Thursday, June 5, 2014

Will "The Fault in Our Stars" Bring Cancer Back to the Best Picture Race?

Left to right: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort
One of the biggest surprises of summer 2014 is the news that director Josh Boone's The Fault in Our Stars may end up being Shailene Woodley's better young adult adaptation instead of the presumed Divergent.  Reviews leading up to its release this Friday have almost been universally acclaimed with many calling it the best love story in years. With that said, is the Academy above nominating a film about sick young people? Oscar season may not fully kick off until the Fall, but its summer time and anything could be eligible. It's just a matter of changing up the trends.

If there is some truth that I want to keep making clear, it is the idea that Oscar nominated films do not strictly need to come out after September. Last year was an embarrassing overhaul of the last three months. Thankfully, this hasn't always been the case and instead just one strange moment. Summer films have made it into nominations before, more heavily in the acting categories. In this case, I do feel like The Fault in Our Stars may stand a decent chance of getting Shailene Woodley into the Oscar race, provided that her competition isn't all that challenging.

I have had trouble pegging the Academy's thoughts on sickness. Back when I wrote about The Sessions, I analyzed the Academy's love for illness and deformities. Unfortunately, that didn't lead actor John Hawkes to a Best Actor nomination. Likewise, the highly underrated 50/50 didn't see Joseph Gordon Levitt get any traction either for playing a cancer patient. The belief that Terms of Endearment opened the door for actors to get nominations for roles like these has been wildly hard to prove. In fact, the only real viable sickness that the Academy seems to award is AIDS, as most notably seen in last year's Dallas Buyers Club where Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively. While their performances were really good, I don't know that it would've been the same had it been cancer.

That is why I am skeptical about The Fault in Our Stars being a lock. Even with 83% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it seems like a film that will need to pack more. With the Academy being made up predominantly of older white males, the love stories tend to appeal to that audience. We don't get as diverse of a selection as we used to. We got The Help in 2011 up for Best Picture, but romance in general has been low. I would like to see that changed. With all of the acclaim coming into the film this weekend, it does pose the chance to be one of the year's best films, or at least one of the most authentic and memorable. As evident with Lupita Nyong'o's win for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Year a Slave, a great performance can elevate your chances greatly.

With exception to The Descendants, Woodley hasn't necessarily been an Oscar darling like some of her peers. That doesn't mean that she hasn't been trying. Last year's The Spectacular Now is a phenomenal film that reflected her ability to play homely and vulnerable. It is the performance that made me a fan. With all of the hype building around her here, I want to believe that she is bringing something powerful to the performance. In a summer season that is looking to be full of monsters and monkeys, this stands a strong chance of standing out and making an impact. Her performance has already been singled out as being something great.

Here is the trailer:

Admittedly, the trailer does make it seem kind of cheesy. Even then, there are a lot of pluses. For starters, the idea that there's a romance involving cancer has the potential to break the taboo of it being off putting. Here is almost seems too normal. On another plus, we get the second film this summer from Nat Wolff, who was also great in Palo Alto. The cast is strong and the film is looking to be a modest hit. It isn't likely to beat out films like X-Men: Days of Future Past or Edge of Tomorrow, but it will probably have better legs than both. 

Then again, the Academy doesn't care about teenagers. Think back to The Spectacular Now, or even The Perks of Being a Wallflower. These two films were adapted from young adult novels that ended up being effective to audiences. Instead of embracing diversity in this way, the Academy nominated films that are more prestige and while taking chances, weren't that far from the normality. At best, these films could have been nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, where they usually shine. They rarely win, but they get nominated, which is a start.

It is all a matter of how the film is discussed in six months. Don't forget that while critics and voters' opinions rarely overlap, the buzz has the ability to remind people of what's good. As it stands, I am doubtful that The Fault in Our Stars has a lot of stamina, but that is how I felt before knowing of its critical success. Maybe everyone will latch onto it in ways that aren't immediately perceived. Maybe it is the start of Woodley getting some serious Oscar contention. Who knows. In a perfect world, the Academy would recognize teen angst films like this and Palo Alto better. As for now, we can only hope.

Can The Fault in Our Stars make it to Oscar night? Is Shailene Woodley destined for a nomination? Are films about cancer patients not popular with voters anymore?

1 comment:

  1. Hottest female performance since Jennifer's Best Actress Oscar role.