Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Will the "Dallas Buyers Club" Trailer Combine Weight Loss with an Oscar Nomination?

Matthew McConaughey
If one person deserves a most improved trophy over the past few years, it is Matthew McConaughey. Where he had become a leading man in romantic comedies through the early 00's, he has finally become someone that I respect. In fact, I have argued twice before with Magic Mike and Mud for Oscar consideration. Of course, I have held out faint hope that of every potential movie that he has made during his recent reincarnation, the one that I have placed the most money on is director Jean-Marc Vallee's Dallas Buyers Club, which if nothing else has the distinct honor of being the film that the actor sacrificed his chiseled looks for a skinny, lanky HIV victim. If the trailer is any speculation on his chances, I feel like we may be looking at one of the first serious contenders.

With August practically over and September launching the official Oscar Buzz season (as well as the one year anniversary on Sept. 14), it is time when talk goes from potential nominees to actual chances. Up to this point, there hasn't been more than one or two serious contenders for the Best Actor slot (Michael B. Jordan for Fruitvale Station being the front runner) and the rest has largely been speculation based on trailers. In a sense, this is an exciting time not only because of the potentially great and impressive films that have made up for the lackluster middle of 2013.

While I plan to issue an entry detailing my speculative selection of nominees for Fall 2013 early next week, there is no doubt that I place McConaughey on the list simply because of how radically he has changed his image. Even in Magic Mike, he was playing a commentary role on the tragedy of the aging male. Here he lost 38 pounds, which is quite radical for a man who was People Magazine's 2005 winner of Sexiest Man Alive. At very least, he deserves points for going against expectations and sacrificing body for the art.

Here's the trailer:

Quite an impressive transformation. The film also looks to be an entertaining look at smuggling prescription drugs across the border. There's also an interesting level of humor with McConaughey dressed as a priest and Jared Leto either being a transgender, or the weirdest casting selection since John Travolta in Hairspray. Here's the description according to IMDb:
"The story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof and his battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies after being diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, and his search for alternative treatments that helped established a way in which fellow HIV-positive people could join for access to his supplies."
The most immediate parallel that one can take from this story is Philadelphia, which saw Tom Hanks win his first of the two back-to-back Best Actor statues for playing an AIDS victim. As far as performances that require some serious illness, these type of stories are effective and easy Oscar bait. Another notable entry is Terms of Endearment in which the film won Best Picture for portraying a woman dying of cancer. Maybe it is that these films were done effective and emotionally resonated with audiences, but it could also be that the performances were just spectacular. It also helps that they were based on true stories, which has always been an Oscar bias in all of the acting categories.

Physical issues have always been something that the Oscars have rewarded. While I have had a complicated relationship with him on this blog, Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot is another prime example and possibly the peak of convincing performances about disabilities. While The Sessions unfortunately didn't make the cut last year, I feel like when it comes to performances that force the actors to go method and lose weight, the Academy tends to recognize it, especially when it requires a physical transformation.

Last year saw Anne Hathaway win Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables in which she lost 25 pounds. Of course, the difference is that the role was also highly emotional and famous for one scene in which she performs an amazing rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." While she looked exceptionally thin, weight wasn't the issue in her landing that win. Neither was Christian Bale's win for Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter. In both cases, both actors managed to deliver not just daunting weight losses, but turned in performances that delivered. However, Bale also lost considerably more weight for The Machinist with less luck, so it could go either way.

Left to right: Jared Leto and McConaughey
Weight loss doesn't always work towards immediate Oscar nomination. 50 Cent lost most of his muscular build for All Things Fall Apart. Even in turns of more legitimate films, director Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket featured Vincent D'Onofrio, who holds the record for most weight gained at 70 pounds. That is some serious dedication and an equally terrifying performance. The film, despite being one of the Vietnam War classics, only received one nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay. While the film and performance holds up, it seems like maybe the best way to go in terms of weight change is to lose it.

It is hard to judge where McConaughey falls into the spectrum of weight loss and health victims. The trailer does seem to be full of energy and with his recent trajectory, there is little doubt that he will deliver at least an interesting performance. The only struggle is that Jean-Marc Vallee is not as established of a filmmaker as most of the other referenced participants. It is why I feel that The Sessions was ignored and why that despite potentially being one of three really great movies (the other is Wolf of Wall Street) with McConaughey, it could unfortunately be overlooked.

Provided that the film is successful, it could overcome the lack of Hollywood glitz and glamour around it. McConaughey is well known enough that this rapid change will be noticed and get him in the big leagues. It also helps that the Academy occasionally notices smaller features such as Beasts of the Southern Wild, which surprisingly racked up a lot of nominations and got first time director Benh Zietlin a Best Director nod. That could be the road for Vallee, provided that the film is a success and that the story is emotional and taxing on the audience.

I don't think that it will do very well in any other category, but for my money, this is the closest that we have come to getting McConaughey into the race. It looks to be a very promising role. Unless Mud is more of a sleeper hit with the critics than I gave it credit for, this is going to be his biggest shot. Weight loss has always been big with the Academy, and I feel like with that in mind, this is an easy shoe-in. The only thing to do now is hope that the film delivers on its very strong first trailer.

Is McConaughey ready for an Oscar nomination? Is the success rate going to play in his favor around the awards season? Will this be more of an experiment than an achievement for the actor?

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