Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Can Franco Win Back the Academy with Bikinis and Guns?

Left to right: Ashley Benson, James Franco, and Vanessa Hudgens
It was announced today on Showbiz 411 that Annapurna Pictures is planning to move the release of director Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers from a 2013 release to the middle of December. This was mostly achieved when a few screenings revealed that James Franco's character was a favorite among viewers. This strategy is of course being done to try and capitalize on a Best Supporting Actor nomination. In a year when Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master and Alan Arkin in Argo stand a chance at being front runners, does Franco stand a chance, especially as a gold-toothed thug in a movie that is notorious for having Disney starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez romping around in bikinis? 

Going into this news, I was not too familiar with the film besides the idea of Disney starlets in bikinis. I knew Franco was in it, but he seems to be in everything that is remotely a risque indie film (see: About Cherry). He is notorious for bizarre project choices, and it was the least shocking element of Spring Breakers, which to the general public may seem like a Girls Gone Wild excuse to see Disney starlets breaking the innocence persona (a'la Hilary Duff in War Inc.). It could seem shallow, but from a director whose catalog includes a Michael Jackson impersonator film (Mister Lonely) and a documentary on the subject of Trash Humpers, there is little to believe that this is going to be mainstream, though maybe a little bit on the side of sexploitation. 

As majority of audiences will ask "What is Spring Breakers?" The movie hasn't necessarily gotten enough traction to be recognized as an Oscar contender. It is like Blue Valentine and Shame before it. There may be some idea of who is in it, but it will most likely just be part of the pantheon of overly sexual dramas fighting for Oscars. If the head photo doesn't convince you, check out the IMdB description:

"Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work."
 In this situation, the dealer is none other than Alien (Franco). For a closer look at what we can expect, here is a clip:

Now that we know the back story, consider this knowledge: Annapurna Pictures thinks that they can convince the Academy to give James Franco a nomination. His gold-toothed, slack jawed character who refers to his contraband as "My shit," is getting Oscar consideration. Even if the clip is mostly talk, this character already seems a little too risque to be considered for the Academy, as we can expect some dirty stuff to happen. Someone could get shot, or at very least, a less appealing version of Franco's Saul character in Pineapple Express (more on that later). 

What gives Franco the edge? We must first look at his history with the Oscars. He has presented awards, been in segments, received a Best Actor nomination for 127 Hours, and remains notorious for hosting the worst ceremony of the past few years with Anne Hathaway. It has been two years since that disastrous event, and I am almost sure that the Academy is somehow against Franco, who was considered to be stoned through the whole production (though his choice to upload backstage photos to his Twitter during production also seemed rude). 

While Hathaway has somehow retained her reputation, Franco seemed to disappear. He's still pumping out what seems like a film a month, but nowhere was there even consideration for Oscar buzz. Still, once a nominee, the chances at another shot grow higher. He may get his foot in the door simply because of his nomination for 127 Hours. Also, I doubt that Annapurna Pictures (who also have The Master and Zero Dark Thirty as potential nominees) would put this much effort into bumping up a film unless it thought that it would stand a chance, even if the film doesn't seem viably commercial.

Michael Fassbender in Shame
However, we can travel back to last year's ceremony, in which numerous parties claimed that Michael Fassbender was robbed of an Oscar nomination for Shame, in which he plays a sex addict. The film was very graphic about sex and eventually started a running joke about Fassbender's penis (culminating in a joke that George Clooney told at the Golden Globes). Still, it was a painfully honest tale that featured an NC-17 rating and a whole lot of brooding sex. It got Golden Globe consideration, but Shame never had any association with the Oscars.

A quick trip to the Parent's Guide page on IMdB will show the few benefits of this film. It doesn't have an NC-17 rating, thus keeping it from that form of notoriety that also overshadowed Blue Valentine. However, with young girls in bikinis for the dominant feature, it is easy for this film to be overly sexual. The reason that this could be an issue is that the Academy, being predominantly older voters, can see that a film has a lot of sex appeal and immediately ignore that a film has merit in acting. This happened to Fassbender last year and it can happen to Franco now, especially since the film doesn't have the buzz or prestige of Shame and that the bikini-clad co-stars can easily be seen as a little too perverted and make older voters feel like a pedophile. Not to mention that Franco clearly is going to be more of a gangster-inspired performance, and that model of low life rarely gets high acclaim.

This is where things oddly separate between the Oscars and the Golden Globes. As previously established, the Globes nominated Fassbender for Shame. They seem to be open to more abstract choices (even though Alice in Wonderland (2010) for Best Musical or Comedy is as terrible as they get) and not as focused on taboo subjects as sex. They may not garner the respect that the Academy does, but at least their choices are often ill-advised conversation starters with a few nuggets. In fact, Franco was nominated for his role in Pineapple Express. The Academy featured a clip at that year's ceremony inspired by the film, but with exception to Robert Downey Jr. for Best Supporting Actor in Tropic Thunder, it seems unlikely that broad comedies will get any traction at the Oscars.

The Academy seems to be going for more internally conflicted characters, or ones that emote. Franco's Spring Breakers character seems to be the antithesis of this. He seems very low key and curses up a storm. These are not the type of characters that the Academy usually goes for. Glorified scum just doesn't fly...


Marissa Tomei in The Wrestler
The question emerges if there have been any reputable figures that have won an acting nomination. We had Christoph Waltz for Inglouirous Basterds and Denzel Washington for Training Day. However, these characters seemed a little too over the top and thus earned every ounce of praise through showing range. The lower level figures, who don't have a title as prestigious as Jew Hunter or dirty cop haven't played as well, though there have been a few nominations.

Beloved actor Morgan Freeman's first nomination came for Best Supporting Actor as Fast Black in Street Smart, in which he played a thug. This was of course before he became legendary voice-over God and won for Million Dollar Baby. Then there are others, including Supporting Actress nominations for Marissa Tomei as a prostitute in The Wrestler and Julianne Moore as a porn star in Boogie Nights. Both lost, but remain a silver lining for the possibility of lower level professions getting nominated. Even Michelle Williams' nomination for Blue Valentine can be seen as a step forward, even though she already had established credibility with a nomination for Brokeback Mountain in 2006.

At the end of the day, the chances of James Franco getting traction may seem plausible, but it doesn't seem like it will happen. The way that I perceive it is that while it may be considered, the film will be polarizing enough that its depiction of the young Disney starlets will be seen as soft pornographic, and therefore have the sexual tones overpower any chance of Franco being good in it. It happened to the credible Shame, and it may happen to the Korine's follow-up to Trash Humpers. It stands a better chance at a Golden Globe, but it is too low on the radar to even register there.

I really find the whole campaign to raise awareness of Spring Breakers to be way too ridiculous and while I applaud its out of the box thinking, it is still too risque of a subject to even register. It may have been loved by audiences, but like Michael Fassbender, James Franco is doomed to eventually have a best case scenario where this role is considered under-appreciated. Otherwise, Franco still has to win back the Academy for which there may be tension from his hosting gig. I don't feel like playing a pimp that reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher will be the role to do that.

Do you feel that Franco stands a chance at getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Spring Breakers? Does the Academy just hate movies that look at sex and those involved as humans? Is this all just a conspiracy to hide that the voters don't want to look like pedophiles by not nominating it? 

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