Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Globes' Category Fraud Mic Drop

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association yesterday threw one of the bigger wrenches in a while into the Oscar race.  The voters behind the Golden Globes, arguably the most significant film award not to feature a shiny gold man decided that Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), two of Oscar's frontrunners for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, were actually leads in their respective films and would be considered as such at the Oscars.  Considering the press that being a Golden Globe nominee elicits, and that Globe nominations happen prior to AMPAS voting, it made me wonder what effect this would have on the Supporting Actress race at the Oscars.

This is a pretty big deal, in terms of awards season, and seems to be in response to a years-in-the-making push against category fraud.  While category fraud (where lead performances are marketed as supporting performances in hopes of bettering a film/actor's chances at a nomination) has been around for decades, a backlash happened in particular in 2007 when Casey Affleck, the title character and most significant person in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, was cited in supporting despite the most screentime and the crux of the story's plot centering on his character.  Since then, we've seen a bit of a backlash when actors market clearly leading performances in the supporting category, and occasionally we've seen the Academy reject this out-of-hand (see Kate Winslet in 2008's The Reader, where she won supporting trophies at the Globes and SAG Awards before competing in lead at the Oscars).  This year there was an uproar amongst Oscar pundits when it was announced that Vikander and Mara, who are considered by most people who have seen their pictures as above-the-title characters, would still campaign as supporting and it appears that HFPA is having none of it.

The Academy isn't bound by Globes decisions, or even campaign decisions, as Kate Winslet illustrates above, and so this doesn't necessarily doom Vikander and Mara in the supporting races.  Catherine Zeta-Jones, notably, was nominated for Best Actress for Chicago at the Globes and still went on to win the Oscar in the supporting field that year.  However, this sort of category confusion occasionally has major effects on the Oscar race, most notably in 2003.  That year Scarlett Johansson was cited for leading actress for both Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring at the Golden Globes, but her campaign for Lost in Translation (considering its Oscar haul, clearly the more likely candidate that year) greedily switched to supporting at the last minute despite her being a main character, and as a result almost assuredly cost her a nomination in what was a very chaotic Best Actress race.  Vikander and Mara's campaigns may look at the Globes, and wonder if being in lead at the Globes and supporting at the SAG Awards would hurt their campaigns and just end up changing at the last minute in a move similar to Ian McKellen a few years back for The Lord of the Rings (which paid off nicely-McKellen won an Oscar nomination in the process).

If Vikander and Mara either aren't in the Oscar conversation due to losing out on their nominations or they move to lead, the entire Supporting Actress race kind of turns on its head.  Both of these women are considered significant frontrunners for the trophy (particularly Vikander) at this juncture, and taking them out would give us no real obvious contender for the win.  While it's questionable whether or not either would make Lead Actress (Mara specifically could have issues there considering her costar Cate Blanchett is also a contender), Supporting Actress would be thrown into a bit of pandemonium.  Assuming that certain random names like Rachel Weisz (Youth), Phylicia Rashad (Creed), and Helen Mirren (Trumbo) don't pop up, there are essentially eight additional names that seem to be amongst the nominees for Supporting Actress in a world without Vikander/Mara; these women are Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Joan Allen (Room), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Diane Ladd (Joy), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy), Julie Walters (Brooklyn), and Jane Fonda (Youth).

Looking at these women there are clearly names that will have a better shot at a nomination (Winslet, McAdams) than others (Ladd, Walters), but the race seems relatively open amongst these women as none of them are ironclad at the moment and I wouldn't say any is guaranteed.  You can take someone like McAdams (who is the only female in a likely male-driven Best Picture nomination, which is usually a solid way to get noticed), and remember that she's never been in Oscar contention before, and this theory falters occasionally (see Vera Farmiga in The Departed or Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street).  The same goes for the rest: Kate Winslet is in a movie that flopped, Julie Walters and Elizabeth Banks are in tiny films, Joan Allen and Jane Fonda have small roles that could be ignored, and Diane Ladd/Jennifer Jason Leigh are in pictures no one's seen yet, so we have no clue on their actual feasibility.  All-in-all, these eight could make for a (hopefully) madcap spread-the-wealth year if we can't have category fraud.

And of course, there's the question of the winner.  Winslet's won recently and hasn't really done anything since to deserve a second trophy, Fonda's won twice and is in a slim role, Walters/Ladd/Leigh/Allen are all actresses with long pedigreed careers but no one thinks of them as "destined for Oscar" anymore (even though admittedly no one thought that about Patricia Arquette until last year), and McAdams, probably the nominal frontrunner in a field like this, isn't getting the standout raves for Spotlight that the male players are and has never been in Oscar contention previously.  All-in-all, if the Globes (thankfully) have broken back the tide of category fraud this year, we could have a truly exciting race amongst the supporting ladies.

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