Who Will Be Snubbed At Next Year’s Oscars?

We are knee-deep in Awards Season, and with this morning’s announcement of the Golden Globe nominations, it seems clear that we have a predictable Oscars race on our hands. Blah blah blah Lincoln Argo Zero Dark Thirty Silver Linings Playbook, blah blah blah Anne Hathaway Joaquin Phoenix Jessica Chastain Daniel Day-Lewis. Every year there are a handful of folks who seem to go unnoticed in the wake of the heavy-hitters and the PR campaigns behind those bigger, obvious Oscar-baiting movies. Here’s a list of actors who are worth a second look. 

Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild

An audience favorite over the summer, the film has probably suffered in the awards race because it was released so early in the year. (If it’s on DVD by Christmas, odds are the academy will ignore it.) Sure, "independent movies" seem to do well at the Oscars, but… HA HA HA, just kidding. What, did you think it’s the ’90s all of a sudden? This scrappy little favorite is full of surprising turns from unprofessional, untrained actors, and, let’s face it, they’ve handed out enough awards to people of color in the last few years, so you should expect the five nominees for Best Actor to be from movies like Argo, The Master, Lincoln, et cetera. It’s a shame, however, because Henry’s performance broke my heart. Let’s just hope he continues with this late-in-life acting career and shows up in a few more movies.

Kirsten Dunst, Bachelorette

Let’s face it: Kirsten Dunst should have been nominated last year for her brilliant and dark role in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Luckily, that setback didn’t stop her. As Regan, a viciously mean maid of honor, Dunst made a welcome return to the world of comedy. What Bachelorette offered, compared to other female-driven comedy, was an underlying meanness and bite and is woefully lacking (see, for example, Bridesmaids, which received accolades for its gross-out humor rather than its believability). Writer-director Leslye Headland examined more about wedding culture and modern womanhood in an hour and a half than most people (both men and women) can fit into two hours. Holding it all together, though, was Dunst’s pitch-perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability, a combination not usually seen so openly on film. 

Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Films made for and about teenagers are rarely any good. Even those John Hughes movies from the ’80s were more goofy than serious (with the exception, possibly, of The Breakfast Club). I was dubious about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but was really blown away with writer-director Stephen Chbosky’s ability to translate his novel. The film treats its characters like adults rather than patronizing them. Miller’s Patrick could have easily filled the Manic Dream Pixie Gay role—existing solely to bring the main character “out of his shell” by way of flamboyance and zingers. Instead, Perks allows its audience to see Patrick as a three-dimensional character by bringing out his own frustrations and needs. Miller delivers an astounding performance so early in his career that deserves to be recognized at next spring’s ceremony.

Ann Dowd, Compliance

It’s no surprise that middle-aged actresses are pigeonholed into supporting roles that lack any real substance. It’s even worse for character actors who don’t fit into the mainstream ideal of a leading lady. Compliance’s Ann Dowd, who has a long career of smaller roles in big movies (see if you can spot her in films like Philadelphia and Garden State), finally received great notice for Craig Zobel’s meditation on human behavior, earning a Best Supporting Actress award from the National Board of Review and a nod at the Independent Spirit Awards. Will she squeeze it alongside names like Helen Hunt and Anne Hathaway at the Oscars? It’s possible, but it seems unlikely. 

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Craig Zobel’s ‘Compliance’ Takes a Dark Look at Human Behavior

After watching Craig Zobel’s psychological drama, Compliance, I found feeling both violated and puzzled, and also completely baffled by the mystery of human behavior. The film is based on an event at a Kentucky McDonald’s when a man, claiming to be a police officer, called the manager and proclaimed that one of her employees had stolen money from a woman’s purse. He then gave the manager two options: take the girl down to the police station and have her booked, or follow his implicit instructions to have the stolen items located. Over the next three hours, the manager, the manager’s boyfriend, and various other employees blindly followed the man’s instructions without disobedience, resulting in multiple strip searches and, eventually, a sexual assault. But why didn’t anyone just say no? Why didn’t the girl, who was completely innocent, just get up and leave? How did these people comply so drastically, simply because they were “cooperating with the law?” And what’s most horrifying is that this was not the only case; over 70 calls of the same nature have been reported over the last ten years.

Upon hearing of this case, Zobel was compelled to dive deeper into the nature of the event and illustrate for us the lengths that people will go when they feel threatened by authority. With no recorded tapes of the actual phone conversation available, Zobel’s screenplay relies on what he imagined would possibly make these people aid in committing this elaborate prank. The film is tight and claustrophobic, rife with close-ups and cut-aways that enhance the growing anxiety and tension of the characters. We spoke with Zobel to talk about the experience of watching the story unfold, what intrigued him about this case, and the ways in which people relate to authority.

I had a really visceral reaction to the film. At first I was really unsettled, but I realized that’s the point of film—to truly be affected by it on a really physiological level.
There are different types of movies that I watch and then there are ones that I watch to just have complete entertainment, like The Avengers. I don’t even know why I said that one. But anyways, this was definitely supposed to be in the other camp.

