Wednesday, January 22, 2003

My reaction to the Academy Awards is generally that they wrong films win virtually every year. Still, though, I love movies and I think that tipping the Oscar race is kind of fun, so I follow it and give my thoughts on it every year.

Two days ago the Oscar season started in earnest with the Golden Globe Awards in. For the Oscars themselves, I will give my thoughts gradually on a category by category basis, and a set of predictions the day before the ceremony. (I gave some thoughts on Best Animated Feature last week). Golden Globe results are normally reasonably good indicators of Oscars. However, the Golden Globes divide their main awards up into to categories: "Drama" and "Musical or Comedy". This doesn't usually matter much, because the Academy seldom gives awards to comedies, and musicals have been close to extinct. However, there has been a resurgence of musicals in the last couple of years. Moulin Rouge received lots of nominations last year and looks to have come close to winning Best Picture. Chicago seems a serious contender this year. This means that we have to look at the Musical or Comedy categories at the Golden Globes as well as the Drama categories. This is a change.

Unusually, this year the key to what is going on seems accessible by looking at the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories, so that is what I will look at first. We start with the film The Hours, which apparently features distinguished performances from three very fine actresses: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore.

The Oscar rules for acting awards state that all female performances are eligible for both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress awards. Which category a performance falls into is entirely up to the voters. Normally, what happens is that the studio that made the film takes out "For Your Consideration" advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers, and perhaps in the New York and Los Ageles press, which essentially tell the voters in which category to vote for a particular performance. Usually lead performances are suggested for the lead category, and supporting performances for the supporting category, but it vary depending on the strength of the field, the egos of the people involved, and the strength of the performance. (Anthony Hopkins won "Best Actor" for playing Hannibal Lector, and was only on screen for about 15 minutes in total, but it was such a powerful performance that the studio decided to go for the big one, successfully). It can also depend on what other performances the same actor has produced in the same year. An actor may not be nominated twice in the same category for different performances, or in different categories for the same performance, but may be nominated in different categories for different performances.

This is necessary to explain what is going on in the two actress categories. Julianne Moore put in a possibly even more lauded performance in Far From Heaven . Meryl Streep put in a fun performance in Adaptation , and therefore, although the three actresses in The Hours have performances of similar size, Miramax are campaigning for Streep and Kidman for Best Actress, and for Moore as Best Supporting actress.This way, the actresses don't have to compete with their own performances in different films. It seems likely to me that Streep and Moore will get nominated for both categories.

So who will win? We are in the odd position that there are two awards and I think the members of the academy would really like to give an award to all three actresses. All three are seen as overdue for an award, and all three are perceived as having done particularly good work this year. In the Golden Globe awards, best Actress (Drama) went to Nicole Kidman and Best Supporting Actress to Meryl Streep. My feeling is that the Oscars will go the same way.

Nicole Kidman was a very familiar actress in Australia (both in the movies and on television) ten to fifteen years ago. Everyone thought she was going to go the Hollywood and make it as a very big star. Of course, instead, she want to Hollywood and married Tom Cruise, and then spent the next decade more famous as Tom Cruise's wife than as an actress. Even when she put really good performances, such as in To Die For (1995), and The Portrait of a Lady (1996), she didn't get the credit she deserved. When she broke up with Cruise, she almostly instantly got the success and recognition she had never quite had before. Last year she was nominated for Moulin Rouge (although many people thought her performance in The Others was better) and this year she will clearly be nominated again. I think the general perception is that people overlooked how good an actress she was over the Cruise business, and now is the time to make up for it. At this point, therefore, my money is on Kidman to win Best Actress.

Meryl Streep is of course one of the best regarded actresses in Hollywood, and is greatly admired by other people in the profession. She has been nominated for awards a lot. (Oscar nominations in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2000, and a total of 18 Golden Globe nominations). She actually won awards early in her career, but last won an Oscar or a Golden Globe since 1983. That was prior to this year. She did pick up a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress for Adaptation the other night, and gave a speech that clearly indicated she was astonished to finally win something. (For the two sets of awards, she had been nominated 22 times since last actually winning). My feeling is that this is the year where the academy will decide it really is time to give her an award again, and she will pick up Best Supporting Actress. Plus she is supposed to be extremely good in the movie. It is a fun performance, and the Best Supporting Actress award often goes to fun performances.

Julianne Moore seems likely to miss out. For Best Actress, she is likely to be nominated for Far From Heaven which seems the slightly less accessible of her two movies, but the better of her two performances. (It would help if I had seen the actual movies, clearly). I think her vote will be split, and although she has been nominated twice before, I don't think her career is going to be seen as quite a distinguished as the other two. So she may miss out, although this will be largely because it is such a strong year.

Do I think there are any other contenders? There is the Chicago factor. Renee Zellweger will likely be nominated for Best Actress. She was nominated last year for Bridget Jones' Diary and appears to be generally quite liked, but I don't think she is perceived as "serious" enough to win in the Best Actress category. Catherine Zeta-Jones will probably be nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but again I doubt she will win, largely on the basis that she isn't in the class of Meryl Streep of Julianne Moore. (Zellweger did win the Golden Globe for Comedy or Musical. Zeta-Jones was actually nominated for lead Actress, Musical or Comedy, but lost to her costar).

As for non-Chicago other actresses, Diane Lane for Unfaithful is likely to get the last Best Actress slot, and Kathy Bates for About Schmidt looks likely in the supporting category.

As for people who will miss out, I am with Harry Knowles in thinking that it is a travesty that Emily Watson has not won an Oscar. At one point it looked like she might have a chance for Punch Drunk Love, but this faded away (probably due to the lack of commercial success for that movie: Adam Sandler fans hated it because it wasn't a normal Sandler film, and people who go and see art films didn't go and see it because it had Adam Sandler in it). This is annoying.

Just as an aside, I think that the one sheet for Punch Drunk Love is the most beautiful movie poster of the year. I need to get a copy to get framed and put up on my wall.

In a week or two I will talk about the races for Best Picture and Best Director. I am fairly sure this is going to be one of those years where they go to different films. Then after that I will talk about the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. (I am putting these ones off, as I have the least idea about them at this point). I may even talk about the technical categories at some point, if I am that way inclined, too.

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