THE OSCAR RACE: Best Actress

<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

It’s been awhile, but it’s time to return to my analysis of the Oscar race so far.  I’ve done Best Picture and Best Actor.  Now it’s time for the distaffs: Best Actress.  I’ll do this in two parts.
This year is what is known as a “weak year” for performances by women.  Now, it’s important to understand what the phrase means.  It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an actual dearth of qualified performances by actresses.  Even in other years where the term “weak year” was used in this context, I had little problem coming up with more than enough candidates for my top five list, with overflow.  Of course, I tend to have end of the year lists made up of films that none of my friends have ever heard of (at least, that’s what they tell me). 
“Weak” here refers to the type of role that is considered the type that Oscar voters would consider worthy of a nomination.  That’s very vague.  Possibly even a tautology.  But generally speaking, performances in foreign films from countries that many Academy members never realized made films (unless the film broke out in some over the top way—or Cinema Francé as they’re more commonly known); very small indie films (unless there is a break out of some kind); and unknown names or newcomers (unless there is…, etc., etc.).  And this year, acne has had a better chance of breaking out than movies with female leads 
If this sounds somewhat misogynistic, you’re wrong.  It’s extremely misogynistic and just goes to show how shabbily actresses are treated by the filmmaking community ever since the studio system fell and the summer blockbusters became de rigueur.  Before this, more movies were made with female leads if, for no other reason, than that they were under contract and the studios couldn’t just let them sit around doing nothing.
And if you still don’t believe me, when was the last time you heard that it was a “weak” year for men.
There are two signs that suggest that this is a very “weak” year for actresses.   The first is that more actresses than usual are trying to decide whether they can move from pushing for a supporting nomination to pushing for a lead nomination.  These include Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty); Helen Mirren (Hitchcock); and Helen Hunt (Sessions).  In a strong year, all (except maybe Mirren) would probably vie in the supporting category where their large and important roles would have a better chance of getting a nom.  I understand that Chastain has already broken ranks and decided to go for the gold, which I think (as I will point out later), is quite possibly a misstep.
Note: Whether an actor ends up in supporting or lead categories doesn’t always have anything to do with whether that person is truly lead or supporting.  William H. Macy had more screen time than Frances McDormand in Fargo, but Macy was supporting and McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress.  This happens more often than you might think.
Note 2: it doesn’t always work.  Kate Winslet pushed for lead for Revolutionary Road and supporting for The Reader.  The Academy shut out Revolutionary Road and put Winslet in the lead category for The Reader (though she was really supporting).  It all had a happy ending, though, as Winslet won that year.
Note 3: the Golden Globes make the choice of category for you.  There Winslet got a nom for Best Actress for Revolutionary Road and Best Supporting for The Reader.
The second reason you can tell this is a “weak” year is that an eight year old and two actresses from foreign language films are very likely to be nominated.  This will be the youngest nominee for best actress and the first time since 1977 (which, I believe, is the only time) when two people from foreign language films got nominated in the same year in the same acting category (Marie-Christine Barrault for Cousin cousine and Liv Ullman for Face to Face).   
Next entry: my list of nominees.


I believe we are in the third year of the Academy nominating more than five films fo best picture. I understand that they want to nominate more films to draw more interest, but I still don’t understand how the voting really works. It seems like each year, there are two are three real favorites and the rest are left far behind. What do you think?
    • Howard Casner The way they voted for best picture is different from last year and from all the other major categories. I’ve read how they vote twice and how someone gets a nomination, but I still can’t figure it out. I don’t understand how it works and can’t explain it; it’s too confusing. I believe the simplest way to look at it is that for a picture to be nominated for best picture, 5% of the voters have to have listed that movie in first or second place (each person can list up to five pictures). I actually like this idea, generally speaking. I would like to seem then apply it to acting, directing and writing categories. The problem there, though, may be that the number of people who can vote for a nominee is much lower than it is for best picture since everyone nominates for best picture.

      Thursday at 1:59pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman It’s really about following the money. Oscar noms are capitalized on as a marketing tool. Studies show movies get a 20 million jump in profits when nominated and 15 million if win oscar (for most films). It’s also about boasting. With the economy tanked in the past few years, the Academy added the extra categories to help the industry.

