' ' Cinema Romantico: Awards Season Has Been Upgraded to Hurricane Status

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Awards Season Has Been Upgraded to Hurricane Status

When I submitted my one official film awards ballot, I put down Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” for Best Actress. (Fine, fine. Daniel Kaluuya in “Nope” for Actor, Nicole Kidman in “Northman” for Supporting Actress, Brian Tyree Henry in “Causeway” for Supporting Actor.) I did this because, like, you know, I liked the performance, especially for Riseborough daring to play it so unlikable. But I also nominated her because “To Leslie” was a teensy indie barely made for anything that hardly made anything. My nomination means nothing, obviously, and the critic awards I vote in mean little more, surely, but I have the ballot and wanted to make the most of it. It was only later, I swear, that I discovered some grassroots social media operation had sprung up in which scores of Hollywood’s finest – from Kate Winslet to Cate Blanchett to Edward Norton to Jane Fonda – were posting variations of an Andrea Riseborough For Your Consideration ad. (I like Riseborough, duh, I just said I nominated her, but even for me some of these FYCs were like, take it down a notch, this isn’t de Havilland in “The Heiress.”)

I don’t know, maybe Hollywood really did get together for one big night out at someone’s house and rented “To Leslie” for $6.99 off Apple TV and they were all blown away at the same time and decided to collectively rattle the cages. More likely, though, someone involved with the “To Leslie” production enlisted Hollywood’s finest to mount a free ad campaign. After all, movies like “To Leslie” don’t really have marketing budgets. It made me think of years ago when I was so smitten with Kelly Macdonald’s performance in “The Merry Gentleman” that I reached out to the production to see if she would be getting an awards push. One of the producers (and co-stars) emailed me back, thanked me for asking, but confessed, simply, “No money, no push.” That’s the reality for most American indies that can’t. In 2008, of course, social media as we know it was merely in its infancy and so “The Merry Gentleman” couldn’t enlist stars to herald Macdonald’s turn. The game has since changed. Steak and lobster are not the only way to court votes. Log into Instagram and lay it on thick. 

Whether Riseborough will wind up nominated given all this, I haven’t the foggiest. But I’d like to think that if she does, it would get a significant chunk of people who otherwise would not know about a movie like “To Leslie,” to check it out, kind of like me watching “Ulee’s Gold” 25 years ago because of Peter Fonda’s Best Actor nomination. That introduced me to director Victor Nuñez and eventually led me back to his 1993 directorial debut “Ruby in Paradise” which is only one of my all-time favorite movies now. That’s at least in part what these nominations are (should be) about; the joy of discovery! That’s why it was so disappointing to see so many ostensible cinephiles, the kind who typically, gleefully demonize the movie-watching incuriosity of the masses, come about and display so much incuriosity themselves, responding to this rudimentary Riseborough movement with different versions of the vacuous observation that “To Leslie” is a Movie Nobody Has Seen and one that Didn’t Make Any Money. That is to say nothing of the “What About (Insert Performance Here)?” queries it also triggered, which I don’t mind so much so long as you’re not just reflexively vilifying Riseborough in the process.

Perhaps it will emerge that this all-of-a-sudden campaign is standard-operating exclusionary industry operating procedure, trying to wedge out Danielle Deadwyler for “Till” or Michelle Yeoh for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” But those are weighty accusations, and I will require more proof than someone Tweeting something like The Hollywood Illuminati Strikes Again! No, if awards are essentially meaningless, as some will still tell you in the manner of someone just discovering gravity, leaving them free to be anything, for most people outside the Los Angeles city limits, they predominantly still exist as a vehicle for outrage, if not an unwitting opportunity to show their true colors. There are still 53 days until the Oscars. I’m going to need more supplies.

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