Yesterday, the New York Film Critics Circle declared Zero Dark Thirty the best picture of the year. The movie also won best cinematography—plus best director for Kathryn Bigelow, who, having also won for The Hurt Locker, became the first female director to win twice. These were mildly surprising upsets over Oscar heavy-hitter Lincoln, which tied the film for the most wins, taking screenplay (Tony Kushner), supporting actress (Sally Field), and actor (Daniel Day-Lewis, in his fifth NYFCC win). Even more unexpectedly, Rachel Weisz was named best actress for The Deep Blue Sea; some Oscar prognosticators didn’t even have her on their cards.
But only one surprise arrived oiled up in a gyrating g-string: Matthew McConaughey’s win for best supporting actor, awarded on the strength of both Bernie (in which he tooted his own horn as the self-aggrandizing DA Danny Buck) and Magic Mike (in which he thrust it as the aging stud Dallas).
McConaughey has not, to this point, been known primarily for his talents as a thespian. Not only has he never won a comparable acting award, he’s never even been nominated. Instead he has been put up for such honors as “Sexiest Love Scene” and “Choice Movie Liplock.” (Two Teen Choice Awards which, despite multiple nominations, he has never won.)
The past year has shown a new side of McConaughey, though, and I’m not just talking about his assless chaps. In addition to his wonderfully charismatic performances in Magic Mike and Bernie, he’s taken on such dark and unexpected characters as a corrupt, sociopathic cop in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe and a self-destructive gay reporter in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy. The sudden shift was enough to raise the eyebrows of the Gray Lady, who heralded the arrival of the “new, improved Mr. McConaughey.”
In his uphill battle for the Academy’s favor, McConaughey is not without formidable competition, of course. He faces such Oscar heavyweights as Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played cult leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, for his razor-tongued Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln; and Leonardo DiCaprio, for his deranged slave master Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.
I’d have a hard time choosing McConaughey over Hoffman—if you count Hoffman’s performance as a supporting one, as the Academy probably will—but we still plan to throw on our cowboy boots and join the McConaughey bandwagon. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens supported McConaughey’s win at the NYFCC—and in a Slate Spoiler Special for Magic Mike, Dan Kois declared that if McConaughey was not nominated for an Oscar, he would dance suggestively and thrust his groin in the Academy’s general direction. While we kind of want to see that happen, it may have to be a celebratory thrust, rather than an angry one: McConaughey’s chances are looking up.