Category justice or precarious situation for Steinfeld?

Posted by · 12:28 pm · January 3rd, 2011

All season long the question from countless readers was, “Why do you have Hailee Steinfeld listed as a supporting actress contender?  Her character is the lead of ‘True Grit.’”  Indeed.  But I knew where Paramount was going to campaign the performance, and I expected a number of critics groups to follow that notion like sheep (and they did, save for the independently-minded Utah set).

Of course, the possibility always existed that the Academy would vote its own way.

The acting branch, remember, decides category placement when it comes to performance contenders.  Just two years ago they weren’t buying the supporting campaign for Kate Winslet in “The Reader,” opting instead for lead (and she ultimately won the Oscar for Best Actress).  Child performances, however, tend to struggle in the leading ranks.

But ever since I saw the film and was so taken by Steinfeld’s performance, I’ve been on the record: the studio should step up and push this as a lead (especially with two other supporting contenders in “The Fighter” to work with).  But Steinfeld has racked up enough supporting honors (and even a few trophies) to help legitimize the decision.

But I wonder.  If enough voters decide to go their own way and vote the performance in lead, it could take away from a number of potential supporting votes and splinter the works, allowing for another supporting hopeful to slide in (though perhaps it’s fortunate there are so few real contenders in that category).  Looking at the rules and eligibility, unless I’m not understanding things correctly, this could be a possibility (bold mine):

The leading role and supporting role categories will be tabulated simultaneously. If any performance should receive votes in both categories, the achievement shall be only placed on the ballot in that category in which, during the tabulation process, it first receives the required number of votes to be nominated. In the event that the performance receives the numbers of votes required to be nominated in both categories simultaneously, the achievement shall be placed only on the ballot in that category in which it receives the greater percentage of the total votes.

Dave Karger is reporting today what a lot of us have been hearing, that a number of voters are indeed calling it as they see it.  And he also shrewdly notes that, with enough voting firepower, of course, Steinfeld could slide into a lead actress slot after all, because there is one spot seemingly up for grabs, given how the precursor circuit has gone.  I’ve been expecting the British contingent to help Lesley Manville make it in, but Steinfeld is certainly a contender to follow in Keisha Castle-Hughes’s footsteps from 2003.

Then again, is it possible enough lead votes take away from her supporting haul and push her out altogether?  I’m just asking the question.

[Photo: Teen]




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69 responses so far

  • 1 1-03-2011 at 8:14 pm

    DylanS said...

    JR: Also Ethan Hawke in “Training Day”, he’s clearly the central character in that film and has more screen-time then best actor winner Denzel.

  • 2 1-03-2011 at 8:19 pm

    Rashad said...

    Hailee gave the most authentic, charming, and endearing female performance of the year. Age has nothing to do with it.

  • 3 1-03-2011 at 8:36 pm

    Aaron said...

    I’m not the best person to comment on this post since I unfortunately haven’t seen True Grit yet, but I really don’t want her to be placed in lead because she will ultimately knock out Michelle Williams for best actress—like I said, I haven’t seen Steinfeld yet, but I have a hard time imagining that she could match the emotional depth and complexity Williams displayed in Blue Valentine. I’m hoping the actors actually watch BV, because I simply just can’t imagine them watching it and not putting Gosling and Williams on their ballot.

  • 4 1-03-2011 at 8:49 pm

    Nathaniel R said...

    the most depressing thing about this whole “controversy” is that wherever she’s nominated she knocks out someone FAR more deserving. All because people love teen actresses and precocious characters.

    the second most depressing thing is that “critics” who are supposed to be judging the art of movies and not playing Oscar politics, keep playing Oscar politics, like they’re part of the Academy and not, well, critics.

  • 5 1-03-2011 at 9:51 pm

    Glenn said...

    Someone once said that if you can’t condense a movie’s plot down to one sentence without mentioning a character then they are lead. You can’t condense the plot of “True Grit” down to one sentence without the focus being on Steinfeld’s character. You can’t do that to “The Reader”, “Whale Rider”, “Collateral” either.

