Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is "August: Osage County" Capable of Being a Last Minute Best Picture Contender?

Left to right: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts
*Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to write up a piece on director John Wells' August: Osage County during its premiere week.

With the Oscar nominations exactly one week away, it is an exciting time at The Oscar Buzz to look at all of the nominees. While I have covered majority of the big contenders over the past few months, the one that I forgot to write a piece on is August: Osage County, which looks to be a haven for potential actor nominations, specifically for that of Meryl Streep in the Best Actress race. The truth is that as the literal last film of 2013 to come out that had any awards potential, it does seem strange that it hasn't quite caught any buzz yet. 

Of course, when considering those last minute dramas with eligibility, none have lost traction as quickly as Labor Day, which got a Golden Globe nomination, but otherwise has fallen out of conversation. Comparatively, August: Osage County is doing great, though not quite capturing the zeitgeist as expected. The cast has heavyweights Streep and Julia Roberts leading a cast that also includes Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard, and Benedict Cumberbatch. This is a legitimate powerhouse when it comes to casting. The fact that it hasn't yielded as much attention as other films opening the same week, specifically The Wolf of Wall Street and Saving Mr. Banks, is a little shocking. 

While it isn't one that I am eager to see, I do feel like August: Osage County was prepped to be a surprise jab in the nominations circuit. Besides Streep and Roberts earning acting nominations at the Golden Globes and most recently with the BAFTAS, it hasn't been getting that much praise. It currently holds 64% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and with a lot of attention on critics' "best of" lists, it hasn't shown up too often. While its two leads look to be locks in the field, it would be interesting to take a moment to look at the trailer and share some thoughts:

According to IMDb, the plot synopsis is:
"A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them."
Based off of the play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), this seems like easy territory for actors to show off their talents. While I have yet to see it, the trailer does seem to be geared in that way. In some sense, the film feels like it is doomed to follow in the path of a previous Meryl Streep film called Doubt, which saw the performers receive acting nominations, yet the film walked away empty handed. In a sense, this film's purpose in the Oscar nominations feels like it will be that of filler with trustworthy talents turning in performances that are expecting and solid. With Julia Roberts specifically, it could be seen as a comeback role that gets her nominated.

Then again, the film's lateness into the conversation could also be problematic. As stated in yesterday's reevaluation of predictions, I do believe that the race is already cramped up with unexpected favorites. For the Best Actress race, in which Streep would be competing, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) continues to lead the pack with surprise darling Sandra Bullock (Gravity) not too far behind. According to statistics website Gold Derby, Blanchett leads with odds of 8:5 and Bullock is in second with odds of 10:3. By comparison, Streep is in fifth with odds of 16:1, barely beating Amy Adams (American Hustle) in sixth with odds of 20:1. By comparison, the Best Supporting Actress field looks even harder to get into. Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) leads the pack with odds of 9:4 and Roberts comes in fifth with odds of 14:1. Both stand viable chances, but it does feel more like it is based off of bias.

The more apparent bias comes with Meryl Streep, who has been an unstoppable force at the Oscars since her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Deer Hunter. With 17 nominations total and three wins, most recently for Best Actress in The Iron Lady, she seems to be a favorite selection. My main issue with this bias is that she almost fills a role that is that of "obvious" nomination. She turns in solid performances and she gets nominated. My issue is that with such a decorated resume as it is, why does she need to get nominated for lesser works? There are some terrific performances on any given year that reflect performers showing more impressive skills. Nominating Streep feels more like a gimmick and it is a very lazy one. I cannot comment to the quality of her performance in August: Osage County, but I do not want to see her get nominated simply because she is Streep and she has been consistently engaging as a performer. It has kept some fine talents from standing a chance and frankly, her record-breaking nominations pallet kind of makes her getting nominated a little overrated due to it feeling desensitized.

With that said, the film is also not quite gaining the right amount of traction to get into any other big categories, specifically Best Picture. The category has the ability to nominate more ambitious films due to the sliding 5-10 scale, but even then, Gold Derby has it outside of this list with odds of 100:1. In the Best Adapted Screenplay field, it is in sixth with odds of 14:1. However, if the other nominations suggest anything, it won't make either of these categories. At best, it can beat out Philomena, which has become a sleeper hit and has racked up some nominations for its screenplay as well as Judi Dench in the Best Actress race. Even then, Philomena has been in the discussion more than August: Osage County, thus it stands a better chance at getting recognition.

Overall, the film looks fine and based on reviews, could be an adequate execution of a play. I just don't see it standing much of a chance for gambling this late in the game. It sunk Labor Day and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and this one is not too far behind. It only survives because of its leads, but is that enough for the film to stand a chance at winning? Likely not. There are clear favorites at this point and at most, August: Osage County is looking to be more of a seminal, lesser film in Streep's catalog. That isn't to say she will be bad in it, but consider this analogy: if a different actress stripped of prestige turned in a performance of equal measure as that of Streep, would she get recognized? Unlikely. It is a debate I had with Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln last year, and one I hold onto with this film. For all I know, it could surprise me, but for the time being, August: Osage County does not have much appeal in getting big nominations.

Will August: Osage County be a surprise Best Picture nominee? Is Mery Streep going to get nominated based on her prestige or her performance? Why isn't the film more in the conversation?

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