In Contention


THE LONG SHOT: Categorical denial

Posted by Guy Lodge · 7:25 pm · October 20th, 2010

Wild-eyed, table-banging outbursts — sometimes of enthusiasm, more often of outrage — are an essential part of the floor show at any Oscar viewing party, but I’ve rarely seen one more unhinged than a friend’s reaction to Angelina Jolie’s (widely expected) Best Supporting Actress victory at the 1999 ceremony.

“Who the hell was she supporting?” she yelled, red wine slopping out of her glass as she pointed an accusatory finger at the TV screen. “The woman only went and swallowed the entire film without so much as chewing once, all but elbowed Winona out of every shot, and she’s rewarded for supporting her?” She was practically spitting now, so blind with fury she hadn’t even noticed the raven-haired Miss Jolie snogging her brother. “If that’s her idea of support, what happens when she’s against you?”

I should perhaps explain that my friend’s love for all things Winona Ryder ran deep, and not a little frightening, in those days; the Academy’s heartless decision not to nominate Ryder for Best Actress that year already meant she was watching the ceremony under duress. So it probably wasn’t the best time to explain that, well, Jolie did have the secondary role in “Girl, Interrupted” and that, unfair world that this is, there was still no law preventing rising young actors from being much better than their first-billed co-stars. So we let her rant, at least until Phil Collins started singing and she had something new to complain about.

Still, while it was misplaced in that instance, my friend’s very literal definition of what constitutes a supporting performance stuck with me — and I’ve found my mind drifting to it repeatedly over the last few weeks, as a number of this year’s likeliest acting nominees have prompted the annual “category fraud” debate even earlier than usual.

Is Focus right to campaign both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as leads in “The Kids Are All Right,” or would it be more appropriate (and tactical) for one to drop to supporting? Can Lesley Manville be declared a lead in “Another Year” when her character flits around two more constant — but also more passive — presences in the film? Will “True Grit” newcomer Hailee Steinfeld be the victim of the unwritten campaigning rule stating that minors are, by definition, supporting players — whether they’re carrying a film on their shoulders or not?

Some of these questions are more easily answered than others. They do, however, prompt some thought as to what separates — in principle, if not always in campaign practice — a leading role from a supporting one. Some like to measure it in terms of screen time, as if performances are quantifiable commodities; a mistake, as it neglects such key considerations as the purpose and influence of the character, their impact on the narrative and the surrounding ensemble, the sheer brute force of the performance itself.

A screen minute count would classify Anthony Hopkins as a supporting player in “The Silence of the Lambs,” but the film is determined by his presence — or the memory thereof — even in long offscreen stretches. We know the Academy doesn’t buy the screen time theory, which is why Denzel Washington gets classified as lead for bringing the danger to “Training Day” while Ethan Hawke gets supporting recognition for anchoring the film from first scener to last. Julianne Moore has the longest segment of the three female leads in “The Hours,” yet was the only one campaigned in support — for reasons of in-film forcefulness as well as inter-film tact. (She had a lead bid for “Far From Heaven” that year, in case you forgot.) Is a true supporting performance simply one that is shorter than those around it, or is it one that bolsters and abets a co-star’s?

The swinging blogger reactions to “The Kids Are All Right” – at least, among those pundits who struggle with the fundamental concept of a film having two leads, which Lisa Cholodenko’s film does — illustrates a range of recurring perspectives on the matter. Those suggesting Moore move to support, as many did earlier this year, risk reductively branding the flightier character the flimsier one. Recently, a counter-argument that Bening should be the one demoted hews closer to screenwriting-manual logic: Bening’s character’s decisions don’t imperil as many characters as Moore’s do, ergo, she is the less integral character. They’re both wrong. The women’s performances amount to a pas de deux marking out the shifting distribution of power in any marriage; to suggest that one is subsidiary is to miss the message of the entire film.

Of course, many fans and pundits aren’t thinking in such narrative-related terms — they just want to see the easiest path cleared for their favorite names to be slotted into the race. I’ve often read commenters remark that they don’t care about so-called “category fraud” if it help [insert name here] get the nomination, but they should: because for every borderline-lead star who takes the path of least resistance to a spot on the supporting ballot, there’s an outstanding character actor being edged out of the race because their genuinely supporting part seems less showy by comparison.

The Academy may intervene sometimes, category-correcting disingenuous campaigns for the likes of Kate Winslet and Keisha Castle-Hughes, but more often they go with the flow — which is how Jennifer Hudson scoops an easy Oscar for supporting precisely nobody in “Dreamgirls,” and how Casey Affleck gets a secondary nod for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” despite the film’s very title billing him as an equal (and more active) partner.

I’m using recent examples for the sake of immediacy, but it’s not a new phenomenon: indeed, in 1936, the very first year the supporting categories were introduced, 20th Century Fox were accused of foul play for promoting Stuart Erwin, the lightweight lead of a musical comedy titled “Pigskin Parade,” for Best Supporting Actor. The ploy worked, Erwin was nominated, and the ignoble Oscar tradition of “category fraud” was born.

Of course, you rarely hear complaints running in the other direction: the Anthony Hopkins example applies once more, while few take issue with Patricia Neal’s Best Actress win for “Hud,” in a searing 20-minute part that many (including that year’s Golden Globe voters) would deem supporting. That’s not exactly surprising: with great supporting turns facing enough opposition from slumming leads to get recognition in their own category, one is inclined to cheer on the ones that luck their way into a place at the adults’ table.

So, as we head into the season, think where a nomination for the performance you’re cheering on would be most meaningful, as opposed simply to where it’ll find the softest place to fall. If Lesley Manville is deemed as a supporting actress for being the film-jolting center of conflict (if not the most constant presence) in “Another Year,” where does that leave a more minutely scene-stealing co-star like the wonderful Karina Fernandez? If you believe Annette Bening and Julianne Moore to be on separate planes of importance in their film, does that mean a third class of acting category should be introduced for the likes of Mia Wasikowska?

I’m not saying the issue can’t be a gray and even confusing one, but sometimes applying my excitable friend’s questioning system of who or what is being led or supported by the performance in question can reap unexpectedly clear answers. Sometimes not. But at least this year I can assure her that in “Black Swan,” Winona Ryder is definitely a supporting actress. The more things change, eh?

[Photos: Focus Features, Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics]




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→ 52 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: The Long Shot

52 responses so far

  • 1 10-20-2010 at 7:36 pm

    James D. said...

    The Affleck in Supporting was one of the dumber decisions I ever saw. The film follows Ford from beginning to end.

  • 2 10-20-2010 at 7:39 pm

    Nelson said...

    This tends to be a recurring problem with Oscar campaigns. In a way it would be better if the Academy chose which category to place people in. For example, last year Christoph Waltz should’ve been a leading actor based on his importance and his screen time, but because Brad Pitt was the more recognized actor and because he had an easier shot, he went supporting. I am not a fan of “The Kids Are All Right”, I think it isn’t all that its meant out to be (for one thing it has nothing to do with ‘The Kids’) but that’s for another day. I say put both ladies as leads (think Thelma and Louise) as they rightfully should be, as Lesley Manville should go lead too. But the winner should be Natalie Portman.

  • 3 10-20-2010 at 7:52 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    “…for every borderline-lead star who takes the path of least resistance to a spot on the supporting ballot, there’s an outstanding character actor being edged out of the race because their genuinely supporting part seems less showy by comparison.”

    Man, I’ve been crusading on this ever since I got in on the awards game, and I’ve become more and more strict about it over time. The supporting categories were not made for people like Jake Gyllenhaal or Natalie Portman to cheat for an “extra shot” at Oscar glory; it was made for the lesser-known character actors to get their due. Thespians like Eddie Marsan, Clifton Collins Jr, Hope Davis, Catherine O’Hara and Brian Cox among many others. All of those actors I named are the kind that most people can’t name but always recognize and enjoy in small roles…and none of them have been nominated for an Academy Award. Why? Because of dishonest campaigns and selfish actors being honored for “supporting” absolutely no one.

