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« Box Office: Everything Is (Still) Awesome! | Main | Monologue: Kate Hepburn Jabbers Away in "Alice Adams" »
Monday
Feb172014

13 Days Til Oscar: Matthew McConaughey... And the 2000 Best Actress Race?

[The Oscar countdown continues with new contributor Matthew Eng - he wrote that popular Jennifer Lawrence piece! -- making a fascinating cross gender lines comparison to 13 years back]

Thirteen years ago, the only acting prize Matthew McConaughey seemed likely to ever win was a Razzie*. Or, you know, at least a Teen Choice Award. And yet, here we are, thirteen years later, all those Wedding Planners and Failure to Launches gone (but not forgotten), and Matthew McConaughey just so happens to be:

  1. an Oscar nominee
  2. the indisputable frontrunner of the Best Actor raceand
  3. a presumable Oscar winner.

It’s the Second Coming of McConaughey, a shockingly successful, rule-breaking career reversal that approximately zero people saw coming. But can you really blame us, especially considering that pre-Magic Mike McConaughey seemed pretty intent on solidifying his status as a Hopeless Hollywood Himbo, continually submerging his skills behind a pair of wide-eyed peepers, a self-satisfied smirk, and a notorious, Southern-fried catchphrase that may have made for one great Matt Damon impression but which can still send even some of the more willing McConaughey converts up the wall?

It’s always nice to see a performer sizably step up their game, to start choosing roles for the challenge, rather than the check. Maybe it’s the nature of the Dallas Buyers Club role or maybe it’s the inconsistent reputation of the genre he spent the better part of the past decade residing in, but McConaughey’s performance and subsequent awards trajectory have been giving me major flashbacks to Julia Roberts and the 2000 Best Actress Race, which culminated with Roberts’ inevitable coronation nearly thirteen years ago. [More...]

McConaughockovich

Roberts and McConaughey’s performances force us to rethink the performer him/herself and to firmly reconsider their reliable if occasionally misguided talents, right at the moment when everyone began to wonder if that was all there is. That isn’t to say that the output of 90s-era Roberts was even remotely near the dire condition of McConaughey’s Aughts-period career; Roberts didn’t exactly need Erin Brockovich as a career preserver in the same way that McConaughey needed Dallas Buyers Club. And My Best Friend’s Wedding is definitely not Ghosts of Girlfriends Past… although Runaway Bride very well might be.

However, much like McConaughey, Roberts’ nomination initially seems like a longtime celebrity going through the standard biopic motions in order to finally grab a golden boy. But for many, myself included, Roberts’ Erin Brockovich and McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof are both stellar, indelible examples of two time-tested and admittedly type-cast stars giving peak performances by using the vitality of their respective star personas (McConaughey’s rowdy, good-time Charlie charm, Roberts’ effortless exuberance and bracing standoffishness), an enviable surfeit of charisma, an eager, exhilarating willingness to work within and against type, and a masterful commitment to character that makes you forget the type even existed. Dallas Buyers Club, like Erin Brockovich before it, has proven to be a farther-reaching favorite with Oscar than even its most avid supporters had anticipated, but I’d still wager that neither project would have had even half of their compulsive watchability, furious excitement, or hard-fought emotional resonance were it not for the efforts of its two marquee stars. Although Roberts’ post-win performances haven’t entirely been the acting barn-burners that Erin Brockovich seemingly indicated were to come, McConaughey seems thankfully keen on continuing his recent string of good work, which, with HBO’s buzzy True Detective, now extends to screens both big and small.

But that’s not all!

As I got to thinking of the kinship between McConaughey and Roberts’ pack-leading, respect-commanding nominations, I began to see some admittedly random but nonetheless interesting similarities between this year’s Best Actor field and the ladies-in-waiting who comprised 2000’s Best Actress race.

If McConaughey, like Roberts, is the rejuvenated movie star doing career-best work, then Bruce Dern might as well be his Ellen Burstyn, aka the current dark horse who also happens to be a well-respected if somewhat-forgotten and long-misused icon of 70s American cinema, handpicked, like Burstyn, by an indie auteur with an intriguing casting idea to take the lead of his project, introducing him to an entirely new generation of moviegoers in the process. Save for the occasional Emmy nominations she picks up every few years for playing shaky and/or saucy mamas, the fire of Burstyn’s Requiem for a Dream performance was extinguished all too quickly, so here’s hoping that Dern’s Nebraska triumph will help him avoid playing characters with names like “Creepy Carl” in dubious-sounding titles such as Coffin Baby and Swamp Devil for the time being.

