Friday, December 12, 2014

‘Tis the Season for Nominations: Dear White People

As the countdown to Christmas continues, some Hollywood types have found themselves unwrapping early presents, in the form of accolades for films they’ve released in 2014. The Golden Globe list came out yesterday, a day after the Screen Actors Guild nods. Based on those nominations, some lucky performers and moguls are now getting measured for new fancy-dress duds, with visions of  Oscars dancing in their heads

Once the Academy Awards were the only game in town. Now, though, awards and nominations are announced on almost a daily basis, as various critics’ circles and fan groups weigh in on their favorites. The pundits, meanwhile, are busy calibrating the odds on who’ll be mentioned from the stage on Oscar night, February 22. Showbiz sites like Indiewire and The Wrap, as well as a weekly section of the L.A. Times called The Envelope, have long been making breathless predictions. The result: a sense of inevitability develops, persuading movie enthusiasts without industry connections to put some movies high on their “must-see” lists and skip others entirely. Everybody loves a winner, so why bother paying to see something that doesn’t stand a chance?

Ultimately, all these predictions end up shaping the box office. Which is why producers hire specialists to run awards-oriented publicity campaigns. And stars of small indie movies push themselves forward as legitimate contenders.  (It worked for Jennifer Aniston, who just scored SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Cake. Her film will not enter general release until January, and awards buzz will certainly help its box-office chances.)

The Golden Globe folks, a small cadre of foreign journalists who belong to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, have been handing out statuettes since 1947. Their reputation isn’t the best: they have often been accused of playing favorites, and their past includes questionable awards to well-connected fringe players like Pia Zadora (who was named New Star of the Year for Butterfly in 1982). Having attended an HFPA press conference in that era, I have a certain skepticism about the seriousness of their credentials. Still, their recent choices make more sense, and everyone seems to enjoy the televised Golden Globe evening (January 11, 2015) as one big glitzy party. The Screen Actors Guild prizes, to be given out January 25, are viewed with more respect. These awards, given by actors to their fellow actors, are often an excellent predictor of Oscar love. The makers of one potential contender, Selma, badly goofed   when they didn’t send out official screeners to the SAG membership.

For my money the Gotham and Indie Spirit Awards are the most interesting. These groups recognize lower-budget films that might otherwise be overlooked. Like Dear White People, a low-budget racial satire that was a hit at Sundance, but proved hard to find elsewhere. Dear White People scored Spirit Award nominations for writer-director Justin Simien in the Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay categories. And the Gothamites, who proudly kick off the awards season by making their presentations on December 1, gave their Breakthrough Actor prize to the film’s star Tessa Thompson, who triumphed over notables from Boyhood, Nightcrawler, and Obvious Child. Though Tessa (also featured in Selma) plays a campus firebrand in Dear White People, I remember her well from the days when she and my son acted together at Santa Monica High School, in classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and You Can’t Take It With You. Tessa was a sweet girl, a real charmer, and I’d love to catch her film . . . if I could find it. Maybe a bit of awards buzz might make that happen.   


  1. So many awards shows, so little time. Congratulations to Ms. Thompson - hopefully her film will be more available soon.

  2. The film keeps getting mentioned, so I hope that one of these days I'll get to see it.