    Preach on, Guy! Spread the good word of categorical honesty! Trust me, I’ve been doing it loudly and proudly every chance I get (just ask Joey Magidson).

  • 4 10-20-2010 at 8:46 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Agree with pretty much everything written in this entry and the talk back.

    Most of the nominees for best best supporting actors were either leads or co-leads. Waltz, Harrelson, Damon.

    The perfect examples of true supporting performances are Michael Shannon in Rev Road and Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild.

  • 5 10-20-2010 at 8:46 pm

    RJL said...

    In my two years of reading/perusing this site, this is the best article yet. Congrats! I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs a few times and can’t believe, after each viewing, that Hopkins had minimal screen time because he dominates the entire movie. On the other hand, I can’t believe Kidman won lead for The Hours for a prosthetic performance – a performance which should not have been even recognized as worthy of a supporting nomination.

  • 6 10-20-2010 at 8:47 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    I get what your saying Guy, but I still find it kind of hard to care about the distinction between supporting and lead. The fact that Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both categories, for the same performance in Going My Way, shows that there really never has been any concrete difference between the categories. If one performance can be nominated in both categories, obviously the Academy doesn’t care much about the distinction either, and unless they come up with some specifically defined rule, there will always be “category fraud”.

  • 7 10-20-2010 at 8:48 pm

    Everett said...

    The worst mistake in regard to category fraud in my Oscar-watching experience was placing Forest Whitaker in Lead for Last King of Scotland. Whitaker, clearly a supporting player to James McAvoy, cockblocked Peter O’Toole’s elusive Oscar, while he could easily have sailed to victory in the more appropriate supporting category, only needing to defeat the funny but certainly not Oscar-worthy 11th hour winner Alan Arkin.

  • 8 10-20-2010 at 8:56 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***The Affleck in Supporting was one of the dumber decisions I ever saw. The film follows Ford from beginning to end.***

    The film opens with Jesse James, actually. It closes with Robert Ford.

  • 9 10-20-2010 at 8:59 pm

    Evan said...

    Great article. I really enjoyed reading this.

  • 10 10-20-2010 at 9:09 pm

    JJ1 said...

    To me, it’s all about a “feeling”.

    Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Neal … they were not in their films much, but they WERE the film. There was a definitive Lead presence.

    The Assass. of Jesse James: Brad is in the film quite a bit, he’s the marquee name, he’s the one who robs, cheats, kills, gets killed, etc.. He’s the dominant presence that everyone’s looking at/towards. Bob Ford, while in the film moreso, was the lesser, diminuitive, reactionary character (who was bolstered by the very act he did late in the game). I understand Affleck’s supporting campaign. Again, to me, it was ‘the feeling’.

    The Kids are All Right: the case can be made for Bening supporting (lacking Moore’s narrative thrust, and less screen time). And if I were campaigning her, I’d opt Supporting. BUT, the film really is about her, Moore, and to a far lesser extent, the kids. The “feeling” I get is that both are Lead.

  • 11 10-20-2010 at 9:10 pm

    JJ1 said...

    And yes, awesome article.

  • 12 10-20-2010 at 9:30 pm

    RC of strangeculture said...

    Awesome post – I loved it!

  • 13 10-20-2010 at 9:38 pm

    The Dude said...

    This article brings to mind how irritated I was when Forest Whitaker won the Oscar for “The Last King of Scotland.” Yes, his performance was magnificent and deserving of SOMETHING, but not lead actor…James McAvoy was the true lead of that movie…his character was the central figure in the story, and he had the most screen time by far. The movie was NOT about Forest Whitaker’s character, it was about how McAvoy’s character survived in Whitaker’s world. Whitaker was supporting, but because it was the showier role he was successfully campaigned for lead.

  • 14 10-20-2010 at 9:59 pm

    Ed Sibal said...

    Annette Bening’s screen time might be a little shorter than Julienne Moore but she commanded presence in the movie. How you made your mark is very important, its her year to win the Oscars!

  • 15 10-20-2010 at 9:59 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Whitaker was wholly a lead. Watch the film again. Much like Hopkins in “Lambs,” his performance is a fierce, commanding presence that permeates the entire film, even if he’s not in all of it.

