Oscar Race Questions: Nomination Ballots Due January 14

by Anne Thompson
January 6, 2011 5:00 AM
9 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

There are several unknowns as we hurtle toward the end of balloting for Oscar nominations January 14. (Here's the schedule.) What we do know: the race for best picture is still between The King's Speech and The Social Network, the popular heart-tugger vs. the more cerebral critics' fave (see the votes at Gurus 'o Gold). Both sides are campaigning hard: both Weinstein Co. and Paramount are throwing Oscar parties this week. (My full Oscar Predicts Chart is here.)

Questions remain about the category status of two actresses, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Lesley Manville (Another Year). Tim Appelo is right to worry that mixing things up could be dangerous; usually the Academy puts upstart newcomers into supporting. One exception, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was the only lead in a small indie film, Whale Rider. Both EW's Dave Karger and Deadline's Pete Hammond say they've spoken to Academy members who are considering putting Steinfeld in best actress. Even though Steinfeld carries the narrative--it's her story--she supports two major movie stars, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Yes, it's an ensemble, and yes, she belongs in supporting. Moving her into contention for the lead would smack of greed. (UPDATE: Paramount and producer Scott Rudin are campaigning for her as supporting actress; they consider veteran Jeff Bridges to be the lead of the movie, as John Wayne was in his day.) The movie is about how how Rooster Cogburn changes. True Grit has caught the late surge wave perfectly--because it was damned lucky to be up against no competition at Christmas.

This late surge does not mean that True Grit will go all the way to the winner's circle, but it will grab many nominations partly because it's the kind of big-scale, gorgeously-produced movie Academy steak-eaters love. The mighty actors branch helps small talking heads movies to gain best picture momentum. But the craft branches favor the Big Movies--the sort that were favored by the art directors and Cinema Audio Society this week.

Thompson on Hollywood

Manville, meanwhile, is an established actress in Britain who has starred in many Mike Leigh films, and is clearly the central subject of Another Year. She gives a tour-de-force performance, and while Sony Pictures Classics may have erred by keeping the Cannes entry back until the end of the year (partly because they had so many films to deal with) and did NOT catch the late surge, they were right to put her up for lead actress. The Academy is classier than SAG--they love Mike Leigh. It's a question of whether or not they see the film. And if Nicole Kidman's b.o. disappointment Rabbit Hole is not seen by enough actors, the actress may not get in, leaving an opening. (Here's our Lesley Manville interview).

Julia Roberts should not have to exhort voters to see Biutiful. You would think that every actor in the Academy would want to see Javier Bardem's extraordinary work. But they all know the movie is grim. And in Spanish. And it's in the screener pile, still--just as some folks are steeling themselves to watch 127 Hours--the arm-hacking remains a barrier for some sensitive souls. (In our Bardem interview, he pleads: "we have to reach people's hearts, not their pockets.")

Clearly, Ben Affleck's The Town is building steam, as 127 Hours doggedly hangs in. These are the two films at the bottom of Oscar ten contender list that could shift. Taut hardboiled indie hit Winter's Bone--which is hurt by its off-putting title, lack of name cast, bleak rural setting and Sundance jury-winning pedigree--could still squeak in. And last year's big winner, Kathryn Bigelow, is lending her supporting to the film, which she calls "magnificent." But it will probably have to settle for best actress (here's our Jennifer Lawrence interview) and adapted screenplay noms. In all likelihood, the Oscar ten is the same as the PGA ten.

Additional Oscar interviews:
Ben Affleck talks The Town
Danny Boyle and James Franco talk 127 Hours
Michelle Williams talks Blue Valentine
...and more.

And Hailee Steinfeld hawks "blingitude" for KMart:

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9 Comments

  • bob hawk | January 14, 2011 3:21 AMReply

    Re my earlier post above: I, of course, meant DISingenuous.

    But I would like to thank Rudin -- not only for all the excellent films he has helped bring into being but also, as a New Yorker, for all the wonderful theater he continues to support with not only money but a genuine passion.

  • bob hawk | January 8, 2011 11:37 AMReply

    Oh, please. Rookiesnookie -- it's ingenuous balderdash! Rudin is being greedy by putting Steinfeld in supporting because she is so wonderful in the film and her leading performance could knock out actresses in smaller roles (just like Javier Bardem stole it from Hal Holbrook). Phooey!

  • bob hawk | January 7, 2011 8:23 AMReply

    Steinfeld is the spine -- the heart and soul -- of TRUE GRIT. Everyone else is supporting HER. If she is nominated for -- and wins -- for supporting, that'll really suck. (But then, I've already awarded Jacki Weaver MY Oscar way back in January at Sundance.)

    A few other egregious examples of lead roles winning in supporting categories:

    1. Javier Bardem in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (second billed over the title, and who was HE supporting???)

    2. Geena Davis in ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (definitely the female lead and not just a support for Wm. Hurt; Kathleen Turner was supporting)

    3. Tatum O'Neal in PAPER MOON (just 'cause she was a kid, a factor which might work for Steinfeld as well; the actual supporting actress in PAPER MOON was the ever-brilliant and still sorely missed Madeline Kahn)

  • Anne Thompson | January 7, 2011 6:36 AMReply

    See Scott Rudin's explanation for why he put Steinfeld into supporting. http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/2011/01/07/oscar_talk_true_grits_steinfeld_fracas_guild_votes_vulnerable_contenders_sp/

    On some level he was afraid that putting Steinfeld up for best actress would smack of greed, be perceived as brazen or out of line for a rookie teen actress. It's about reading the Academy as a group.

  • Mike | January 7, 2011 4:33 AMReply

    way more greedy to put Steinfeld in supporting...she is clearly THE lead in that film.

  • Sharon | January 7, 2011 3:09 AMReply

    I totally agree with the above posters. Steinfeld is lead. She is the film. Without her there would be no film.

  • Griff | January 6, 2011 11:10 AMReply

    It was absurd for Paramount to promote the film in those big text posters -- as I guess the studio is still doing to an extent -- with the names of Bridges, Damon AND Brolin (barely in the film) in huge above-the-title letters, with no mention of Steinfeld. [Back in '69, Kim Darby (hardly well known) shared above-the-title billing in the Wallis picture.] This was a mistake, and disrespectful to Steinfeld, for that matter... She's in practically every scene of the movie.

  • Will | January 6, 2011 6:59 AMReply

    "Yes, it’s an ensemble, and yes, she belongs in supporting. Moving her into contention for the lead smacks of greed."

    I have to agree with the person above me. I actually think that putting her in supporting smacks of greed simply because they think it will be easier to get her a nomination in that category.

  • hopeless pedant | January 6, 2011 6:19 AMReply

    Sorry Anne, but I totally disagree about Steinfeld. She for me is totally lead, and anything else is category fraud.

    Geoffrey Rush also is lead (co-lead with Firth) every bit as much as both Hulce and Abraham were in Amadeus or Ledger and Gyllenhall were in Brokeback Mountain.

    If Steinfeld and Rush win supporting, we will have four lead performances winning Oscar this year, and no supporting ones.

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