  • 6 1-03-2011 at 10:31 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    I like that explanation, Glenn. As far as Dreamgirls goes, that would make all three ladies lead (or supporting, if you look at it as an ensemble piece). It makes Rush in The King’s Speech lead, too. (Ditto for Ruffalo in TKAAR and possibly Bale in The Fighter.)

  • 7 1-03-2011 at 11:44 pm

    The Great Dane said...

    It’s probably the Brit vote that pushed Winslet into the lead category (where she had already been placed by BAFTA). In the US she was considered supporting, so I think it comes more down to the Brits rallying behind her than the Academy at large thinking “we don’t buy the campaign”.

  • 8 1-03-2011 at 11:52 pm

    The Great Dane said...

    Thankfully I see that others also remember the Jamie Foxx category fraud, the biggest category fraud of all time (except child performances). Like Training Day, it was about getting enough nominations, and Ethan Hawke was more of a lead in Training Day than Denzel Washington – but Washington was the “star”.

    Tom Cruise was the “star” in Collateral, but the whole movie was about Jamie Foxx and he had double the screen time of Cruise. And it was also to avoid messing with Foxx’s “Ray” performance. He was great in Collateral, but that he received a Supporting nomination for it and stole a true supporting slot from someone who actually deserved to be in the category is the one category fraud I will never forgive the Academy.

    I really believe it should be like the Globes. The Academy should put out a list of actors who are lead in every film released in the year. All not listed = supporting. There should be a couple of weeks for studios to apply for a category change, and it should be decided in each case if a change would be justified.

    I can’t blame Foxx himself for that nomination. It’s the voters who went for it. Can’t believe they saw the film and thought “great supporting turn”. He was the only true lead in what wasn’t even an ensemble piece to begin with! Grrrr…

  • 9 1-04-2011 at 12:08 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    A statuette is a statuette regardless of the title attached. I hate the term “category ghetto” in reference to Oscar categories which aren’t seen as valid to the top five – Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay. Yes, I know this post is about “category fraud” but people want an excuse to bitch about The Oscars. There’s something about perceived miscarriage of justice at The Academy Awards that just adds to the texture and weight of the whole thing.

  • 10 1-04-2011 at 6:01 am

    parker said...

    Let’s not forget Keisha Castle-Hughes had the advantage of very few Best Actress contenders back in ’03, leaving her plenty of room to move up.
    This year, not so much.

  • 11 1-04-2011 at 6:14 am

    JJ1 said...

    I also think that Steinfeld, while very good, would not be on the level of the 5 or 6 other women contending for Lead, no less Julianne Moore.

    In Supporting (cat. fraud), she’d make it in fine; though, maybe a Weist or Weaver or Hershey or Manville or whoever else should be in the 5 there, too.

    On my ballot, I have her Lead, and 9th.

    In Supporting, I guess I’d have her somewhere 8th? I just don’t think that however great she was, she was more impressive than other women, this year.

  • 12 1-04-2011 at 6:21 am

    Maxim said...

    There is nothing more ridiculous than seeing people go out of their way to argue that Hailee is NOT a lead.

    Posts like “well if I had to defend it…” are just dumb. Like /3rtfu11 level stupid. You can similarlee marginalized every perfromance in history. Stop it. Hailee is as much of a lead as is anyone in the film. And she’s amazing. End of story.

  • 13 1-04-2011 at 7:35 am

    thebizkey said...

    The way I see it, there is only one issue at hand, and that is the issue of where she can win. That is the top priority of the studio behind the film, I can assure you. If pushed for a nomination in lead, Steinfeld most likely would not win there. If she even got in. She’s young. And new. And sometimes that works against actors.

