Oscar Buzz Watch: Helen Hunt Is Definitely Getting Another Oscar Nomination

Okay, here’s how it’s going to go: you’re going to start hearing a lot of craaaazy talk in the upcoming weeks about Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt. About how she’s in a movie again, and that she’s actually really good, and that she’s on her way to a second career nomination. And your first instinct is going to be to not believe it. Not Helen Hunt! She’s history’s greatest monster! She won the 1997 Best Actress award for As Good As It Gets for being a prickly but warm-hearted waitress who had the good fortune to be the object of Jack Nicholson’s OCD affections. She beat such actresses as Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Helena Bonham-Carter (back when she was a respectable star of English dramas and not an eccentric thatch of brambles), and Julie Christie.

At the time, it was not all that controversial a victory. As Good As It Gets was a crowd-pleaser and Hunt held her own with Nicholson (who also won the Oscar). She was also critically acclaimed for her TV work on Mad About You, and believe it or not, she had been considered overdue for an Emmy by the time she won in 1996. Of course, that was the first of four consecutive Emmys, and combined with four Golden Globes and that Oscar, it’s not all that surprising that the worm turned on her popularity. That Oscar win was looking more and more suspect. What did she even do in that movie besides sass at Jack and care for her sick kid? And what about the homerism of the one American in that category besting four Brits? Typical, right?

By the time 2000 rolled around and Hunt struck out on four high-profile releases in the final three months of the year, she had become something of a punch line among Serious Movie People and her Oscar win an object of scorn. That 2000 quartet is an interesting case study. Hunt ended up starring in two of the top five box-office hits of the year! How did it end up killing her career?? Well, her character in Cast Away wasn’t likeable, and it’s not like you could pin the success of that movie on anyone but Tom Hanks. Her chemistry with Mel Gibson was nonexistent in What Women Want, and back then, nobody could chalk that up to Gibson being a misogynist psychopath. Dr. T and the Women was a forgettable Robert Altman effort, though hardly worth sinking a career. But Pay It Forward… wow. Pay It Forward was such a complete flop commercially and critically that it sucked Hunt’s entire narrative down the toilet. The rest of the aughts saw her in only four more movies, five if you count the HBO adaptation of Empire Falls. As career nose-dives go, it was pretty dramatic, and it was proof positive for Hunt’s many detractors that she could neither act nor pick a good role.

Starting this weekend, Helen Hunt is back in theaters with The Sessions, Ben Lewin’s new movie about a polio-stricken John Hawkes who hires a "sex surrogate" (Hunt) to help him lose his virginity. It was a big ol’ hit at Sundance, and Hunt in particular got rave reviews. The positive critical notices continued at the Toronto and London film festivals, and what do you know? That old friend Oscar Buzz is back. This sounds, frankly, insane. Helen Hunt, who starred in the worst movie Woody Allen ever made (Curse of the Jade Scorpion), who cast herself in her directorial debut as Bette Midler’s daughter (the widely ignored Then She Found Me, though it should be noted that Rex Reed loved it!), is now Oscar-worthy, and possibly on a track to win her second Oscar?

As we learned with Ben Affleck last time, though, arc is everything in the Oscar race, and Helen Hunt’s comeback story gets better the more unlikely it seems. The prodigal daughter returns. And in The Sessions, she’s got a lot working for her chances at a nomination. She plays a good woman whose role in the film is to help a man achieve greatness, as reliable an Oscar niche as there is. That the "greatness" she helps Hawkes achieve has to do with having sex with a beautiful woman doesn’t hurt. She’s also, as of right now, due to be campaigned in the Supporting Actress category, despite the kind of screen time and story prominence that would support a Lead Actress claim. Ask Jennifer Connelly how that strategy worked out. (OMG, Jennifer Connelly! If Helen Hunt gets to shake off the dust of a terrible post-Oscar decade, won’t that give Jennifer so much hope that she might do the same??)

Here’s another Oscar tendency that works in Hunt’s favor: the Academy tends to hand out backup nominations every now and then, as if to prove that certain questionable award choices were justified. Remember all that grumbling about Marisa Tomei winning for My Cousin Vinny (grumbling that is TOTAL bullshit, by the way; Marisa was amazing in that movie)? Follow-up nominations for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler put that win in a different context. Charlize Theron’s win for Monster gets called a fluke? Follow-up nom for North Country. Hilary Swank and Sally Field managed to win on their follow-up nominations, so don’t think that can’t happen.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of The Sessions, John Hawkes’s chances for a second career nomination aren’t looking too shabby either. If you think the sex surrogate for a polio-stricken man in an iron lung trying to make it through like with dignity and wry humor is a winner of a role, try playing the guy with polio. It might be condescending, it might be tunnel-visioned, it might be cheap, but Oscar voters tend to leap at performances of disabilities.

I’m just saying you might want to be prepared. Try and remember how Helen Hunt looked on red carpets, because she’s coming back. (Does she still pretend to date Hank Azaria? That could be fun!)
 

