It’s only November, but Oscar prognosticators are already months deep into their labors, trying to guess which star of which movie you haven’t yet seen will capture the best actor trophy in February. Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything”? Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher”? Michael Keaton in “Birdman”?
Eh, no real challenge there. If you want to make a bold move, take your money to Vegas and put it all down on Matt Damon — to win the Academy Award in 2016.
It’s for a movie he hasn’t even filmed yet, but if you know anything about Hollywood heavyweights and their prestige pictures these days, you’ll understand why it makes sense to herald the star’s latest casting news, in Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing,” as his long-awaited Oscar role.
For all the first-tier auteurs Damon has worked with — Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen brothers — this collaboration is still a major coup. Payne is hardly a prolific director; the chances to work with him are rare. He emphasizes quality over quantity and won’t shy from a long hiatus, like the seven-year breather he took between “Sideways” and “The Descendants.” The films he makes are bright treasures, blending wry humor and poignancy with characters so sharply drawn they get inside your head and stay there.
Who could forget George Clooney awkwardly padding down the street in “The Descendants” or Matthew Broderick launching a milkshake at Tracy Flick’s limo in “Election”? Who would dare order a glass of merlot after Paul Giamatti’s tirade in “Sideways”?
In other words, he writes great parts (often with frequent collaborator Jim Taylor) and brings out the best in his actors, who always turn out to be impeccably cast. Hence the Oscar nominations for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates for “About Schmidt,” George Clooney (“The Descendants”), Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church for “Sideways” and Bruce Dern and June Squibb for “Nebraska.” (Unlike the other movies on the list, Payne didn’t write the “Nebraska” screenplay.) Since it’s apparently never too early to start thinking about Oscars races, Damon might just find himself with another nomination — whenever “Downsizing” happens to get released. Though a favorite of the Hollywood community, Damon has only been nominated twice for his acting; the sole Oscar he’s won was for the “Good Will Hunting” screenplay he and Ben Affleck co-authored in their mid-20s.
“Downsizing” sounds like an anomaly among Payne’s filmography, and it’s a script he’s been working on for years. He’s described the story, which he co-wrote with Taylor, as “a difficult screenplay.” He’s also described it as his epic masterpiece.
That sounds promising. The movie is a science-fiction satire that reads more like “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” than any of the naturalistic or farcical movies Payne has made. The story follows a married couple who find themselves strapped for cash and decide to shrink themselves to save money. In the end, though, the wife has second thoughts, so the man ends up going solo on the downsizing adventure.
Presumably, Damon will play the husband. In earlier incarnations, Giamatti was in talks to play that role with Reese Witherspoon as the wife and Sacha Baron Cohen in a dual role. No word yet on whether either of those actors is still attached.
According to Hollywood Reporter, the movie doesn’t yet have financing lined up, but maybe that will change by the time Damon finishes shooting “The Martian” for Ridley Scott. We can all hope so, especially Damon.
Nov. 11: This post has been updated.