Dallas Buyers Club comes out today and I honestly don’t know why or how any of you are still sitting in your chairs looking at your computer screen and not off at a movie theater absorbing this masterpiece. This is already an intense Oscar race — it’s only the first day of November, and we already have seven predictions for films we think will be nominated for Best Picture — but I can guarantee that Dallas Buyers Club will be a front-runner in multiple categories.
And it’s not for any one reason, either. As you may have noticed last year, just being an excellent movie isn’t enough to get you the statue. You really have to be firing on all cylinders, and this film is. It’s almost scientifically designed to resonate in multiple awards-buzzy categories –five, to be exact — and if it doesn’t win at least one Oscar in 2014, I will hang up my pop culture hat and take to the open plains, disgraced. Let me break this thing down for you.
1. It’s a real story.
The film follows Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, a person who really existed and dedicated his entire being to saving his own life when doctors had diagnosed him as HIV positive and all but given up on him. It can’t be quantified how many lives he did or didn’t save, but none of that really matters. As far as the Oscars are concerned, you had me at ‘true story’.
Examples: Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty. All based on true stories, all nominated for Best Picture in 2013.
2. It’s about AIDS.
Tragic as it is, because of its status as an ongoing epidemic, the subject of AIDS is both topical and historical. A film can study its terrifying beginnings in a world still being ravaged by its devastating effects, so viewers don’t have have the ability to put up an emotional wall between the things they see on screen and the things they have an understanding of from their own real lives.
These films become a source of real-time education and awareness-building that you wouldn’t get from a film about polio or the Bubonic plague, since those diseases have been cured.
Example: Philadelphia, which earned Tom Hanks an Oscar for Best Actor.
3. It stars an actor in a non-traditional role.
Obviously Matthew McConaughey qualifies in this category to some degree, but the person I’m really talking about is Jared Leto, who plays a transsexual woman named Rayon, who is also HIV positive. I know that he’s taken movie roles in the past, but as far as I’m aware, his primary focus at present is his band, Thirty Seconds To Mars, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
But Jared commits hard, and reaps the rewards, completely dissolving into the character of Rayon. He’s mastered so many feminine mannerisms and quirks that when he appears as a man in a scene late in the movie, he’s actually unconvincing, which is exactly how it should be. I remembered for about two minutes that it was Jared Leto when his character first appeared, and then I never thought about it being him ever again. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Examples: Monique, traditionally a comedian, was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Precious and Heath Ledger, known best for lighter work, earned a posthumous Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight.
4. It involved significant weight loss.
Multiple actors lost significant weight for this movie, which the Academy has proven in the past to be really impressed by. Maybe overly so, considering it can put actors into dangerous situations, but that’s just my opinion.
Jared had to lose about thirty to forty pounds to play Rayon, and Matthew had to get down to a skeletal 133 lbs., a weight so low that he’s honestly difficult to watch. And not to be left out, Jennifer Garner was coming off the birth of her third child, Samuel, and had to lose fifty pounds to be ready for filming.
Example: Anne Hathaway lost an absurd amount of weight for Les Miserables, a performance which won her an Oscar for Best Actress.
5. It has an unpretty woman as a main character.
And the final trick up this film’s sleeve for Oscar season is an old reliable — taking a gorgeous woman and making her look plain. Or as plain as you can, when you’re working with Jennifer Garner. She’s naturally very beautiful, something that almost lost her the part, according to her. Nothing was added to her appearance to make her ugly, but Jennifer says she’s not wearing a single bit of makeup anywhere in the movie so that the emphasis could be on her performance.
Examples: Charlize Theron in Monster and Nicole Kidman in The Hours were both ‘uglified’ by prosthetics and makeup, and both earned themselves Academy Awards for Best Actress.