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The Oscars: Are they more Texan than gay?

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by Donalevan Maines

This month’s Oscar countdown has more twists and turns than Gone Girl, but host Neil Patrick Harris and the Academy Awards ceremony on February 22 seem poised to celebrate boyhood in Texas.

Boyhood is even the title of the Best Picture nominee, much of it set in Houston, that won Best Motion Picture–Drama at the Golden Globes and Best Director for Richard Linklater, who graduated from Bellaire High School.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, which won Best Motion Picture–Musical or Comedy at the Globes, was written and directed by Wes Anderson, who graduated from St. John’s School in Houston. His movie tied for most nominations with Birdman.

The late Chris Kyle’s boyhood (hunting) in Odessa, Texas, surely informed him as the subject of American Sniper. Bradley Cooper’s character became a war machine, in contrast to The Imitation Game’s gay hero, Alan Turing, a Brit who eschewed violence and used his noggin to help win World War II and give birth to computers.

They compete for Best Picture along with Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash.

Harris grew up to the west of us, in New Mexico, while Birdman writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu hails from south of the border in Mexico City. His gritty 2000 film, Amores perros, included dogfight scenes that would have thrilled Chris Kyle.

Other than Alan Turing, who’s played by Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, the year’s biggest gay character in Oscar’s eyes is Gobber the Belch in How to Train Your Dragon 2, a nominee for Best Animated Feature, by out writer/director Dean DeBlois. We glean that Gobber is gay when the Viking, voiced by comedian Craig Ferguson, watches a husband and wife argue and remarks, “This is why I never got married. That and one other reason.”

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in 1972's Cabaret. Grey won for Best Supporting Actor. And now he's come out 43 years later!
Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in 1972’s Cabaret. Grey won for Best Supporting Actor. And now he’s come out 43 years later!

It’s no grand pronouncement, but a few words, aptly spoken, can change the world. “Yep, I’m gay,” Ellen DeGeneres told Time magazine in 1997. “The fact is, I’m gay,” Anderson Cooper wrote in a 2012 email. “I am tired of lying by omission,” declared Ellen Page in February 2014. Stop the presses! Academy Award-winner (for Cabaret) Joel Grey, 82, just announced that he’s gay, telling People magazine, “I don’t like labels, but if you have to put a label on it, I’m a gay man.”

Giuliana Rancic didn’t mean to scare the gays when she brought up “beards” on Fashion Police the day after the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) Awards that honored Debbie Reynolds and others on January 25. But co-star Kelly Osbourne gasped at the mention of such a sensitive subject. (Do closeted leading men really think they can rest easy now that Joan Rivers has been promoted to that big fashion police squad in the sky? Don’t get too comfortable, ladies.)

By “beards,” Rancic was referring to crumb catchers on Matthew McConaughey and others on the SAG red carpet; Osbourne thought Rancic meant women who pretend to date actors so the public won’t find out the men are gay.

Page won a 2008 Best Actress nomination for Juno, which co-starred J.K. Simmons, this year’s frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, in Whiplash. Houston audiences first saw Simmons as macho Jigger in Houston Grand Opera’s Carousel in 1980. We know him as neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger on HBO’s gay prison drama Oz, a supporting player on TV police serials and, of course, Professor Nathaniel Burke of the University of Farmers in commercials since 2010.

Smart money in the race for Best Supporting Actress is on Patricia Arquette as the Houston mother with poor choice in men in Boyhood.

The prohibitive favorite for Best Actress is Julianne Moore as a linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice. Moore kissed a girl and liked it in The Hours and made Mark Ruffalo’s garden grow while married to Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright. At the 2002 Oscars, Moore was nominated twice but lost both contests, as she did with nominations for Boogie Nights (1997) and The End of the Affair (1999). The genial redhead spent part of her childhood as an Army brat in Texas. In 1985, she debuted as half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes in the CBS soap As the World Turns. She showed that the carpet matches the drapes in Robert Altman’s 1993 movie Short Cuts.

But who knows what will happen in Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and either writing category?

The 87th Academy Awards might be shaping up to be the most Texas-centric honors since 1984, when Terms of Endearment and Tender Mercies swept the top prizes, but those winners felt like foregone conclusions, while this year’s race seems too close to call.

I would like to think that voters will spread the wealth and send both Anderson and Linklater home with Oscars. It will also warm the cockles of my heart if “I’m Not Going to Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me wins Best Original Song. Campbell, who has Alzheimer’s, wrote the ballad with Julian Raymond.