  • 16 10-20-2010 at 10:02 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    This is such a non-issue issue – does everyone realize how political the Academy is? Does anyone think besides Shirley MacLaine any of Jack Nicholson’s female co-stars deserved their Best Actress wins at the same Oscar cermonies when he too wins? It’s an odd “unofficial” tradition.

    If you’re a newcomer in an ensemble – you’re better off being placed in the supporting category. You have a fighting chance at actually winning. Very rarely does the best newcomer win in the lead categories – Hilary Swank and Marion Cotillard are the only examples I can think of where being a fresh face didn’t deny them victories for Best Actress.

    “So we let her rant, at least until Phil Collins started singing and she had something new to complain about.”
    Does he make her cry too? I tear up when I listen to him but I actually like his music. Don’t judge me you Jennifer Aniston supporter.

  • 17 10-20-2010 at 10:14 pm

    Speaking English said...

    /3rtfu11, I think you’ll find the majority of people DO indeed think Louise Fletcher deserved her Best Actress trophy. And I personally think Helen Hunt deserved hers as well.

  • 18 10-20-2010 at 10:18 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “I can’t believe Kidman won lead for The Hours for a prosthetic performance – a performance which should not have been even recognized as worthy of a supporting nomination.”

    Kidman has the showiest part, plays a real person, and has the celebrity clout to become a contender in the lead category with the shortest amount of screen time.

  • 19 10-20-2010 at 10:23 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “I think you’ll find the majority of people DO indeed think Louise Fletcher deserved her Best Actress trophy. And I personally think Helen Hunt deserved hers as well.”

    I believe Nicholson’s pedigree carried those two women. Not to say it didn’t help MacLaine – however her best moments in Terms doesn’t involve her relationship to his character.

  • 20 10-20-2010 at 10:45 pm

    Anthony B. said...

    I have to wonder whether the gender issue is at play in the case of The Kids Are Alright.

    For instance, if the central couple had been a heterosexual husband and wife (think Benning as the man and Moore as the woman), would we even be having this particular discussion.

    Probably not. Moore would be a lead actress contender without question. And, the male-equivalent of Benning’s role (assuming the actor was any good) would be a no-brainer contender for the best actor category as the cuckolded husband who takes back his family.

    Just something to chew on.

  • 21 10-20-2010 at 11:07 pm

    The Great Dane said...

    Biggest frauds of all time include Jamie Foxx for Collateral. He had Ray out that year, and Tom Cruise was a big star, so they campaigned Foxx as supporting. The whole film is about Foxx, he is practically in every scene, has double the screen time of Cruise, and the whole film (like Ethan Hawke’s in Training Day) is told from Foxx’s point of view. That fact that he DID get nominated is a joke. So many supporting players get snubbed, because lead performances take their places in the Supporting category. I’d wish that the Academy would do the same thing as the Globes do: Officially announce which performances are allowed to be nominated for each film as lead, and if you’re not on that list, you are supporting. Then the studios can file protests and possibly get allowed to switch categories, when the Academy reviews the protests. That would make it even more embarrasing for studios who tries to make a deliberate fraud.

    And I am glad that Whale Rider finally stopped the “young people are by definition supporting players” trend. It will probably still happen in the future, but Tatum O’Neal should not have won for supporting. River Phoenix should not have been nominated for supporting. And the list goes on…

  • 22 10-20-2010 at 11:10 pm

    Dooby said...

    Anthony B, Well now that you mention it the spouse category discussion of a heterosexual couple has come up – Rabbit Hole.
    Eckhart = lead/supporting argument
    Kidman = everyone just chooses lead

  • 23 10-20-2010 at 11:32 pm

    Glenn said...

    Nicole Kidman was lead in “The Hours” because, without her, there’d be no “The Hours”. She was Virginia Woolf, the central character. She was only in a third of the film, but like Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs”, she was THERE the rest of the time, too. And, yes, Streep was lead because she had “Adaptation” and Moore was supporting because she had “Far From Heaven”. No denying that was more strategy than anything else, but Kidman was a lead.

