Multi-character slices of life have often piqued Oscar’s interest, from director Robert Altman’s best-picture nominees “MASH,” “Nashville” and “The Player” to such eclectic, character-teeming best-pic nominees as “Hope and Glory,” “JFK” and “Pulp Fiction.” “Boogie Nights,” a look at several years in the 1970s among the cocaine-snorting set of the San Fernando Valley’s pornographic film industry, corresponds to this character-rich, slice-of-life legacy, only with sex — plenty of it.
The Academy has been traditionally ambivalent about randy action, nominating “Alfie” (1966) and “The Piano” (1993) for best picture but not “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) or “Last Tango in Paris” (1973). Paul Thomas Anderson, the 27-year-old writer/director of “Boogie Nights,” has earned this year’s “wunderkind” attention for his mature look at drug addiction and porn-centric lifestyles.
The critical praise brought a similar brand of boy-wonder focus that John Singleton received in 1991 for “Boyz N the Hood.” Singleton, then 23, was nominated for best director and best original screenplay, and Anderson could very well follow suit in both categories.
Another factor in favor of the film is the presence of Burt Reynolds, this year’s comeback story. But Burt backers have been surprised before by the lack of a nomination for the actor for his macho role in “Deliverance” (1972).
The key thing to remember is that the Academy loves a big comeback more than sports fans do, and late-career honors are also an Academy tradition, witness the late career Oscar wins by Donald Crisp, Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Ben Johnson, Fred Astaire and John Houseman.
Several performances from this film appear Oscar-nom-friendly, especially if the movie garners a best-pic nom, particularly Mark Wahlberg — the former street punk turned model turned pop singer known as Marky Mark — who plays the well-endowed porn star Dirk Diggler. Wahlberg’s well-hyped career transformation is ripe for Oscar attention.
“Boogie Nights” also offers strong supporting performances from Julianne Moore as a porn actress and past supporting nominees William H. Macy (for “Fargo”) as a line producer and Don Cheadle (“Devil in a Blue Dress”) as another adult entertainer.
Classic Oscar credentials: 1 (Only epic quality is its length)
Cause celebre: 1 (Porno as social cause? Only in Larry Flynt’s world)
Vanity element: 1
The David vs. Goliath Syndrome: 5 (A boy with a dream; young helmer)
The feel-good movie of the year factor: 3 (Last 20 minutes are a big downer)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 8 (’70s nostalgia)
Idiot savants have more fun: 5 (No one is a brain surgeon in this pic.)
Timing is everything: 4
O.Q. total: 29