Category shuffling gets complicated

Posted by · 7:31 pm · October 12th, 2009

Meryl Streep in It's ComplicatedIt’s been interesting to note that many of the conversations concerning the Oscar race that I’ve had with people lately revolves around category placement for a number of the year’s contenders.  It was a topic Anne and I addressed directly in Friday’s Oscar Talk, in fact.

There tends to be dueling ideologies on this, as well as what makes a performance a lead and what makes it supporting.  But purely from a marketing standpoint, it’s understandable that sometimes studios might play the landscape of the picture for an array of acting shots on goal rather than perhaps be true to the realities (that are, again, subjective) of the role within the narrative.

We mentioned the anticipated classification of Marion Cotillard and Vera Farmiga in the lead actress category for “Nine” and “Up in the Air” respectively in the podcast, but as Pete Hammond points out in a recent Notes on a Season item, the category musical chairs are taking place elsewhere, too.

“The Last Station,” Hammond reports, is being played by Sony Pictures Classics as a supporting vehicle for Christopher Plummer rather than a leading one.  If so, smart move:

According to studio sources never-nominated veteran star Christopher Plummer is going in the supporting category for their December release, “The Last Station,” a movie in which he stars as Leo Tolstoy opposite Helen Mirren as his wife. Mirren is being pitched for Lead Actress even though their actual screen time is similar. Is it a coincidence that there is perceived lesser competition in the Best Supporting Actor race this year, than the crowded Best Actor contest? Or that there seems to be less competition in Best Actress than in the logjam over at Supporting Actress? Crafty, those Sony Classics consultants are. Plus they were facing an added problem with another of their December releases, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” in which Plummer plays the title role. In the same letter they are suggesting Plummer as Best Actor for that picture.

There’s that false perception of the lead actress race as “weak” again, but anyway, like I said, I think this is wise.  I’ve been saying since day one that Plummer’s performance isn’t the grand slam, dominating leading turn that might be expected of a film in which he plays a character such as this.  And that could hurt the perception of an otherwise fine supporting performance as a result.  Classifying the turn honestly might pay off.

Hammond also notes that James McAvoy will be relegated to lead, which is precisely where I think he should be.  Actually landing a nomination is a different story.

Meryl Streep is mentioned in the Notes on a Season piece, very much in direct competition with herself with “It’s Complicated” and, of course, “Julie & Julia.” The suggestion is that her role in the latter could be pushed into a supporting campaign.  That’s how I saw things at the start of the season, but she seems to have too much going for her there now.

All in all, it is indeed dizzying.  There was even a rumor that Christoph Waltz would go lead for “Inglourious Basterds” (totally not happening).  Tis the season of confusion…

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65 responses so far

  • 1 10-13-2009 at 2:34 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Actually, I didn’t, m1. Check #29 =).

  • 2 10-13-2009 at 2:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Mike: No, the film isn’t about Tolstoy. It’s about McAvoy’s character. Much like Last King wasn’t about Idi Amin.


    “Who says that a movie like “Coraline” cannot be a possible contender in the art direction or costume design categories?”

    The Academy has been pretty clear with its actions. I have no problem thinking a film deserving in this field or that, but there are certain rhythms worth observing in the voting body at hand. It’s not speaking in absolutes, it’s making informed guesses. That’s what I do here, and have done for eight years. I don’t expect that to change now.

    And yes, Bright Star and Cheri are MUCH better guesses than a “cartoon,” because it’s the respect commanded by the people behind the work that seems to be lost on you. Janet Patterson and/or Consolata Boyle with stand-out period work in modest films are indeed better bets than an animated hit in the same fields. It’s just not how the fields are perceived by those voting on these things.

    You might think it all empty conjecture, but I’d say my approach (at least to this particular topic) is more realistic than what you’re putting forth. I’m not even sure a costume designer is credited on Coraline, because it would be part and parcel of the art direction (which is credited to Selick).

    Finally, I have no interest in influencing the Oscar race so I certainly wouldn’t be making any moves to emboss any influence I might have. However, to reiterate, I think I talk about what’s worthy much more often than you’re giving me credit for. It makes me wonder if you’ve read me for long at all, because I frequently will spotlight what I think may be an under-the-radar contender or deserving possibility.

    And I’m really not sure what’s so “startling” about a list of guesses. My record pretty much speaks for itself on getting “guesses” right.

    Anyway, I think much of this seems to be owed to a misunderstanding on your part about what I do. I use the sidebar to predict how I expect the Oscar nominations to shake out. I won’t toss an arbitrary personal favorite into that list just because I think it deserving. I offer that kind of commentary in editorials posted on the site throughout the year. And I’m not concerned with swaying the vote because in my view, the process itself is somewhat corrupted and no better than the next — after all, awards are subjective nonsense at the end of the day in any case.

    Hopefully that’s clear.

    By the way, you may be surprised to learn that Kevin Kline was a pretty safe bet going into the Oscar ceremony in 1989……

  • 3 10-13-2009 at 2:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    FYI, to those interested, it’s looking like Sarsgaard will be considered supporting.

  • 4 10-13-2009 at 3:02 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Yessss. Score.

    Hopefully he can slide in now, with the category being as stark as it is.

    And P.S.: Yeah, I don’t see how you think you can logically reason a plausibility for “Coraline” to get in for Costume Design, Jeff. I can’t imagine that branch giving a nom out for outfits that weren’t able to be seen in the typical way on a human.

