As we head into award season, there is a rush by some to set the table for Oscar nominations months before they are announced. One case that’s being made is James Franco, who has yet to receive his second Oscar nomination after 2010’s 127 Hours (Colin Firth won that year for The King’s Speech). Now here’s where this gets interesting – the role that’s inviting Franco back into the awards conversation is filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. The story behind Wiseau’s accomplishment The Room, the greatest bad movie ever made, has been brought to the screen under Franco’s direction in The Disaster Artist, based on the behind-the-scenes exposé novel by his co-star Greg Sestero. The Gotham Awards, which are seen as the official start to regular awards season, recently named Franco as one of six Best Actor nominees.
Initially, The Disaster Artist did not strike me as a movie that was poised for a night at the Oscars, even though it is one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. Following its 2003 release, The Room has become a fan-favourite and monthly-regular at cinemas worldwide due to its narrative and technical flaws and poor acting. That being said, does the Academy take great interest in Tommy Wiseau like they do with Ed Wood, another cult filmmaker? If a majority of Oscar voters have not watched The Room, will The Disaster Artist be able to resonate with them? Also, Franco’s directing career has not been quite as outstanding as his acting career. While his literary adaptation instincts and auteur ambitions are commendable, most of his films have either spent years in post-production or remain unreleased, and some have had trouble finding an audience due to their experimental nature.
After stepping back and doing some homework, I started to notice trends that The Disaster Artist has in common with previous Oscar winners. It might not be unprecedented for a movie like this to show up on the biggest night in Hollywood and, let’s face it, everyone wants to see Tommy Wiseau at an awards ceremony. Here are the reasons why The Disaster Artist is, in fact, an awards contender.
The Biographical Comedy
One of the reasons why comedies tend to be overlooked during award season is because they are, by nature, very difficult to take seriously. Some feel that laughter lessens a movie’s merits. That statement hasn’t quite been the norm in recent years, with The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short holding five Oscar nominations each. Both movies used real-life stories as their underpinnings and illustrated that comedy can be an effective tool in telling a devastating story, and The Disaster Artist is no exception. With the involvement of James Franco and Seth Rogen (two members of the Judd Apatow frat-pack), one could be forgiven for assuming The Disaster Artist will veer towards silly comedy like Pineapple Express, This is the End and The Interview. However, let’s not forget that The Big Short reunited Steve Carrell with his Anchorman director Adam McKay and that Jonah Hill, another Apatow alumnus, received a nomination for Wolf of Wall Street.
The Other Disaster Artists
When it comes to movies about the making of bad movies, The Disaster Artist’s obvious reference is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. That 1994 film won two Academy Awards, including a best-supporting actor statue for Martin Landau. Movies about a vulnerable artist who is misunderstood by critics and audiences tend to touch sympathetic and familiar buttons in the Academy. Recent examples include Meryl Streep as the inept opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins and Michael Keaton as a washed-up star of trashy superhero movies in Birdman. Both actors went on to receive Oscar nominations, with Birdman winning Best Picture.
If nothing is certain, what looks good for The Disaster Artist is that it comes from the company A24, one of the new distributors getting in the awards mix. A24 has earned a cult reputation for their excellent taste in daring and diverse stories and bidding on festival movies. In 2015, three A24 movies took home an Oscar – Room (Actress), Ex Machina (Visual Effects) and Amy (Documentary) – but the company cemented its reputation as the most exciting voice in the industry when Moonlight won three awards, including Best Picture. What’s been great about The Disaster Artist’s marketing is the trailers have concentrated on the story instead of boasting about the names involved.
A Push from the Globes
In a year where you have Best Actor contenders like Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill, Jake Gyllenhaal as a Boston bombing victim, and triple Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis in his final movie, Franco could get knocked out of serious consideration. However, the Golden Globes may be lucky for Franco, as he will not be competing with other ‘dramatic’ actors. Instead, Franco will move over into the comedy/musical category. Franco needs to win something that will propel him into Oscar consideration and it looks like he’s leading a narrow year for men in comedies (Kumail Nanjiani, Steve Carrell, Hugh Jackman, and Daniel Kaluuya). Even if Franco does not get a nom at the Screen Actors Guild awards (which is seen as the strongest Oscar indicator), he’s not instantly out of the running for an Oscar nomination. There are many comedic performances that made the cut after a Globe win and SAG snub. Just look at Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Amy Adams in American Hustle, Matt Damon in The Martian and Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.
Franco and Friends
Maybe the hype surrounding Franco is not surprising, considering that he is a previous Oscar nominee who has appeared in Best Picture-films like 127 Hours and Milk. It’s easy to forget that Franco has received awards for movies that were either not widely seen or too off-the-wall for the Academy to consider. He received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as a super-drug supplier in Pineapple Express. For his role as a braided-haired, gangster-rapper in Spring Breakers, Franco was named Best Supporting Actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society for Film Critics and San Francisco Film Critics. Even A24 launched an Oscar campaign for that film, but Franco didn’t make it in the Oscar race. The Disaster Artist features a starry ensemble that includes Oscar nominees like Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone and Jackie Weaver. Seth Rogen has yet to receive a nomination, but he did give a solid performance Steve Wozniak in the nominated Steve Jobs.
James Franco is not someone who typically typecasts himself, and Tommy Wiseau feels like another unique venture for him. There are conflicting stories about Wiseau’s age and nationality, and Franco, who describes him as “a mysterious weirdo”, has to master his mannerisms, his unidentifiable accent and his signature long, black locks. My hope is that the Academy doesn’t sell The Disaster Artist short despite their lack of attention to The Room and Wiseau. Perhaps, the movie may benefit from the Academy’s recent push to connect with younger audiences. The Disaster Artist comes out in December, just in time to stick with voters. If it becomes a hit with critics and audiences alike, the Academy might reward it with a nomination or two – most likely for best actor or best-adapted screenplay. It’s been seven years since Franco’s controversial performance as a host at the Oscars. Maybe it’s time that he is forgiven, and the Academy embraces him once more.