Friday, April 24, 2015

Is this the movie that will finally win Johnny Depp an Oscar?

I love a good comeback. It's right up there with the underdog on the list of things I can't help but root for. I especially loves it when one (the underdog) pulls off the other (a good comeback).

Which brings us to Johnny Depp, a recent underdog who could use a good old-fashioned comeback.

Considering Johnny's current string of critical and commercial misfires, one would be forgiven for forgetting that it wasn't too long ago (a decade or so, to be not so exact) that he was considered the actor most overdue for an Oscar. Flashback, for a moment, to 2011, when Eddie Redmayne was drooling over Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn. Who would have thought that kid would end up beating Johnny to the podium to accept the Best Actor grand prize?

During Johnny's lost years, his What's Eating Gilbert Grape co-star Leonardo DiCaprio has assumed the title of Actor Most Overdue for an Oscar. The tide might not be about to change for Leo (not yet), but I'm expecting a turnaround for 51-year-old Johnny. A career boost would be most welcome, considering all the reports of trouble on the Australian set of the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (from which Johnny went missing last week) and in his marriage to the much-younger model-turned-actress Amber Heard, 29.

The source of my optimism: The trailer for Johnny's upcoming film Black Mass (due September 18), which was released today. It's two minutes and 10 seconds of scary, and that's not because it's a horror film. It's a gangster movie with Johnny apparently playing a very bad guy. I'm not a big fan of the mobster genre (I get my fill five days a week with General Hospital anyway), but this one has piqued my curiosity in a way that no Johnny Depp film has since before he became a 2003-to-2007 Oscar darling.

I've long said that Johnny would finally win an Oscar when he stops playing cartoons and assumes the role of a real person. I meant a normal person, like the one Julianne Moore played to perfection (and Oscar glory -- at last!) in Still Alice. Whitey Bulger, described by Wikipedia as "the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston," is hardly normal, but I'll take real as in a real person who actually lived, rather than a cartoonish character. Oscar loves stars playing real-life people.

The only thing Oscar loves more than that is a stunning transformation, and Johnny is unrecognizable in the trailer. I'm not talking Johnny-under-a-pound-of-make-up-Willy-Wonka-Mad-Hatter unrecognizable, but Johnny as a balding middle-aged old blue eyes. He doesn't look like Johnny Depp playing dress-up (again) but like a different actor entirely. He could almost pass for Ed Harris's creepy kid brother.

As for Johnny's performance, it's the main reason I want to see the film. He does most of the talking in the trailer, and his delivery is steady and even throughout, yet it's loaded with nuance. He's menacing without raising his voice or getting up from the dinner table and, dare I say it, dangerous-sexy. I'm truly terrified for what he's going to do to Julianne Nicholson!

Then there's the movie's Oscar pedigree. Like the 2006 Best Picture The Departed, it's set in Boston, which has long been a city favored by the Academy. (Get it, Black Mass as in Massachusetts?) It spans a period of 30 years, which increases its Oscar friendliness, and the trailer includes a very brief apparent Civil Rights-era sequence with a bunch of black kids on a school bus, which would cover the Oscar-bait racial-strife angle.

As for the talent behind Black Mass, it was directed by Scott Cooper, the guy who helped Jeff Bridges finally win the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart. Meanwhile, Johnny's co-stars include 2014 Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as well Joel Edgarton, a key player in the recent Best Picture contender Zero Dark Thirty. Peter Sarsgaard, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett's love interest in Blue Jasmine, puts in an appearance, too.

Black Mass is not all testosterone, which might help it appeal to women in the Academy. Among the female cast list is the aforementioned Julianne Nicholson, new It Girl Dakota Johnson and 2014 Oscar MVP Sienna Miller, who costarred with three 2014 male acting nominees (American Sniper's Bradley Cooper and Foxcatcher's Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo). The only thing missing is Eddie Redmayne!

He's busy prepping to be Johnny's main Best Actor competition. Eddie poses a serious threat to take the gold a second consecutive time for playing a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, a film which, incidentally, costars Johnny's wife. If Johnny, Eddie and their movies all end up being next-Oscar-season favorites, there'll be some awkward red-carpet nights ahead for Amber, even if her marriage to Johnny doesn't last that long.

Would Eddie triumph with Amber in his corner? When I went to bed last night, I thought he was the one to beat, and frankly, after what he pulled with Michael Keaton in February, I wasn't too thrilled about by the prospect of a repeat win. Now I have brand new hope, for the 2015 Oscars and for Johnny.

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