Oscar Preview: Weekend of Aug. 16-18, 2013

We had one film release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Lee Daniels has had the best of luck and the worst of luck when it comes to the Academy. His first film, Precious was a surprise hit and earned six nominations including for Best Picture. It won two for Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique and for Best Adapted Screenplay. His second time out wasn’t so lucky. The Paperboy, in spite of receiving positive notices for Nicole Kidman, the film didn’t do well with critics or at the box office, making it a decided flop with the Academy.

The Butler has earned fairly solid notices from critics, but not to the degree that his first film did. That doesn’t mean the film won’t play well with the Academy. Its positive reviews and box office strength will help bolster its cause with the Academy. Harvey Weinstein will flog that into massive support for the film, which he hopes to make more successful than the similarly-released The Help. Both films dealt with race relations, but this one is multi-generational and looks epic, taking place over multiple decades. That historical feel will make this one a bit easier to swallow for Academy members wanting to continue to prove that they are forward thinkers and not a bunch of old white guys voting for the most insipid or boring alternatives to films with largely black casts. After the choices they’ve made over the last couple of decades, we could be seeing their best opportunity and Harvey will be sure to indirectly reference that (especially with Oprah helping out).

Apart form Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor, the film has chances in Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress plus a number of creative awards including Production Design and Costume Design. The one major question mark is Oprah Winfrey. Deep down, everyone wants an Oscar and Winfrey is no different. The problem is, Weinstein has made the ludicrous decision to position in her in the very crowded Best Actress race. Whether it’s an ego issue or she has more to do than the trailer suggests or perhaps just a rumor at this point, the folly would be placing her against a number of frequently working actors who’ve been at the game while Oprah’s been doing little but television since her last vague flirtation with Oscar Beloved. In Supporting Actress, I could see her as a gauntlet-running champion, possibly nabbing that sought-after Oscar. However, in Best Actress, it will be a struggle to get nominated.

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