It wouldn’t be Oscar season without artsy film-type people arguing passionately about movies you haven’t seen. Here’s a crib sheet of brewing controversy.
‘Selma’: Oscar Chances Good
“Selma” is a very good, very focused biopic of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. By all accounts, it sits near the top of the list of Best Picture nominees. To the ring! On one side, we have historian Mark Updegrove. He faces off against formidable “Selma” director Ava DuVernay in the Historical Accuracy Championship (medium weight). In a Politico article, Updegrove came out swinging, objecting to the depiction of President Johnson as obstructing civil rights. DuVernay hit back on Twitter:
Here, she responded to me:
It’s a delightful little controversy because, really, how many people have firm or resolved concepts of LBJ and MLK’s respective effects on civil rights? What a wonderful thing that people are discussing such thing, using energy that otherwise would have been wasted on selfies and Words With Friends. Furthermore, in the movie, Johnson makes a fairly heroic moral choice to put his pragmatism aside and do what he knows is right. In my book, it makes him look good at the end. See the movie and decide for yourself!
Prediction: Because the movie is so good, the match will go to DuVernay, making her the reigning world champion of popular civil rights history.
‘American Sniper’: Oscar Unlikely
This story of America’s best Iraq War sniper Chris Kyle is directed by Clint Eastwood and pushes all the cultural buttons. As Armond White points out, Bradley Cooper does an amazing job embodying the ethos of red-state America. He’s a rodeo cowboy, a career soldier, a lethal killer, and unapologetic.
Hollywood does not usually do red state well. This is the understatement of the year. Unapologetic Iraq War heroism does not go over well in the anti-war, anti-American-involvement crowd.
Vulture’s David Edelstein calls the film “propaganda” and “a Republican platform movie.” Max Blumenthal, who can always be relied upon for far-left histrionics, repeatedly attacked Kyle and the film on Twitter.
Other usual suspects joined him:
The movie appears to be gaining ground, however. Not only did it break records for sales in its limited release on Christmas Day, it’s also generating respect from mainstream Hollywood:
I just watched American Sniper. You have to see what Bradley Cooper does in this movie. His performance is next level.
— Jonah Hill (@JonahHill) December 30, 2014
American Sniper: best Eastwood pic since Unforgiven over 20 years ago.
— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) December 27, 2014
Post got it right . American sniper is a great movie. I just watchied it and i had to tell someone. no, I’m not getting paid dickhead.
— Howard Stern (@HowardStern) December 24, 2014
Prediction: Look for this battle to heat up as the movie moves into wide release. The quality of the acting and directing is hardly debatable, which makes this film a proxy for Americans’ feelings about the Iraq War. And those are hotly debatable.
‘Unbroken’: Oscar Unlikely, Despite Success
“Unbroken,” a PG-13 rated story of human spirit, doesn’t have a cynical moment from title sequence to credit roll. This does not please critics or awards voters, who mostly suffer from a clinical-level addiction to cynicism. The big question about “Unbroken” is whether its massive popularity or goodwill for director Angelina Jolie will earn it a spot in the Best Picture list. If you think, “Hey, I’ve actually have seen ‘Unbroken’ and I liked it. I think it is one of the best pictures of the year and, thus, should be nominated as one of the best pictures of the year,” well, you’ve just encapsulated why Hollywood is so out of touch with the audience it tries to reach.
The main battle over “Unbroken” isn’t about awards, though. It revolves around Jolie’s decision to leave Louis Zamperini’s Christian conversion and acts of forgiveness to epilogue comments in the credits. Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote that the decision might disappoint Christians. Jolie clarified that Zamperini himself approved of a broad, universal portrayal of faith in the film. Bailey was right. Christian reviewers seem to be disappointed:
It hasn’t stopped audiences, however, from making the film a shocking success:
Prediction: “Unbroken” will become a beloved classic and make piles of money, cementing Jolie’s new role as respected director. The controversy over the ending will fade away. It will not, however, be nominated for awards.
‘Foxcatcher’: Best Actor Oscar Likely
Channing Tatum’s portrayal of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz is considered a lock for a Best Actor nomination, especially since the story of wrestling, wealth, elite sports, and murder has such a delicious and ambiguous love triangle aspect. Steve Carell plays heir John du Pont, who lures Schultz and his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) into his would-be wrestling empire.
The ambiguous nature of the triangle exploded in threats and rage New Year’s Day when Schultz took to Twitter and Facebook to denounce the movie he had previously endorsed. He specifically called out “Foxcatcher” director Bennett Miller. He said he was angry about the implication there was a sexual relationship between himself and du Pont.
In tweets that have since been deleted, Schultz said:
Schultz responded more calmly this morning, but did not back down, saying in a Facebook post:
Prediction: Hollywood loves a good scandal, especially one possibly but not certainly involving sex. This can only boost the film’s chances of awards success. However, Schultz is not Hollywood and remains an unpredictable wild card. Who knows what he will do next? It’s like a real-life sequel to the movie onscreen.
‘Boyhood’: Oscar Unfortunately Likely
Unfortunately, there is no controversy for “Boyhood.” It sits firmly atop the predicted list of winners across the board. While the film is not terrible, just long and boring, it is nowhere near the best picture of the year, in my opinion. If a film ever needed a controversy to shake it up, it’s this one. But it’s a favorite for Best Picture.
It just goes to show that those who write about movies and vote for film awards are far less diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, by gender, and by overall philosophy of life—than the masses who go to the theater.