Movie News & Reviews

Carla Meyer: Oscar nominees can make bad choices, too

An Oscar nominee for “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore plays a witch in “Seventh Son.” She’s been nominated four times before but has never won.
An Oscar nominee for “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore plays a witch in “Seventh Son.” She’s been nominated four times before but has never won. Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures

The period between the Academy Awards nomination announcements and the actual ceremony can be treacherous for nominees.

Studios typically dump their non-starters in January and February, which also is when Academy members vote on awards. Sometimes these non-starters feature actors who are current nominees for previous, better films.

Cases in point: The critically panned fantasy films “Jupiter Ascending” and “Seventh Son,” both out today, include, respectively, the 2015 front-runners for best actor (Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”) and best actress (Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”).

Academy members have until Feb. 17 to vote (with the ceremony set for Feb. 22). So there’s a chance they could see Redmayne and Moore in their new films and assess their nominated performances a bit differently.

Oscar favorites have entered the January-February danger zone before. Here’s a look at how a few handled it, and how Redmayne and Moore might fare.

Eddie Murphy (2007)

Nominated role: Murphy’s magnificent singing, dancing and dramatic turn in 2006’s “Dreamgirls” made him a clear favorite for the supporting-actor Oscar when nominations were announced.

Murphy won the pre-Oscar Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards and fed into the comeback narrative that currently has positioned Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) as Redmayne’s closest rival for best actor.

The comeback rested on Murphy showing dramatic chops after playing comedic roles in which he dressed in fat suits.

Danger-zone role: In February 2007, Murphy fat-suited up again in “Norbit,” in which he also mined Asian stereotypes. “Norbit” was universally panned by critics.

Impact: Murphy lost to Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) at the Oscars. Was “Norbit” to blame? Hard to say. But it did not help.

Natalie Portman (2011)

Nominated role: Portman was front-runner for the lead actress Oscar all through awards season for her daring work as a mentally unstable ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s nutty “Black Swan.”

Danger-zone role: Portman showed off her nearly nonexistent comedy skills as a woman trying to keep a sexual relationship with a goofball (Ashton Kutcher) casual in “No Strings Attached.” Released in January 2011, the film received mixed to negative reviews.

Impact: None immediately. Portman won the lead-actress Oscar, as expected. But her post-Oscar career, which has included two “Thor” movies and the comedy “Your Highness,” shows more in common with “Strings” than “Swan.”

Eddie Redmayne (2015)

Nominated role: Redmayne astounds with his immersive, physically taxing performance as physicist Stephen Hawking in “Everything.”

Danger-zone role: The Wachowskis’ “Jupiter” has been criticized generally for empty special effects and specifically for Redmayne’s turn as the owner of a refinery that turns people into water. “He’s impossible to take seriously as dangerous, but too mechanical to enjoy as camp,” Entertainment Weekly’s Joe McGovern wrote about Redmayne in “Jupiter.”

Possible impact: Redmayne’s “Jupiter” work could affect his Oscar chances. The British actor is not a known quality in the United States, so Oscar voters could judge him just on these two roles, one great, one not. His close rival Keaton, by contrast, is a known quantity.

As San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle tweeted, after seeing “Jupiter”: “Michael Keaton really should send the Wachowskis a dozen roses.”

Julianne Moore (2015)

Nominated role: With heartbreaking authenticity, Moore inhabits the role of a college professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.”

Danger-zone role: In “Seventh Son,” she plays a witch who, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis writes, is “dolled-up like a Victorian dominatrix” in the “nonsensical” film about a young witch hunter. Dargis says Moore “plays her role fairly straight” but does not comment on her performance beyond that.

Possible impact: Zero. Moore is a highly respected veteran actress known for working a lot, sometimes in paycheck roles, like this one, sometimes in bizarre independent films. If “Savage Grace,” in which she played a mother who has sex with her grown son (played by Redmayne) did not tarnish Hollywood’s opinion of her, nothing will.

And unlike Redmayne with Keaton, there is no fellow nominee on Moore’s heels. Plus, she has sentiment on her side, and that always outweighs a February dud. She has been nominated four times before this without winning. This is her year.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.