Tue. Jul 14th, 2020

Contender or Pretender Series: Trash

Welcome back to Contender or Pretender 2014, an Awardswatch series where, in each entry, we profile a different 2014 film and try to determine whether or not it is bound for Oscar glory next winter.

From left; Trash director Stephen Daldry and stars Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen
From left; Trash director Stephen Daldry and stars Rooney Mara and Martin Sheen

The Hopeful: Trash

Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Rickson Tevez, Gabriel Weinstein, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: TBD

For the past fourteen years, the title “ directed by Stephen Daldry” has meant only one thing for the films attached to it: Oscar.   All four of Daldry’s films-2000’s Billy Elliott, 2002’s The Hours, 2008’s The Reader and 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, have received multiple nominations in Oscar’s top eight categories, with Daldry himself nominated for the first three.  His combination of classical pedigree (he cut his teeth directing plays in London’s West End,) and his films’ emotionally charged subject matter has proved to be well-nigh irresistible for AMPAS, even when the critics have been immune to his films’ charms- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close made it into the 2011 Best Picture field despite scores of 47% fresh on Rottentomatoes and 46 on Metacritic, making it the worst reviewed Best Picture nominee of the 21st century.  His latest, Trash, has been widely predicted to continue Daldry’s strong run, but will 2014 show an Oscar giant to have feet of clay?

Trash- adapted from the 2010 novel of the same name by Andy Mulligan- takes place in an unnamed Third World country (implied to be Brazil).  The protagonists of the story are three “ dumpsite boys,” who make their living on whatever they can find in the vast heaps of garbage on the outskirts of a major city.  When one of the boys, Raphael, finds a mysterious and valuable object, the boys must use all of their street smarts to evade the criminals and corrupt police officers who desire the object for themselves.  The easy comparison to make for Oscar purposes is to Slumdog Millionaire, which also centered around children in a Third World country, and which swept the 2008 Oscar season in one of the most dominant Best Picture wins in recent years.  Trash similarly promises to be a highly emotional story that would allow the members of AMPAS to appear socially conscious and compassionate towards the poor, to a degree that few other 2014 hopefuls can match.

However, for all of the advantages that the film has, there are a number of signs of weakness looming on the horizon.  Firstly, Daldry’s trajectory with the Academy has been a sharply downward one for the past decade.  The Hours represented the peak of his performance with AMPAS, scoring nine nominations, six of them in the top four categories, as well as a Best Actress win for leading lady Nicole Kidman.   The Reader repeated the Best Actress win, this time for Kate Winslet, but its nomination total was only five, a significant dropoff from The Hours’ total.  Furthermore, where The Hours was one of the 2002 season’s frontrunners, The Reader’s nomination for Best Picture was considered a surprise, as it missed a number of key precursors. It was widely considered to have benefitted from having competition from comic book film The Dark Knight and animated Wall-E, respectively.  Those two films fall under genres that the Academy has historically been extremely reluctant to embrace, and Daldry’s film was fortunate to be competing against them for a Best Picture slot.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close saw the dropoff continue, with a mere two nominations.  The critical drubbing the film took was not enough to stop its Best Picture nomination or Max von Sydow’s Best Supporting Actor nomination, but it was enough to keep Daldry from a Best Director nomination, the first time in his career he had failed to be nominated.  The film was also by far Daldry’s lowest-grossing at the box office, taking home fifty-five million worldwide on a forty million dollar budget.  Though some hailed Extremely Loud’s nominations as proof of Daldry’s invulnerability with AMPAS, the fact that his nomination total was in fact drastically reduced would suggest that they, too, are tiring of him.  The film was also helped by again facing weak competition, either from the dark and emotionally cold genre pieces The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Drive, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, as well as the raunchy summer comedy Bridesmaids.  In 2011, Daldry dodged a bullet, if 2014’s slate offers tougher rivals he may not be so lucky.

Another significant obstacle for Trash to overcome is that the book that it is based on is classified as being young adult fiction.  The Academy has been reluctant to embrace many genres of film, but their aversion to films based on young adult fiction is among those they are the most cold to.  The film versions of the Harry Potter series have come the closest to major recognition, with multiple nominations in below-the-line categories, but never any in the top categories.  2011’s The Deathly Hallows Part 2 garnered some Best Picture buzz among pundits, but by the end of the year it was nowhere close to the top nine, despite being the highest-grossing film of 2011 and receiving excellent reviews.  Few YA films have been directed by someone of Daldry’s pedigree, but getting recognition for one in the top categories will be a tall order even for him.

Even if Trash reverses Daldry’s downward slide, the child leads of the film will almost certainly not be the beneficiaries in the acting categories.  It has historically Even an Oscar juggernaut such as Slumdog Millionaire was unable to score nominations for its young lead, and Daldry himself has been unable to deliver nominations for the child leads of his past films, whether they be Extremely Loud’s Thomas Horn, The Reader’s David Kross, or even Billy Elliott’s Jamie Bell, who won the BAFTA and was nominated at the Screen Actors Guild.  More likely, at least on paper, would be the two most well-known adult actors in the film: Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara.  Mara’s Best Actress-nominated performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo made her in the highest demand, while Sheen is arguably one of the greatest American actors alive to have never been nominated.  Their roles both appear to be highly sympathetic, with Sheen playing a priest and Mara an aid worker with an NGO, but the key question for them will be screentime.  Based on the source material, neither of their characters play a large part in the novel and are very much in the background compared to the Brazilian characters in the film.  Daldry performances have overcome lack of screentime before, most notably von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Ed Harris in The Hours, though those roles pack a strong emotional punch despite their limited minutes on screen.  If Sheen and Mara’s roles do not have the appropriate emotional power, then they will continue to wait for their first and second nominations, respectively.

The final issue to take into account with Trash is its distribution by Universal Pictures.  As Universal films Unbroken and Get On Up have been the subject of two previous entries in this series, it is plain to see that if the studio plans to push Trash in this year’s awards race, it will be stretching its resources to the breaking point.  The studio has never managed to get three films nominated for Best Picture, and has only rarely gotten two nominated.  The fact that the promotional campaigns for their other two contenders are underway, with trailers already released, suggests that those two will take priority for the studio.  In fact, Trash has not yet been given a release date yet, which could be a sign that the studio will not even attempt to push the film this year, leaving it to 2015.

The combination of Stephen Daldry and Third World poverty would seem to be the perfect combination for the Academy.  But a closer look shows that Daldry’s streak of three consecutive Best Picture nominations hides the fact that critics, audiences and the Academy are embracing his work less and less as time goes on, not more.  Furthermore, his film will at best be the second priority of a potentially overmatched studio if released in 2014, as Unbroken is without a doubt Universal’s top priority for the year, and Get On Up may be a higher priority as well.  Finally, the film’s potential classification in the Young Adult genre places it in a category of film that the Academy has historically refused to embrace even when those films are loved by both the critics and public.  Daldry has had a hold over AMPAS that few of peers could hope to match, but it would seem that Trash will bring his run to a close.


[author image=”http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v193/erikdean/0341151b-3137-4134-9de4-84a1560d6736_zps040dc936.jpg” ]Peter has been on the Awardswatch forums since the start of 2012. He’s a student in the real world and a student of pop culture, and he enjoys predicting who will win awards because it combines his love of pop culture with his love of competition and speculating about the future. His prediction prowess makes him a member of both the Emmy Experts and the Gold Rush Gang.[/author]

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