by Jim Keller
Fall thrusts the Oscar season into high gear. Over the next four months, many films will come out: the good, the bad, those with Oscar hope, those without, but one thing’s for sure: come February, the votes will be locked-in and we’ll have another Academy Awards. Here I spitball from those performances coming down the pike, to see what might stick in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races—the second installment of the three-part series.
THE SINGER: Anne Hathaway—Les Misérables (director: Tom Hooper):
FYC: Hathaway plays Fantine in this adaptation of the stage musical, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel set in nineteenth century France. The film tells the story of paroled prisoner Jean Valjean, who becomes mayor of a French town. Valjean agrees to take care of Cosette, the illegitimate daughter of Fantine, while avoiding recapture by police inspector Javert. Hathaway’s career has come a long way. From 2001’s The Princess Diaries to her nomination for 2008’s Rachel Getting Married—a role that had her portraying the more reckless of two sisters, she’s been on her way up. When Hugh Jackman hauled her on stage (literally) for his opening song as host of the 81st Academy Awards, Hathaway proved that she could sing as well as act. A lethal combination when done successfully (see Jennifer Hudson’s Best Supporting Actress win for Dreamgirls in 2007), it will be interesting to see if Hathaway delivers in an adapted stage production of this magnitude.
THE DUTIFUL WIFE: Sally Field—Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg):
FYC: Her last role as Nora Walker, the matriarch of ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, earned her three consecutive Emmy nominations and a win in 2007. But prior to her TV success, Field did time on the Oscar circuit, winning twice for 1980’s Norma Rae and 1984’s Places in the Heart. Now she returns to the Oscar party, as the famous wife of President Abraham Lincoln—a role that, depending on the amount of screen time given, could net her a third nomination and possible win. Mary Todd Lincoln witnessed her husband’s assassination and she is known for having become mentally unhinged as well as for dressing in black in subsequent years. Some speculated that she suffered from bipolar disorder. This was never proven, but Mary Todd Lincoln was committed to an asylum in 1875, though she engineered her escape. While the film isn’t likely to detail her later years, it may allow Field the opportunity to showcase some of her darker character traits and if done right, there’s no reason to think that Oscar won’t eat it up.
THE GOLDEN GIRL: Judi Dench—The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (director: John Madden):
FYC: It’d be surprising if one of the year’s most well-received and top grossing films didn’t end up with a nomination in one of the main categories. Enter Judi Dench as the effervescent lynchpin amidst a well-woven cast who hunker down together in a makeshift Indian hotel as they prepare to confront the next chapter of their lives. While there are many stand-up performances in the ensemble, recently widowed housewife Evelyn is the true anchor, making Dench the actor with the best shot at Oscar. Previously, the dame has racked up six nominations and one win, beginning in 1998 with a leading role in Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown and ending in 2007 with her third Best Actress nomination for Notes on a Scandal. It was Shakespeare in Love that gave her a Best Supporting Actress win in 1998, but Dench has yet to capture that elusive Best Actress statuette. If the Academy feels that Dench should be honored, by all rights, this could be her year. Although, she may have to tango with another industry vet, Pauline Collins, to come out on top.
THE COMEBACK KID: Pauline Collins—Quartet (director: Dustin Hoffman):
FYC: The last time Pauline Collins danced with Oscar was back in 1990 when she received a Best Actress nomination for Shirley Valentine, in which she portrayed a stuck-in-a-rut housewife who is afforded the opportunity to see the world, and herself, in a different light. The film was based on a London play, which Collins also starred in and later reprised on Broadway. Now she returns as Cissy, a member of a group of retired opera singers living in a home together. The film recently bowed at the Toronto Film Festival and early word is that Collins is the member of the ensemble cast with the biggest shot at landing a nomination. You needn’t look very far to see that Oscar loves doling out awards to older actors and if the film gets enough buzz and she is able to surpass Dench, we could see Collins’ name pop-up in this category. It’s not likely that both Dench and Collins will make it in, however.
THE TRANSFORMER: Olivia Williams—Hyde Park on Hudson (director: Roger Michell):
FYC: Have you seen the trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson in which Williams is transformed from a petite brunette to an off-kilter, rangy, wild-haired woman with a toothy grin? If you haven’t guessed it, Williams plays Eleanor Roosevelt in the film, which focuses on a weekend in 1939 upstate New York when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited the Hyde Park estate. Unlike most of our other would-be contenders, Williams has not yet had the pleasure of a dalliance with Oscar, but that doesn’t mean that her hopes are dashed. If history is anything to go by—and where the Academy is concerned, it is—Oscar loves women who transform themselves for a role. Whether it’s Nicole Kidman’s 2002 Best Actress win for The Hours or Charlize Theron’s 2004 Best Actress win for Monster, time and time again this is proven. This could easily be the case for Williams, provided there is enough for her to do in the film. Early word out of the Telluride Film Festival suggests there is.
THE NEWCOMER: Kerry Washington—Django Unchained (director: Quentin Tarantino):
FYC: Ask critics about the 2010 film, For Colored Girls, and they’ll likely tell you that while it wasn’t that great, the performances were something to behold. Among the impressive ensemble—featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad and Loretta Divine, among others—Kerry Washington has been singled out and prompted many to pencil her in as a Best Supporting Actress contender for the 2011 Academy Awards. This didn’t come to pass, but that hasn’t left Washington without her supporters and it likely had a hand in getting her the starring role on ABC’s Scandal. In Django Unchained, Washington plays the wife of a slave-turned-bounty hunter who is held captive by a brutal Missouri plantation owner. If this isn’t an intense role, I don’t know what is. As if that weren’t enough, Tarantino’s latest film features a high-caliber cast including Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, making this film and its actors ones to watch this Oscar season.
