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.


One of the five doc noms for the Oscars. It’s about the ELF, environmental terrorists who went around burning down businesses that were harming the environment and it’s actually very entertaining, well told and at times moving. At the same time, though the participants resent being called terrorists, they never make a very convincing argument as to why they aren’t, and sympathy finally flies out the window when their final two acts burnt down businesses that didn’t conflict with the ELF’s moral stance; they just seem to toss it off as an “oops, my bad”. But it’s definitely a film worth seeing.


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