Saturday, January 25, 2014

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB - 6 nominations


Actor in a Leading Role - Matthew McConaghey
Actor in a Supporting Role - Jared Leto
Best Picture - Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter, Producers
Film Editing - Jon Mac Murphy, Martin Pensa
Makeup and Hairstyling (used to be two categories) - Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews
Writing (Original Screenplay) - Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Dallas Buyers Club is the powerful story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaghey), a rough-talking, drug-taking, womanizing roughneck who finds himself diagnosed with AIDS in the early 80s while AZT trials are the only game in town for managing the disease.  He meets and verbally abuses a transsexual woman, Rayon, who is played exquisitely by Jared Leto.  Woodruff discovers a clinic in Mexico which is having much better success with their treatment of AIDS patients, and thus begins the Dallas Buyers Club, a loophole to get around selling drugs.  As Woodruff puts it, "I'm not selling drugs, I'm selling memberships" which in turn gives the members "free" drugs.  

At first, McConaghey's character is everything we would expect him to be.  Misogynist, homophobic, insensitive, the most off putting kind of person you'll ever see.  The, "let's put them all on an island" kind of person.  But naturally, as he begins to work with Rayon and his clients emerge as human beings, he softens and even develops love for his business partner cum friend.  McConaghey is at his best in this film.  He is not the first to be nominated for great acting partnered with dramatic weight change (Tom Hanks, Philadelphia, Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull), and let's not forget that Hanks and DeNiro both won when they did it.  We see Woodruff fight for the right to give dying patients the option to choose their courses of treatment, given that the consequences are dire, either way.  (For an interesting point of view on the entire life of this movement, last year's nominated documentary, "How to Survive a Plague," which both supports and cautions against this practice.)  I will admit that I'm supporting Chiwetel Ejoifor in the Best Actor race, but McConaghey is truly superb.

On the other hand, there is no match for Jared Leto in the Supporting Actor category.  He is transformed.  Remember the hottie mchotterson from My Crazy So Called Life?  Yeah, you won't recognize him in this film.  If you never knew him then, you might not even realize at first that Rayon is indeed played by a man.  And it's more than the changed voice, which Leto ably maintained throughout the film.  It's the mannerisms, the small, gentle movements of the wrists, he had me at every movement of his pinky toe.  The most striking moment of his performance comes when he removes all of the makeup and goes to see his father as a man - his masculinity so well suppressed throughout the execution of the role, that it is as a man that we don't recognize him, enough to make us as uncomfortable as Rayon clearly is.  I understand that this character stuck with Leto so much, that he hasn't been able to watch the film yet, and that he walked the red carpet for the premier, but had to leave before it played.  It's easy to see how hard it would be to put this role down.

The film editing nomination is interesting because it continues the Academy's tradition of only nominating films in this category which have also been nominated for Best Picture (since 1981, in fact).  I once heard Edward James Olmos say that if a scene in a movie doesn't move the story forward in some way, then it shouldn't be in the film.  These editors clearly went to this school of movie making - every scene in the film is important, necessary for the movement of the story and the characters, and is brilliantly pieced together.  A well-deserved nomination that partners well with the Writing category.  You have to give these writers their due - they clearly understood the power of this story in historical context, and brought the characters to life in their storytelling.  They didn't shy away from making this lead character difficult to love, an anti-hero who evolves over time, but who is intentionally unsympathetic from the beginning.

Finally, I have to refer to the Makeup and Hairstyling category.  I'm sorry, so far, I can't get behind any of the nominees in this category in a passionate way (though I still have one left to see, so I'll reserve judgment).  Even the makeup and hair in the Hunger Games series is more triumphant than what is done here.  It's well done and serves the story and the characters just fine, I'm just not sure that what it accomplishes is deserving of the nomination.

All in all, an outstanding film that deserves the recognition it is getting.  Prepare yourself, it's a hard film to watch, but not a hard film to love.

Haven't seen the movie?

Watch the Dallas Buyers Club Movie Trailer

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