Campbell, who is now 78, was born the seventh son among a sharecropper’s dozen children in tiny Billstown, near Delight, in Pike County, Arkansas. As a teenager, he moved to Alburquerque, then hit it big with a string of songs, including “Galveston,” that were penned by Jimmy Webb, who spent his boyhood in Oklahoma.

At the 42nd Oscars in 1970, Campbell sang the title song to True Grit, which lost Best Original Song to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (it was sung by Oklahoma-born B.J. Thomas, who spent his boyhood in and around Houston, graduating from Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg). True Grit was Campbell’s movie debut, opposite John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn.

Barbra Streisand cooed, “I’m not going to tell you,” before announcing that Best Actor went to “The Duke,” who was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. Wayne wiped away a tear and said, “Wow! If I’d have known that, I would have put that patch on 35 years earlier.” Wayne was 61 when he won the Academy Award; he died nine years later.

When I consider how The New York Times recently cast the average Academy member as white, male, and age 63, on average, I wonder how much he thinks like I do. I’m white (), male () and while under 60, like Anderson, Kyle, and Linklater, I spent my boyhood in Texas. What gets nominated at the Oscars makes more and more sense to me with each passing year. (In contrast, I don’t have a clue as to what’s happening in the music industry, much less care who wins at the Grammy Awards on February 8.)

How often does anyone in the LGBT community feel part of the majority?

Of course, we would have preferred to see Love Is Strange in the running, but at least it’s up for Best Feature at the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards, along with stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina and screenwriters Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias. Houston is represented by new, out filmmaker Justin Simien, whose Dear White People competes for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay in the awards that will be presented on February 21, the day before the Oscars.

It’s usually a casual luncheon, held near a beach in Santa Monica, California, but this year’s nervous nominees might still be confused as to where they stand with Academy voters, and reeling from an Oscar campaign that’s tapping into raw feelings about Chris Kyle’s mantra of “God, family, country” (and guns).

We have the added perspective of seeing boyhood in Texas, which produced Linklater, 54 (a Leo), and Anderson, 45, Chris Kyle (age 38 when he was killed two years ago this month), and Boyhood star Eller Coltrane, now 20, whose character, Mason, finds an artistic pursuit in photography. Also in the news: Palestine’s Adrian Peterson, 29, who lost his job in pro football for swatting his four-year-old son with a tree branch in Montgomery County.

Many boys growing up in Texas can probably relate to the dinner-table diatribe by the father after a bully at school gives a black eye to Chris Kyle’s meek younger brother. It goes something like this:

“There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.

“Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”

(The military newspaper Stars and Stripes ran a column by Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post, who asks, “Was Kyle a sheepdog? Or did he become a wolf? And what happens to a wolf that thinks it’s still protecting the flock, when in fact it’s simply gratifying its own violent urges?”)

Compare American Sniper to this back-and-forth in The Imitation Game:

A naval officer, played by Charles Dance, asks Alan Turing, “Are you a bleeding pacifist?” Turing replies, “I’m agnostic about violence.”

Finally, Oscarologists like to predict winners by finding precedence in what happened when similar nominees faced off before. In that regard, I see the tight Best Actor race as 1990 redux that pitted two young Brits (Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot, and Kenneth Branagh, Henry V), a box-office stud as a soldier (Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July), a veteran with his first Golden Globe win (Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy), and a comedian in a dramatic role (Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society) matching up with this year’s Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Cumberbatch, Cooper, Michael Keaton as Birdman, and Steve Carell in Foxcatcher.

That would bode well for Redmayne, who won the Globe as Best Actor–Drama, then surprised at the SAG Awards with his performance as Stephen Hawking, the physicist with ALS. It also brings to mind the work of Day-Lewis as Irish writer/artist Christy Brown, who had cerebral palsy.

That year, Best Director went to Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July. Best Picture was won by Driving Miss Daisy, whose director wasn’t even nominated.

Here is the complete list of nominees:

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST DIRECTOR
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

BEST EDITING
American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

BEST SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

BEST SONG
“Everything Is Awesome from The Lego Movie
“Glory” from Selma
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Going to Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

BEST SOUND EDITING
American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

BEST SOUND MIXING
American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Citizenfour
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Ida
Leviathan
Tangerines
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
The Bigger Pictur”
The Dam Keeper
Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Parvaneh
The Phone Call

 

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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