  • 5 10-15-2009 at 8:31 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    This is back up now, guys. There was a bit of verbiage that needed correcting in Pete’s story, apparently. Nothing worth discussing, but sorry to break up the conversation.

  • 6 10-15-2009 at 1:38 pm

    KBJr. said...

    So I guess a minimum-maximum screen time rule for lead and supporting campaigns is out of the question, right?

  • 7 10-15-2009 at 2:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah I would say so. I don’t think screen time defines lead or supporting, though. I think the narrative does. So personally, I would be opposed. I imagine plenty of others would feel the same, but other than that, it would be an arbitrary stipulation in a rule set that is already rife with them.

  • 8 10-16-2009 at 7:50 am

    Andrew said...

    People, you have to watch the movie before wanting someone to win an award. Yes, I am looking to Penelope Cruz’s fans. I’m liking more The Film Experience’s predictions, specially Actress and Supporting Actress: No Nine girls. Oscars are becoming so predictable. So, Rob Marshall makes a musical = Tons of Oscar noms. Hillary Swank plays a dyke = Oscar. Morgan Freeman plays the I-know-it-all type of character = Oscar nom.

    Can we have some inspirational noms at least once? Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt for 500 Days of Summer or Maya Rudolph for Away We Go? Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker? Zooey Deschanel for 500 Days of Summer?

  • 9 10-17-2009 at 3:38 pm

    Gary of WEHO said...

    No, it’s not complicated. Meryl Streep is this year’s Kate Winslet (The Reader, Rev Road). It works to her advantage– Meryl Streep is stronger for J& J though. Here is the thing, she is a sure winner now at the Oscars— Julie & Julia or It’s Complicated. Go Meryl!

  • 10 10-17-2009 at 3:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Jeez, way to take a tongue-in-cheek headline seriously……

  • 11 10-17-2009 at 5:50 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Andrew: I agree. Renner and Gordon-Levitt are among two of my favorite performances this year. Renner is holding strong as my Best Actor winner, while JGL could get edged out (except in my awards, there are six acting categories, so he may be fine). Just wanted to say I like/dislike the same things as you.

    Gary: Oh, here we go. Nothing is “sure”, dude. Winslet had pure Oscarbait: Holocaust, nudity, controversial role, de-glam, cougar (just for fun)–those first four, and in particular Holocaust + de-glam, are key essentials in Oscar favoritism throughout the years.

    Streep, meanwhile, is in a biopic. But it’s a fluffy romantic comedy and that lightweight approach, no matter how slickly performed, is not a guarantee. Will she win the Golden Globe? Most certainly, barring Marion Cotillard winning for “Nine” (her only other contender in Musical/Comedy that I can forsee). But I still think Oscar voters will want to restrain themselves in anticipation of a juicier, more gut-wrenching role.

  • 12 10-18-2009 at 9:20 am

    Andrew said...

    Thanks The Other James D. I agree with your comment, but I really do think that Streep will win for J+J.I would love to see her winning.

    As for Gordon-Levitt and Renner, I’m not so sure if they will get noms. They definitely should but if the “professional predictors” are not even counting them in, I doubt it. Just look at this page’s predictions or any other. They just list performances that sound and look Oscary, not the ones that SHOULD BE nominated.

    That’s sad. I mean, Morgan Freeman, the Nine girls, Daniel Day Lewis, that new Cohen Bros. movie, etc. will all be nominated but just because they sound Oscary and people buy the idea that they will be GOOD by default. Oscars are becoming such a boring thing to watch and even to think about.

    George Clooney? UGH!

  • 13 10-18-2009 at 11:58 am

    m1 said...

    @33-34: I agree with you on that. Farmiga and Anna Kendrick should be in the same category so they can secure locks without anyone else butting in. Peter Sarsgaard will probably get a supp. actor nom, but I think Abbie Cornish should make it for Bright Star. As for the Netflix hit State of Play, if there was an ensemble cast award, it could be a major contender.

  • 14 10-18-2009 at 1:27 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Haha, just because the professionals aren’t predicting it now doesn’t mean they won’t change post critics-awards, nor does it mean they are correct anyway. Their prognostications do not decide what the Oscar voters will do. How many people were REALLY predicting Melissa Leo or Richard Jenkins, like I was? Critics awards can change everything (for Renner; JGL has a Globe nom in his future, I think, but that is all).

    I would not love to see Streep winning, so we’ll see what happens.

    But relax, Andrew. This early, Invictus and Nine seem infallible for one reason only: They haven’t been seen by most people! Nothing is guaranteed a spot just because it sounds Oscary. If so, Cate Blanchett would’ve gotten in last year for TCCOBB. Or Clint Eastwood would’ve gotten some nom for being Eastwood. How did Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, Ryan Gosling, Laura Linney, Melissa Leo, and Richard Jenkins edge out larger names to get well-deserved nominations? Campaigns and due factors, among other things.

    Snubs happen all the time, for various reasons. It’s more about who’s time it is to be nommed at the end of the day than who has the bigger name.

    @m1: I hope Farmiga remains supporting, too. It is kinda “her time” for a nomination, ya know, and they’d be screwing her over by making her lead.

    Hopefully, she and Sarsgaard get in. They deserve it, especially Sarsgaard for being snubbed in 2003 and 2004–or at least one of those two years.

  • 15 10-19-2009 at 2:44 pm

    Andrew said...

    Thanks The Other James D. You really know how to back up your point without getting aggressive like most people do nowadays.

    I really do hope that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeremy Renner get nominated next year. Same for Maya Rudolph, Zooey Deschanel, John Krasinski, etc.