    As for the article, I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve been making the point in many comment sections here at InContention that splitting Bening and Moore up and putting on in Supporting is tantamount to kicking someone like Jacki Weaver out of the running. How can actual supporting performances compete when they’re against performances like that?

    I loved your point about Bening and Moore being of equal billing being the entire point of the film, too.

  • 24 10-21-2010 at 1:50 am

    John said...

    Before 1964 when the FYC campaigns didn’t exist yet the studios had the last decission of the nomination place of the actors and actresses. There were a lot of awful decissions, especially supporting performances being elegible only for a leading Oscar. That’s why before 1964 were a lot of snubs in supporting actor and actress, because were elegile only for leading, sometimes this worked, like in 1961 with Piper Laurie, but that was an exception.
    Right now I remember some examples like of actresses that could have been nominated for an Oscar but weren’t because of this: Linda Darnell in A letter to three wives, Lana Turner in The three musketeers, Patricia Neal in Brigth leaf & The breaking point or Myrna Loy in From the terrace. I also remember that Warren Beatty was elegible for SUPPORTING for Splendor in the grass and The roman spring of Mrs. Stone, also Richard Beymer for West Side Story.

  • 25 10-21-2010 at 4:15 am

    Graysmith said...

    What really surprises me is that anyone would even think of putting Moore as supporting. If you’ve seen the film, it’s Moore that has the greater screen time and more scenes where Bening isn’t present. Bening is the showier role, but I dare say Moore’s character is slightly more lead. Not that I think either of them should be considered supporting, but if anything it’d be Bening.

    Worst fraud in Academy history: Putting Denzel Washington as lead in Training Day, and then giving him the Oscar for it! Worst win of the decade.

  • 26 10-21-2010 at 4:39 am

    Joel said...

    The whole reason the supporting categories were created in 1936 was to fight against the contstant notion that supporting players in films were not Academy Award-worthy. Prior to 1936, the showier leading actors/actresses would get all of the awards attention , while the supporting actors and actresses were left out. There was a need to recognize brilliant supporting performances in film. The very creation of the category was to bring recognition to actors/actresses who supported the leading players. It’s sort of interesting to see that the Academy will still try and shoehorn a leading actor/actress into a category, ANY category- despite the fact that it’s a supporting category- just to fit their own needs for a particular year.
    Maybe things haven’t changed all that much after 60+ years.

  • 27 10-21-2010 at 5:26 am

    Hero said...

    “The worst mistake in regard to category fraud in my Oscar-watching experience was placing Forest Whitaker in Lead for Last King of Scotland. Whitaker, clearly a supporting player to James McAvoy, cockblocked Peter O’Toole’s elusive Oscar, while he could easily have sailed to victory in the more appropriate supporting category, only needing to defeat the funny but certainly not Oscar-worthy 11th hour winner Alan Arkin.”

    Everett, that was going to be my post exactly. I’m still bitter.

  • 28 10-21-2010 at 5:30 am

    JJ1 said...

    On Louise Fletcher, it’s very easy for ME to put her in Supporting, giver her the win there, which makes room for me to give the Lead win to Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H.

    I love that tinker within my own lists. :)

  • 29 10-21-2010 at 5:35 am

    Hero said...

    “For instance, if the central couple had been a heterosexual husband and wife (think Benning as the man and Moore as the woman), would we even be having this particular discussion.”

    Anthony B, I was thinking exact opposite of you. Wives frequently get pushed to Supporting, ala Jennifer Connelly, whether or not they ought to be Lead.

  • 30 10-21-2010 at 5:42 am

    caleb roth said...

    Washington and Whitaker had clear leading roles in their movies. I think this confusion comes from the fact that sometimes a movie has more than a leading role, and these roles may have different screentimes or importance. That’s there this distinction: a co-lead. When the leading roles have different sexes, people respond better to the this categorization than when they’re both male or female.

    American Beauty is Lester’s story, told most of time from his point of view, to which the movie dedicates most of its screentime. BUT, Carolyn is also a leading role.

    Think about The Last King of Scotland again and you’ll see the same pattern, with two men. Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, Washington in Training Day… Same thing.

