The 2014 Oscars are coming up and I’m catching up on as many nominated movies as I can.  I didn’t get a chance to see a couple of them in the theaters before they left.  I’m not at all surprised by the selection in the Best Picture category, save for maybe Captain Phillips.    It was a fine film and had tremendous commercial appeal, but I don’t think it will win.  I will say that there is a moment in that film where Tom Hanks reminds you of how good of an actor her really is.  I don’t want to spoil it if you are hoping to see it, but there is no one that can make you feel more in the moment by doing less then he can.  His talent is (seemingly) remarkably effortless.

But getting to what I really want to talk about:  Dallas Buyers Club was high on list of movies I wanted to see this year.  It is up for Best Picture.  I believe it won’t win that category, but the performances of the lead and supporting actors in this movie are strong contenders to take their respective awards.

After watching this movie, I will no longer be objective when considering the other candidates for Best Actor this year.  I know who I want to win.  And it’s probably because Matthew McConaughey is the underdog.  The other actors in the category are known for giving solid, standout performances and we’ve grown to except nothing less from them.  That’s not to take away from their performances.  Everyone nominated highly deserves their accolades.  HOWEVER, I really want to see McConaughey win this year.  The man is on a streak!  Everything he’s been in for the past couple years has been great!  The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, and Mud are amazing films.  Killer Joe didn’t have wide appeal because of it’s dark subject matter, but it was a great departure for an actor that, even though well respected, seemed to fit the mold of a very specific genre.  He’s breaking that mold and it’s working!  True Detective, the HBO show he stars in opposite Woody Harrelson, is poised to join the ranks of the best television we will ever see.  Easily filling the void Breaking Bad left when it came to a conclusion earlier this year and standing tall to it’s contemporaries House of Cards and Hannibal.  Pairing Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in that show was nothing short of the best casting decision in the past 10 years.

Even though McConaughey carries DBC on his brittle, gaunt shoulders (he lost 50 pounds to play this role) he is gracefully supported by Jared Leto whose performance as an HIV infected Transvestite acts as a jarring representation of the stigma that surrounded the men and woman diagnosed with this tragic disease when the epidemic started.  Leto’s character is an uneasy mirror that McConaughey is forced to look into when coming to grips with his disease and his bigoted perception of those that were diagnosed before him.

I was young when the AIDS epidemic went mainstream.  I remember hearing how people talked about those infected with HIV / AIDS.  Most of negative perception came from fear and lifestyle judgement.  It even went as far as becoming justification for such hate and misunderstanding.  If you were gay, you deserved what you got and AIDS was God’s retribution for your poor choices.  A lot of people under a certain age probably don’t watch this movie and have an understanding of the mindset of that era.  But that doesn’t necessarily make this movie a time capsule for a forgotten time.  It’s every bit as relevant today as it was then and serves as commentary on the continued state of our pharmaceutical corporations and the polarized nature of our current political stage.  We always seem to find ways to disagree with other people and pretend that we need to “fight” for the way of life we perceive as the “correct” way of life.  The fact that the rhetoric uses words like “battle” and “war” will perpetually push people towards prejudice and misunderstanding.  It’s a shame.  There is a time for actual war, to actually fight.  But pushing to do so through misunderstanding and ignorance yields terrible results.  I’ll leave this thought here for now.

How this relates to this movie:  McConaughey plays a Texas good-ole-boy who has a serious sex and drug addiction.  Out of the gate, the movie jumps right into this.  It’s visceral, but not gratuitous.  It’s important we understand the depth of his addiction quickly and completely.  In addition to his sex / drug addiction, he has a hatred for homosexuality which we discover during his diagnosis when confronted with the question if he’s had unprotected sex with a man.  The audience knows that he had, but this question reveals an interesting thing about the mindset of the character and a lot of people like him at that time.  This disease was largely aligned with homosexual men and if you had it, you were not just a sick individual with a terrible disease but a maligned individual who deserved social detachment.  Extremely unfortunate, because at a time when you were given a death sentence, the last thing you needed was to be pushed away from humanity.  And it’s in this fact that our main character finds understanding and catharsis.  He begins a quest to save his own life and quickly realizes that certain drugs exist that could help him and others.  His motive at first is profit, but the arc of the movie carries him to believe otherwise and his humanist redemption is inspiring and extremely touching.  Which is why they made a movie about this man in the first place.

McConaughey and Leto disappear on screen.  The characters they portray feel like real individuals.  It never feels forced.  Leto always surprises me.  When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I didn’t recognize him.  Like McConaughey, he transforms and is lost in the character.

Dallas Buyers Club is how more movies should be.  There is nothing that stood out to me as feeling false, or unnecessary.  It’s truly a great film carried by the performances of the two incredibly talented actors.  The message is a simple one and beautiful.  The mistakes we make have ramifications.  Some worse than others.  But we all go through it to one degree or another.  The best approach, ALWAYS, is one of understanding and love.  Without that, there’s nothing gained…nothing learned.