Natural Selections

Culture Corner

And the Alternative Oscar Goes To…

Bernie Langs

You obviously cannot hand out Academy Awards for every superlative acting performance and deliver a statuette to all deserving movies every year. That said, here is a commercial-free presentation of Honorary Oscars for a handful of overlooked actors, actresses, musicians, films, and filmmakers that doesn’t take three prime time hours to get through and has absolutely no Geico commercials.

For goodness sake, give Amy Adams her due with a career award for Best Consistently Awesome Display of the Depth of the Emotional Dictionary. Adams has failed to earn an Oscar five times for supporting roles and once in the Best Actress category. She is gifted with an uncanny ability to dive deep into an oceanic expression of diverse emotions. She is a fearless explorer of uncharted feelings and personality traits expressed to perfection in the diverse characters she creates. As a brilliant linguistics academic in 2016’s sci-fi thriller, Arrival, she raises the film’s power and intensity to unexpected intellectual heights. Adams presents to her audience a study in disastrous life choices in romance and love in her role as Susan Morrow, a wealthy Los Angeles-based art gallery owner, in Tom Ford’s deeply disturbing and violent tragedy, Nocturnal Animals (2016). In David O. Russell’s dark comedic take on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s ABSCAM sting, American Hustle (2013), Adams and Christian Bale shine as a pair of con artists conscripted by federal agents to entrap mobsters and crooked politicians in exchange for a reduction of their criminal charges. Adams is also no stranger to outright comedy, portraying famed pilot Amelia Earhart in spunky overdrive in one of the Night at the Museum franchise films, and as a fairyland, songstress princess brought magically to New York City in 2007’s Enchanted. How much more does she need to give us on celluloid before the Academy recognizes her extraordinary talent?

The Oscar for Most Overlooked Soundtrack Artist goes to Jimmy Cliff for his acting and musicianship in the 1973 film The Harder They Come. Set on the island of Jamaica, Cliff’s story about a young man in poverty trying to beat the oppressive system stacked against him as a musician and outlaw literally brought reggae music to the international community. The title tune is a joy-filled social statement and Cliff rises again to the moment with You Can Get It If You Really Want. A lesser known gem on the soundtrack is Johnny Too Bad, a sublimely catchy bit of island sound performed by The Slickers. Hunt that song and the rest of the album down on Spotify and you will not be disappointed. 

Best Badass Performance in a Futuristic Non-Superhero Role is a tie with the award going to Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) for her portrayal of Sergeant Rita Vrataski, the “Angel of Verdun,” and Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) as Imperator Furiosa, a warrior bent on moral vengeance in a post-apocalyptic world surviving in a desolate desert landscape amid a grotesque, fascist society. Both films are fueled by high-octane action, which may turn off many viewers until they realize that Blunt and Theron’s characters have layer upon layer of complexity. Blunt acts in tandem with Tom Cruise while Theron performs alongside the marvelous Tom Hardy. The audience holds tight as the partners in both films ride nonstop through choreographed mayhem of ever-increasing ferocity. Furiosa accomplishes more in the name of justice (and feminism) as a one-armed, brute-strength crafty soldier dressed in drab fatigues than the newly branded Wonder Woman achieves with her multitude of superpowers.

Best Underappreciated Performance in a Supporting Role is presented to Robert DeNiro for his role as Pat Solitano Sr. in another dark comedy directed by David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. Released to great acclaim in 2012, the cast is led by Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) and Bradley Cooper (Pat Jr.) as two emotionally damaged people recovering from difficult life traumas concerning their spouses. The entire supporting cast is incredible, including Chris Tucker as Pat Jr.’s manic former mental hospital friend and Jacki Weaver as Pat Jr.’s snack-baking mom who’s left bewildered by the unfolding events. DeNiro, who was nominated in the Supporting category (and lost), gives a masterful depiction and study of a father confused by his son’s mental illness. Ironically, the audience realizes that although Pat Sr.’s obsessive compulsive disorder may not be on the destructive level of his son’s violent flare-ups, this imbalance was most likely inherited by Pat Jr. As Pat Jr. heals himself through Tiffany’s endearingly quirky and odd wooing, DeNiro’s recovery and revelations are more subtly played out. In a powerfully emotional scene, Pat Sr. transforms himself in a matter of minutes from raging anger towards his son and Tiffany into a complete (and humorous) acceptance and understanding for what she has been doing for his family. The sequence morphs from a position of seemingly irreversible tragedy to a plot shifting moment of hope and redemption.

Best Performance in a Mob Movie More Realistic Than The Sopranos goes to both James Gandolfini (who played Tony Soprano in the HBO series) for his role as Uncle Marv, a bar owner in Brooklyn, and Tom Hardy for his role as bartender, Bob Saginowsky, in 2014’s The Drop. In the final role of Gandolfini’s career (he died suddenly in 2013 just prior to the movie’s release), he plays a bitter man angry with the world about his life and situation, taking his frustrations out on the seemingly slow-witted employee portrayed by Hardy. The bar, now owned by local Chechen gangsters, is being used with Marv’s blessing by the criminals to move their illegal nightly cash take. When the bar is robbed of the mob’s nightly take, the hunt by the ruthless, yet oddly savvy, Chechens devolves into tragedy for Marv and Bob along with many other characters caught in their web of revenge. Bob has long accepted his basic lot in life, but Marv unrealistically holds fast to a fantasy that his patrons still respect the power and aura he once had in better days. In an effort to save him from his own worst instincts, Bob is forced to confront Marv with the uncomfortable truth that he has to move on and understand that he has always been and will never be more than the owner of a small local bar. It is very sad to think about what future roles Gandolfini may have excelled in, had he lived. Hardy remains an actor of fabulous and rare talent, and although he chooses most of his roles selectively, at times his fans must admit that he takes some parts “for the paycheck.”

Best Film Depicting Unwavering Political Courage in an Era of Existential Crisis goes to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012) starring Daniel-Day Lewis, which follows the iconic Civil War President as he desperately seeks to secure Congressional votes to ban slavery in the United States, and Darkest Hour (2017) with Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II. Both Lewis and Oldham deservedly took home the Best Actor statuette for their respective roles. Each film is an exciting tutorial on courageous leaders facing the pressing reality of the potential destruction of their nations. Lincoln and Churchill both remain steadfast with their plans for victory and national survival. They refuse to waver or cave to the many calls put forth by friend and foe alike for ill-advised, half-baked compromises that would leave their countries as empty shells of their historic selves and betray the core values on which their national identities and foundations are grounded. Holding firm to an ideal of freedom for all and staying a moral course during crisis—these are timeless ethical bedrocks so rarely taken to heart by politicians in our own era. Too often we are witnessing an embarrassing international dearth of character in our leaders that would appear as nothing less than shameful in the eyes of those who crafted and refined the living definition of public service for the good of all souls. 

We hope you have enjoyed the First Annual presentation of Honorary Oscars! And now…a message from Geico!