by Jim Keller
The Oscar race can be best thought of as a horserace in which each studio bets on their thoroughbreds and hopes that they can at least place in the end. In this analogy, the studio is the owner, the public relations department is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film. Here, we examine the roles I’ve discussed in the three-part “Ones to Watch” edition and identify those actors with serious playing power and those who have fallen by the wayside. I’ve also provided my predictions as they currently stand in all of the major categories.
Way back in June, I couldn’t help myself and dove right into my favorite race, Best Actress. Here were the roles I discussed and where they are now:
The veritable shoe-in: Nicole Kidman—The Paperboy (director: Lee Daniels, studio: Millennium Films):
FYC: When we last left Kidman, before the Cannes Film Festival, we were unsure if she would go lead or supporting. The film left Cannes considered by many as a would-be cult classic, in that it was so bad that you had to see it. With that said, Kidman’s performance remains the only shining gem, but it won’t be enough to get her a nomination—supporting or lead.
America’s sweetheart: Sandra Bullock—Gravity (director: Alfonso Cuarón, studio: Warner Brothers):
FYC: The only blind side this time around is that the studio pushed the film back to next year. Sorry Sandy!
The period performance: Keira Knightley—Anna Karenina (director: Joe Wright, studio: Focus Features):
FYC: After bowing at the Telluride Film Festival and a subsequent screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, early reviews have been mixed for the film. It doesn’t appear as though Knightley will make it into the top five.
The long shot: Noomi Rapace—Prometheus (director: Ridley Scott, studio: 20th Century Fox):
FYC: It was just that, a long shot, and after mixed reviews for Scott’s Alien franchise revisitation of sorts, Rapace’s performance, while good, suffered under the weight of a murky plot. No dice.
The foreigner: Marion Cotillard—Rust and Bone (director: Jacques Audiard, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):
FYC: Cotillard’s performance is said to be second only to that which netted her a first Oscar in a leading role, when she portrayed Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose. She has been making all the right appearances and accepting numerous honors, such as career tributes from the Telluride Film Festival and the Gotham Independent Film Awards. Things look very promising for Cotillard, indeed.
The singer: Anne Hathaway—Les Misérables (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: I mistakenly put Hathaway in lead initially—due to the fact that I haven’t seen the musical production (for shame!) See below in the Supporting categories.
The ‘It’ girl: Carey Mulligan—The Great Gatsby (director: Baz Luhrmann, studio: Warner Brothers):
FYC: Similar to Sandra Bullock in the aforementioned Gravity, Mulligan is a casualty this year in that the studio has chosen not to bow Gatsby until next year.
Following on the heels of the ladies in October, both Supporting ladies and gents were discussed in the special double edition. Let’s see how they fare now:
The singer: Anne Hathaway—Les Misérables (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: Fear not, Hathaway is a strong contender in the Supporting field for not only a nomination, but a win—especially with the early glimpse we’ve received via the film’s trailer.
The dutiful wife: Sally Field—Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg, studio: DreamWorks Studios):
FYC: The film bowed at a surprise screening during the New York Film Festival and has revealed Field to be a strong contender in this race—she may even out-muscle Hathaway for the win.
The golden girl: Judi Dench—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (director: John Madden, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Don’t look for Dench in the Supporting category as she is very much the lead actress. The problem is, the field is stacked this year and subsequently stacked against Dench. She may end up with a Supporting nomination for Skyfall, but that is a very hard sell and remains to be seen.
The comeback kid: Pauline Collins—Quartet (director: Dustin Hoffman, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Little has been said about either Collins’ performance or Hoffman’s film since the Toronto Film Festival premiere, which yielded awards chatter for Collins. At this stage in the game, no chatter can kill an Oscar bid, and the Supporting Actress race is finally starting to take shape—without Collins.
The transformer: Olivia Williams—Hyde Park on Hudson (director: Roger Michell, studio: Walmark Films):
FYC: While critics had some praise for Williams’ portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt, the film itself is said to have a lot of problems. It is a difficult thing to earn a lead nomination, let alone a supporting one, on a sinking ship.
The newcomer: Kerry Washington—Django Unchained (director: Quentin Tarantino, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Early word on the film is that Washington’s part is rather small in Tarantino’s latest, so I’ve taken her out of the running.
