The 81st Annual Academy Awards are less than one month away, and this year’s list of nominees has proven that Oscar likes to stay within familiar territory. In the main categories, which include Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Actor there are several names that have been making appearances on the Oscar ballot for years. This year, the race for the gold statue is sprinkled with record holding performers, which include actresses, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep. Both are nominated in the Best Actress category, and between the two of them they generate a career total of 21 Academy Award nominations. The Academy has a habit of putting a few nominees through the ringer (poor Peter O’Toole), by allowing them to get close to Oscar, but no cigar. So will previous nods give a few lucky performers the edge over the competition, or will they cancel them out completely? Is it talent or friendly faces that win the Oscar?
The Best Actress category is a great example of the Academy favoring the people they know. It seems this year, they’re definitely going for some old favorites. The grand dame of modern American actresses, Meryl Streep secured her record breaking 15thOscar nomination for her work as Sister Aloysius Beauvier in the religious drama, Doubt. The actress already has two Oscars to her credit for her roles in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), and Sophie’s Choice (1982). Even though she has the credentials, and the talent, Streep has a catfight on her hands with another record holder, Kate Winslet.
Winslet is the youngest person to be honored with six Oscar nominations at the tender age of 33. Bette Davis held the record previously, by receiving six at 34. Throughout her career, Winslet has brought in some strong performances that span from 1995’s Sense and Sensibility to last’s years Revolutionary Road and The Reader, for which she is currently nominated.
Streep already took home the Best Lead Actress trophy at the Critics Choice Awards, which she shared with fellow Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway. Winslet then swept the Golden Globes by winning in both the lead and supporting actress categories for Revolutionary Road and The Reader. At this year’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, Streep fired back with a win for Outstanding Performance for a Female Actor in a Leading Role, while Winslet won for her Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role in The Reader. This is turning into a true tic for tac race between Winslet and Streep. Do any of the new faces nominated even really exist in this race?
In my opinion, the Oscars have a way of forcing some deserving talents to wait years upon years to receive an award for their contributions to film. They did it to Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Steven Spielberg, and most recently Martin Scorsese. Sometimes I think they get off on crushing people’s hopes and dreams, instead of making them. I adore Meryl Streep, I really do! She is one of the greatest genuine female actors around. Winslet, as well, is a rare find within her generation. She’s a strong performer, who actively searches out challenging material at every turn. Even though she’s been nominated for The Reader, instead of Revolutionary Road, I think the Academy may decide to climb down from their pedestal and give her the Oscar. Not necessarily for her current performance, because that’s not what it’s really about is it? It will more than likely be a culmination of the previous roles she’s been nominated and been overlooked for everytime. It’s not right, but that’s just how I see it happening.
The Best Actor category isn’t too shabby in terms of veterans versus newbie’s either. Academy Award winner and five time nominee Sean Penn leads the pack for his performance as slain gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Milk. Penn previously won an Oscar in the lead actor category for his role in Clint Eastwood’s 2003 drama Mystic River. After winning this years Critics Choice Award for best lead actor, Penn was overlooked at the Golden Globes, when comeback kid Mickey Rourke won for his role in The Wrestler.
Rourke, although he was considered one of Hollywood’s most promising actors of the 1980’s has been missing in action during most of the 90’s and and therefore is a new face again. The actor fought tooth and nail for the lead in Darren Aronofsky’s wrestling homage and his effort has paid off ten fold. Along with another first time nominee Frank Langella, for his role as President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, the five nominees in this category are facing some stiff competition. No disrespect to the other men in this category, but the race seems to be between Penn and Rourke. Similar to the Streep and Winslet situation, they too are going tic for tac. Penn ousted Rourke out of the lead actor SAG award, which leaves the Academy Awards to settle the score. In this case we’re stuck with a previous Oscar winner, and a first time nominee, who will beat the odds?
The Best Director category is a prime example of classics vs. new faces. Three time nominee Stephen Daldry (The Reader) and Academy Award winner for A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard, are both extremely talented visionaries who have brought us some of the most contemporary classics of our time. These two will have to do battle with newcomer and critic favorite Danny Boyle, who enters the category off of his work on the little engine that could, Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle, who really should have been nominated for his work in Trainspotting could leave on Oscar night with a statue. Having already won the Best Director prize for the Critics Choice, and Golden Globe Awards, anything different on Oscar night would have people rioting in the streets. Will the give it to Daldry for his past work? Howard for his past wins? Or Boyle for his fresh face?
Although it was proved this year that past achievements don’t guarantee a spot on the Oscar call sheet. This year the most noticeably absent nominee would have to be Clint Eastwood. Already a four time Academy Award winner for Unforgiven, and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood was completely overlooked for his acting and directorial work on Gran Torino. Another missing face will be that of Leonardo DiCaprio, for his work in Revolutionary Road. With the exception of Michael Shannon, the film itself was glossed over for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress.
DiCaprio has been nominated for an Academy Award three times for his roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, and Blood Diamond. It appears that DiCaprio’s absensce from this years Oscars has more to do with the film than his past work. Although it does prove that not only do you have to have a solid Oscar past, but also a solid Oscar present. I honestly put him in the same category as Johnny Depp, when it comes to the Oscars. Both actors are extremely talented, have turned in great performances, but unfortunately always gets nominated the same year as someone else whose considered a “sure thing.”
This year the Academy did present us with some predictable nominations, but they also threw in a few monkey wrenches to stir the pot. It’s truly a neck and neck battle for supremacy when it comes to the veterans versus those making their first appearances. For the first time in a long time I’m seeing a few categories that I consider too close to call. At the end of it all, the Academy Awards is an old fashioned popularity contest. The winners aren’t gauged just on their performances, but their personal and professional personas. How many great performances did Al Pacino dish out before he finally won an Oscar for Scent of a Woman? Amongst performances in The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Glengarry Glen Ross, he won for Scent of a Woman?! Do you honestly believe those snubs weren’t personal? Even though you can’t deny an actors talent, their constant presence at the Oscars may turn some voters off. Streep’s a dynamo, but her record is 2 wins out of 14 nominations, just as Penn’s is 1 for 4.
No one is immune to the Academy’s harsh selection process, therefore the cards could can fall either way.
So what do you think? Do the Oscars favor their friends or the quality of the work?