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Why I was wrong about best actress

March 9, 2006 | 10:01 am

When sizing up the Oscar chances of the star of "Walk the Line," I didn't take seriously enough the "below the line" factor.


"If just actors, writers and directors were voting, sure, Felicity Huffman would probably win," a few Hollywood insiders told me as we dished the Felicity versus Reese Witherspoon matchup before the best actress envelope was opened. "But those below-the-line guys will never vote for Felicity!" they warned.

Those below-the-line guys are the film editors, cinematographers, visual effects wizards, and sound mixers who comprise a big chunk of the academy electorate and tend to be straight chaps who presumably prefer to embrace babes in the best actress race over a 43-year-old star deglamming herself to portray a misfit guy in a dress.

It's harsh to accuse them of putting prettiness above performance, but I'm quoting experts who track the Oscars professionally and they really believe in the Babe Factor I've written about here in the past.

It's obviously true that most recent winners have had youthful beauty in common: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hilary Swank and Halle Berry. Throughout this year's race I kept hearing from reputable sources that the "below the line" factor was the chief worry of Harvey Weinstein, distributor of "Transamerica."

I worried about it too. Women over age 40 rarely win, but when they do they tend to prevail for emotionally showy roles like Kathy Bates in "Misery." They dominate screen time like Jessica Tandy in "Driving Miss Daisy" or have a high cool factor within the industry like Susan Sarandon ("Dead Man Walking").

Felicity had all of that going for her plus the Last Movie Seen theory (Harvey shipped out the "Transamerica" screener last to 10 academy branches — including "below the line" — so it'd be fresh in voters' minds) and she underwent a radical physical transformation like Charlize Theron ("Monster"), Nicole Kidman ("The Hours") and Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry," "Million Dollar Baby"). By predicting Felicity would win for a new theatrical release, I thought all of that would trump Reese's supporting role — with no plastic cheekbones or noses, thank you very much — in a film that seemed like old news.

Besides, Felicity campaigned aggressively and gave a poignant acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Meantime, Reese mostly stayed home with her kids and hubby Ryan Phillippe and bored us to tears while at the podium at the Globes and SAG. She didn't even bother to attend BAFTA where she won. However, Felicity, who wasn't even nominated, was there in the audience beaming winningly.

Whenever I voiced my best actress argument to many seasoned Oscarologists, I kept hearing, "You're forgetting the 'below the line' factor, Tom. It's bigger than you think."

Ah, well. I wanted to pick one Oscar long shot this year. Too bad I didn't stick with the one I ballyhooed so early in the derby — that "Crash" could win best picture. Next time when the "below the line" factor comes into play, I suppose I will have to walk the line.

Photo: At Oscars ceremony in 1991, Kathy Bates pulled off a best actress upset over Anjelica Huston ("The Grifters"), Meryl Streep ("Postcards from the Edge") and Julia Roberts ("Pretty Woman") for portraying an off-putting character who dominated screen time in "Misery."
(Columbia Pictures)

The comments to this entry are closed.


Kathy Bates winning for Misery was hardly an UPSET.

Felicity Huffman is NOT in need of an Oscar. She is not overdue. If you check her filmography in IMDB, she has not appeared in any other film that would merit any awards consideration, whether it be for her performance or for the film itself. People are confusing her great TV work for her film work. Her filmography is quite bare, and quite frankly embarassing. Transamerica didn't improve any of that.

Look at her films the past few years:
Christmas With The Kranks
Raising Helen
Magnolia (the most notable, but no way does she deserve the overdue status just because of this film!)

How is Felicity in NEED of an Oscar?


I still believe that FELICITY deserves the Oscar, and REESE would too, if she is in the supporting category. To sum up, people love REESE for the other factors: bubbly, perky, sweet (tho that makes me nauseous), nice and charming, plus a lil bit of acting ability, and the way she shined in WTL, tho I would like to remind ppl that, her screening time is as much as Jennifer Connelly's in ABMind, but REESE and her bubbliness just got lucky to be campaigned in the leading race. I guess that ppl are back to the trend of the conservative times, where beauty, grace and perkiness win over real, gutterish talent. What's next??? Oscar winner Kate Hudson? Oscar winner Jennifer Garner? Oscar winner Scarlett Johansson (ooops, she was snubbed far too may times, she'll win one soon)? Oscar winner Bryce Dallas Howard?Oscar winner Zhang Ziyi? Oscar winner Jessica Alba (now, my gf is screaming bloody murder if this one happens!!!!!!!)? Oscar winner Rachel McAdams? Puh-leazzzze (esp that last one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

You know who are in need of Oscars : KATE WINSLET. NAOMI WATTS. And FELICITY HUFFMAN.

Go ahead, Tom. Keep on writing your thoughts. That's why is here in the first place!

