By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Academy Award nominations are now official. Over the next six weeks, as we approach the Oscar telecast on March 2nd, we’ll be appreciating and celebrating the actors, actresses, artists, and movies that made the list. And nobody’s saying that they don’t deserve their attention and accolades.
But what about the poor deserving few who were snubbed, ignored, underappreciated, or forgotten by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and are about to get lost in the shuffle?
Aha. That’s where the Academy of Me, Myself, and I comes in. Its members have taken a look at the slate of Academy Award nominees in the major categories and determined that there was work of real artistic merit in 2013 that has been severely slighted by omission.
So let’s at least acknowledge the contributions of those who were deserving but were overlooked, if for no other reason as a reminder to seek out the following special movies and performances even though they’ll be missing on Oscar night.
Perhaps the best way to see just how rich a year it was for lead performances by an actor is to look at a slate of starring performances that did not make the Best Actor cut. That is, any year in which Forest Whitaker in The Butler, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix in Her, Robert Redford in All Is Lost, and Idris Elba in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom all fail to garner Oscar nominations is a special year for lead actors. These are sterling performances that would have been among the top five in a lot of years, but this particular year would have had to call for ten nominees in this category to do the output justice.
By far the most glaring omission indicated by that list above is the first one. Forest Whitaker’s superlatively nuanced portrayal of Cecil Gaines in The Butler, as a man who would serve in that titular capacity for seven U.S. presidents, wasn’t just one of the year’s best performances; it was one for the ages. With Gaines trying to be invisible because that was his job, Whitaker’s minimally brilliant portrait also shows us this patient, unassuming, and loyal employee’s understandable bitterness and frustration.
The Best Actress category was nowhere near as rich: a slate of five nominees seems about right. Nevertheless, one performance that seemed destined to land a nomination but didn’t was Emma Thompson’s turn in Saving Mr. Banks as British-Australian author P.L. Travers, who comes to Los Angeles at the invitation of Walt Disney intent on guarding her beloved, obliquely autobiographical labor-of-love children’s book, Mary Poppins, as it’s being brought to the big screen by the movie studio. Thompson’s Travers is a marvelously dyspeptic concoction – starchy, dismissive, obstreperous, rude — as she objects to just about everything, trying the patience of the film’s creators and painting a deftly vivid portrait.
The letter-perfect performance that is most acutely and unfairly missing from this year’s Best Supporting Actress category is that of Oprah Winfrey in The Butler. Her superb contribution to the film is Gloria Gaines, the wife of title character Cecil, in many ways the heart of the film. With nary a false moment, she shows us a loving wife and mother who has too much time on her hands over the years and struggles with alcoholism and infidelity and close-to-home tragedy. Her splendid support as she matches Whitaker every step of the way is breathtakingly natural and enormously moving.
The Best Supporting Actor accomplishment that seems to have disappeared in thin air is that of Will Forte in Nebraska. As the grounded, protective electronics-salesman son of Bruce Dern, the ex-Saturday Night Live funnyman leaves all the broad shtick that got him here in his pocket and instead gives an expertly restrained and wonderfully real performance as a devoted and compassionate son who is trying to bond with the father he never really got to know. So he’s got to push the pause button on his own lackluster life, which he’s more than willing to do. Forte gets a lot of screen time and you never for a second catch him acting.
Out of a possible ten nominees for Best Picture, there are nine this year. But, unfortunately, none of those nine slots goes to Before Midnight, the completion of a trilogy from writer/director Richard Linklater and collaborating writers/stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. A terrific followup to Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), this threequel is a rewarding romantic dramedy about connection and regret and commitment within a relationship. Lead roles don’t come any more lived-in and movie dialogue doesn’t come any more genuine, but in the third gem the intimacy and intensity levels are bumped up a notch as well. For viewers who’ve seen the previous installments, it’s more like spying on friends you know well than observing film characters from a distance. Some movies are larger than life: this one captures the essence of life.
But the biggest injustice among this year’s slate of Academy Award nominees, as much of the above should demonstrate, is the title that’s missing on the Best Picture ballot. If there were justice in the universe, that tenth spot – if not one of the other nine – should have gone to The Butler. Was it passed over because it opened in August? Was there resentment of director Lee Daniels’ proprietary inclusion in the title (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)? Or were there just too many race-themed movies staring at voting Academy members this year? Who knows. But this ambitious historical tapestry, a multi-generational melodrama based on a true story and set against the urgent backdrop of the civil rights movement, is briskly paced, unerring in its period detail and behavior, thoroughly engrossing from first frame to last, richly resonant and powerfully poignant. Who could ask for anything more? Oh, that’s right, I could. How about an Oscar nomination? Oh, well.
All together now: “They wuz robbed!”