Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Oscar nominations

The academy award nominations have been announced. I normally write a list of predictions in the major categories and then see how I do, but this year I have been too stressed to do that. Still, just one comment.

This applies to the rules and tactics of the acting categories. The rule is that all performances are eligible for both the lead and supporting categories but the same performance may not be nominated in both categories. In the case that a performance gets enough votes to be nominated in both categories, it is excluded from the category in which it got the least votes. Also, the same actor may not be nominated twice in the same category. Again, if enough votes are achieved for a double nomination, the one with the least votes is excluded. What is allowed is for the same actor to be nominated in both lead and supporting categories but for different performances.

So how do voters decide whether to nominate a performance as lead or supporting. Well, usually it is fairly obvious, but the studio releasing the film normally campaigns for a particular category. Advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers normally state the category that is being campaigned for, and generally the studio hopes that their advice is followed. Sometimes studios will promote performances for what looks like the wrong category if they think that the chances of being nominated or winning in that category are better.

Things get complicated when an actor has two strong performances that are being considered for awards in the same year. Often, the studios in question will campaign for one performance for the supporting category and the other for the lead category, even if they are both really leads. Also, if there are multiple performances in the film that are considered awards worthy, then one may be chosen arbitrarily as the "lead" performance and another the "supporting performance". (For instance, Julianne Moore was campaigned for for Best Supporting Actress last year for The Hours, although Nicole Kidman's performance (which ultimately won) actually featured less screen time and was arguably the supporting performance. Things are obviously complicated further when a film features multiple lead performances by actors of the same sex, rather than one man and one woman).

Anyway, what am I getting at. Well, the point is that all this can backfire. Scarlett Johansson was praised for her performances in two films Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both are obviously lead performances, but in their wisdom Focus Features (the specialty division of Universal Pictures) chose to campaign for Best Supporting Actress, presumably because they thought the competition was less. Most other awards have nominated Johansson for Best Actress, despite the campaign. Bafta rules allow more than one person to be nominated in the same category, and Johansson received two Bafta nominations for Best Actress, one for each film. The Golden Globes have separate categories for "Drama" and for "Musical and Comedy", and Johansson received one nomination in each category for these. However, for the Academy Awards, she received no nominations. Presumably her votes in the Best Actress category were split between the two films, and her votes for Lost in Translation were split between the two categories. This is a shame, because she was wonderful in both movies, especially Lost in Translation. (In the past she has been wonderful in The Man who Wasn't There and Ghost World, too. Still, I nominate Focus features for campaigning fuck-up of the year.

Some comments on the other nominations at some time between now and the actual awards. That's the big instance of someone who deserved it not being nominated this year. The good thing, I suppose, is that the most egregious non-nomination of recent years (Naomi Watts for Mulholland Drive has been kind of made up for, as Watts has been nominated for Best Actress for 21 Grams.

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