It’s Not Just McConaughey’s Year, It’s McConaughyear

There was one actor who absolutely burst onto the scene in 2012. He made more mainstream movies than anyone else in Hollywood and his films reaped the rewards of his newfound success, raking in hundreds of millions across the globe. The good-looking actor appeared on every magazine cover at the corner store and even popped up in your Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram feeds more than your friends. One actor made 2012 his year to be known, his year to be remembered forever.

That actor was Channing Tatum.

While the Chan Chan Man was becoming an A-lister in 21 Jump Street and The Vow, another movie star was slowly transforming his image from a mindless hunk of beef to a self-aware, insightful actor by appearing in low-budget indie flicks in roles both unexpected and made for him.

That actor was Matthew McConaughey, and he was recently rewarded for his efforts with not one, but two Independent Spirit Award nominations. His performance as the titular, corrupt cop in Killer Joe got him into the Best Actor category, while McConaughey’s role as the smooth-talking strip club owner Dallas in Magic Mike earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod.

Now, Bruce Willis, Wendell Pierce (of The Wire fame), and even McConaughey’s Bernie costar Jack Black are all up for Spirit Awards and no one is predicting them to land an Oscar nod come January. So why should anyone expect anything more from a zero-time nominee who has never even been in the discussion before?

Well, they shouldn’t. At least, not for both roles. Killer Joe was doomed for cult status the second the MPAA slapped it with an (unjust) NC-17 rating. It then rolled out to both the critical accolades and disappointing general attendance any film branded with the seal of death should expect. Even Michael Fassbender missed out on an Oscar nomination for the NC-17 rated Shame, and he got much more publicity for the role than McConaughey did for Killer Joe.

This all is a nice way of saying while it’s great the Spirit Awards chose to honor the toils of a hard-working actor in an underappreciated film, the Oscars demand more support financially or a role of greater social importance. I’m sad to say this will be the most recognition the deserving film receives.

Matthew McConaughey, though, has another film in contention, and he’s on the cusp of his first nomination thanks to one hell of an overall year. He appeared and impressed in not one, but four films—a cumulative effort the Academy seems to favor, despite only recognizing one performance per nomination.

Most of his films were modest productions with disappointing box office returns (Bernie, The Paperboy, obviously Killer Joe), but one became a sleeper summer hit—thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Tatum—and is now on the brink of an Oscar nomination—thanks to Mr. McConaughey.

Magic Mike seemed like a bad joke a year ago. The guy from Step Up stars in a semi-autobiographical movie about male strippers. Really? Wait. It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh? Really?! Then it hit and boy did it—to the tune of $113 million domestically. Though Tatum was given most of the credit for the film’s monetary success, it was McConaughey as the scene-stealing club owner Dallas who got critics talking.

Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Roger Ebert both said the performance was one of his “best”. I couldn’t get through a podcast in June without hearing “all right, all right, all right,” McConaughey’s catchphrase, if you will, from the film. Director Steven Soderbergh even broke his “long standing embargo” on awards campaigning to say he found the performance to be “completely bananas, in the best sense of the word.”

Any other year, this may have been viewed as just a really good role for McConaughey. Matthew being Matthew. Yet this year, when we got so much McConaughey in so many varied degrees, this one stood out for its inherent McConaughey-ness. He’s energetic. He’s charming. He’s shirtless. And, of course, he’s got that smooth Southern drawl.

More importantly, though, he’s got a degree of stoic intensity we haven’t seen in years, maybe ever. He also possesses a level of flamboyancy, of sheer screen presence we haven’t seen since Reign of Fire (or ever, if you weren’t a fan of McConaughey’s dragon-slaying tale). These traits should take him to the Dolby theater.

There are obstacles to the man, the myth, the McConaughey, though. First and foremost is the competition, which is always fierce in the supporting actor category. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) are all locks, so that leaves only two spots.

Russell Crowe or Eddie Redmayne could snag one or both for Les Miserables if the film gets as much love as expected, or Leonardo Dicaprio could earn a nod for his reportedly ruthless role in Django Unchained. Don’t count out Alan Arkin or John Goodman from Argo, the latter of whom also has buzz for Flight.

Beating out these adored thespians aside, McConaughey faces another issue on his way to the podium and he only has himself to blame—his movie is about strippers. Male strippers. The “male” part of that shouldn’t matter, but it definitely does to a voting body overwhelmingly made up of old men (many of the same men who didn’t have the balls to vote Brokeback Mountain Best Picture in 2005). Everyone else may find the movie simply too goofy, too broad, and too fun to consider it for an Academy Award.

The reviews should help alleviate some of that undeserved shame, but it’s going to take a strong campaign to get McConaughey on the ticket. Will he get there? I think so. After all, when will we ever have another McConaughyear like this?

All right, all right, all right.