Every day, from now until the weekend of the 2014 Academy Awards, HeyUGuys will be publishing an article championing one of the nine films in contention for the coveted Best Picture Oscar. We will be collecting them all here, where you can find the previous articles.
Dallas Buyers Club showcases two actors at the top of their game, transforming before our eyes. Matt Rodgers takes it to task.
It’d be just as easy to find a list of reasons why this little ground swell awards contender shouldn’t win the Best Picture Oscar; a TV-movie-of-the week plot featuring body-morphing performances from the lead actors. It’s the kind of film that the Golden Baldies would have showered with acclaim during the 1990’s (the lazy comparison being Philadelphia), but in this more cynical age, its appearance in the Best Picture category is seen as nothing more than a token gesture, presumably based solely on Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s headline grabbing turns.
The scaremongering of the 80’s AIDS epidemic may be a thing of the past, with society a much more tolerant and informed beast than it was during the days depicted in Jean-Marc Vallee’s human drama, with the message at the heart of the film being one of cultural embarrassment and prejudice that shouldn’t be forgotten, much like another of the hotly tipped films in this category, but Dallas Buyers Club transcends such themes to tell a relatively simple story of friendship, one which stirs the soul and the tearducts, and if cinema isn’t about the power to move an audience, then we’re missing the point.
Key to such an empathic outpouring are the aforementioned nominees. We’re all aware of McConaughey’s renaissance, but there is so much more to his Ron Woodruff than a skeletal form and loose fitting jeans. He walks a fine line between an unsympathetic stereotype of Bible belt America and the cocksure naivety of a man fighting on the periphery of society, a juxtaposition which this narrative arc demands. Plus, we all know that The Academy loves a comeback kid (Mickey Rourke, Ben Affleck), so his resurgence couldn’t have been timed better. With this, his outstanding turn in HBO’s True Detective, and the latest Christopher Nolan epic, Interstellar, arriving in 2014, it’s hard to argue against him being the best actor working in film today, and Dallas Buyers Club may very well be the zenith.
Detractors may argue that a single performance doesn’t always warrant a Best Picture nomination, let alone a win, and they’d be correct. There are plenty of examples of award winning roles in less-than-stellar movies; Sandra Bullock with The Blind Side, Meryl Streep and The Iron Lady, and Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart. So I call before you onto the stage of the Kodak Theatre, an actor who has flattered to deceive since being heralded as a “next-big-thing” many moons ago, Mr. Jared Leto.
Undeniably the heart and soul of the movie as Ron’s transsexual business partner, the two actors compliment each other brilliantly, their respective careers converging in this one movie. The two have a more resonant, believable relationship than anything seen throughout the multiple ensembles, sea-faring stand-offs, or human/operating system love affairs featured in this category. Leto not only matches McConaughey in terms of method, but also in the acting stakes. His shattering “I don’t want to die” moment is indicative of the film as a whole; stripped bare of awards baiting shock value; it is raw and powerful stuff.
It may be the actors that have dragged it onto the podium, and if the film is remembered in years to come then it might only be because of the launch pad it provided to McConaughey and Leto, but now it’s up there it deserves its moment to shine. The movie undoubtedly highlights another ugly moment in US history, albeit using less than subtle boo-hiss doctors, to bring to light shortcomings in the American health care systems which are there to this day. But Vallee never shoves this medicine down the audiences throat, what could have been heavy handed is, much like Woodruff’s narrative arc, played out genuinely, without a saccharine mawkishness that can so often blight similar awards fare. Dallas Buyers Club is that rare Oscar nominated movie which doesn’t seem to be begging for the award, and aren’t they usually the most deserving recipients?
So what sets this apart from the other eight films vying to become a future pub quiz question? I think it’s a story of success which runs parallel to that of the narrative, because it’s the little film that could. Shot in just 25 days, with financial backing coming from the industrial sector after a last minute funding withdrawal on the eve of filming, forcing the crew into cost-cutting measures such as a dependency on natural lighting, and meaning that the cast weren’t afforded multiple takes for dramatic sequences so integral to the success of the drama. It’s difficult to imagine Alfonso Cuaron or Steve McQueen having had such difficulties with their heavily backed, big-budget pictures. Factor in this on-set adversity, plus the gathering momentum as we approach awards season, and Dallas Buyers Club could very well shackle Solomon Northup, cut off Gravity’s air supply, and give Scarlett Johansson a crippling virus, all on its way to becoming the 2014 Best Picture winner.