January 9, 2019 at 2:04 pm PDT | by John Paul King
After Globes, all eyes on Oscar

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman star in ‘The Favourite.’ (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima for Fox Searchlight)

It’s more than a week into the New Year already, and for movie fans, that means the season is upon us – awards season, that is.

Though some organizations start handing out their prizes in early December, the presentation of the Golden Globes – which took place last Sunday – is the first of the big, glitzy ceremonies we expect from a Hollywood awards show. The telecast of this year’s affair was watched by 18.6 million people, a little down (2 percent) from last year but a much smaller decline in viewership than those experienced by the Oscars and other awards in recent years.

The Globes are a big enough event in their own right, of course, but they are also a signal that the year’s Oscar race has kicked off in earnest. The Globes are considered the first real barometer for which films stand the best chance of grabbing Academy gold, and even though the winners aren’t guaranteed to win an Oscar, too, they are almost assured to be front-runners.

The Globes split the categories for most of the big awards – Best Picture, Actor, Actress, etc. – into two divisions, “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy.”  This makes handicapping the Oscars a tricky endeavor, since the Academy doesn’t make the same distinction; it means – in the performing categories, anyway – only half the number of nominees make the cut, and it’s happened before that even Globe winners get shut out from the final ballot.

Even so, it’s impossible to resist speculation about what the Golden Globes presage for the Oscars.

This year’s Globes reflected the increase of onscreen LGBT inclusion in 2018 by including what seemed like a record number of nominations for movies with queer narratives and characters. 

The surprise winner in the Best Picture Drama category was “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a blockbuster biopic of Freddie Mercury – played by Rami Malek, who also won Best Actor in a Drama – in which the singer’s sexuality is a chief point of focus.  The winner for Best Picture, Comedy or Musical was “Green Book,” about the relationship between real-life black musician Don Shirley and his white driver in the segregated South of the early 1960s; Shirley was gay, although the film barely touches on his sexuality, and again the actor who played him –Mahershala Ali – won the Globe in the supporting category. Another winner, Olivia Colman as Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for “The Favourite,” also played a queer character.

Besides the three winners, a total of five other performers were nominated for playing LGBT characters in films – and since the Globes also celebrate television, the tally is even higher. For queer roles on the small screen, actors Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”) and Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal”) won as Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively, in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. Whishaw – the only one of the winners who publicly identifies as LGBT in real life – even dedicated his award to Norman Scott, whom he portrayed in the show, and called him a “queer hero.”

There was also a wide showing in the non-acting categories for LGBT-centric narratives.  On the film side, besides “Rhapsody” and “The Favourite,” others on the slate include “Boy Erased” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” In addition, movies like “A Star Is Born” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” both of which were mainstream hits and included queer characters in supporting roles, were heavily represented among the nominations.

In terms of Oscar, this means there are a lot of potential nominees in the running that could allow the Academy to promote and reward inclusion and support for the LGBT community – something for which many will be watching closely, in light of the Kevin Hart controversy – a debacle that may still be ongoing, considering reports that the Academy’s leadership may still be open to reinstating the comedian as this year’s host.

There are good odds that some of these will make the cut. The surest bet is probably on “The Favourite,” Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ bawdy and quirky tale of behind-the-scenes lesbian intrigue in the 18th-century court of Queen Anne. It’s one of the year’s most-lauded films, and with up to 10 slots open in the Best Picture category, it seems certain to earn a nomination there; almost as probable are nods for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and odds are good it will snag nominations in several technical and design categories, also.

The film’s three stars are likely shoo-ins; two of them, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, are former winners and Oscar favorites, and have both been nominated in the Supporting Actress category for most of the major awards so far; as for Olivia Colman, she may be less-well known – at least in the U.S. – than her co-stars, but she has been taking a hefty share of wins for her turn as the childish and petulant Queen Anne. All three actresses will almost certainly be nominated; Stone and Weisz would be competing against each other in the same category, potentially canceling each other out and making a win improbable, but Colman stands a stronger-than-average chance of being named Best Actress – especially after her win at the Golden Globes.

