Oscar nominations are scheduled to be announced tomorrow, and if it’s not too late, I’d like to take this opportunity to beg the Academy, on behalf of moviegoers everywhere, not to nominate Eddie Redmayne for best actor.
Redmayne took home a Golden Globe on Sunday night, winning best actor in a drama motion picture for his portrayal of a beatific quip machine called Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything. Which has many observers now calling him a frontrunner, or even a favorite for the Oscar race. No. Oh please no.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell you that Eddie Redmayne isn’t a fine actor. I’m sure he is, and at the very least, he’s British. Nor am I trying to convince anyone that they should care about awards shows. We absolutely shouldn’t. Especially not the Golden Globes, which are voted on by 90 foreign “journalists” whose main qualification seems to be the ability to receive gifts.
(Not that that makes the Golden Globes so much less legit than the Oscars. Which are voted on by the 5,000 members of the Academy, many of whom were famously too old to figure out online voting, and whose organization was itself actually founded by cynical studio heads on the idea that you could distract filmmakers from unionizing by feting them with trinkets and baubles. “If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted,” Machiavellian genius Louis B. Mayer famously remarked.)
So yes, awards are bullshit. Despite this, they still matter. Maybe not to you, maybe not to me, maybe not to NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, but in terms of which movies actually get made, awards matter because they matter to actors. Who are rivaled only by sparrows and military junta in their love of shiny medals. And because awards matter to actors, awards affect actors’ choice of projects. Which affects which movies get made, which affects which movies we see. Put simply, a lot of bad movies wouldn’t get made if A-list and up-and-coming actors weren’t jumping aboard solely for the chance to win awards. To say nothing of the more interesting scripts and novel approaches to material that get shoehorned into predictable awards vehicles in the hopes of pleasing predictable awards voters.
Which is why I’m beseeching you, Academy, do not nominate the most predictable awards performance in the most predictable awards movie. Make a statement, prove to everyone that you aren’t so lame that a 10-year-old could guess your nominees.
A handsome British heartthrob playing a tousle-haired, permanently smiling physicist with crooked glasses and a degenerative disease isn’t a performance that should be nominated for an Oscar, it’s a performance that should be nominated at a parody of the Oscars. Playing a nuanced character with depth and complexity seems a lot more impressive to me than smiling a lot and looking placid while feigning a disability. Aside from that, the filmmakers are trolling you. This film has been discussed as an Oscars vehicle since the first moment it was announced. It’s a film so blatantly pandering the producers knew all they had to do was get through it with a straight face and it would automatically rain laurels. It’s sort of like the awards movie equivalent of calling in sick and your excuse is a giant carbuncle on your sphincter, something so embarrassing no one will question it.
So don’t. Please don’t. Do we really want awards consideration to be an even simpler checklist than it already is? The delta between the glamour of the star and the trauma of their character’s affliction? Think of the bad prestige projects this has already spawned. When awards are this predictable, you know it’s only a matter of time before we get Rose Byrne as Helen Keller and the Chris Pine remake of Mask. The fashionable feeding on the flesh of the outcasts. Awards season would be funny if it wasn’t so determined to one-up every joke about it. Tropic Thunder came out in 2008 and two male models have already won Oscars for playing AIDS victims since then.
At the very least, we should be able to disqualify the hoariest, most patronizing awards clichés, and the plucky disabled guy (big smiles, cute tears) played by an able-bodied actor is right up there with the magical negro. It’s a bad sign when every picture of the character makes you want to pat him on the head.
Probably it’s offensive, but definitely it’s dull. Can’t we let it die? Especially in 2015 when there’s such a wealth of amazing performances to choose from. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler if you love weirdos as much as I do. Michael Keaton in Birdman for the sentimental, comeback-favorite-finally-getting-his-due pick (who was also great). The list goes on and on: Joaquin Phoenix, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hardy… even if you’re determined to go the well-worn biopic route, there’s David Oyelowo, who nailed a more muscular, unflamboyant portrayal of Martin Luther King than anyone thought possible. And if you’re if dead set on giving it to an Englishman in a biopic of an Englishman, there’s still Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner. If you’re dead set on giving it to a handsome Englishman in a biopic of an Englishman, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. He played a gay codebreaker for God’s sake. There are so many better options!
All I’m asking is for the smallest of victories. Throw out only the handsomest, most smiling portrayal of a character with a disability who never makes us think too hard because he’s so busy smiling and quipping. It’s not that much to ask.