In a great year for film, not everyone can fit on the academy’s shortlist
By JOHN HORN | Los Angeles Times | Published: February 18, 2014
Winning an Oscar - or just being nominated - can transform a Hollywood future. Yet just because some actors and filmmakers weren’t shortlisted for an Academy Award doesn’t mean their great work is going unrewarded.
Critics have rightly pointed to 2013 as one of the best movie years in recent history. Consequently, the fields for top Oscars were impossibly crowded, with highly praised performances by Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey left on the sidelines.
That A-list pack didn’t exactly need awards attention to boost their careers. The more consequential group is those actors and filmmakers a few rungs down the ladder, where acclaim can spell the difference between job offers and unemployment. So far, the industry isn’t letting a March 2 invitation to the Dolby Theatre - or the lack of one - determine their value: In some cases, the snubbed are as much in demand as the nominated.
Peter Berg is one such person. Even though he was nominated for a Writers Guild of America honor for adapting the screenplay for “Lone Survivor,” which Berg also directed, the filmmaker received no Oscar love (the film earned two sound nominations). But because “Lone Survivor” was a commercial and critical success, the Academy Award rebuff didn’t matter.
“The phone rings a lot more, and there are more opportunities,” said Berg, who is now working on two HBO series (“The Leftovers” and “State of Play”) and is now considering multiple options for his next feature. It was a different situation following his previous feature, 2012’s flop “Battleship.” “When you’re up it’s great,” Berg said. “When you’re down, you have to work a little bit harder. And I’ve had both”
Some of the overlooked-yet-in-demand include:
David Oyelowo, who played the activist son of a White House domestic worker in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” He’ll soon play Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” a civil rights drama that has been nearly 10 years in the making.
Brie Larson, who starred as a residential treatment supervisor in “Short Term 12,” is currently starring opposite Mark Wahlberg in “The Gambler.” Larson also is penciled in to co-star in “The Good Luck of Right Now,” an adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel by the directors of “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42,” will play James Brown in the upcoming biopic “Get On Up.”
Greta Gerwig, the lead and co-writer of “Frances Ha,” has been tapped to star in, produce and possibly write “How I Met Your Dad,” a spin-off from the hit CBS series.
Oscar Isaac, who had the lead role in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” has four features in the can and is now starring in a new crime drama from “All Is Lost” filmmaker J.C. Chandor.
Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who shot Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” is now among the town’s most coveted directors of photography and he just completed the Jeremy Renner film “Kill the Messenger.”
Just as past performance does not guarantee a stock will continue to soar, today’s Oscar adulation is no predictor of accomplishment tomorrow. While the Oscars certainly can elevate an actor’s profile - few people in town probably knew of Jennifer Lawrence before 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” became an awards contender - the Academy Award promise of greater things to come can go unfulfilled.
Adrien Brody, who won the lead actor Oscar for 2002’s “The Pianist,” is now mostly seen in direct-to-video B movies like “Wrecked,” “InAPPropriate Comedy” and “The Experiment.” The last three movies starring Mira Sorvino, the winner of the supporting actress trophy for 1995’s “Mighty Aphrodite,” were “Space Warriors,” “Theo” and “Trade of Innocents,” which had a combined box-office take of $15,091.
Even two-time best actress winner Hilary Swank has struggled to find her footing, failing to generate the kind of buzz and box office of her two Oscar-winning movies, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
Among those snubbed this past year are several well-known actors who used 2013 to reposition their careers. Rather than continue making forgettable studio fare like “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time,” Jake Gyllenhaal returned to his indie film roots, starring in not one but two movies for French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, including “Enemy,” which opens March 14.
“I think I’m listening and trusting the relationships I have in my life,” Gyllenhaal said. Thanks in part to his acclaimed work in Villeneuve’s “Prisoners,” Gyllenhaal now has more credibility as an actor. “He was incredible in that film,” said director Antoine Fuqua, who hopes to direct Gyllenhaal in the boxing movie “Southpaw” after the actor completes the Alpine tragedy “Everest.”
When director Rupert Wyatt approached veteran producer Irwin Winkler with some casting ideas for “The Gambler,” Larson was high on his list to play a college student involved with a troubled teacher played by Wahlberg. “I didn’t know her,” Winkler said of Larson. “But I took a look at ’Short Term 12,’ and I thought she was tremendous. She reminded me of young Meryl Streep.”
Sandra Marsh, the talent agent for the cinematographer Bobbitt, obviously would have preferred that her client was singled out for an Oscar. “Whenever you work gets nominated for an Academy Award, there’s a lot of buzz about you,” she said. But it’s also important to be associated with a movie as acclaimed as “12 Years a Slave,” regardless of who is nominated. “Sometimes it just takes time for people’s work to be recognized, and sometimes it takes a hit,” she said.
Chandor’s new movie, “A Most Violent Year,” stars both Isaac and Oyelowo. “I thought they both just killed it last year,” Chandor said. “I’m pretty excited for people to see the work they are doing. They are gifted, plain and simple.”
Producer Christian Colson, who has been shepherding “Selma” since 2005, said Oyelowo committed to play King several years ago, and even put on weight to look like the slain civil rights leader. But the project stalled until recently, when a combination of an up-and-coming director (“Middle of Nowhere’s” Ava DuVernay), several hot producers (including Winfrey and Plan B, the company behind “12 Years a Slave”), the box-office success of “The Butler” and Oyelowo’s glowing reviews combined to give “Selma” new life.
“It’s a perfect storm of elements working in the movie’s favor,” Colson said. “And David’s star power is a big part of all of it.”