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‘New Year’s Eve’: Yet Another Star-Studded Holiday-Themed Rom Com

If the trailer is any indication, Garry Marshall’s newest film, New Year’s Eve, is almost exactly the same as his last film, Valentine’s Day, except with a different over-hyped holiday. Despite – or perhaps because of – its long list of incredibly famous actors and numerous romantic story lines, it’s stacking up to be yet another trite, cliched, and ultimately uninspiring smorgasbord of self-regard disguised as self-deprecation. How did the man responsible for The Odd Couple and Happy Days get to this point? Let’s take a trip down celluloid memory lane.

First came Love Actually, the film filled with some famous people and some-not-so famous people, all of whom shared universal love stories that intertwined in subtle yet real ways. It was about sex, love, romance, and best of all, Christmas. Bonus points for all the British accents. We loved it.

Then came Valentine’s Day, the wanna-be Love Actually filled with even more famous people and intertwining love stories. Too many, in fact – it made us a bit dizzy. And because it was centered around one of the most cliched days of the year, it was just too much mush, gush, and teen tonsil honkey. No thanks.

Now comes New Year’s Eve, following directly in the footsteps of Valentine’s Day. New Year’s Eve boasts an impressive cast of everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood. We’ve got Lea Michele, Jon Bon Jovi, Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel, and about a million more. How Marshall locked down Robert De Niro for such a silly movie is a mystery for the ages, but I guess De Niro gave up around the time Analyze That came out.

This film celebrates that one magical night every year when the entire world gets together to celebrate new beginnings, the wonders of alcohol, and the hopes of getting a little midnight action. With Ashton Kutcher’s “I’m depressed and I only wear sweatpants” mood, a random romance between Ludacris and Hilary Swank, and Zac Efron making dreams come true for Michelle Pfeiffer, I just might gouge my eyes out. There is nothing about this film that makes me curious, and I definitely plan on spending my New Year’s Eve doing other things besides watching Sarah Jessica Parker pretend to not have any opportunities to wear pretty dresses.

But who knows? Marshall may well surprise us with a well-crafted tale of love in the city of big dreams. But it’s looking like he’d prefer to squeeze a few more bucks out of a once-endearing idea, and that’s hardly in the spirit of “out with the old, in with the new.”

Hilary Swank to Follow Path of Amar’e Stoudemire, Design ‘Athleisure’ Line

Adding “designer” to her resume, Hilary Swank is currently looking for fashion designers to partner on a clothing line of gym clothes for women, appropriately referred to as “athleisure.” What originated as a line of motivational t-shirts has blossomed into a full line, assuming she finds the right fashion designer to collaborate with on production of the line (similar to the path of Amar’e Stoudemire, who has reportedly teamed up with Rachel Roy to produce a sporty clothing collection).

As celebrity clothing collections often go, only time will tell as to the success of the line, but at least Swank appears to understand (and even relish) the athletic lifestyle (did you see her in Million Dollar Baby?).

Fashion Feed: Lady Gaga is Vogue’s Best Dressed, Vivienne Westwood Saves the Rainforest

● The results for Vogue‘s best-dressed poll are in: Lady Gaga wins best-dressed by 42%, beating Blake Lively by 24%. [Vogue] ● Hippies rejoice: The textile knotting form of macramé is in for spring. [Style] ● Actress Hillary Swank is interviewing fashion designers to partner with her on a athletic fashion line. [WWD]

● The inspiring Dame Vivienne Westwood is backing eco-charity Cool Earth’s coffee campaign to protect trees in the Peruvian Amazon. [Ecorazzi] ● The bona fide bride whisperer Monique Lhuillier is set to launch a collection of home fragrances in 2011. [Refinery 29]

Let’s Watch a Movie Trailer: ‘Conviction’

Hilary Swank has gone from strength to weakness in recent years: the actress first knocked out an Oscar in 1999 with Boys Don’t Cry, picked up a second one with 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, and then proceeded to star in The Reaping, P.S. I Love You, and the disastrous Amelia. It was a classic example of an acclaimed actor cashing in their critical capital by signing on for utter dreck (see also: Halley Berry). Well, Swank apparently raked in enough to add that extension to her house, because she’s back to Oscar bait with the upcoming Conviction, a sort of Erin Brockovich story in which a Boston woman goes to law school to free her wrongfully convicted brother from jail. So, is the trailer any good?

First of all, as someone whose roots are in the South Shore of Boston, it’s absolutely priceless to listen to these actors chewing their way through a Boston accent. “Yuh jess haf tah proaw-is me that yull nevah give up.” Because everyone in Boston talks like a crazy person/cybernetically enhanced chipmunk.

Second of all, good trailer! Great cast — Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver — and everyone looks like they’re firing on all cylinders. It seems a tad conventional and the pun in the title is atrocious (Get it? Do you get it? Did you get it? I can explain it, in case you don’t get it), but it’s based on a true story and the cinematography looks solid. Plus, the October 15 release date bodes well; it’s not late November, heart of awards season solid, but it does suggest that the studio is confident it has a quality film on its hands.