We all could take a lesson in grit from Matthew McConaughey. In late 2013 and early 2014, he thespianed his way from overly tanned goofball to a best-actor Oscar winner, for “Dallas Buyers Club,” and to his current status as a top leading man.
His renaissance was so unusual, it had its own name: the McConaissance.
But the idea need not die with its originator’s re-appearance atop the heap. There’s too much inspiration to be drawn from it – for faded or under-performing stars and the fans who appreciate them – for that.
The 2014 fall/holiday movie season – a.k.a. the awards season – brings with it four candidates for McConaissance-style comebacks: Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, Michael Keaton and Shia LaBeouf. All have films on tap that could alter their career trajectories.
Each case is different, which is why they are laid out individually below. In addition, this fall movie preview spotlights “Kill the Messenger,” a thriller with strong Sacramento connections, plus 10 more Oscar-bait films (grouped as “The Contenders”). For those who do not care about awards, there is another list, of 10 popcorn-friendly alternatives (grouped as “Summer Prolonged”). See rundowns of these 20 films below.
And before you ask … all movie musicals are considered lighter fare until proven otherwise – a hard life lesson learned from Russell Crowe’s singing in “Les Misérables.”
Release dates are subject to change. Though all films listed are likely to open in Sacramento, some lack firm dates. In those instances, we use New York/Los Angeles dates.
Ready for a renaissance?
Witherspoon even acted for McConaughey’s “Dallas Buyers Club” director Jean-Marc Vallée, in “Wild,” (Dec. 5, N.Y./L.A.), which is based on author Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling chronicle of her head-clearing, life-affirming 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Coast Trail.
A memoir from the “Eat, Pray, Love” school, but with a more sympathetic heroine (and more heroin), Strayed’s book detailed her literal and figurative climb back from her mother’s death and unruly behavior that included drug use and sex with strangers.
Strayed took the journey at 26. That Witherspoon is playing her at 38 makes the on-screen trek somehow more interesting. Indiscretions, without “youthful” attached to them, carry more suggestion of pathology and emotional weight.
Judging by the movie’s trailer, it appears this role taps into the naturalism (“The Man in the Moon”) and rawness (“Freeway”) that distinguished Witherspoon’s early career but that “Legally Blonde” and follow-up America’s Sweetheart roles obscured.
Witherspoon has been getting real for us for a few years now via unexpected glimpses into her private life, through that infamous Atlanta disorderly conduct arrest and a recent groove-getting-on in Capri. Professionally, the authenticity she showed in earlier films re-emerged in last year’s “Mud.” She lent a hardscrabble pragmatism, tinged with yearning, to a small role as a woman who drove a man to criminality on her behalf, then abandoned him.
The man, not coincidentally, was played by McConaughey.
Witherspoon also is stacking the deck, McConaughey-style, with three movies coming out during awards season.
As a straight-talking, slightly tacky-dressing American woman who helps young Sudanese refugees and their cause in “The Good Lie” (Oct. 3), Witherspoon also adds dashes of Brockovich and “Blind Side” Bullock.
Witherspoon is part of the ensemble in Paul Thomas Anderson’s (“The Master,” “There Will Be Blood”) “Inherent Vice” (Dec. 12 N.Y./L.A.). In the film, based on a Thomas Pynchon novel set in 1970s Los Angeles, she plays a deputy district attorney and sometime flame of a private eye played by Joaquin Phoenix (Witherspoon’s co-star from “Walk the Line,” for which she won a best actress Oscar).
Multiple projects during awards season reminds voters that hey, it’s not just the one-star vehicle. This person is serious about a comeback.
But consider where he was in 2006, when he followed a wonderfully endearing, wide-eyed-yet-nuanced turn in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” from the year before with a 180 as a suicidal academic in “Little Miss Sunshine.” He has yet to make good on the artistic promise he showed then.
Carell’s also doing a bit of an awards-season load-’em-up, by also appearing in the live-action kids film “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” (Oct. 10). Based on Judith Viorst’s kids’ book, “Alexander” is a PG-rated Disney film with indie bona fides: It was directed by Miguel Arteta (“Chuck & Buck,” “The Good Girl”).
After showing, in the two Tim Burton “Batman” films, that he could be as stoic as he had been manic in previous roles, Keaton walked away from a third Batman film and a big payday. His roles since, most on TV, seem chosen for reasons apart from money or fame.
“Birdman,” from its trailer, appears to be a whirligig of meta whimsy that lets Keaton play off of having once been Batman on screen. His character is an actor known for playing the superhero Birdman. The actor is trying to shed his superhero baggage by mounting a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
Keaton’s character in “Birdman” also appears to possess the ability to levitate, and fly, in real life. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, once serious bordering on insufferable (“Babel”), takes an unexpected absurdist turn here. Reports from the Venice Film Festival, where “Birdman” screened, herald Keaton as an early Oscar contender.
His first serious awards mention since a Golden Globe nod for the 2002 HBO film “Live From Baghdad” suggests a McConaissance already in progress.
More recently, LaBeouf was arrested after reportedly disrupting a Broadway performance. He subsequently received treatment for alcohol addiction, his representatives said.
All of which provides an interesting backdrop for the release of his highest-profile film in a few years. In “Fury,” (Oct. 17), he plays a member of a World War II tank platoon led by Brad Pitt. Directed by David Ayer (“End of Watch”), “Fury” looks, from its trailer, like a rip-roarer.
It might be just what LaBeouf needs to shake the dirt from his public behavior. And he’s always been a good actor, from the time he was a kid on the Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens.”
The generous, laid-back “all-right-all-right-all-right” philosophy of McConaughey tells us everyone deserves a second chance. Maybe “Fury” will be LaBeouf’s.