The Wolf of Washington DC

I wouldn’t call Leonardo DiCaprio quite the thespian that I consider Joan Allen to be and The Wolf of Wall Street is surely a much bigger deal than The Contender was during its year, however DiCaprio’s relationship with Oscar (0-for-4 at this point, at least acting-wise) mirrors Allen’s 0-for-3 run with Oscar from 1995-2000. Like Allen during her peak period, DiCaprio’s a respected performer and an easy ballot filler, who, alas, has come up short during each of his dates with Oscar. DiCaprio’s fiercest fanatics and some bold awards pundits may be hoping otherwise, but I think DiCaprio’s likely an Oscar also-ran this year as well, although it wouldn’t be hard in, say, an alternate Oscar universe to imagine DiCaprio occupying the position McConaughey currently holds, of rewarding a long-lasting celebrity for stepping outside his comfort zone. Whatever the outcome, his career probably won’t ever come close to dying down in the same, upsetting way that Joan Allen’s has ever since The Contender. Although with her starring role in A Good Marriage recently wrapped and an upcoming guest arc on that undying zombie of a TV show, The Killing, now’s as good a time as any for more Joan Allen on our screens. (As if there were ever a bad time…)

I wouldn’t say that Christian Bale should just be happy to be invited, although I would say that there’s probably no need for him to carry a speech in his tux pocket, which is the sentiment that was applied to undeniable fifth-placer Juliette Binoche, who, thanks to the inordinate hawking of the Weinsteins, found herself sitting in Bjork’s seat at the Shrine thirteen years ago for a film that many consider to be featherweight fare. Chocolat wasn’t nearly the nomination powerhouse that American Hustle currently is, although five citations, including a Best Picture nod amongst a field of five, is pretty damn impressive for a film about a sexy French chocolatier. Besides, Bale will show up at the ceremony, as Binoche did, with a recent supporting win already under his belt. Hope the seat’s comfy.

You Can Count on Them

Like Laura Linney, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s acting roots stretch to both the big and small screen, as well as the stage, most notably in the West End as a young schizophrenic patient in Joe Penhall’s prize-winnerBlue/Orange, as well as in an Olivier-winning turn as Othello at the Donmar. But further to the point, and in a way very similar to Linney before the You Can Count on Me breakthrough, during those bland Truman Show/Primal Fear years, Ejiofor has always been this close to breaking out, in projects as varied as the British drag-themed uplifter Kinky Boots (which earned him a Globe nod even though it made barely a blip stateside) and David Mamet’s unusual martial-arts drama Redbelt. He has been an admirable straight man and an expert second banana in everything from Dirty Pretty Things to Children of Men to American Gangster to his Indie Spirit Award-winning work in Kasi Lemmons’ Talk to Me. With 12 Years a Slave, Ejiofor has at long last been given the opportunity to carry an entire movie, with staggering, soul-shattering results. I wouldn’t say the Linney similarities run too deep beyond that, but I for one am just as taken and gladly surprised to see Ejiofor fully exhibit his profound and poetic abilities while slowly but steadily rethinking his humanity before participating in “Roll, Jordan, Roll” as I was to see Linney beautifully try and fail and try again to check her emotions while sitting on that bus bench with Mark Ruffalo. It’s a revelatory, front-and-center performance from an actor who has up until now obligingly stayed on the sidelines, which makes winning Oscar’s attention that much sweeter.



* Surprise! He’s never been nominated. That’s right. Not even for Fool’s Gold.

Related: Oscar Charts | Best Actor | More McConaughey | Jared Leto Interview
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Reader Comments (36)

I think the reason he's never gotten a Razzie nom is kind of easy: Even on his worst script choices, he's at the very least playing plausible and charismatic human beings and it never feels like he clocks out or over hams what's on the page. But on available evidence, there's no way he was in their top ten for either 08 or 09.

08: Jason Statham is 6th, Ashton Kutcher is 7th, Keanu Reeves is 8th, Emile Hirsch is 9th, John Cusack is 10th.
09: Shia LaBeouf is 6th, Thomas Haden Church is 7th (yeah, relative to All About Steve, it's REALLY this joint of THC that's the lead male), Channing Tatum is 8th, Danny McBride is 9th, Robin Williams is 10th, Hugh Grant is 11th, Idris Elba is 12th.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia-I think that's giving too much credit to Razzie voters. I basically think they just check IMDB pages to see if LiLo, Stalllone, or Kristen Stewart made a movie this year and instantly nominate them.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

John T: I KNOW he didn't wind up in the top 10 for 2009 (my first five cited Worst Lead Actors for that year were ALL in lead/co-lead roles in their Worst Picture selections). As for 08: You really think Statham, Kutcher and Keanu aren't easier to see as potential knee-jerk "whipping boys" than McConaughey? Hirsch and Cusack are probably harder as far as guesses, but they'd fall pretty darn neatly into the "respectable actor in a rut" side of their habits. (See also: Al Pacino as an actual nominee in 2008.)

