This year, Oscar Sunday will really be the gay high holy day, the culmination of an awards season that celebrates a great year for LGBT film and television.
Last year was an outstanding year for queer characters on the big and little screens. Queer movies including “Grandma,” “Carol,” “The Danish Girl,” “Best of Enemies” and “Tangerine” have steadily been receiving acclaim from critics and audiences. Openly LGBT artists have also been noted for their excellent work in other films as well: Writer and director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend” and “Looking”) has been hailed for his work on “45 Years,” Ian McKellen has been recognized for his star turn as the famous detective in “Mr. Holmes” and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has been noted for his searing work on “The Stanford Prison Experiment.”
Even “Spotlight,” the hard-hitting fact-based story about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church includes a deeply moving performance by Michael Cyril Creighton as Joe Crowley, a gay abuse survivor who describes how pedophile priests often target queer youth.
LGBT creators and content have also been featured in a record number of cable and network television shows. The list of queer shows in awards contention this year is impressive: “Orange is the New Black,” “Empire,” “Transparent,” “Downton Abbey,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Grace and Frankie,” the HBO movie “Bessie,” “American Horror Story” and perennial favorite “Modern Family.”
LGBT films were front and center when the 2016 awards season kicked into high gear on Dec. 3. Legendary producer Harvey Weinstein printed a rambling op-ed in “The Hollywood Reporter,” a preemptive strike that defended movies he thought would get lost in the annual awards shuffle. His heartfelt rant bemoaned the Catch-22 of scheduling the release of prestige projects. If an “adult-driven awards release” hits theaters too early, it gets forgotten by the end of the year. He specifically says that Ian McKellen and Lily Tomlin won’t get the attention they deserve because their films opened in the summer. Early releases get marginalized.
But, he continues, late releases get cannibalized. With so many high-quality films released in the last four months of the year, great movies and performances get lost in the shuffle. To avoid this mess, Weinstein urges distributors to release “smart and bold films year-round” and encourages critics to ensure that audiences stay “engaged and motivated” about movies released in both May and November.
While Weinstein raises some great points, his rant doesn’t always match up with reality, or with his own behavior. Early releases have been recognized in several Top Ten lists, and the unexpected awards buzz around “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens” (released Dec. 18) threw off a lot of the conventional thinking. And Weinstein’s controversial campaign for “Carol” has been cited as a cynical manipulation of Oscar voters.
Even though the movie “Carol” does not break up the lesbian lovers, the Weinstein Company arbitrarily separates two fine performances into two different awards categories. Rooney Mara has more screen time than Cate Blanchett, and won the acting award at Cannes, but Weinstein is promoting Blanchett in the lead actress category and Mara in the supporting actress category. In his “Hollywood Reporter” op-ed, Weinstein rationalized that, ”for the good of the movie, we had to play as a team with this one.” (Since Rooney Mara is a scion of the family that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, the metaphor is slightly ironic.)
Likewise, Focus Features has urged awards voters to consider Alicia Vikander’s ravishing performance as Gerda Wegener in “The Danish Girl” in the supporting actress category, even though Eddie Redmayne is being promoted in the best actor category.
As the nominations roll out, it will be fascinating to see how the different guilds respond to the studios’ suggestions. The Screen Actors Guild nominated Cate Blanchett as lead actress, with Mara and Vikander in the supporting categories, but the Golden Globes voters placed all three actresses in the lead category. The nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 14.
Oscar Sunday will fall on Feb. 28 this year. The Golden Globes will be awarded this Sunday (Jan. 10) and the Screen Actors Guild Awards will be presented on Saturday, Jan. 30.
LGBT movie fans can also watch out for the Dorian Awards which will be awarded by GALECA (the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) on Tuesday, Jan. 19.