In awards consideration, a voter tries to be objective. But when any human watches a film or TV show, they bring along all their thoughts and feelings about life — and death.
By any standard, James Gandolfini’s performance in “Enough Said” is a gem. But it is hard to watch the film without occasionally thinking about his shocking death in June at age 51. Should those thoughts affect his awards chances? Absolutely not.
In conversations, many people have told me they like the film, but they almost never mention him. If I bring up Gandolfini’s name, they say “He’s wonderful, it’s so sad, isn’t it?” or something similar. People don’t like to be reminded of death, and I fear he is getting more pity than appreciation, as if his performance belongs in a different, lesser category.
I just hope everyone will consider his work with the same standards as they judge others this year. On Nov. 26, Gandolfini earned a supporting actor nomination in the Indie Spirit Awards. That’s a promising sign. Film Independent is not known for voters who think with their emotions.
As for a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination, it’s possible. Peter Finch (“Network,” 1976) and Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight,” 2008) won at both awards shows. But overall, posthumous nominations are rare.
With the Academy Awards, for example, there are only Jeanne Eagels, “The Letter,” 1928/29; James Dean, “East of Eden,” 1955; Dean, “Giant,” ’56; Spencer Tracy, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” 1967; Finch, “Network”; Ralph Richardson, “Greystoke,” 1985; Massimo Troisi, “Il Postino,” 1995; and Ledger, “The Dark Knight.” That’s eight nominations and two winners in 85 years.
And this year, the supporting actor category is one of the most crowded. Contenders include Gandolfini’s fellow Spirit nominees Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) and Will Forte (“Nebraska”), as well as Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”), Daniel Bruhl (“Rush”), Steve Coogan (“Philomena”), Chris Cooper and Dermot Mulroney (“August: Osage County”), Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle”), Dane DeHaan (“Kill Your Darlings”), Colin Farrell and Tom Hanks (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Harrison Ford (“42”), Ryan Gosling (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”), David Oyelowo (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”), Geoffrey Rush (“The Book Thief”) and several actors from “Lone Survivor” and “Out of the Furnace.”
In 2013, we enjoy performances by James Cagney or Paul Newman and we don’t think about the circumstances of their life or death, and that’s how it should be; we just connect to the work. Years from now, Gandolfini’s performance in the Fox Searchlight film will be viewed like that, appreciated on its own terms for being funny and tender, goofy and heartbreaking.
I’m not sure he will win. I’m not even sure he will get nominated, given the competition. I hope people don’t vote for him out of sentimental reasons. On the other hand, I hope they don’t avoid voting for him because he’s gone. It’s important that voters consider his work on its own merits. Gandolfini deserves that professional respect.