‘Oscarologist’ Eric James predicts a ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Gravity’ split.
by Donalevan Maines
Most plays don’t translate well to film (see discouraging reviews for this year’s August: Osage County). But a movie seat fits Montrose playwright Eric James to a T. “Everyone comes to me when they have questions about movies or are trying to remember who was in what film,” says the operations manager at Bering Omega Community Services.
Each February, as the annual Academy Awards telecast approaches, James becomes Houston’s go-to guy for predicting who will take home a golden boy.
James upped his street cred last year by seeing all but two nominees in all 24 categories. “Last year was kind of crazy,” he says. “I only missed [seeing] one documentary and one original song nominee. I don’t know if that’s going to be humanly possible this year.”
When Oscar nominations were announced in January, James had already seen this year’s major nominees. He has all month to catch any others, as the 85th annual Oscar ceremony, with Ellen DeGeneres as host, is pushed back to March 2 due to the Sochi Olympics.
James says he was “blown away” by 12 Years a Slave “and everyone in it,” but he predicts a Best Picture/Best Director split like last year’s Argo/Life of Pi, with 12 Years winning Best Picture and Alfonso Cuarón, who helmed Gravity, scoring Best Director.
His crystal ball foretells Matthew McConaughey as Best Actor and Jared Leto as Best Supporting Actor in Dallas Buyers Club, and regal Cate Blanchett as Best Actress in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
James also sees Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Supporting Actress in my pick, the star-studded American Hustle, which tied with Gravity for most Oscar nominations (with 10). The film by writer/director David O. Russell is only the 15th in Oscar history to win nominations in all four acting categories, following Russell’s sweep last year with actors in Silver Linings Playbook. (Among the previous films to accomplish that feat was A Streetcar Named Desire, a rare successful play-to-movie translation, by Tennessee Williams.)
At the Golden Globes Awards on January 12, American Hustle won three awards, including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). Tina Fey and Amy Poehler co-hosted the event, which kicked off this year’s slew of televised awards. (Poehler wished “a very good evening to everyone here and to all the women and gay men watching at home.” Accepting his trophy at that ceremony, Leto said, “To all the Rayons of the world, thanks for the inspiration.”)
James got a late start on watching this year’s Oscar contenders due to his first trip to London and Paris last fall, followed by debuting as a stage director in December with a 10-minute play in Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Company’s Museum of Dysfunction VI. The compilation also premiered his short script, “Pumpernickel,” directed by Ron Jones.
James traces his pastime as an “Oscarologist” to his friendship in the sixth grade with a classmate named Jason Rainey. “We would make lists about everything,” says James. “So, naturally, having a list of Oscar winners and nominees to obsess over was right up our alley.”
As to when he came out, James checks the date on the playbill for his debut in the annual Edward Albee Workshop at the University of Houston. (Albee is an out playwright who’s won three Pulitzer Prizes. His biggest hit transferred successfully to film, with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? winning Academy Awards for Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis in 1967.)
The playbill reminds James that it was 1997, after Albee handpicked his script, In My Mother’s Heels, from an eager pile of submissions for production at UH. “It sounds like a drag-queen play, but it isn’t,” says James. However, its main character is gay, so it “forced my hand,” he says, to come out to his family before they saw the show. “My parents were all very proud and they were telling all their friends, and I kept trying to tell them, ‘Slow down,’” he recalls.
While going to high school in Alief, says James, “I was not sure I was ready to admit it and didn’t want people to think I was gay. One guy was ‘out’ in school, and he knew I was gay, but I was like, ‘No, I’m not,’ because people made fun of him. I definitely didn’t want that. Plus, I was lying to myself. I knew I would rather watch the football players than the cheerleaders. I took my girlfriend to the prom and everything.”
Thinking back to when he came out to his classmate Rainey, he says, he’s “not sure he was totally surprised—or that I really remember.
“But like most straight men,” he laughs, “one of his first questions was, ‘So…were you ever attracted to me?’”
The Montrose Oscarologist is especially happy that Her is nominated for Best Picture and won a Best Original Screenplay nod for Spike Jonze.
“My biggest surprises remain the exclusion of Emma Thompson [Saving Mr. Banks] and Tom Hanks [Captain Phillips] from the lead acting categories,” he says.
Other surprises that he notes include the French lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color being snubbed in the category of Best Foreign-Language Film, and no love for Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
The out producing team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron is back this year after winning blockbuster ratings with last year’s ceremony, hosted by Seth MacFarlane.
They’ve announced that the theme of the March 2 broadcast on ABC will be “The Oscars Celebrates Movie Heroes.” In addition to musical numbers choreographed by Rob Ashford, look for tributes to real-life heroes (in Gandhi and Silkwood), super-heroes (Superman and Batman), animated heroes (Shrek and The Incredibles), action heroes (Seven Samurai and Gladiator), and literary heroes (Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath), among others.
“We wanted to unify the show with an entertaining and emotional theme,” says Zadan and Meron. “People around the world go to the movies to be inspired by the characters they see on the screen. By celebrating the gamut of heroes who have enriched our movie-going experience, we hope to create an evening of fun and joy. And that includes the filmmakers and actors who take risks and stimulate us with provocative subjects and daring characters. They are all heroes in the cinematic landscape.”
For more on the Oscars, including a full list of this year’s nominees, visit oscars.org.
Donalevan Maines also writes about The Columnist in this issue of OutSmart.