    Of course that a gargantuan co-lead performance shouldn’t make a minor main lead one be campaigned as supporting, like in Training Day, but it’s a mistake to consider supporting everything that’s not the main lead.

    There are shades, ok?

  • 31 10-21-2010 at 6:54 am

    RyanT said...

    Great article. Lots of things to say, but I’m just going to make my feelings known about two cases…

    1. I think for TKAAR I’m less annoyed by the fact that Bening is going to be campaigned for lead, but that there’s even any talk of Moore going to supporting. I personally think Moore is more “lead” than Bening, but it also makes sense to put Bening as lead. In other words, both should be campaigned as lead and if one HAD to go to supporting it should be Bening.

    2. For the Whitaker/McAvoy case, I don’t begrudge Whitaker for getting nominated in lead. In fact I loved his performance and definitely think it was a leading one. Guess this award/nomination/whatever just left a meh taste in the end considering the sweep and the lack of attention to the OTHER leading role in the film.

  • 32 10-21-2010 at 7:12 am

    Robert said...

    Both Moore and Bening are leads in the film. Both are very good, but as the Academy has shown in the past, voters are going to go for the showier role, and that”s Bening. Never once did I look at the film and think that one should go supporting; it’s just that this a VERY strong year for Best Actress, and the Academy is more than likely only going to nominate the showier role (Bening) along with four other candidates from other films to spread the wealth. Any other year, Moore would be in.

  • 33 10-21-2010 at 7:25 am

    JJ1 said...

    For Moore to get campaigned Supporting would be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

    She’s more Lead than Bening.

    That said, I found Moore’s character to be slightly annoying and inconsistent; whereas Bening’s was, in my opinion, more deftly handled.

  • 34 10-21-2010 at 8:28 am

    Iván said...

    Forest Whitaker portraits the title character: The Last King of Scotland, he is definitely lead, James Mac Avoy is colead.

    Same case in The Devil Wears Prada, Hathaway & Streep are coleads.

  • 35 10-21-2010 at 8:30 am

    Iván said...

    This year I will put in my ballot

    LEADS
    Bening, Moore & Steinfeld

    SUPPORTING
    Manville, Hathaway

  • 36 10-21-2010 at 11:50 am

    SJG said...

    It’s funny that there’s already been some discussion of Louise Fletcher, because I was thinking to myself just last night how I felt her win as a “lead” actress was kind of category fraud.

    But then I got to thinking about how the only reason people ever actually complain about category fraud is when they feel like someone better got screwed over.

    I hate Louise Fletcher’s win because CAROL KANE DESERVED THAT FRIGGIN’ OSCAR. Most people who think Whitaker’s win was category fraud were just riled up about Peter O’Toole actually losing 8 Oscars. I’m sure the people who complain about Timothy Hutton’s win in “supporting” for an obviously lead role probably just hate the fact that “Ordinary People” consistently screwed over “Raging Bull” in that year’s awards ceremony.

    In the end, I think we should just trust that the actor’s branch of the academy has the taste and discretion not to nominate people for a category they don’t deserve to be in. It makes life less stressful.

    Okay, and I’ll admit that Fletcher deserved to be campaigned in Lead Actress, but damnit she stole Carol Kane’s Oscar! They could have gone “supporting” for her.

  • 37 10-21-2010 at 2:44 pm

    Scott W. said...

    Nelson, I thought “the kids” had a good bit to do with the movie. It seemed to me their relationship was the knot connecting all of the characters.

  • 38 10-21-2010 at 3:10 pm

    Aaron said...

    Ugh, I really don’t even care about Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The whole movie was incredibly overrated and I thought their performances were pleasant and competent but in no way extraordinary or awards-worthy. Both of them are brilliant actresses who have given far more complex and memorable work (especially Moore). Let’s be honest, if two lesser known (yet still capable) actresses were playing these parts, we wouldn’t nearly be hearing all this Oscar-talk surrounding their performances.

  • 39 10-21-2010 at 3:19 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ SJG: Well, you’re looking at an exception to your assertion that “people only complain about category fraud when they feel someone better got screwed over.”