      Thursday at 2:05pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman Also, it

      Thursday at 2:06pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman s about the money that the promoter put into promoting (hence the vast difference in the top favs verses the bottom). Weinstens has two films in the top 9 and is spending alot to promote, and has the money to do so. I just saw an interview on all this data I spewed. It really opened my eyes to how the industry works. Sad for a screenwriter 😦

      Thursday at 2:08pm · Like
    • Howard Casner Susan, I think to a degree you’re essentially right. But if I understand you correctly, it’s not just money. You have to decide what movie you put the money into. For example, they can put a trillion dollars into the marketing campaign and Transformers ain’t going to get a best picture nomination. But you put money into a less commercial film (less as compared to Transformers) and you get the Artist nominated. You can then put even less money into it and get a nomination for Damien Bichir for A Better Life and a writing nomination for A Separation. If it was solely dependent on the money a promoter puts into promoting a film, then we would have a very different line up of movies for best picture nominations.

      Thursday at 3:02pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman Agreed. Essentially, good storytelling roots the choices and the backing (in most cases). But I think once the noms are in place and the ballots are out, campaigning and deep pockets can influence undeserved winners. This makes me think of The Hurt Locker’s win. Had alot going against it at the box office , but it beat out some more deserving players with big bucks promotion and won the Award (Did it deserve it?). Look at the top 9 for 2012. Tree of Life? I didn’t see it, but seriously? And The Descendants, a really good movie in my book, but not Academy nom worthy. Not even Clooney’s performance. Politics and deep pockets, and popularity contest. It’s no secret that The Academy doesn’t like DiCaprio (hence the snub). His haunting performance as J. Edgar far exceeds what Clooney does in the Descendants. I read a funny quote in an article about how Hollywood and Washington are similar in their tactics for winning. “Politics is just acting for ugly people.”

      Thursday at 4:02pm · Like
    • Howard Casner The problem with this sort of discussion is because of disagreement over the quality of the films-since no one will agree on what are the better movies and what the worst, there’s often no place for a conversation like this to go. For example, The Hurt Locker was one of the best movies of the year, maybe the best. If money were the deciding factor here, Avator would have one that year, a movie that is visually stunning, but had an awful, awful script with bland acting. The Tree of Life did not get a nomination because of the money spent on it, but because enough people passionately loved it (yes, they did, they really, really did, I didn’t and it didn’t make my top ten list, but I know that people were passionate about it). I didn’t like the Descendents, but I know a ton of people who did. I thought J. Edgar was one of the worst movies of the year. DiCaprio was fine (though Hammer was better). But if money were the determining factor, he would have gotten a nom because a ton of money was poured into that Oscar campaign. Yet Damian Bisher got a nom and about the only money spent on him was that his movie was the first movie sent out on screeners, but almost no money was spent on his campaign (and it’s Fassbender who got screwed here, not Dicaprio). Your comment on popularity contest is more accurate; often that determines something over money (hence the nom for Clooney, The Tree of Life, etc.) Money is very important; it’s almost impossible to get a nom without it; but to say that money is the only or even the ultimate determining factor, I don’t think can be substantiated empiracly.

      Thursday at 4:25pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman Agree Howard. The point I was making is money is what promoted them. Without Summit behind Hurt Locker, it would not have even placed. Summit pulled out all the stops to get it noticed. But, I don’t agreed it was worthy of best picture. And you are right, there are many that will say it is. But the same could be said of many that got no noms that year. For the record, I believe Basterds should have won. The point I was making on Decaprio was it was political, not financial. And I didn’t like J Edgar the movie, but his performance was Oscar worthy.

      Thursday at 6:02pm via mobile · Like
    • Howard Casner I think this is a fascinating conversation and I love having these discussions with people; I really, really get caught up in them and I love being challenged. But I guess I have to be honest and say I’m no longer sure what your point is. Sorry, but I think I’m getting lost. You say money promoted them. Well, yeah, of course money promoted them. Doesn’t money promote everything? I mean, how would anybody hear about any movie for any reason without money. And how would anybody hear about anything without money. I guess I got it wrong, but I thought your implication was that the amount of money was the reason why a film gets nominated; if that’s not your point, then I guess I’m misunderstanding you and would love it to be clarified. But while we’re on the subject, why do you think Dicaprio’s non-nomination was political? What do you think was political about it? (part of this is that “political” means different things to different people and I may not know what you mean). I won’t argue that his performance wasn’t Oscar worthy, but, I guess I’d have to say that so were five to ten other actors this year beyond the five nominated, what about them? And I guess I also am curious as to how you determine what makes a winner undeserved, how do you determine that. The really big question in Hollywood is not why Dicaprio didn’t get nominated (that was pretty much expected by a number of people, including me, a few weeks ago), but why Brooks, Fassbender and Swinton didn’t. Those are the real mind bogglers; especially Brooks.