The veritable shoe-in: Philip Seymour Hoffman—The Master (director: Paul Thomas Anderson, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Early on, there was discussion as to which field (lead or supporting) Hoffman would be in, but it seems likely he’ll stay in supporting. Unlike Nicole Kidman in the ladies’ category, who was in the same boat early on, Hoffman is very much still in this race.
The pretty boy: Leonardo DiCaprio—Django Unchained (director: Quentin Tarantino, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: A less sure bet, but still to be considered, DiCaprio’s hat remains in the ring. Though I maintain, should he land a nomination, a win is unlikely.
The Washington man: David Strathairn—Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg, studio: DreamWorks Studios):
FYC: Often I hear information on films in the making that ends up not to be entirely true. Such is the factoid about Strathairn being the strongest supporting role here—that honor goes to Tommy Lee Jones. So go ahead and look for Jones, but Strathairn is unlikely.
The wild card: William H. Macy—The Sessions (director: Ben Lewin, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Having seen the film, I can tell you, Macy hits all the right comedic notes, but outside of a few minutes sitting in a church pew with John Hawkes’ Mark O’Brien, we don’t see much from Macy’s priest. Not gonna happen.
The foreigner: Michael Fassbender—Prometheus (director: Ridley Scott, studio: 20th Century Fox):
FYC: As I mentioned, this film hit hard, but left critics divided, and with most unable to ignore the somewhat murky plot. While Fassbender gives arguably the best performance of the film, I’ve already discussed the unlikelihood of a nomination culled from a sci-fi film, and, in this instance, the film sealed his fate. No go.
The TV vet: Bryan Cranston—Argo (director: Ben Affleck, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Yes, Argo is this season’s juggernaut by far, but the film plays as more of an ensemble piece and while the acting is good, there isn’t too much that stands out. The big story from this film, acting-wise, is Alan Arkin, so I place my money on him over Cranston. It’s not likely that they would both feature here.
Just last month I concluded the series with a look at the Best Actor race. The one race of those I covered over the past six months that remains well intact and, to me, the most exciting of all this year.
The done deal: Joaquin Phoenix—The Master (director: Paul Thomas Anderson, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Despite some minor comments about wanting no part in the Oscar game, Phoenix will have no problem securing a nomination and may even take it home.
The square jaw: Daniel Day-Lewis—Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg, studio: DreamWorks Studios):
FYC: Many critics and Oscar prognosticators were nervous as to whether or not Day-Lewis’ performance would fly, but after the surprise screening in New York, that chatter has been laid to rest and we have in our hands a second bona fide contender.
The Ken doll: Bradley Cooper—Silver Linings Playbook (director: David O. Russell, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, Cooper is said to give a career-defining performance here. While I have to admit I was skeptical about his chances, i.e. I didn’t take this chatter seriously—it is a plum role that is well handled and could go over well with the Academy. The question remains whether or not he can weather the Oscar heavyweights he’s up against.
The Indie hero: John Hawkes—The Sessions (director: Ben Lewin, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Hawkes is very much still in this game, though his film may be the smallest of those anchored by leading men. The film will likely earn him and Helen Hunt nominations in Lead and Supporting, respectively, but the film itself doesn’t have much life outside of those two. This could hurt Hawkes’ chances slightly, since other vehicles will also have Best Picture bids.
The constant: Denzel Washington—Flight (director: Robert Zemeckis, studio: Paramount Pictures):
FYC: Now that the film has been released, the ether is abuzz with nothing but acclaim for Washington’s performance. Look for him in the top five, front and center and fighting Joaquin Phoenix and Daniel Day-Lewis for the win.
The dark knight: Anthony Hopkins—Hitchcock (director: Sacha Gervasi, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Early word suggests that the film paints Hitchcock into a man that he may not have been. Also, like Phoenix, he has spoken out against the Oscars recently—these points could spell trouble for Hopkins’ Best Actor bid. But, he is Anthony Hopkins, and if anyone can overcome such a hurdle, it’s him. The more likely nomination for the film, however, is Helen Mirren.
The boy from Oz: Hugh Jackman—Les Misérables (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: Critics who have seen Hooper’s production, which employs live singing as opposed to a recorded soundtrack, have said that it doesn’t miss a beat, which leaves room to consider Jackman’s performance. He’s a heck of a singer and in this role, he could really do some damage Oscar-wise. Musical adaptations can be tricky, but it looks like this one is primed to go over like gangbusters.
With that, I give you my predictions as they currently stand: