In this weekly feature from Murtada we follow Oscar contender appearances and interviews
The Oscars are just 9 days away so this will be our last Oscar Week column of the season. Let’s look at how contenders are hustling in Phase 2. In this phase campaigns pivot their messages to try and secure the win. This gives us more pointed and sometimes bold messaging. Like the exploitative use of the Muslim Travel ban by Lion. Always happy to see Sonny Pawar's expressive face, but this message is a bit of a stretch. Arrival is going for the heartstrings, showing Amy Adams hugging Jeremy Renner and talking to her daughter, rather than talking up the sci-fi elements. This is smart messaging since the mother-daughter relationship is what most leave the theater talking about...
For some acting contenders this is the time to try and get the maximum exposure possible, even if they know they won't win. Like Naomie Harris. The nomination is the prize for her. Harris is a veteran who’s gotten more attention for her nominated performance in Moonlight than any other, despite years of great work. She is conceding the race to Viola Davis, telling New York Magazine in their latest cover story “It’s Viola’s year, you know?”. In the same interview she talks about the anti-immigrant sentiments taking over in the world right now, with elegance, saying
"The whole foundation of these countries — America in particular — is based on immigration. Britain wouldn’t be the country it is without immigration. So it’s madness. It just seems so retrograde to talk about these ideas now, at a time when the world is just becoming smaller and more interconnected. And now, to want to take a step backward, almost to the dark ages, where, you know, ‘We want monocultures and mono-races,’ it just seems really … yeah, regressive. And very sad.”
Negga on the other hand, is a newcomer and this nomination is her very splashy introduction to the industry. She has worked very hard since last May and it worked out for her. She continues to harness the power of magazine covers like no other contender. Arguably one of the reasons why she got the nomination is because of her high profile during phase 1 voting, gracing the covers of Vogue and W. Now she's on Another cover. This is her chance, like Harris to build up her career, and she’s seizing the moment. While she's made up to look like Betty Boop on the cover, it's another Betty she considers romantic.
“Does romantic mean When Harry Met Sally? Or does it mean Betty Blue? The fact that he kills her in the end of Betty Blue is romantic to me. It’s a different kind of romance to Sleepless In Seattle, but with the same intentions.”
OK screenwriters, pronto to your computers and write Ruth her own Betty Blue.
Mahershala Ali also has a major cover this week. Unlike Harris or Negga though, he's trying to win. After BAFTA chose Dev Patel, Ali gave the Hollywood Reporter a very personal interview. The headline "Mahershala's Moment" is leading and voters might nod while filling out their ballots, "yes it IS his moment".
The accompaying interview is a good read and sheds more light on his journey as an actor, and more details about his conversion to Islam and his relationship with his mother. The latter, of course, was the most poignant and memorable moment of the SAG awards. It’s smart of him to play that up. And he does it with class and humility. The Lion campaign could learn a thing or two.
Isabelle Huppert continues to run a great campaign. She’s everywhere from late night TV, to festival tributes to presenting an award at BAFTA even when she’s wasn’t eligible for a nomination. If Emma Stone prevails as expected, it won’t be because Isabelle didn't try. Here she is talking about her extraordinary year with Elle and Things to Come.