    If pushed for a nod in the supporting category, however, there she’d have an excellent shot at winning. And that kind of thinking happens to the supporting category all the time. Over the years, its’ been filled with lead or co-lead performances like these supporting winners: Walter Matthau for THE FORTUNE COOKIE, Tatum O’Neal for PAPER MOON, George Burns for THE SUNSHINE BOYS, Tim Hutton for ORDINARY PEOPLE, Jessica Lange for TOOTSIE, Haing S. Ngor for THE KILLING FIELDS, Kevin Spacey for THE USUAL SUSPECTS, Juliette Binoche for THE ENGLISH PATIENT, Benicio Del Toro for TRAFFIC, Catherine Zeta-Jones for CHICAGO, Javier Bardem for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and last year’s Christoph Waltz for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Some are more arguable than others on whether or not their role is a lead or not, but all the examples listed had a heck of a lot more screen time than a typical supporting performance. And all of these were nominated in lead categories in some other award show or on critic’s lists.

    The Tim Hutton example illustrates the thinking perfectly. He was clearly the lead role, the one whom everyone’s story swirled around, in Robert Redford’s film in 1980. But his chances of beating Robert DeNiro for RAGING BULL that year in the lead actor category were very slim. Hutton was new. And young. And DeNiro gave a seminal performance. Thus, Hutton was pushed into the supporting category where he had a better shot at winning an Oscar. And he did. Now, do you think he’d rather have the nomination in lead or the win in supporting?

    One can argue whether Steinfeld is the lead or co-lead in TRUE GRIT. But hers is in no way a supporting performance. But where she can win, well, that’s a different matter. She can win in supporting. And an Oscar win, no matter where it is, is better than a loss.

  • 14 1-04-2011 at 7:47 am

    Maxim said...

    That’s all good and well ,of course, but that doesn’t solve the issue that many of us would like to see people placed in the right category regardless of their chances of winning and other politics.

  • 15 1-04-2011 at 8:01 am

    thebizkey said...

    But who determines that, Maxim? A select panel? Critics? The studio? And what of a performance like Waltz’? Not so easy to place, no matter who’s called upon to make that decision. On one hand, he’s got more screen time than anyone else in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but is the film itself, and therefore the role, part of an ensemble piece? Tough questions to answer. And ones that are likely not to be answered adequately by anyone. And thus, the rules won’t be changed. Heck, the Academy won’t even include a stunt category, which makes a helluva lot more sense than the awful best song category, because of the toes it steps on, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the injustices of the supporting category to be corrected by the Academy. Just applaud when Steinfeld wins her supporting gold!

  • 16 1-04-2011 at 8:09 am

    Maxim said...

    I have an opinion on how such things should be resolved but I’ll keep it to myself as I doubt it would be much of revelation to anyone here.

    Nevertheless, I’ll say that while there are some definite gray area characters, Hailee’s isn’t one of them. So I’ll just say that in cases like hers there should be no ambiquity and the decisions should not be politically motivated.

    I’ll always applaud for the perfromances that have touched me regardless I guess but I’ll insist that winning or not winning is a sepatate issue altogether from how to determine where one should be placed and it would be nice if, like in the a perfect world, it wasn’t considered at the time the placement is decided.

  • 17 1-04-2011 at 12:20 pm

    thebizkey said...

    Agree with everything you just said, Maxim. In a perfect world, you know?

  • 18 1-04-2011 at 2:10 pm

    Marv said...

    @ JR

    I agree about Foxx’s role in “Collateral being a stronger, subtler one than in “Ray.” Probrably actually should have ommitted “The Ray performance in lieu of his “Collateral” one.

    Now back to Steinfeld. In my opionion she is cleary the lead. But is there really any hard and fast rule (just going by prior history of nomianations) as to what defines a lead or supporting performance?

    Hell! You could argue that Kate Winslett stole an Oscar from Meryl Streep for “The Reader” because she was in the wrong catergory.

  • 19 1-04-2011 at 2:41 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “Like /3rtfu11 level stupid.”

    OMG you’re still thinking about me? I must get your dick hard.