Dare to dream: Why it’s important that ‘Tangerine’ gets an Oscar campaign

You better be paying attention Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards nomination committees
Mya Taylor in Sean Baker's 'Tangerine'

In something of a surprise, Magnolia Pictures and producers Mark and Jay Duplass announced yesterday a legitimate awards campaign for “Tangerine,” the Sean Baker wonder that debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival before hitting theaters this past summer.  Well, if this is what it means to have the Duplass brothers as official members of the Academy then bring it on!

In an interview with Variety, Mark Duplass revealed, “Jay and I are new to the Academy, so we’re just figuring this whole thing out. One thing that has become apparent to us as we look at this stuff, it seems that the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the trans movement with ‘Transparent’ and ‘Orange is the New Black.’ We feel that the film Academy is a little behind on that front.”

That’s something of an understatement for the movie industry in general, but he added, “The trans aspect will undoubtedly garner the film attention, but frankly the best strategy is to get as many voters to see it as possible.  It stands alone among the contenders in its tone, aspirations and achievement.”

“Tangerine,” the touching and comedic tale of two working transgender on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, CA over a 24 hour period was a critically darling  after it debuted in Park City.  Unfortunately, the box office hasn’t lived up to even conservative estimates.  Magnolia Pictures hired a passionate LA publicity firm, landed some strong press breaks and even held a hip LA premiere downtown (even if Hollywood was more appropriate), but the film as struggled financially earning just $698,000 after expanding to just 44 theaters so far. While the movie was available on VOD in some areas the theater count means much of the country hasn’t had a chance to see it.  That’s another reason why any attention the Duplass’ can generate for “Tangerine” as the countdown begins to its arrival on digital download, Amazon and Blu-ray/DVD (Nov. 10) is a good thing.

Magnolia Pictures will send screeners to the Acting, Cinematography and Writer’s Branches of the Academy.  Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who plays Sin-Dee, will be submitted for Best Actress and Mya Taylor, who plays Sin-Dee’s best friend Alexandra, will be submitted for Best Supporting Actress.  Baker and Radium Cheung’s exquisite camerawork and lighting will attempt to crack the Best Cinematography field (the entire movie was shot on iPhones) and Baker and Chris Bergoch are vying for an Original Screenplay nomination (the film’s best chance at a nod). The Duplass Brothers will also do a lot of the “legwork” themselves hosting screenings with members of the Academy and influential guilds.

Admittedly, it’s a major longshot, but in a year where transgender rights have been center stage, an incredible accomplishment such as “Tangerine” needs a bigger share of the spotlight.  Focus Features’ “The Danish Girl,” which finds Eddie Redmayne playing transgender trailblazer Lili Elbe, has and will continue to receive a significant amount of attention.  Comparatively, “Tangerine” features two fantastic performances from actual transgender actresses.  If relative newcomers (at the time) such as Barkad Abdi, Quvenzhané Wallis, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Gabourey Sidibe can all earn nominations on their first try why can’t Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor?  Sure, the Best Actress and Supporting Actress categories are incredibly competitive, but the Academy can still surprise now and then.  Nothing would make us happier if “Tangerine” made the cut of nominated films on Jan. 14, 2016.

Where Duplass’ public campaign can really help is by capturing the attention of the nominating committees of both the Gotham and Film Independent Spirit Awards.  The Hollywood-set indie should be a shoe in for Spirit nominations for the John Cassavetes Award (an indie with a budget under $500,000) and has a shot at Best Female Lead, Best Supporting Female, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.  Baker has actually has four spirit nominations and his 2012 film “Starlet” earned the Robert Altman Award. The Gotham’s are a different story although Best Feature and Best Actress are theoretically possible (emphasis on “theoretically”).

I’ll be blunt.  With only a few more new films to catch before the end of 2015 I can pretty much guarantee that “Tangerine” is going to make my top 10 list of the year.  An awards campaign probably won’t lead to tangible results outside of the Spirit Awards, but if it can get more people to even watch the movie in the first place?  That’s a win across the board.

[For more on the movie check out my interview with Baker, Taylor and Rodriguez earlier in the summer embedded here.]

What did you think of “Tangerine”?  Can it surprise this awards season? Share your thoughts below.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.
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Awards Campaign provides commentary and insight on the movie industry. It's also the current online home of Gregory Ellwood, an industry veteran who has covered the movie business and Oscar campaigns for over a decade. For more information including partnerships and advertising opportunities please E-mail info@awardscampaign.com.