THE VERITABLE SHOE-IN: Philip Seymour Hoffman—The Master (director: Paul Thomas Anderson):
FYC: A storm is coming; are you ready? Anderson’s last film, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, walked away from the Academy with two statuettes (Best Cinematography and Best Actor) culled from ten nominations and just barely lost Best Picture honors to No Country for Old Men. Now, Anderson has employed Philip Seymour Hoffman as his theatrical prized horse. Having won a Best Actor Oscar for 2006’s Capote and earning Best Supporting Actor nominations for 2008’s Charlie Wilson’s War and 2009’s Doubt, critics are saying that Hoffman works wonders as Lancaster Dodd—a charismatic intellectual known as “the Master” whose faith-based organization catches on in 1950s America. The film was rolled out by The Weinstein Company via surprise screenings in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which dovetailed nicely with teaser trailers to fuel the fire of mystery and intrigue. Now that the film has been released, critics everywhere are chomping at the bit to see it.
THE PRETTY BOY: Leonardo DiCaprio—Django Unchained (director: Quentin Tarantino):
FYC: It’s been nearly two decades since Leonardo DiCaprio earned his first Oscar nomination for 1994’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Supporting Actor). Since then, he has earned Best Actor nominations for 2004’s The Aviator and 2006’s Blood Diamond. With his title role in last year’s J. Edgar, many thought it’d be his year, but he didn’t secure a nomination. So will DiCaprio’s year come and will this be it? In Tarantino’s Django Unchained, he plays Calvin Candie—the aforementioned plantation owner who is holding Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda von Shaft captive. There’s no doubt that his talent can set the screen ablaze, but historically, roles like this tend to go unrewarded. Take last year’s critically acclaimed The Help, which earned four Oscar nominations, not including the nuanced performance by Bryce Dallas Howard as the wicked, racist Hilly Holbrook. It seems people were too afraid of backlash and the “racist” label that might come along with supporting something against the American ideal of a true “melting pot” to stand behind her raw performance. In any case, DiCaprio’s character would need to go through some sort of major light-seeing transformation akin to realizing slavery is an abomination to fall in line. But this isn’t something Tarantino’s films usually examine, so I have to bet against it. Although, as I always say, anything is possible.
THE WASHINGTON MAN: David Strathairn—Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg):
FYC: Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln is a drama that focuses on the political collision of Lincoln and the men of his cabinet en route to abolition and the Civil War’s end. One of those men was Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn). Seward was seriously injured in both a carriage accident before Lincoln’s assassination and an attack by Lewis Powell simultaneous with Lincoln’s assassination. In this election year, it’ll be interesting to see how the film fares, since it focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s life; namely, slavery’s end and the Civil War Union victory. Nominated for Best Actor in 2006 for Good Night and Good Luck, Strathairn is known for powerful, controlled performances and I expect nothing less from him here.
THE WILD CARD: William H. Macy—The Sessions (director: Ben Lewin):
FYC: The Sessions is based on the true story of Mark O’Brien—a man in an iron lung who hired a sex surrogate to lose his virginity. In the acclaimed Sundance film, O’Brien (John Hawkes) contacts a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) with the help of his therapist and priest. The latter is played by William H. Macy, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 1996 for Fargo. I’ve included him because the role is interesting, in that one wonders why a priest would assist a man in such an endeavor and what kind of inner turmoil that could cause. Besides, Macy is tried and true in his countless, consistently great performances, and with a starring role on Showtime’s Shameless, this could be the role to push him over the top.
THE FOREIGNER: Michael Fassbender—Prometheus (director: Ridley Scott):
FYC: You’re probably familiar with Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe in this not quite prequel about explorers who discover a clue to the origins of humanity, and who journey through the universe where they discover a threat that could lead to human extinction. Likewise, you may be familiar with Fassbender’s turn as a sex addict in last year’s Shame, for which many critics are still lamenting his conspicuous absence in the Best Actor category. As the lone droid crew member, David, Fassbender strikes an eerie balance between aloof and all-knowing, which keeps us guessing about his motives. Since the Alien franchise historically includes cyborgs of his ilk, it’s always a question of what side they’ll fall on and this is no different in Prometheus. The question is: how long will it be before the Academy finally rewards this young actor for consistently amazing performances?
THE TV VET: Bryan Cranston—Argo (director: Ben Affleck):
FYC: If you’re not familiar with Bryan Cranston, you live under a rock. First drawing attention for his work in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, he co-starred in ABC’s Malcolm in the Middle, and now stars in AMC’s Breaking Bad—a show that won him three Emmys, with a fourth waiting in the wings. The show’s success has catapulted Cranston into stardom and since 2011 he has appeared in six films per year, including last year’s Drive and this year’s Total Recall remake. This fall he’ll bow in Ben Affleck’s third film, Argo, which examines a CIA “exfiltration” specialist’s risky plan involving a faux film production to free six Americans who hid at the Canadian ambassador’s home during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
So more film food for thought as we approach the top of the Oscar season slope that, once coasted down, will give us our nominees. It’s a wild ride, there will likely be surprises in store and not all of our ladies and gents will fare well, but there it is, a look, at a glance.