The Academy Awards are over, and we’re staring down the remainder of the fallowest season in the movie-going year. Last night’s results, and the moments that celebrated them, from Cate Blanchett’s brief in favor of women-centered movies, to Lupita Nyong’o’s gorgeous, gracious invocation of the spirit of the dead woman who inspired her, to landmark wins for films by Latino and black men, won’t change Hollywood forever. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put forward some more modest dreams. Here are five things I hope will result from last night’s Oscars:
1. Lupita Nyong’o Books A Whole Bunch Of Projects, Including A Romantic Comedy: When Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Patsey in 12 Years A Slave last night, I wrote that “if this system works remotely the way it ought to, folks should sign her for a) a huge, glossy, fun romantic comedy, and b) a movie where she gets to do something fabulous and fierce without having to be remotely oppressed.” Nyong’o’s been a vibrant presence on the awards season circuit this year, whether she’s jumping up and down with her director, Steve McQueen to celebrate their Best Picture win or giving a striking speech at an Essence luncheon about beauty standards that still degrade and exclude women with dark skin. But Hollywood doesn’t always reward its rising talents.
I think it would be smart for her to pivot dramatically away from her work in 12 Years A Slave, a movie that will be hard to match in any case, and to give audiences a tremendously different image of her with that damaged eye, of her pleading with Michael Fassbender. And given the thematic, if not always script, richness of black romantic comedies at this particular moment, I’d love to see her do something light and fun where she gets to be celebrated as a beauty and a romantic heroine. My friend Tyler Lewis, who sometimes writes on these pages, would like to see her paired with Michael B. Jordan, twinning their rising stars together. Longtime reader Oakley told me that he and some friends dreamed up “a remake of Roman Holiday with Lupita and Idris Elba.” I’m ready to hear them all, and for Nyong’o to get to have some fun with her range after a deserved award for a harrowing performance.
2. Jennifer Lawrence Works With Someone Other Than David O. Russell: I sense the Jennifer Lawrence backlash brewing as surely as winter storm clouds positioned themselves over Washington, DC yesterday. But I still like the girl. I just want her to start working with a prestige director other than David O. Russell. As a bored, depressed housewife to a con man, Lawrence got to act out with abandon in American Hustle, but in a storyline that was, to a certain extent, adrift from the rest of the film. And it was her second turn as a bored, eccentric, sexed-up young wife for the director. Russell, I think, has actually been worse for Bradley Cooper’s acting — his mugging in American Hustle was grating, turned up several notches on the knob from their work together in Silver Linings Playbook. But surely we can do better for Lawrence, who has terrific dramatic chops and a real physical presence, than for her to play a series of housewives who are varied in their desperation at 23. Give the girl her youth!
3. Chiwetel Ejiofor Gets To Be Black Panther: It doesn’t actually remotely shock me that Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t win Best Actor for his work as Solomon Northup on 12 Years A Slave even though his performance is the linchpin to Steve McQueen’s film. Solomon is an essentially quiet role, a character who spends just as much time watching and learning as he does acting, a man who’s learned that shrinking himself and making himself softer is the best way for him to survive. And the Academy likes a certain level of flash, and seemed to be trying to distribute awards, in a way that probably ruled him out. I certainly hope Ejiofor gets another shot at an Academy Award, though that he missed her is a good opportunity to reflect on how infrequently such roles arrive for black men. But if showiness is what gets rewarded, I’d like to see Ejiofor break another barrier. It’s ridiculously past time that Marvel put a Black Panther movie in production, and gave us a big-screen black superhero who gets to survive past an initial battle. If Ejiofor isn’t going to get a statue this year, it would be nice to see him get paid.
4. A Trans Actor Gets A Great, National Film Part: Jared Leto, who seems to have learned from past missteps in his awards season speeches, gave a muted, correct tribute to LGBT people towards the end of his acceptance speech last night for his work in Dallas Buyers’ Club. I’d be curious to see if transgender characters follow in the same path as their lesbian and gay predecessors, providing opportunities for cis and straight actors to take on socially significant parts and to prove their ranges. I’d also hope that if these parts proliferate, transgender actors and actresses get shots at them — and opportunities to play cis characters, too. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t watch a romantic comedy starring Laverne Cox, or that film has some catching up to do in comparison to television in providing a woman like her a role as rich as Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio Does More Comedy: I’ve always found Leonardo DiCaprio to be a singularly humorless actor, but despite my mixed feelings about The Wolf Of Wall Street, he knocked me back on that count. And even though he wasn’t nominated for it, DiCaprio was often very good in The Great Gatsby — his awkward tea with Daisy was a remarkably uncomfortable and sympathetic moment. This is a light wish in comparison to everything else on my list, but I hope that losing out on a Best Actor statuette hasn’t convinced Leo to go back to his old, dour ways. It would be nice for him to keep putting his shoulder to the door, and — just as Gravity forced the Academy to recognize a work of science fiction — for Leo of all people to remind the Academy that darkness isn’t the only sign of quality.