Matthew McConaughey was on a roll with “Dallas Buyers Club,” winning the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and SAG awards for Best Actor. But he lost a little momentum when he wasn’t even in contention at Sunday’s BAFTAs.
However, he has one advantage over his competition at the Oscars: he is getting great reviews for his performance as a brooding cop in HBO’s “True Detective.” The limited series is airing new episodes during the current Oscar voting period.
Before Oscar ballots went out on Feb. 14, this new HBO anthology series had built substantial buzz over its first four episodes. Two more air before ballots are due on Feb. 25. It completes its first season on March 9, the Sunday after the Oscars.
Airing new episodes at the right time is often the key to victory at the Emmys: “Breaking Bad” finally won Best Drama last September in part because its media-saturating farewell episodes screened when voters were marking their ballots. But we don’t often see strategic advantages like that at the Oscars because, well, there isn’t going to be a “Dallas Buyers Club: Season Two.”
Other small screen stars have competed at the Oscars but their TV work didn’t help them any – “Desperate Housewives” didn’t push Felicity Huffman to Oscar victory for “Transamerica” in 2005, and “Mike and Molly” didn’t give Melissa McCarthy a boost for “Bridesmaids” in 2011 – but this case is different. “True Detective” is a gritty drama with artistic cred, the kind cool critics rave about on Sunday nights and Monday mornings; consider the number of outlets – including Vulture, the Huffington Post, and Indiewire – that collectively wet themselves over the six-minute tracking shot that ended episode four on Feb. 9.
We know it’s important for an Oscar-nominee to make a good impression during the voting period, because we’ve seen what happens when you make a bad one. Eddie Murphy was the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actor in 2006 for “Dreamgirls,” which seemed to be his comeback film. He had won Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards.
Then “Norbit” happened. The spectacularly bad timing of its release – Feb. 9, 2007, i.e., 16 days before Oscar night – meant voters had a chance to consider its scathing reviews while marking their ballots. Alan Arkin won the Oscar for “Little Miss Sunshine,” and Murphy ended up back at the Razzies, winning three awards for “Norbit” and then in 2009 winning Worst Actor of the Decade. His comeback was over as quickly as it started.
Arkin might have won the Oscar anyway – “Dreamgirls” didn’t get as much Oscar love as expected overall, and the academy likes to award male veterans – but voters don’t live in a vacuum, so it’s hard to imagine “Norbit” didn’t enter their decision-making process.
Like Murphy, McConaughey made a string of critically panned films leading up to his Oscar ascent but he has been turning around his image for several years (with acclaimed films like “Bernie,” “Magic Mike,” and “Mud“), and “True Detective” is letting him show voters that the newly reformed artiste in him is no fluke.
Do you think “True Detective” will give McConaughey the extra push he needs to overcome strong competition from Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave“) and Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street“)? Make your prediction for Best Actor below using our easy drag-and-drop menu.