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I will never EVER get over the fact that Ellen Burstyn lost that Oscar. Julia Roberts is second in line for me for Best Actress of the year 2000, but no way should Burstyn have lost. Her performance in Requiem for a Dream might just be my favourite performance I have ever seen anywhere and she was light years ahead of all four of those other ladies. That "red dress" monologue gets me every single time.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBhuray

This is an interesting argument to consider, but I'm not convinced of the Julia/Matthew parallel mostly because of the way their careers began. Julia was the golden girl since she dubbed pink as her signature colour in 1989 and even with that significant 11 year gap between Nomination #2 and #3 she spent the time in between heading box-office successes that were also, fairly critically acclaimed.

For me, the closest thing to McConaughey's journey this year in a Best Actress candidate would be Sandra in 2009. Not completely equivalent, but both started out well-liked but never performers you'd think "Definitely headed for an Oscar" (incidentally, both had early, major "dramatic" work in A TIME TO KILL). And both had their wins with heroic, aggressive, lead roles based on real people. Both had a somewhat under-seen but much hailed role prior to their win (INFAMOUS / KILLER JOE) and a well received box-office hit (THE PROPOSAL/MAGIC MIKE).

Some of those similarities of mine might be specious in some regards, maybe, but I guess the fun of drawing Oscar parallels is always seeing what fits and what doesn't.

(I will defend CHOCOLAT, and Binoche's radiance in it, to my dying day. Probably alone.)

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK

This comparison is really fascinating. I especially like thinking of Chiwetel and The lovely Laura Linney together. I am seeing Chiwetel do the double hand wave and watching Laura's eyes widen with horror. Both are such tremendous actors.

Matthew -- anyway i applaud you for taking the easy and too often-reductive McConaughey/Julia comparison and really fleshing it out. It's weird when Oscar categories are so easily comparabble but it doesn't even seem like stretching here.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Good read!

I think Matthew is going to win, but I would love to see the vote count. Every other candidate seems to have a very strong fan base (maybe except for Bale). I think Julia became an Oscar winner the day Erin Brockovich opened in March.

AndrewK -- It really works with Sandra too, maybe even more.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy -- totally (on Julia)

February 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

If we're talking solely about the type of career he had leading up to this moment, then sure, Matthew's recent awards run would probably most mirror Sandra's than Julia's. Although I do think that the vehicle, the role, and the actual quality of the performance is much more comparable to Julia-in-Erin Brockovich than Sandra-in-The Blind Side.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Eng

I can't say I'm too surprised by the turn. He's always had great screen presence even if the films were bad. Then, he hit a string of critically acclaimed performances in mixed to good films leading into Dallas Buyers Club: The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe, The Paperboy (he's not part of the wtf? half of the film), Mud, Magic Mike, and Mud. No, I wouldn't have predicted a string of great performances that long before they started, but once the tide started turning, it was clear he had the goods to get an Oscar.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Well, I'm absolutely amazed! The work his doing in True Detective is colossal.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Am I the only person who suspects that Matthew McConaughey won't win the Oscar? I actually think it's a pretty tight four-way race for the statue.

(You're right about Christian Bale; no speech preparation necessary.)

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercash

I think McConaughey will win in the same way Eddie Murphy lost. Some people said the commercials for Norbit damaged Murphy's path to Oscar. Well, True Detective almost assuredly makes people think DBC wasn't some fluke.

McConaughey is probably the best working actor because his movies/TV choices lately are really unique. How many movies like Killer Joe come along? Or TV shows like True Detective?