She has heavy competition, however.  “A Star is Born” features the breakthrough screen performance of Lady Gaga, who was an early favorite in the Oscar race – though her loss to Glenn Close’s work in “The Wife” at the Golden Globes, seen by many as an upset, may not bode well for her chances.  The Bradley Cooper-directed remake is another almost-sure Best Picture nominee, and will probably get nods for its screenplay, for Cooper (as both director and leading actor), and for Sam Elliott (Best Supporting Actor), as well. Still, with Gaga facing off not only against Colman’s formidable performance but sentimental preference for Close (she’s been nominated six times without winning, and Oscar loves to reward beloved stars who are seen as long-overdue), this film’s (and Gaga’s) easiest shot at a victory is a Best Original Song award for “Shallow.”

The third “big” LGBT title in the running is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which survived a troubled production history – and accusations of “straight-washing” when early previews seemed to indicate an erasure of Mercury’s queer identity – to earn the biggest box-office take of any LGBT movie to date. While critical response to the film has been mixed, at best, it has proven to be highly popular with audiences, and Malek’s performance as Mercury has garnered nearly universal acclaim. Since he took home a Golden Globe, he could be poised to grab an Oscar as well – though previous winner Christian Bale, who also scored at the Globes for his performance as Dick Cheney in “Vice,” probably has the edge. As for the movie itself, it may snag a few other nominations, including for Best Picture – but even with a Golden Globe win under its belt, a win there is probably a long shot.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” a true-life drama about a literary lesbian con artist and her gay accomplice, is also on the buzz list; leading actress Melissa McCarthy, and her supporting co-star, Richard E. Grant, have been predicted as nominees in their respective categories (both were nominated for Globes). With the aforementioned three-way competition in the Best Actress race, it seems improbable that McCarthy could win – particularly considering that Oscar has a history of denying victory to comedic actors in dramatic roles.

As for Grant’s chances in the Supporting Actor category, he will probably have to face off against Mahershala Ali and Timothée Chalamet. Ali won the Globe, so he has a strong chance. Chalamet, the acclaimed young star of last year’s “Call Me By Your Name” has a huge LGBT fan base that will be rooting for him, even though the teenaged meth addict he plays in “Beautiful Boy” is straight; he lost out on last year’s Best Actor prize, and the Academy has a history of “making up” for past oversights by bestowing awards in subsequent years – making many Oscar pundits place him as the odds-on favorite to win this one. Either way, Grant’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me” performance is a very dark horse.

“Boy Erased,” the film adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir about his experiences in a Christian “conversion camp” for gay teens, was anticipated early on as a strong contender for this year’s awards season, but it hasn’t made much of a showing so far; its young star, Lucas Hedges, snagged a Globe nomination, and has a fighting chance of repeating that feat at the Oscars. Of all the films likely to be contenders this year, this one has the most LGBT-centric focus, and of all the actors in the running for playing queer characters, Hedges is the only one who has publicly identified as anything other than straight (though he stopped short of putting a label on his sexuality, saying he sees it as “existing on a spectrum”).  A win for him would send a powerful message of inclusion – but even if he makes the cut in a field limited to only five contenders, his status as a first-time nominee, coupled with the acting pyrotechnics displayed by probable Best Actor front-runners Malek and Bale, make his chances slim.

While those are the biggest – and most probable – contenders for Oscar gold when the Academy Awards are presented on Feb. 24, there are a host of other possibilities. Acclaimed indie films like “We the Animals” or “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” could always earn a surprise nomination in such categories as Screenplay or Cinematography, and there will almost surely be LGBT recipients among the evening’s many winners.

It’s also true that it’s still early in the race – until the Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 22, it’s all just speculation as to who will even be competing, and the other awards ceremonies upcoming before the Academy presentation (especially the SAG Awards on Jan. 27) will no doubt provide further hints to the way Oscar voters will lean.

No matter how it all plays out, it seems certain that the 91st Academy Awards will have a host of LGBT-friendly nominees on its slate; whether or not any of them actually end up as winners is something that remains to be seen.

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