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More about Oscars, because nobody is tired of the Oscar talk

Well, and as Your Humble Blogger is still thinking about the Oscars, I might as well write my response to Kim Elsesser’s Op-Ed at the times suggesting Gender-Neutral Oscars should be extended to the acting categories. My initial response was that it was a terrible idea, practically speaking, as the nominees for Best Actress were generally from obscure movies that would not, if it weren’t for the Oscars, ever be seen by anybody other than critics. But when I went to give examples from this year, it turned out to not be so true: two of the five nominations were in mainstream popular movies, and one of the other three was the sort of controversial film that might have made a splash in the absence of a potential Oscar nominee. The remaining two (Carey Mulligan in An Education and Helen Mirren in The Last Station) were the sort of things I was thinking of, but were roughly equivalent to two of the Best Actor nominees (Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart and Colin Firth in A Single Man). In fact, while only two of the five films that had Best Actress nominees were Best Picture nominees, that was true of Best Actor as well. So it was roughly even this year.

To make the language easier on myself, I’m going to make up a term for a particular kind of movie. This is the movie that gets made largely because there is one great role, that either never gets wide distribution or fades very quickly from it. There is an Oscar push, not only because the performance is terrific but because that is the only chance to make any money from a deserving flick. If there were no awards, no-one would ever hear about these movies. I’ll call them Actress Movies—and I’ll keep calling them Actress Movies even when talking about the ones for male actors (such as Crazy Heart and A Single Man) because (a) I think they fall into the same category, and (2) I think, before doing the research, that there are way more of these for Actresses than Actors. OK? So, having found essentially two Actress Movie nominees on each side for last year, I am left wondering if that assessment is right.

Last year, I count Kate Winslet in The Reader, Angelina Jolie in Changeling and Melissa Leo in Frozen River. Of those, The Reader got a Best Picture nomination, and Changeling was a Clint Eastwood picture, so you could argue them, but I count them. On the left side, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, neither of which got Best Picture nominations. Hm.

The year before: Laura Linney in The Savages, Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth I part II, Julie Christie in Away from Her and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf. Four out of five. Total tickets sold: five. On the left, Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises and Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah. I don’t count the Daniel Day-Lewis, but you could, although you have to note the Best Picture nomination.

Another year back: three at least on the women’s side, and the men’s side very difficult to count. Oddly enough, and I didn’t notice this at the time, the Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Picture nominees comprise 14 different films with only one overlap (Helen Mirren in The Queen). I wonder if there has ever been a year with no overlap at all.

We’re in the Oscars for 2006 now, and it’s clearly 3 out of 5 Actress Movies on the right and either one or two on the left (I wouldn’t count Capote as an Actress Movie, but it’s close). Another year back and it’s three of five for the women (including Annette Bening in Being Julia, which may be the canonical example of the Actress Movie) and maybe one on the men’s side. And another: four out of five, and one for the men. The 2002 films are tricky—is Frida an Actress Movie? I’m going to say not, which leaves one real Actress Movie on that side, and on the men’s side, at least two and arguably as many as four. That’s the first time we’ve seen it tip that way, isn’t it? Let’s just finish up the decade, though: 2001 films have two on each side and the 2000 films have two for women and three for men. So for those years, it was pretty even, or even tipped toward the men, but overall I think I was right about my instinct.

The point, essentially, is that I think that there are a limited number of slots for those nominations, and if there was one category for Best Acting, the Actress Movies would lose out. Except, thinking about it, that I’m not sure they would—the Academy might focus even more strongly on those, leaving the Best Director and Best Picture nominations for more popular movies. Hm. Perhaps I’m wrong about this.

By the way, a quick trivia question: What is the most recent movie to have performances nominated for Best Actress and a Best Actor both? When was the most recent year there were two such movies, and what were the movies?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Re: the trivia question, may we have the answers? I'm curious-yet-lazy.

I had forgotten all about the trivia question. OK, the last movie to have both a Best Actor and a Best Actress nominated performance in it, unless I am missing one, is Walk the Line, from four years ago. Reese Witherspoon won and Joaquin Phoenix lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote. Nothing since then has got both nominations. There have been a few movies going back from that, tho' not as many as I had expected (Million Dollar Baby, American Beauty, As Good as it Gets, The English Patient) but it's not since the 1996 Oscars (for movies released in 1995) that we have two: Dead Man Walking and Leaving Las Vegas. It's worth noting that neither of those two films were nominated Best Picture, tho' the others I listed above all were.

Anyway, that's 14 years ago. I would have thought it was more common than that—both that there were more movies that had double lead nominations and that there were more years where there were two double-lead movies. Looking back quite a bit, it does seem to have been more common in the 70s, but movies were different then (and there weren't so many of them).


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