Franco — an actor, director, producer, screenwriter, author, and teacher — is known for his roles in stoner comedies, comic book movies, and more serious, sometimes equally ridiculous, fare. His bizarre cohosting gig at the Oscars, his dedication to his studies (taking PhD classes in addition to teaching and continuing to work as an actor/director), and his general Renaissance man approach to life is once again launching him into the spotlight. This time, he's actively campaigning for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Alien in Spring Breakers.
We weren't joking. Consider this shit very seriously. James Franco for Best Supporting Actor. pic.twitter.com/X22UwhjRyR— A24 (@A24Films) October 10, 2013
It's easy to laugh at Franco's unflagging, stereotypically millennial self-confidence. But he deserves the Oscar. He just won't get it.
Franco is no stranger to awards season chatter. He has received multiple wins and nominations for previous roles, and even got an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Aron Ralston in 2010's 127 Hours. His character and performance have received rave reviews, award nominations, and even an award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. He tied with Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor, and Leto was playing the sort of dramatic role that typically gets award attention.
Yet when Franco launched his 'For Your Consideration' campaign, everybody thought he was kidding.
Franco himself was not idle on the sidelines while others lauded his role. In a review for Vice that he wrote, Franco quotes Werner Herzog's praise for the role. He says, "Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won't go to the Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers." Franco continues, "There will never be a movie or character that is more important for this age than Spring Breakers and its protagonist Alien."
Alien is a character for strange times (times when a movie star in an MFA program writes a review of his own movie) — a glimpse of the bizarre excess, hedonism, and machoness that pop culture can dredge up. It's not the sort of character the Academy is likely to reward, but it is clear that, in Franco's mind, this may very well be the most important film role he's ever had. But a gangster rapper who sings Britney Spears anthems by a beachside piano and stars opposite Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens is not exactly in the same realm as the tortured President of Civil War America. As TIME Magazine pointed out: "When's the last time a clip of an actor sporting cornrows and a grill ran at an Oscar ceremony?"
Historically, the Academy has shown some biases when it comes to the types of movies and roles it recognizes — comic book movies rarely receive nominations outside of technical categories (unless a role has received unprecedented attention — as with Heath Ledger's Joker), nor do comedies. Serious films are often identified by intensity or grittiness, and serious performances are often identified by serious roles.
Yet the actual content of a role is meant to be separate from the merit of its performance — the Oscar should theoretically go to Franco for being as ridiculous and overblown as Alien is meant to be. But it won't go to him because Alien is ridiculous and overblown, and because we see Franco as taking himself more seriously than he should. Alien is a product of the myths spun by MTV and pop culture in general, and, as a result, he looks like a cheap character — more at home in a reality TV show than an Oscar-winning film. After all, he spends and (spoiler) ends his life on spring break.
That's why Franco has to ask to be considered — Abraham Lincoln does all the asking Daniel Day-Lewis could need. But Alien won't because he's a product of a trashier culture. Now Franco is asking for our consideration — that, at the very least, is deserved.