    I think that the past three winners of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar were brilliant. I was rooting for all of them to take the prize on their respective nights, but I don’t think any of them actually played “supporting” roles. Ditto for Clive Owen and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s not that someone “better” got screwed over, it’s that someone who honestly supported got screwed over.

    Plus, it’s more than a little disengenuous of you to assume that the ONLY people who could complain about Timonthy Hutton’s fraud is due to Raging Bull fans. Never mind the fact that film’s story and characters revolve around him, or that he has the most screen time. No no no, Oscar geekdom is the only plausible explanation for the outrage. Give me a break.

  • 40 10-21-2010 at 3:40 pm

    Patryk said...

    1984: ” A Passage to India” is released and Peggy Ashcroft wins for supporting; Judy Davis was nominated for lead. Most of the pre-Oscar awards went to Ashcroft as lead (NY, LA, NBR) and I think she had been campaigned for in lead. She deserved the win in either category, but was probably safer in supporting. Then the Academy threw in Geraldine Page for “Pope of Greenwich Village,” and the race got interesting. So the Ashcroft-Davis thing might have been borderline category fraud, with Page giving a more “supporting” performance, but Ashcroft the proper winner, regardless of placement. Page rightfully won in lead the next year anyway, so the Academy got it right in both instances.

  • 41 10-21-2010 at 4:50 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Patryk, great reference (the Ashcroft, Davis split).

    Love ‘Passage to India’, too.

  • 42 10-21-2010 at 5:38 pm

    Erik815 said...

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the Heath Ledger/Jake Gyllenhaal split yet.

    Also, speaking of Ledger, how does his undeniably supporting performance in The Dark Knight (screen time ca. 35-40 minutes) any less permeate that film than Hopkins’ alleged leading performance did in Silence of the Lambs (screen time ca. 22 minutes).

    Last year Maggie Gyllenhaal was campaigned Lead till the last moment, when it became apparent that the field was crowded, and she was strategically downgraded tot supporting (which paid off). This year lead actress looks very crowded as well, which leads me to believe Focus will shift gears in due time, knowing that is the only chance of getting dual nominations, and of making both Bening and Moore truly competitive in either category.
    And strong advance buzz for Bening suggests she goes lead. Moore has the slightly more traditional role of the audience surrogate: like Ethan Hawke in Training Day, Jamie Foxx in Collateral, James McAvoy in the Last King of Scotland, Anne Hathaway in the Devil Wears Prada, all of whom were campaigned and/or nominated despite having more screentime than their lead campaigned/nominated/winning co-stars. Heck, I might as well throw in Pacino’s “supporting” role to Brando’s “lead” in the Godfather.

    Frequently the character trough whose eyes we experience the film, or with whom our sympathies lie most, are more easily interpreted as “feeling” supporting when there is a more flashy performance and/or more veteran actor to counter it.

  • 43 10-21-2010 at 6:13 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Also, speaking of Ledger, how does his undeniably supporting performance in The Dark Knight (screen time ca. 35-40 minutes) any less permeate that film than Hopkins’ alleged leading performance did in Silence of the Lambs (screen time ca. 22 minutes).”

    It doesn’t — largely because it’s not “undeniably” supporting. I think there’s a strong case to be made for Ledger as a co-lead in the film.

    “Moore has the slightly more traditional role of the audience surrogate”

    I’m not sure I agree with this. The film’s story isn’t told from Moore’s point of view any more than it is from Bening’s — and hers isn’t a markedly more sympathetic character.

  • 44 10-21-2010 at 8:49 pm

    blindowl said...

    A really interesting discussion, and what it shows is that everyone has different views on what is supporting and what is lead, and therefore there can never be a resolution to this problem. If the Academy were to define who is lead and who is supporting, people would still complain because it was not their view. I believe we just need to keep raising the issue, particularly with publicists, about remaining true to the intention. Perhaps the Academy should be making such statements. The Academy did actually change tyhe rules after the Barry Fitzgerald situation, but only to limit the number of categories a performance could be nominated in. Out of curiosity what about Walter Brennan as Judge Roy Bean in The Westerner – supporting or lead??
    On the TKAA – I agree it is grossly over-rated, and actually believe the portrayal of lesbian love (and their apparent real need for a man or male pornography) to be quite destructive and negative. There’s a subtext which is not good – in my view!!

