Awards analysis is provided by Sean from @MathTeacherMovies.
The musical biopic as a genre typically attracts many Oscar awards and nominations. The story is usually the same: the main character undergoes great adversity and succeeds in the end. The Academy voters love this type of film. This genre also features one or two premier performances with accents, singing voices, and make-up that helps ease the transformation, all which usually result in nominations and wins for the film and its actors. While there have been musical biopics at the Oscars throughout the years, the films of this millennium have been the biggest stand-outs with the clearest repeating pattern.
Ray, in which Jamie Foxx plays the famed singer as he becomes famous, gets addicted to drugs, and succeeds while facing many other outside challenges. This movie paid off in full with a win for Jamie Foxx and several nominations that included Best Picture and Director.
The very next year, Walk the Line took a crack at the Oscars with a very similar story structure as Ray. The film follows Johnny Cash as he rises in the music business, falls while getting addicted to drugs, and rises back up. It gave a nomination to Joaquin Phoenix and a much deserved win to Reese Witherspoon, but a nomination for Best Picture was surprisingly left out because it was so similar to Ray and had only debuted one year later.
La Vie En Rose was a musical biopic based on the tragic life of Edith Piaf and while it’s not entirely similar to Ray and Walk the Line, it began to cause the genre to be seen as a tired. Still, this film proved that the musical biopic can still get the Oscar with Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress.
There have been the occasional musical biopics that try to defy convention such as Rocket Man and Straight Out of Compton. Unfortunately, these films received little to no attention from the Academy. Straight of Compton was nominated for Screenplay and Rocket Man with an Original Song Nomination, but deserved so much more.
In more recent years, the musical biopic has been making a comeback in that has cheapened the genre, but that hasn’t stopped it’s Oscar success. Bohemian Rhapsody was a film about Queen made by Queen that puts everyone but Freddie Mercury in a great light while also having the typical musical biopic cliches. This film was not only nominated for Best Picture, but was also very close to a win. Rami Malek did win Best Actor for his portrayal of Mercury, even though the gigantic, prosthetic teeth did most of the work.
Lately, the musical biopic has been decried by critics and audiences alike. The Academy doesn’t seem to like the movies, but they still love the performances. In 2019, Renee Zellwegger was nominated for Judy playing the late Judy Garland in a movie that was severely underwhelming. Meanwhile, The United States vs Billie Holiday gave Andra Day a much deserved Oscar Nomination in a film that was very poorly received.
This leads us to Respect and the continuation of the formulaic musical biopic released earlier this month. The timing of its release was curious considering it is still far off from awards consideration despite this film’s apparent desperation to be a part of the Oscars. Considering the poor reception from critics and audiences, the only chance this film has at a nomination is Jennifer Hudson for Best Actress and possible technicals like Costume and Sound, but even those are predicted to be longshots.
The musical biopic has been given a lack of respect lately from the filmmakers and voting committees alike, but even with the format, there’s a chance that it can still be entertaining and original and truly earn their Oscars and not just win them because the Academy loves musical biopics.