Now until the Feb. 24 Oscar telecast, Take 2 will run a series of posts focusing on issues and subjects involving the Academy Awards.
Back in 2007, Eddie Murphy was flying high during awards season because he was winning title after title for his supporting work in the musical “Dreamgirls.” Murphy, who had made his fame from raunchy stand-up work to big-time comedies and action movies to family-friendly remakes, was getting Hollywood’s top accolades for his portrayal of James “Thunder” Early. Playing a singer adjusting to music’s changing times, Murphy got some of the best reviews he had not seen in decades. By late January and early February, Murphy ran the board, collecting Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice statuettes. He was a shoe-in for earning his first Oscar.
That was until he donned a fat suit again.
In the middle of his Oscar campaign was the release of the forever-marked-as-bad movie, “Norbit.” Co-written with his brother, Charlie, Murphy played a nerdy man, an overweight and heavily oversexualized girlfriend and an Asian stereotype. The trailers were too painful to watch, but here it is to jog your memory (get ready to be traumatized all over again).
Murphy lost the Academy Award to Alan Arkin for his role in “Little Miss Sunshine,” and experts and I theorized that “Norbit” had something to do with it. The comedy had the markings of his other disasters like “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “Daddy Day Care.” In a strange twist, “Norbit” would be nominated for an Oscar for best makeup in 2008. It lost to “La Vie en Rose.”
In “honor” of Murphy’s quick Oscar descent, this week’s Road to Gold looks at some of this year’s nominees and rates their chances of falling as fast as Murphy did. Each will be rated according to a 1 to 4 Norbit scale, with one Norbit being a small chance and four Norbits being a downright downfall.
“A Star is Born”
Norbit factor: Las Vegas residency; four tellings of “A Star is Born”
Lady Gaga wowed critics and audiences with her first leading role in “A Star is Born.” And while her stripped-down performance contrasts her flamboyant persona as a pop singer, many may not see a separation between Gaga the vocalist and Gaga the actress. She recently started a two-show residency, “Engima” and “Jazz & Piano,” at Park MGM in Las Vegas, and while this is the last week of performances until Sunday, Gaga is balancing both careers during a time when some actors are working the party circuit.
Also, Gaga is credited for influencing the Academy to abandon a plan for only two best song nominees to perform at the ceremony. Now all five will take the stage.
Norbit factor: Press circuit, the Shirley family, director’s past, “Alita, Battle Angel”
In September, “Green Book” got the feel-good seal of approval when it won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie about the unlikely friendship between a black pianist and his white driver during a tour of the 1960s South was a favorite with theatergoers, but controversy accompanied the film’s slow rollout in November. It started when Viggo Mortensen said the N-word during a film panel followed by a harsh rebuttal against the Shirley family, who criticized the pianist’s depiction of family relations and his so-called disconnect with other African Americans.
Nick Vallelonga, real-life son of character Tony Lip and co-writer of the film’s script, defended the film despite only consulting Dr. Shirley near the time of his death in 2013. A resurfaced 1998 Newsweek profile on director Peter Farrelly featuring how he flashed his stars as a joke and a tweet in which Vallelonga supported the debunked claim of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks have brought more trouble to the film.
Nevertheless, “Green Book” won best picture (drama) at the Golden Globes, but Mortensen has yet to win a major award for his acting. Mahershala Ali has collected a Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance. During his acceptance speeches and news conference appearances, Ali has remained the constant professional in a tough place. If there is something to stop him, it may be the sci-fi teen actioner “Alita: Battle Angel.” He is in a supporting role in the futuristic film set for release 10 days before the Oscars. It has a similar feel to the “Hunger Games” saga, in which Ali also had a supporting role, and those films didn’t stop him from getting an Oscar for his role in “Moonlight.” Plus, he is getting positive reviews for his turn in the third season of “True Detective.” He may escape the movie’s shadow and triumph on Oscar night.
Norbit factor: Lukewarm reviews, Bryan Singer
From its troubled production to its mixed reviews, “Bohemian Rhapsody” seemed like it would not get past its first two weeks at the box office. However, Queen fans and moviegoers helped propel this move into awards season, led by a sensational performance by Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Despite being available on digital, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is still in theaters and has made more than $200 million at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing music biopic of all time.
The lingering controversy has to do with its credited director Bryan Singer. He was fired with two weeks left of shooting after a string of absences. Singer said that he was attending to an ill parent, but some insiders suggested that Singer and Malek clashed on set and some cast members quit because of his behavior. Singer has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple people over a 20-year period. Despite the biopic’s run through the season, Singer has not been nominated for best director nor has he been present for any of the award shows. Yet, on social media, he manages to worm his way into the acclaim. The resurfaced allegations, however, cost the film a GLAAD Media Awards nomination.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” may earn some technical awards and perhaps a best actor Oscar for Malek, but Singer’s presence brings it all down.
Norbit factor: February release, Marvel, way too popular, no nominations in acting, writing or directing
The movie calendar has 365 days, but the Oscar calendar is usually 90 days, from October to December. Marvel took a risk and released “Black Panther” in the middle of February. It became 2018’s top grossing film, earning more than $700 million. For Black History Month (and extra Oscar campaigning), the superhero movie is screening for free for one week at AMC theaters. A sequel is a sure bet, there are multiple toys and cartoon series, and it’s the first comic book movie to be named best picture. All of these things scream “not for the Academy.” It’s very unfortunate that an audience and critical favorite, especially since it won best ensemble at the SAG Awards, would be a very unlikely best picture winner. “Black Panther” may also be seen as a cog to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s gear. Then again, it was said that the omission of “The Dark Knight” as best picture in 2009 forced the Academy to expand the field. Will “Black Panther” make up for Batman’s loss?
Norbit factor: Netflix
The love-hate relationship between the streaming giant and traditional cinema may be the touching black-and-white film’s undoing. But the Academy sees that Netflix is trying to be a big player in the system, even joining the Motion Picture Association of America. That’s something Amazon Studios has yet to do, and it has already a few big Oscar gains. It may be that older Academy members may not like what Netflix is doing and feel that the film doesn’t qualify since it was quickly accessed on streaming. Its past behavior doesn’t help, either. However, Netflix seems willing to be the new child genius than an enfant terrible.