  • 45 10-21-2010 at 11:51 pm

    Erik815 said...

    Guy, “undeniably” was a bit strong, but I’m not aware of much debate that he should have been in a different category, while the Hopkins example seems to come up every year in this debate.

    I was stretching it a bit on Moore vs. Bening. Moore has the slight advantage of having somewhat more screentime and voice over narration. If Focus thinks they can pull off a Thelma and Louise in this field of contenders they’re dreaming, though.

  • 46 10-22-2010 at 6:29 pm

    RJL said...

    Should the category placement be based on screen presence or amount of dialogue? Scratch the latter… Jane Wyman and Patty Duke (and others) would be ineligible. Screen presence? Perhaps. And, if that is the case, I re-assert that Nicole Kidman was unworthy of a lead nomination (or supporting) for The Hours. Driving force of the movie? What I remember from The Hours is the performance of Meryl Streep. I don’t recall Kidman. Granted, I dislike Kidman but I shall admit she was robbed of a nomination for To Die For. Other than that movie, I don’t see why she commands attention. Perhaps the greatest misjustices of screen time equalling category fraud are Training Day and The Godfather. Yet… whom do we remember the most from either movie? I’m not sure why co-leads is not more embraced. Does the “studio system” still exist where Academy members are told for whom they have to vote? Or is it the actors themselves who want to better their chances of victory by placing themselves in the supporting category?
    I have to admit I’m not a Bening fan either. This year, I’ll be rooting for Portman. Or even a threepeat by Swank.

  • 47 10-23-2010 at 12:59 pm

    Nathaniel R said...

    ah, my favorite* topic.

    I will always believe that nobody would be that confused about what is lead and what is supporting if there weren’t such things as campaigns and strategies. The whole thing over the years has just grossly distorted perceptions of structure and narrative and theme. Maybe because people love Oscars more than they love storytelling ;)

    Moore and Bening are both leads in The Kids Are All Right and that’s all there is to it. The film’s very subject matter is their marriage. and unless there is an unusual mitigating factor (maybe a death halfway through or a flashback structure that’s only about one of the partners or something), romantic dramas have two leads: lover & lover, spouse & spouse, partner & partner, whatever.

    Sometimes if it’s a romantic triangle someone is justifiably supporting (I think of “June” from Henry & June who is absent for at least half of the picture even though she’s a title character… but maybe that’s a bad example since it’s the rare romantic triangle where all three points are involved and not just one person connecting the three people)

    it’s the same thing in Brokeback Mountain. But my theory has always been — i even called Brokeback on this before anyone had seen it — that whoever is the “bottom” in the relationship gets demoted to supporting when they choose to go with category fraud.

    also agreed that Kidman is the lead of The Hours. The film is about Virginia Woolf or rather her work. Both of the other stories are about the way the women are reenacting or responding to Woolf’s stories.

    *i.e. the one that pains me the most.

  • 48 10-23-2010 at 1:00 pm

    Nathaniel R said...

    oh an by “same thing in Brokeback “I meant Kids Are… not Henry & June, awkward comment!

  • 49 10-24-2010 at 7:47 am

    K. Bowen said...

    Guy, you neglected to mention the ultimate recent absurdity:

    Cate Blanchett as Supporting for playing Bob Dylan in a Bob Dylan biopic (I’m Not There).

    I mean, I don’t care if she was only onscreen 20 minutes. How do you get a supporting nod for playing the main character? Who is Bob Dylan supporting in a Bob Dylan biopic?

  • 50 10-24-2010 at 8:36 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    She’s not the only Dylan on screen, though. ;)

  • 51 10-25-2010 at 8:54 am

    David said...

    Winona Forever!!

  • 52 10-26-2010 at 12:28 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ K. Bowen: Yeah, ensemble films like I’m Not There or Traffic have no leads.