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

This will be the Oscar win where Oscar-less performers shouldn't feel bad for dying without one. If Matthew McConaughey, Fisher Stevens, and Cher can have won it isn't really that special to begin with.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

This will be the Oscar win where Oscar-less performers shouldn't feel bad for dying without one. If Matthew McConaughey, Fisher Stevens, and Cher can have one it isn't really that special to begin with.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

3rtful -- um. Cher is a pretty great actress. just saying. I always forget that Fisher Stevens has an oscar (weird trivia!) but it's not for acting so, let's not pretend otherwise. If it was i'd be even more horrified about the michelle pfeiffer situation

Rahul -- interesting. I always hope (foolishly because i never believed that they'd go for magic mike) that a lot of people voted for him for magic mike so that was essentially the warm up and this is the victory lap. But Magic Mike is always going to be his best performance. it's just so singular and funny and smart and so MCCONAUGHEY

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Cher is a great actress. Silkwood and Moonstruck are enough to convince.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

I loved Binoche in Chocolat, I seriously do not begrudge her that nomination

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

Rami - Binoche is always lovely and obviously 100 million times the best thing in Chocolat. but come on... that's the kind of role she can do in her sleep. and it costs other far more ambitious performances.

February 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Contrary to my post, I actually like Cher as an actress. She's never been "bad" in a movie. But she hasn't made enough efforts to have the kind of "off-days" career actresses have.

However, I can't help but resent her Oscar win over the competition. And romantic comedy wins don't sit well with me because I detest the genre.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I definitely don't feel like McConaughey's win, if it actually does occur, will be the coronation that Roberts's was -- the country's then-most-bankable actress on her third nomination for a career-best performance in a blockbuster directed by a well-respected director enjoying his own banner year -- but this thoughtful comparison does make good points. What McConaughey's case does display more than anything to me is the strength of re-branding oneself through a string of shrewd, unexpected choices. It's somewhat akin to Penelope Cruz's creative renaissance, which took her from bland and uninteresting to A-list elite.

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I love Chocolat, it's one my favorite comfort food movies! I am perfectly fine with Binoche's nomination. Judi Dench, not so much. I believe Olin and Moss are better supporting actress choices from that movie alone! That said, if, as Matthew suggested, Bjork had been nominated instead, I would not begrudge that nom either.

I am not keen on the MM-Roberts parallel, but that's surely my own bias! I am a bit of a McConaughey agnostic. I thought Mud was dull, almost always forget he was in Paperboy and still don't know what to make of Killer Joe. Magic Mike is probably my favorite of his efforts, since I'm not really big on DBC, either. On the other hand, I like a lot of Roberts filmography, both pre and post Oscar win (my favorite performance of hers, Closer, coming after the win). So, to me at least, apples and oranges.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

I don't really buy the comparison (the whole category in general), but you're really trying so points for all the effort haha. I can see some comparison between the Julia and Matthew thing, but I think Matthew is more of a mix between both Julia and Sandra. Because the performance he will likely win for is more on the level of Erin Brokovich, but in terms of Oscar nominations and critical career revival he's more akin to Sandra. He has a similar Hollywood type as both of them. But I think Sandra and Julia both gave better performances and had better filmographies before their wins than Matthew.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I am so here for the McConaissance! All the way to Oscar, baby! It's been a long time coming, and even in his 90s romcom heyday, there were still some signs of a real actor hidden away in there somewhere ("A Time to Kill," anyone?). It's sad that it took to this stage in his career for people to see how talented this guy is, and hopefully after this *likely* Oscar win next month, he'll be given the credit and due that he's deserved for awhile now. I hate the "Southern himbo" dismissals like he can't do anything else. Are you people seeing how amazing McConaughey is on "True Detective" right now? It's mindblowing. Not to mention he was also nod-worthy in "Mud," "Killer Mike," "Magic Mike," "Bernie," and made "The Lincoln Lawyer" a hell of a lot better than it had any right to be. But the crown is "Dallas Buyers Club," and "deglam" or no, he's earned the props he's receiving right now, and I applaud that wholeheartedly. I don't think this is quite a Julia Roberts coronation, but more like a Jamie Foxx one (an actor rooted in an underrated comedy background who had to prove to the world his dramatic heft in THE RIGHT ROLE, and when that role came along, he nailed it, and the Academy finally took notice). So yeah, get it, McConaughey!

