The first week of March is going to be a busy one for New Orleanians: There’s Lundi Gras on March 3 and Mardi Gras on March 4, but before that is the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2. We know that that evening is devoted to Bacchus and lots of Carnival celebrating, but if you have any room in your schedule or your DVR, plan to watch the Academy Awards; this year it’s predicted to be a big night for New Orleans films and its people.
With New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres as a host and two New Orleans-shot films nominated for Best Picture, there’s a lot for New Orleanians to look forward to on Oscar night.
The Host: Ellen DeGeneres. One of New Orleans’ biggest connections to this year’s Academy Awards is native DeGeneres, who’s hosting the show for the second time (her first time was in 2007). She was born in Metairie in 1958. According to the International Movie Database, she attended the University of New Orleans but left after her first semester. DeGeneres also worked at JCPenney in the Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie, which she once featured on her popular daytime show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
You can trace her comedy roots to Clyde’s Comedy Corner in the French Quarter. DeGeneres is quoted saying in the biography Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres, “One night there was a woman in there just looking at me like I could be the most funny person in the world. That’s when I realized maybe I could be.”
12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave. When it comes to the actual awards, New Orleans’ best contender for the Best Picture victory is 12 Years a Slave. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who gets captured in 1841 and forced into slavery in Louisiana, the film is one of nine movies nominated for Best Picture and it already won Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes in January. The film was shot in a variety of Louisiana locations such as Audubon Park and the Felicity Plantation in Vacherie, La.
Many locals will be proud if the film takes home Best Picture, especially those who were actually in it, including “Mad Men” star and New Orleans native Bryan Batt, previous Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis and John “Spud” McConnell.
Another local, Tulane University alum Rob Steinberg, had a small but crucial role in the film. He says he could tell from the beginning that the film was going to be an important one, just like two other films, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Dallas Buyers Club, which were also shot in New Orleans. “There’s a pride that goes into making those kinds of films,” Steinberg says. “I could feel it when I was making 12 Years a Slave.”
Dallas Buyers Club
Steinberg, who has also had parts in HBO’s “Treme,” Die Hard 2 and more, says the Academy loves to award movies with a powerful message, which 12 Years A Slave has since it depicts the brutality of slavery in Louisiana; many have called it “hard to watch.” While Steinberg would love to see 12 Years A Slave win Best Picture, he says the point of the film goes beyond accolades. “The focus isn’t the award, but getting people to see it and learn from it,” Steinberg says. “Awards are simply a way to further the message. As we would love to be the recipients of these awards, I think the overall message is to see the movie and learn from it.”
New Orleans’ Other Top Films. Another New Orleans-shot film has the chance to take home the Best Picture prize. Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, who learns he has AIDS and starts selling medicine not approved by the FDA to fellow AIDS patients. McConaughey is nominated for Best Actor this year, along with Jared Leto who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Rayon, a transgender woman. Leto told SiriusXM’s “Michelangelo Signorile Show” that while filming in New Orleans, he once went to Whole Foods dressed as his character. He got some weird looks and insulting comments. “It was interesting to get that condemnation,” Leto said. “It was easy for me because I’m playing a part, but it was important to kind of understand and acknowledge that.”
Lee Daniels’ The Butler is the third film shot in New Orleans that has been recognized during awards season, even though many critics have been saying it is one of the biggest snubs of the Oscar nominations for 2014, especially for Oprah Winfrey’s performance. The film’s stars, Forest Whitaker and Winfrey, were both nominated for their roles by the Screen Actors Guild Awards (aka the SAGs). The film’s cast was also nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAGs, alongside 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, meaning three of the five films nominated for that award were shot in New Orleans.
New Orleans’ Talented Residents. There must be a talent magnet in the Garden District because two actors, Sandra Bullock and John Goodman, were in successful films this year and they both have homes on Coliseum Street. Bullock played the lead in Gravity, and is nominated for Best Actress for her role. Goodman starred in Inside Llewyn Davis, which many predicted to be nominated for Best Picture, but the film wasn’t nominated. Last year was a better year for Goodman as he starred in the Best Picture winner, Argo.
Coliseum Street is also the location of the home featured in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 2009.