The Oscar nominations are still more than nine months away, but I’m calling this now: Whitney Houston will get nominated for Best Supporting Actress for “Sparkle.”
I know that sounds crazy, and I never would have predicted that before – not even in the days that followed Houston’s tragic death at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 11, 2012 (the day before the Grammys).
But now that Houston’s first big screen performance in 16 years has sadly turned out to be her last, there’s bound to be a fair amount of scrutiny and sympathy from film critics, moviegoers and even Academy members when the movie – a remake of the 1976 Irene Cara-starrer of the same name – opens in theaters on August 17, 2012.
And based on a sneak peek of the first footage of the film, thanks to the new trailer that goes up in theaters with “Titanic 3-D,” there’s enough to suggest that Houston hits all the right notes with what could be the finest performance of her all-too-brief movie career – prior to 1997’s TV version of “Cinderella,” she made just three feature films: 1996’s “The Preacher’s Wife,” 1995’s “Waiting to Exhale” and her most famous movie, 1992’s “The Bodyguard.”
It helps that for better or worse, “Sparkle” isn’t much of a stretch for Houston. She plays Emma, a former professional singer and mother of three sisters who form a successful group while dealing with the pitfalls of fame, bickering and drugs.
Given Houston’s history of substance abuse-related headlines, “Sparkle” could be seen as eerily prophetic of her fate, especially when her character tells her daughters, “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”
Then there’s the sympathy vote, as the Academy has a long history of rewarding actors who passed away during that year. A recent example includes Heath Ledger, who died of a drug overdose a full six months before his Oscar-winning performance as the Joker (in 2008’s “The Dark Knight”) even arrived in theaters.
Of course, the jury is still out, at least until “Sparkle” opens in just over four months. But what should have been hailed as a long-awaited return to form for Houston will sadly be seen as her swan song (she also provided new music for the soundtrack).
And if she is indeed as good as the early footage suggests, what could be more fitting than to honor her legacy than with an Oscar nomination?
-- Scott Mantz