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

Julia Roberts had two previous noms (Supporting and Lead) before her win.
There are similarities to Matthew McConaughey for sure, but she still was more seen as "due" as McC, me thinks.
Leonardo DiCaprio simply has the worst timing and timing is what still matters the most at Oscars. Maybe he will have it one day.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

The biggest difference for me is "McConaughey *is* Ron Woodroof" and "Julia Roberts *as* Erin Brockovich." He's doing character work in a starring role, while the film and the role are perfectly molded to suit her star persona.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

The difference for me is that Dallas Buyers Club is McConaughey's Iron Lady, a star vehicle tailor made to win awards, rescued from a forgotten drawer by seomeone smart enough to read McConaughey's momentum afer Magic Mike and Killer Joe (no way he would be the frontrunner without those two). While Erin Brokovich was an honest collaboration of a star with an auteur in search for new ways of expression, that could have been a miss (Mary Reilly) but that instead gave her star a second more prestigious act and an Oscar at the same time.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Let's hope DBC isn't the end of Mc's career like Brokovich was for Roberts. Thirteen years of junk or hits that starred other people, then this year's totally undeserved nomination. Only Closer broke the line, and I'm the only one I ever met who liked it.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

I don't think DiCaprio has bad timing. His problem is that America loves new shiny things and career resurrection narratives. If DiCap had made The Lincoln Lawyer it would have been considered the least interesting thing he'd done, by far. When McC does it it's a sign of his genius.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGena

vladdy -- a lot of readers here (and myself) love CLOSER

Gena & Iggy -- those are good points actually (albeit you have to erase Killer Joe since most in the industry we can presume didn't see it and didn't care about it) even though i prefer McConaughey this year.

February 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I don't want to read articles proclaiming Leo an also-ran just yet. I think we should celebrate him as a guy who hasn't yet lost the Oscar for Wolf of Wall Street if that makes sense. And he's the best actor of his generation IMO and the opinions of a lot of people

I believe Joan Allen was the 6th or 7th choice for best actress in 2005's Oscar race with Upside of Anger.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin K

According to the screenwriters of DBC (in an interview aired today on NPR's Morning Edition), their film languished in development hell for almost two decades, causing a great deal of pain for one of the writers (e.g, the tortured artist kind of pain for which he went on a long-term, drug/alcohol-infused bender); he's the one who actually interviewed the real Ron Woodruff. The original studio that bought the first script went belly up. Since then, others had it, and various actors were attached to star. So I guess it has been floating about for some time, not necessarily hidden in a drawer.

IMO McConaughey was the best thing about the film; I think Leto serviced the Rayon role, but was not stellar. I've been routing for Matthew since his Dazed and Confused and Lone Star days. In my world, there would be a Best Actor tie on March 2 with Ejiofor.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

"rooting" not "routing". And, for the record, it breaks my heart that Hollywood couldn't figure out what to do with Cher. She is a fantastic actress. Even her "mom" roles in Mask and Mermaids are terrific.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Pam, she's supposed to be also amazing in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. I've only seen bits and pieces of it, and I've been having a hard time getting a DVD of this. When you have a movie with Cher and Sandy Dennis and Karen Black--attention must be paid!

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I think Roberts does some of her most textured work in "Closer," a film for which I have total admiration.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Great article Nate! How did you manage to photo edit those pictures so well!

A few things to make note of-

1. Julia Roberts was the heavy favorite all awards season in 2000. She won-

National Board of Review
Los Angeles Film Critics
Broadcast Film Critics Choice
Golden Globe (Drama)
SAG
BAFTA
London Film Critics
MTV (yep, I listed it)

Unlike Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey, Roberts won vital critic prizes as well as the BAFTA. This was HER film and I always think it was a fantastic best actress win.

Loved Burstyn, but honestly it was a supporting role in a movie that made little sense to me in terms of the plot outcome (did Burstyn really win the contest to be on TV? They never explain) Her speech was heartbreaking, but in 2000 no one was saying it was going to be a shame if she lost. I think the internet bloggers have made her loss to be something of shock, when in reality she never stood a chance.

Bullock, however, WAS being ridiculed for winning before she won- because those of us paying attention knew she wasn't winning for her performance, but rather her star power and donations to all those charities. The real winner was supposed to be Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia (had won New York, Globe and was on everyone's radar) but Bullock stole her crown at the tie at the Critics Choice by making the speech her moment. In addition no one can say Bullock was better then the likes of Gabby Sidibe (wow), Helen Mirren (The Last Station is her best screen work to date in my opinion) or Carey Mulligan.

Matthew McConaughey AT LEAST gives an amazing performance. But DiCaprio should really be taking this to the bank. BAFTA, to me, was his last chance to keep buzz going; I don't know how he's going to win with just the Comedy Globe. However Chiwetel might take votes from Matthew, opening up that door. Bruce Dern, in my opinion, doesn't play a likable character and his character does not change or have a money speech worthy to say "oh yeah, he's winning now." Even (SPOILER---) when his son buys him that truck at the end, there's no father-and-son bond moment, just Dern looking lost and confused as usual. A big letdown.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJason Travis

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