      Thursday at 7:07pm · Like
    • Susan Saharko Hartman Im talking specifically the money after the noms (in answering Trey’s original question – what do we think about how the voting really works, my answer is, politics and money, votes are bought, voters are swayed, academy doesn’t like certain types of films and/or actors, and the film that wins gets the top bragging rights and a huge bump of sales and prestige for the studios down the road). I used The Hurt Locker as an example, because (rumor has it) Summit jumped in with tons of money during the voting and caught Weinstein off guard in their promotion of Inglorious Basterds assuming, it had the win locked up. I guess we are in agreement, it is always about money promoting movies and many times the best artistic and outstanding stories may not get their day (Academy wise) because small time studios/producers don’t have the bucks to hit it out of the park and compete against the marketing machines of the Weinstein Co or Summit and the likes. Another example of how an Academy nod is so important, I have friends who are not huge movie goers such as you and I. So Hugo didn’t strike a interest to them. But once, nominated, they will see it out of interest. But they won’t see The Ides of March, -no ocsar nod, no interest. A loss to that studio. I’ll address the actor question tomorrow. BTW – I always love these discussion too. Not necessarily for the challenge, but it is so interesting to see how people all differ or agree in how movies affect us, and how we see what’s good and just okay or really bad when it comes to storytelling. As an aspiring screenwriter, I wish I could crawl into everyones head and figure it out. Wait, maybe that’s a good movie plot, or maybe not 😦

      Thursday at 7:56pm · Like
    • Trey Rucker Hi Susan and Howard…this is an interesting conversation…sorry I haven’t been able to comment sooner. I posted the question then had to work, so now I’m finally getting back to this….I think I understand what you are both saying. I believe that you all have made the point that a production company will have a high quality film (not Transformers)…but a high quality thought provoking film that is an “Oscar” type film, usually a film that has very good acting…sort of like pornography…this “Oscar” film is difficult to define “but I know it when I see it!”….I mean we can all say that Transformers…even Harry Potter would never be in the category of best picture….somehow, each year a few films make it into the best picture category and for the most part they are good films and tell good stories ( and often there are also good films that are deserving but get left out) but it seems that the production companies and studios get behind certain films and push them towards a marketing campaign that ups their visibility, so yes the studios and production companies do spend money marketing certain films they think have a chance to win. Also, lets not forget that if certain stars or directors (Meryl Streep of Scorsese) make a good film, they are almost automatically going to bring a certain momentum to their films to be nominated for awards…George Clooney and Cljnt Eastwood, Tom Hanks…also come to mind, it’s almost that no matter what they make, we will look at their films as Oscar contenders

      Thursday at 10:13pm via mobile · Like
    • Howard Casner Susan, I think that you are way oversimplifying everything here. It’s not just money. If it was, Avatar would have won, neither the Hurt Locker nor Inglorious Basterds. And no one catches Weinstein off guard (at least, you’ll have a hard time making me believe it–he’s the genius of Oscar marketing). Usually, a best picture is determined in some way even before the noms came out. I knew that The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech and The Artist were all going to win best picture before they were even nominated. I told all my friends that and posted it on facebook. I knew when The King’s Speech played at the Toronto film festival it was going to win and Firth was going to win best actor. The same with the Artist. And money had nothing to do with it because money hadn’t been spent on either film yet (at least to get a nom–money had been spent to get it in the festivals). The only few times I’ve gotten it wrong in the last twenty or so years, from my memory was when Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan (and money wasn’t the ultimate factor because just as much money was spent on Ryan) and Crash (where homophobia was the ultimate decision maker, not money) . You can usually just tell what movie is going to win long before. Of course, money has something to do with it; money has something to do with everything. At the same time, it is never the sole or ultimate arbiter. There are other reasons as well. Again, it’s not money, it’s money well spent; but to know whether to spend it well, you have to know what the other factors are that determine a best picture nom, factors that have nothing to do with money. This year, best actress, supporting actress and supporting actor had been determined also before the noms came out. There’s been some question about actor (it was Pitt, but now it looks like it’s Clooney, a popularity contest choice in my opinion that has nothing to do with money).

