Oscar Bait

Movieline, October 1995

By Virginia Campbell & Edward Margulies

Despite the fact that Academy Award voters have, in recent years, been honoring movies released earlier in the year – think The Silence of the Lambs or Forrest Gump – Hollywood studios still hope to snare Oscar gold with their fall and Christmas pictures. Herewith, a sampling of this year’s candidates, prime and otherwise.

HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT

Imagine The Joy Luck Club without any Chinese people in it, and you have the gist of this ensemble Oscar bait. It’s not about mothers and daughters, but it’s very much about women, women, women. The setup is that the female friends and relatives of a young woman who’s trying to decide whether to marry tell their various marital tales while sewing her wedding quilt. All this is based on a gracefully written, decidedly non-potboiling novel of the same rather off-putting title. It offers plenty of opportunity for the enormous cast – which is partly impressive (Winona Ryder, Alfre Woodard), partly strange (Maya Angelou, Jean Simmons), and partly deeply scary (Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Kate Capshaw) – to chew their way to potential Oscar nominations. A lot will depend on how well the script manages to structure a film out of the literary threads that weave the novel together; and a lot will depend on how Aussie director Jocelyn Moorhouse blossoms on Hollywood turf. Moorhouse’s only credit is the Australian-made oddity Proof, a surreal, heady little tale of a blind photographer. It was a sly calling card of a first film, one which caught Steven Spielberg’s eye when he was considering who might direct his company’s Quilt, but not one to bet the farm on. When a movie like American Quilt works at all, the Academy goes for it like a witless trout, so if Moorhouse turns out to have the right touch for this life-affirming material, it’ll be a contender. The Academy is ready and waiting to give Winona Ryder another nod – her performance in The Age of Innnocence was not the most inevitable turn for the Academy to pick up on, and the fact that they sorted it out from that icy pageant of a movie showed they’d gotten hip to her. Last year’s Little Women nom said it again.