that Andy Griffith never got a nomination, especially in the Best Actor category for A Face in the Crowd, leaves me mystified.  He gave one of the most blistering, most memorable performances in a 1950s American film.  He burned up the screen as the power hungry, influential, two-faced national TV star in that classic drama years before he gained great fame as a beloved TV sitcom character.  If you've never seen that 1957 movie, rent the DVD as soon as you can.  Andy Griffith was one talented Broadway, film and TV actor.
 THOSE are snubs.  No one on the morning shows mentioned the Forest Whitaker was snubbed in two categories.  He's not up for Best Actor.  He's not up for Best Picture.  He produced the critically acclaimed indie movie Fruitvale Station.  Whitaker's production was one of the best films I saw last year.  It was hailed at the Cannes Film Festival.  I'd have loved to see new actor, Michael B. Jordan, get a nomination today for his remarkable performance as the young family man in Northern California who should not have died the way he did while innocently on his way to a San Francisco New Year's Eve party.

Here's a question:  Through the 1930s up to 1945, there were 10 nominees for Best Picture.  Then it went down to 5.  A few years ago, it went back up to 10.  However, now that we can have 10 nominees, we've been getting 9.  We got 9 today.  Why aren't we getting a movie like The Butler, Fruitvale Station or All Is Lost as the 10th nominated film? Many entertainment reporters this morning were surprised that Robert Redford did not get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for All Is Lost.  That movie got terrific reviews.  Redford hit the high seas in All Is Lost.  Hanks did the same as Captain Phillips.  Neither got nominated.  Just like in some lovemaking, "the little man in the boat" was overlooked.

If you want some laughs this weekend, I've got a DVD double feature tip for you.  Steve Coogan got two Oscar nominations today.  His production, Philomena, is up for Best Picture.  He's up for Best Adapted Screenplay.  He wrote Judi Dench to a Best Actress Oscar nomination as Philomena.  See Coogan as the clueless 1980s actor whose Hollywood career went only as far as the lead role in a national commercial for a herpes medication.  This loser is now teaching high school drama in Arizona. He writes and directs plays that get panned by the school newspaper's teen drama critic.  Even the teacher's wife thinks he's a loser.  The students think he's a dork.
Things change when his wife leaves and, in his depressed state, he writes a musical sequel to Hamlet that turns Jesus into a hipster.  Hamlet 2 goes beyond Glee -- especially when the town conservatives are enraged that the students are performing a number called "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus."

But the loser reinvents himself and wins the support of his students.

Amy Poehler, Catherine Keener and a very funny Elisabeth Shue co-star.  Shue plays herself as an actress whose career fell so flat after her Oscar nomination that she had to take a job as a nurse in Arizona.  Shue was a Best Actress nominee for 1995's Leaving Las Vegas.  I've been a fan of British comic actor Steve Coogan for quite some time.  2008's Hamlet 2 shows him at his quirky, irreverent best.

Kinky Boots, a fun British comedy, was turned into one of the biggest musical comedy hits now playing on Broadway.  It was a top Tony winner.  Did you know that Best Actor nominee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, originated the role of the wise drag queen performer who helps a poor town get back on its feet financially ... with the help of high heels?

I'm also thrilled that the U.S. is getting to see the gifts of this fabulous actor.  You get lots of smiles seeing him playing a man who was only a slave to fashion in the movie that inspired a big Broadway musical comedy hit.

In closing, here's how unpredictable Oscar nominations are.  Bad Grandpa, from the people who gave us MTV's Jackass, got one Oscar nomination.  The Butler got nothing.

That's Hollywood.  The Oscars are handed out Sunday, March 2nd, on ABC.


  1. I thought Oprah Winfrey gave one of the most riveting performances of the year.

  2. Steve, I did too. There was a hint of Elizabeth Taylor as Martha from WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? in Oprah's performance. Her final scene was excellent. ((I am so glad you're ok. Here on the West Coast, I saw news footage of the building fire.))

  3. Perhaps THE BUTLER suffered from being released a little too early? It wasn't fresh in the Academy Award voters' minds. Just a theory. I'm still waiting for the day that another Asian or Asian/American actor will get an Oscar nomination. The last one we got was Hailee Steinfeld for 2010's TRUE GRIT. She is part Filipino but not 100% Asian. As for the last win, WAY..WAY...WAY too long. It was Haing S. Ngor for 1984's THE KILLING FIELDS. I just wish Hollywood screenwriters would write terrific roles with Asian actors in mind. The dismissal of Asian actors for Oscar nominations is too obvious and has gone on too long. I know your frustration with the lack of respect that African-American performers get, but I think we Asians have it the worst. Black actors did somewhat well(considering the history of black actors with Oscar) this year with nominations - as you mentioned(three). I do believe at least one of them will win - Lupita N'yongo for 12 YEARS A SLAVE. You are right about Meryl Streep. She got nominated because she's Meryl Streep. I saw AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. It was one of the most disappointing movies of the year for me. Meryl was fine, but she got the nomination just because she's Meryl. There are more deserving nominees this year than Meryl.


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