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Christopher Plummer's Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Beginners" had been so widely expected for so long -- the buzz started at Toronto in 2010, frontrunner status was assumed when the film was released last summer, while most regarded him as a foregone conclusion all through awards season -- that I almost forgot to be happy when it finally happened. Chalk that up to the wearying nature of the awards marathon, because Plummer's win was one of the most satisfyingly deserved of the night: the rare career-achievement trophy for a well-past-due talent that also happens to be for peak-form, field-beating work in its own right. We don't get too many of those.
Having finally given the 82-year-old Canadian appropriate recognition, and made him the oldest Oscar-winner of all time in the process, the Academy might have expected not to hear from Plummer again for a while -- but there's a chance he could be troubling them again later this very year. And as with "Beginners," the film in question is a well-buzzed holdover from last year's Toronto fest.
"Barrymore," a filmization of Plummer's one-man stage show in which he plays the legendary thesp John Barrymore in his twilight days, was briefly heralded last year as a potential awards vehicle for the actor, but it would have been unwise to mount a leading campaign with the focus so squarely on his surefire supporting bid for "Beginners." Some speculated that "Barrymore" (apparently little more than a stage performance filmed on HD) was better suited for high-end TV, but New York outfit BY Experience, which specializes in live cinema events, has confirmed that it will release the film in theaters this fall.
It's unclear whether the distributor has the ambition or the wherewithal to mount an awards campaign for this decidedly niche proposition, but the performance has more going for it than meets the eye. Plummer has already won a Tony for his work as the famously troubled and brilliant Barrymore, whose life would be prime fodder for Hollywood biopic treatment. This may be a low-fi alternative, but the Academy isn't entirely averse to filmed stage turns: James Whitmore earned a Best Actor nod in 1975 for a videotaping of his one-man show "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!," in which he played President Harry Truman.
Plummer's post-Oscar afterglow will draw more eyeballs to this curio than it would have done otherwise; Toronto reviews may have been indifferent to the film itself, but were unanimously admiring of the actor's reportedly expansive star turn, which incorporates various performance-within-performance layers and even extends to song-and-dance material. The prospect of Plummer playing Barrymore is baity enough that, if word of mouth is sufficiently positive, certain voters may not even need to see the tiny film to jot down his name. A first Best Actor nod at the age of 83? Let's see.
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