I was trying to explain the film to someone and it’s very hard to do unless you give away almost the entire plot. But for something like this, it doesn’t really matter how much you know about the film, it’s more about the experience of watching it unfold.
I kind of felt like people would be ahead of it anyway at some point. As an audience member, I feel like there’s some kind of satisfaction out of the suspense element to it, but I don’t necessarily know that you need to go in completely knowing nothing. I actually think that’s probably better.

Yeah, I didn’t even watch the trailer. How did you come across this story originally?
I had been reading about these human behavior experiments like the Stanford prison experiments and Milgram’s obedience experiments and also even stuff like the Kitty Genovese case. It happened in the Bronx in the ’70s where a woman was raped and murdered in her apartment courtyard and screamed for help a bunch of times, and like 24 people heard her and never came down and helped. In reading about this stuff, I came across these stories and my initial reaction was very much like, That seems impossible. I kept thinking about it afterwards and for me, I imagine everybody says they would never do this, but it happened multiple times so clearly that’s not the case. So what is it that we avoid?

What compelled you to actually want to make a film about it?
I wouldn’t say I was thinking immediately, Oh this would make a great film. I genuinely wasn’t. I just thought it was very interesting and an interesting thing to think about. And in doing that, I started to actually think about people’s relationship to authority; it quickly becomes not very black and white, and that’s actually the kind of stuff that is interesting to make a movie about in the sense that it creates discussion and more things to think about.

There weren’t any recorded tapes from the actual events. How did you go about writing the dialogue?
That was really interesting. The first part of it was me attempting to put words in people’s mouths that would get them from point A to point B. Say, for instance, the jumping jacks happened multiple times; how did they get there and what did they say? I was just writing stuff to see if I could actually do it and if it made any sense. But there was definitely, during the writing process, a part where I was clearly bothered enough by the subject matter that I had people kind of encouraging me, asking, “Come on, would they really say that?”

It’s painful to watch and I’m sure it was uncomfortable to shoot, but just sitting down writing that…
That’s pretty uncomfortable, too!And there was definitely a rewrite where I’d been pulling my punches or something that felt unbelievable. My hope would be, with the movie, that at times you can see why people would do these things.

You shot the phone scenes simultaneously?
I knew that when making movies, whenever there are phone calls, usually it’s just hard for an actor to kind of pause and wait as if somebody said something on the other line and then say something again. That would be the traditional way to do that. But I knew that wasn’t going to work for this movie; we at least needed to have them on the phone. And once I knew he was going to be there on the other side of the phone, I thought, why don’t we just build a little set for him so we can actually capture that live? I think the parts of the movie that work the best are parts where the actors are talking to each other and are off-book to a degree but still reacting to each other in a real way. I don’t know if we would have gotten otherwise.

It was very claustrophobic—did you plan on shooting that way? Did you have the style planned out as you were writing it?
I knew it was going to be claustrophobic. I felt like it must have been. That was about as subjective I could be to the experience. It had to have feel like its own world or you wouldn’t do any of that stuff. If you feel like you’re part of a bigger world…

There are other options.
Right! It’s literally about making the world feel small. I knew that I had to do that, and I hoped that I would do it in a way that was claustrophobic but not boring because I’ve seen movies that can become that.

Have you always been interested in human behavior and psychology?
I wanted to explore how people relate to authority. I would like to think that we don’t always obey authority. Thre are also certainly, just embedded in the true stories, these relationships with authority in corporate atmospheres and how that works. There were so many things to talk about that I felt like it was a worthwhile thing to explore.

It felt very much like a stage play and all the actors did such a good job with that. How did you go about preparing them?
We would do kind of big chunks at a time for continuity and having it make sense. It’s hard to wake up in the morning, drink your coffee, and then go in and be at the end of one of these dramatic scenes. A lot of the actors have a stage background, which was not by mistake. I was interested in that and I feel like it could be a good stage play or do some sort of black box thing where the caller is behind you.

Were you worried about taking on a film like this? People are obviously going to have mixed reactions to this.
I was super nervous. To me, it wasn’t about being a provocation. I don’t want to be making that kind of movie. I just found there were so many questions; this is a movie that you can talk about in multiple different ways, and I knew that before I made it. On a technical level, I was worried that it could be really boring or that it could be really too much of one thing or not enough of another thing.

The score also helped with breaking it up. The music wasn’t there to just guide you through these intense moments; it was sparse, so when the music did really pick up, you felt like something really powerful was happening.
That’s great. Heather McIntosh, who did the music, is really talented. You can make that choice to do movie cues that help be behind your emotions the whole time, but I was most interested in being as objective as I could be. There were a couple of cues in the movie, but I was trying to not do that on purpose so that you just had to sit in the situation without help. She was brilliant in coming up with a way to sort of echo what her emotions were in the story.