One of the most surprising things about 2013 in movies was the transformation of Matthew McConaughey all the way from shirtless loverboy to respected actor. With four films: Killer Joe, Magic Mike, the Paperboy and Berne, he almost seemed like a new person, even delivering a heartwarming ode to independent filmmakers at this year's Spirit Awards, at which he won Best Supporting Male for Magic Mike. The trend continues as he becomes the go to guy for prestige directors, including Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) and Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street). With this week's release of director Jeff Nichol's film Mud, he loses his vanity even more. But is this enough to get him an Oscar nomination?
I know that I seem hypocritical with McConaughey. A few years ago, I called him one of the worst actors in Hollywood. As seen in a piece I wrote on Magic Mike last year, I am kind of turned around. While I haven't been blown away by his films necessarily (Magic Mike being the exception), I notice that he's trying to do something different, which is something that I admire and probably have been hyperbolic in praise ever since. With this in mind, I almost want to believe that we're entering a new era of McConaughey. One that will see him enter a pantheon of prestigious actors.
While my money is more cornered on Dallas Buyers Club, for which he had considerable weight loss, I would like to think that Mud is a strong choice for consideration. This is mostly on the front of Jeff Nichols, whose previous film, Take Shelter, was a fantastic set piece for actors Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. It was electric and showed that at very least, Nichols is capable of taking a simple story and working well with actors. While it could be that Chastain and Shannon are both already talented performers, I would like to believe that there's something in Nichols that will pull out a secret charm in McConaughey.
So what is Mud and why should it be considered? Here's a clip that at very least shows you what McConaughey looks like talking to Sam Shepard.
Not too shabby, eh? If that clip doesn't help, here is the plot description from IMDb:
"Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love."
It's a simple enough story, and it feels like one reminiscent of the nature-based Beasts of the Southern Wild. It's another film that dealt with love and going on a journey. While that film was more based on natural events than Mud appears to be, it is a good sign that maybe this film will stand some chance of getting recognition, if just because of those small similarities. Also, the Academy has begun noticing smaller films, which is a big plus. If Mud is half as good as Take Shelter, it should get Jeff Nichols the recognition that he deserves.
Of course, the bigger concern is that the film is falling in the pre-Oscar season field. Beasts of the Southern Wild didn't come out until June, and even then felt too early to gain huge momentum. While McConaughey is a big enough name to attract attention, he has yet to get any Oscar acclaim, which would make Mud's traction harder. Still, if there's anything that would work in the film's favor, it is a surprisingly effective performance. McConaughey, while doing a great job of making a new image for himself, is still probably seen as the hunky loverboy. Provided the film is successful in making him likable in a new way, it could play into the film's favor.
|Left to right: Jacob Lofland, McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan|
It seems more plausible than Magic Mike, which I felt was ignored largely due to the subject matter being notoriously seen as emasculating to male fans. However, the commentary was probably ignored as a result, and a great meta performance was overlooked. Here, I assume that McConaughey keeps his shirt on and does a great performance. In fact, it could work on the sole basis that critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes currently ranks it at 97%. While the number is subject to change, that is an impressively high score and hopefully one that will benefit the film in the long run.
It is too early to really call Mud an Oscar contender, and as I said, Dallas Buyers Club is coming out later this year, and I am confident it stands a better chance. This is heavily due to it being a story about AIDS and the infamous story of his weight loss is tied more into it. I'll talk about this concept more when the time is appropriate, but it has been an easier Oscar contention to lose weight than to simply lose vanity. Performers like Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter) and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables) both had considerable weight loss and won awards. While it was also beneficial to have a charismatic performance, it is a small sign of a bias that while not always true, undeniably prevalent.
Is Mud going to help get more recognition for Jeff Nichols? Is Matthew McConaughey standing any chance at Oscar consideration for anything this year?