      Yesterday at 7:15am · Like · 1
    • Howard Casner Trey, I think you are on the right track and you may have summarized it very well. It’s generally easier to look back in time and figure out why something won or got nominated. But one can also predict ahead of time by using many of the qualifications you list. One of the reasons why a number of people don’t get as excited about the Oscars like they use to is not just that they may not be nominating films they care about, but because everyone has a pretty good idea who’s going to win ahead of time and there are usually no surprises.

      Yesterday at 7:19am · Like · 1

TALKING TURKEY: Predictions for Academy Award Nominations and Awards

For most people, the Thanksgiving weekend is the beginning of Christmas shopping. For people who have no life, this is the beginning of the knock down, drag out, no hitting below the belt (unless it can help you win) period known as the countdown for Oscar nominations.

As of now, I believe six of the top eight awards are spoken for (Picture, Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay), with two (Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay) still unknown.

Best Picture as of now seems to be going to The King’s Speech. It’s one of those fun period pieces the British put out every once in awhile, mainly because they can and they do have the history for it after all (the best we can come up with are biopics or TV series about drudges like John Adams). Even though the U.S. threw the yoke of British tyranny off its backs in 1776, we’ve never gotten over the penis envy of their having a monarchy and we’re just fascinated by it. Though I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could ever claim that the King’s Speech is great art, it is a lot of fun and it more than gets the job down; for what it is, it’s actually much better than that. It also fits in step, rather oddly in a way, with the theme of the movies that have won Best Picture lately: for the last six years, the leads have been working or middle class (or lower) people struggling to get by (Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker; one could even go to seven if one thinks of the leads in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as the English working class who like nothing better than to have a drink at the pub; smoke a pipe; and be left alone). Though the story of The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s overcoming a stutter, the story is equally about Lionel Logue, the therapist, who is, like the characters in the previous Best Pictures, struggling just to make ends meet (and no matter what the Academy does, the role of Logue is a co-lead, not a supporting part). And last, but by no means least, this is a Weinstein production (can anyone say Shakespeare in Love).

The other nine nominees as of now are: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Store 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. True Grit is the most uncertain entry here: there is good buzz about it, but no one’s really seen it and it could be one of those that crashes and burns upon entry (remember Amelia?); but I seriously doubt it. Black Swan is The King’s Speech’s main rival, but people seem to love it or hate it from what I’m getting now, so it’s a bit uncertain (and maybe just a bit too arty, the sort of film the Academy nominates to prove that they know it when they see it, but that doesn’t mean they want to hang it on their wall). People are also talking about 127 Hours (but I think it’s one of those in which the nomination is award enough type thing). The Kids Are All Right had it in the bag until the award season really began in earnest and all these other movies, like The King’s Speech and Black Swan, started opening. The Social Network has its supporters, but it may be just a bit too smart (though All About Eve also won way back when). Winter’s Bone is going to be the small picture that everyone is going to nominate to prove that there’s a plate at the Academy Awards table for even the poor relations. Inception will be nominated to apologize for past oversights to Christopher Nolan and because it’s so brilliantly directed; but the script is a bit too much of a letdown for it to win. Toy Store 3 is great, but let’s face it, it’s animated and it’s going to win in that category. The Fighter is still a bit unknown, but the buzz is better for it than for True Grit, and Wahlberg has apparently agreed to make still another movie with the director David O. Russell, so maybe his reputation is making a comeback.

As for director, now five nominees have to be whittled down from the top ten here. It used to be with five nominations there would be one or two directing picks that didn’t match up to picture. But with ten, it’s hard to believe that will ever be the case (though as soon as someone says something won’t happen with the Academy, it usually does—see Driving Miss Daisy getting Best Picture without getting a directing nod). As usual, Best Director will probably go to the director of the Best Picture, meaning that Tom Hooper (previously known mainly for TV work) will win. It’s rare that the Academy will split the awards and their often has to be a good reason for it (like wanting to award a gay movie Best Picture while not awarding a gay movie Best Picture the year Ang Lee won for Brokeback Mountain and Crash won best picture). The question really then becomes who will the other four be.

Christopher Nolan (Inception), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and David Fincher (the Social Network) seem to be sure things. All bets are off if any of them are arrested for child molestation, but all things being equal, it seems pretty certain. That leaves the fifth position. At one time, it was going to automatically be Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right; and then 127 Hours opened and Danny Boyle’s name started being bandied about. At this point, the fifth space will depend on whether 127 Hours peaks too soon (quite possible) and whether The Kids Are All Right will have a strong enough campaign mounted for it. I’m going for Lisa Cholodenko (I think the first blush of 127 Hours may wear off a bit soon).

