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While Oscar nominations won't be announced until January 11, two major lists of award winners have already been revealed, with both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review making their picks for the best of the year this week. Both groups made their own surprising picks, from Rachel Weisz's surprise win of Best Actress from the critics to the NBR's choice of Bradley Cooper as Best Actor. But the biggest surprise of all, surely, wasn't what both groups picked, but what they didn't.
From the moment Les Miserables first screened for critics, nearly everyone seemed content to declare the Best Supporting Actress race over, with Anne Hathaway's performance as Fantine so powerful she could easily walk away with every award there was. Then neither the NYFCC or the NBR chose her for their awards, going with Lincoln's Sally Field and Compliance's Ann Dowd, respectively. Had Hathaway gone from a lock to a total non-factor so quickly? Was her Oscar just another one of those tragic dreams Fantine had before her entire life fell apart?
Well, maybe not. Sean is getting worried about Hathaway's supposed locked-down win, and Katey is more skeptical, so the two of them got together for a Great Debate to figure out just where Hathaway's Oscar chances stand right now.
SEAN: Katey, I'm starting to worry about Anne Hathaway. Not the actress, so to speak, as much as her pre-determined position as the "frontrunner" in the Best Supporting Actress category for her turn in Les Miserables. Two groups have announced their year-end selections for the category, and Hathaway was overlooked by the very deserving Ann Dowd (of Compliance) and Sally Field (for Lincoln). Now, I'm not saying Ms. Hathaway won't be nominated for an Oscar. But I no longer view her as the slam dunk some still say that she is. Where do you fall on her status at this point in the race?
KATEY: My answer pretty much boils down to one sentence: The critics are not the Academy, and they never have been. With the exception of a few shadowy NBR members I might not know about, there is zero overlap between the voting bodies of these groups and the Academy Awards-- so why should we expect them to fall in line? Yes, some years the critics rubberstamp the choice the Academy will make, and they did that for the performance everyone is comparing Hathaway's to-- Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. But both of these groups just seem to be sticking their necks out for contenders who they thought might be overlooked. Isn't that what we want to see happen?
SEAN: Not necessarily. I'm a firm believer that critics groups (and the Academy) should vote for who they truly believe is the best choice in that category, year after year. Votes shouldn't be used to hopefully bring recognition to someone they fear might be overlooked. For instance, if I really liked Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings, but didn't hear much chatter on her chances, I wouldn't cast a vote in her direction just to raise her profile.
But I digress. I guess what surprised me with the first two groups overlooking Hathaway is that, for the first time since it was announced that she'd be playing Fantine in the Les Miserables adaptation, she has been deemed unbeatable. Then, that trailer! It really sold the emotion of the scene. She seemed like a lock. Now I think she's beatable. In fact, I'd almost be surprised if she won.
KATEY: Really? After two groups don't go for her you'd be actively surprised? What happens if 3 or 4 of the critics groups voting this weekend go for Hathaway? Will you swing right back over into unbeatable?
SEAN: Nope. Because the more I thought about her turn in Les Mis, the more I realize that it boils down to one admittedly great scene, and little else. Tell me, honestly, did Hathaway do anything with the scant few minutes of screen time she was afforded in Les Mis to garner Oscar's attention? We know, already, that Fantine departs the show very early on. Does she really give the year's best supporting performance in a movie, or does she simply sing a very good song? Hell, I'd argue she deserves a better "supporting" performance as Selina Kyle in Teh Dark Knight Rises. There's not enough "performance" in Les Mis to reward her, particularly when actresses like Field, Dowd, Helen Hunt and Maggie Smith give actual performances that carry their movies.
KATEY: So are you saying YOU don't think she's good enough, or that the Academy won't think so... or both? Because remember, it is not hard to win an Oscar because of a single good scene, even with limited screentime. Judi Dench did in Shakespeare in Love, and I'd argue Jennifer Hudson did it too, since "I Am Telling You" is really the only great moment in that movie.
SEAN: Ah, the "Judi Dench" example. It's a rarity. I don't believe that many actresses can count on winning thanks to one great scene. To answer your question, I think that one scene is great. I think the movie is flawed. And I think it will be easier for someone to pass Hathaway as the lengthy campaign drags on. How many times will Hathaway be able to talk about her precious few minutes of screen time to the thousands of journalists on the Oscar trail?
We've seen actresses nominated because they were overlooked for films in the past. Or if someone's having a solid year, the nomination could cover more than one performance. That all could work in Hathaway's favor, for sure. Or Academy members might remember her abysmal turn as an Oscar host, and just choose to avoid her like the plague.
KATEY: I think the biggest x-factor you're ignoring is how Les Miserables will perform for audiences-- and for the guild voters who will actually be voting on the Oscars. I think it will do well with both, and when Les Miserables is a popular movie with one true standout performance (in an incredibly weak field like Supporting Actress), that's one place people can easily give their support.
Sally Field is the only person I can see being a legitimate threat for Best Supporting Actress, but Hathaway still has a mix of being a popular actress, a previous nominee but not a winner, a beautiful young woman, and being an integral part of what ought to be a hit movie. It's still a strong combination-- just not as strong with critics as with Oscar voters.