Tom Holland, 16-year-old star of 'The Impossible,' joins the Best Actor race

Posted by · 2:13 pm · August 27th, 2012

I’ve written pretty much all I should about Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible” at the moment. But to recap, I walked away thinking Naomi Watts was probably the film’s best shot at an acting nomination for the raw emotion and embattled nature of her character in the film (which depicts one family’s plight during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004).

Otherwise, I figured that even though Ewan McGregor doesn’t have as much to chew on as Watts (though he nails it when he’s called upon), he’d probably get a lead actor push to go along with hers, while young actors Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin and Tom Holland (who play McGregor and Watts’ sons in the film) would be shoved into the supporting ranks like so many child actors before them. Well, in the case of Holland, who largely anchors the film and is a definite lead by anyone’s measure: not so fast.

After this morning’s Oscar update I was notified that Summit will actually be campaigning Holland as the lead he is, while McGregor will be pushed for Best Supporting Actor in the film. And it immediately struck me as a unique and brave move at a time of year when the safe bet is always placed.

We’ve seen it time and again. Young performers like Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”), Mary Badham (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) and Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon”), though largely considered leads in their films, are campaigned in the supporting ranks. Sometimes the Academy balks at the attempt at category fraud, as they did in 2003, giving a Best Actress nomination to 12-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes for her performance in Nikki Caro’s “Whale Rider.” But mostly, they just go with the flow.

Going with the flow is what studios count on, of course. The Academy — it is assumed — is loathe to nominate young, unproven talent in the lead ranks. And to me, that attitude is a sickness. You’ve heard me chafe at my Oscar Talk colleague Anne Thompson’s assertions that it’s not about the role, it’s about the performer. But I’m sorry, the idea that Hailee Steinfeld hasn’t earned her stripes and shouldn’t be allowed to contend for a lead acting nomination alongside a veteran like Jeff Bridges is nonsense.

But I digress.

Some might think this is a mistake, but I think it’s an interesting call by Summit. It will put more focus on Holland’s work in the film. Once it premieres at Toronto in a few weeks, I imagine many will be talking about how well he carries the epic endeavor, how so much of the emotion is tied to what he offers and how he holds his own opposite stars like McGregor and Watts. I’m not saying it will be enough to land him a nomination, mind you. I’m just saying it’s a noble play.

Fox Searchlight is in a similar boat this year with Quvenzhané Wallis in Benh Zeitlin’s  “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” But it hasn’t been a question since day one in Park City that she carries that entire film and is a clear lead of the piece. And indeed, that’s how they plant to proceed.Some have a hard time seeing her land a nomination, but frankly — as has been discussed in the comments section of today’s Oscar column — both of the actress categories are a bit weak this year.

Elsewhere the studio is toying with the idea of pitching Helen Hunt for supporting in “The Sessions,” barring reaction out of Toronto. But to me, it’s a pretty easy get on either side of the line for her. She’s really good in the film, but then again, that movie is all about John Hawkes.

So we’ll see how Summit’s strategy pans out. I’m just happy to see someone going against the grain for a change.

“The Impossible” hits theaters December 21.

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