I know that some of these movies have yet to open and I haven’t seen all of them. I have a friend who said that she couldn’t predict a winner or nominee until she’s actually seen the film. I most respectfully disagree. In theory, one would never have to see a movie in one’s life and still be able to predict all the movies that will be recognized. When it comes to something winning an Academy Award, or even being nominated, being the best is often not remotely a consideration and the worst thing one can do in making guesses is to be led by one’s heart.

Next, some thoughts on the acting categories.

AND WE’RE HEADED FOR THE FIRST STRETCH: My preliminary guesses as to who will get Academy Award noms

The Golden Globe and SAG nominations have been released, which is the strongest indication of what films and actors are going to be nominated for Academy Awards. The Golden Globe gave even more impetus to Nine and Avatar, but just how well that will translate to Oscar nominations can’t be truly gauged until they open this week in L.A. SAG gave some leg up to Sandra Bullock (the Blind Side), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones, he also got a Golden Globe nom) and Matt Damon (supporting for Invictus).

It should be noted that The Hurt Locker has reopened at the Vista in L.A. and the Road has reopened at the Nuart. Since …Locker is bound to get nominations as it is for picture, director and screenplay, the main beneficiary of this would be Jeremy Renner who is trying to get a best actor nomination. The Road just never really connected with the industry, so it’s hard to say whether this reopening will help it much. But it is being distributed by The Weinstein Company and one should never count them out. It should also be noted that this strategy was also tried for Bad Lieutenant and Bright Star, but I don’t think it’s going to help Nicholas Cage or the actors from Bright Star get noms.

Below is my present guess as to the nominations with ruminations. This list will change as movies open and buzz rises or dies.

Best Motion Picture


District 9

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Julie & Julia



A Single Man


Up in the Air

The doubtful ones right now are District 9 (since Avatar is also science fiction); Julie & Julia (which may get replaced by It’s Complicated); Nine (which may sink once it opens); Up (which may be done in by voters only putting it in the animation category, added to the fact that two other well received animated films opened, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog, with The Princess… possibly pulling an upset and winning best animation). Some that may sneak in are The Messenger, A Serious Man, An Education, Star Trek (though the last is doubtful). Up in the Air is expected to win.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture

Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

The most precarious here is Emily Blunt whose film is not opening with a lot of fanfare. This may mean that Marianne Cotillard may sneak in for Nine, even though she only has a supporting role. And of course, there’s Sandra Bullock who is really gathering steam (she got a SAG nom). Meryl Streep is expected to win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

The fifth entry is the hardest to decide this year. But it should be among the following, Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine; Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man; Matt Damon, The Informant!, with Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker possibly being the one if The Hurt Locker can work up a little more steam. It looks like Nicholas Cage is out of it.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Marion Cotillard, Nine

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Mo’Nique, Precious

Julianne Moore, A Single Man

If Marion Cotillard does get a best actress nomination, then Penelope Cruz could get in for Nine. Mo’Nique is suppose to walk away with it.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Pictur

Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Christian Mckay, Me and Orson Welles

Alfred Molina, An Education

Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

This is the expected list, but don’t be surprised in Alfred Molina or even Christian McKay are knocked out for Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones or Matt Damon, Invictus. Though this category often goes for a career award (which would mean Christopher Plummer), Christoph Waltz is suppose to walk away with it.

Best Animated Feature Film


Fantastic Mr. Fox

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

The Princess and the Frog


This pretty much seems to be the category. I still think The Princess and the Frog will win.

Best Director – Motion Picture

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

James Cameron, Avatar

Lee Daniels, Precious

Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Since there are ten movies, this is a hard category to predict. Reitman is expected to win. Lee Daniels might get knocked out for, well, to be honest, I don’t know.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture – Original

Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Harold P. Manning, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony

Roche, In the Loop

Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, 500 days of summer

A tough category. Too many good, original screenplays. But In the Loop and 500 days could be knocked out for Pete Docter, Bob Petersen, Thomas McCarthy, Up; Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman, The Messenger; and Nancy Meyers, It’s Complicated (who is popular in L.A.). But if In the Loop can be nominated, it could win. Other than that, since the Hurt Locker won’t win best picture, but is the critics and cult favorite, it might win.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture – Adapted

Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Nick Hornby, An Education

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

Tom Ford, David Scearce, A Single Man

I suppose Nine or Julie & Julia might get in here, but this sort of looks like the line up at this point.

This list is subject to change, of course.