Tom, I enjoy your stuff, but let's face it... Reese was just BETTER than Felicity. Felicity gave a good performance in a challenging part, but it was not better than Reese. I could never believe that Felicity would give Reese even a strong push, and I don't think attractiveness had anything to do with it. If it did, Keira Knightley would have won---which, in fact, I think she deserved to, but that is neither here nor there.

melvel, yours is the best post on here. You said everything I wish I had said and more in my posts!

I love you...I really do. I have your books, I love seeing you on talk shows, I respect your opinion, but get over it. Reese won. It's over. There's no recount or impeachment. Reese is officialy Best Actress 2005, can't you give her a little respect? Felicity was good, but it just wasn't her year. Oh well...

Excuses, excuses, GOD bless felicity and I wish her the best for her career, but let Reese enjoy her win. Props to Tom though on his dedication though, but he needs to give it up for Reese, everyone loves here, and as a matter of fact, ever since Election, she has been a favorite of mine and this win is overdue. Also, Felicity's role looked like it was OScar baiting, nothing wrong with that by the way, but maybe people are tired of that type of overt baiting.

Hats off to you Tom, you posted that last one..maybe doors are going to open.

I'm glad somebody is writing about this. Felicity deserved to win the Academy Award much MUCH more than Reese did.

Is this your best attempt at saving face after your INANE prediction? Sorry, but this is even lamer than your usual refrain of "if the voting was extended by a week, my longshot bet would have won..."

This latest post of yours only proves that the only reason you were not predicting Reese to win is because you DON'T LIKE REESE TO WIN. I don't know what you're reasons are for disliking her, but I'm guessing it's because you don't know her at all, or probably never had an opportunity to get to know her...unlike Felicity whom you have interviewed/talked to several times and therefore you consider yourself to be chummy with Felicity. I wonder if Reese even knows who you are...wait a minute, maybe that's why you dislike her! How pathetic.

"Below the line"? Are you kidding me? Reese probably got most of her votes from the Actor's branch. She is very popular among her peers. She won the SAG, for crying out loud. She got the loudest applause among the nominees during the Globes (more than any other winner actually, this according to a first-hand account of a HFPA member), and most of the people at the Globes are actors. A number of famous actors have declared that they loved her performance, Diane Keaton and Emma Thompson on Oprah come to mind. Where do you get the idea that Felicity had more support from the actors? Because her hubby is William H. Macy? Geez...

This article is obviously your last attempt to insult Reese and everything about her. "Supporting role"? Give it up already...all the critics awards Reese received (18 in all) chose to classify her as a lead, and she is a lead by all accounts. Her role was of great importance to the plot of the film that even if she had less screen time than Phoenix, she was still a co-lead.

"Boring speeches"? You really think Academy members are that shallow to base their votes on the quality of speeches given by the nominee? You're insulting our intelligence, Mr. O' Neil. So Felicity gave better speeches in her few award wins (conveniently mentioning William Macy every chance she gets), but that amounts to nothing. In the end, Reese still gave one of the best Oscar speeches of the night.

One last thing: you always mention "Hollywood insiders" and "experts who track the Oscars professionally" as your sources of voting pattern. Why not mention who these are? The fact is, your sources are not Academy insiders, they're probably just as clueless as you are.

THE TRUTH IS, FELICITY WAS NEVER EVER CLOSE IN THIS RACE. The race was over from the moment Walk the Line was released. ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG IN THIS PREDICTION, and maybe you'll gain what little credibility you had before this.

Mike, we've been in synch with this for a while and Tom, you haven't been.

Reese Witherspoon gave the Best Actress performance of ther year and deserved her Oscar. She was vibrant, poignant, strong, and touching. And, oh yeah, she sang pretty good too. Thats what makes an Oscar winning performance.

Too bad they screwed up with Best Picture.

On my second reading of Tom's article, I am more infuriated than I was the first time. How insulting his tone is toward Reese and her family, as well as to the craft industry. "Eating crow" means you made a mistake. "Eating crow" means you tell everyone you were just flat out wrong. This is the most backhanded "eating crow" letter I have ever seen. Your credibility has been permanently damaged through your "fanatical" support of Felcity Huffman. It sickened me as well as many others according to this board. I will no longer even read your articles, much less consider your predictions valid. I am totally repulsed by your comments.

Give it up Tom I'd bet the farm that Reese KILLED Felecity in the "Above the line" vote as well. You were wrong, at least admit it without insulting people.

Tom, I've been wanting to say it this whole season, but now I feel confident enough to say that you are officially OUT OF CONTROL.

There really wasn't any need to publish an article to try to make up for the fact that you were just plain out WRONG in your prediction for Best Actress.

As one individual said before, I think the fact that Reese won the SAG Award as well means she had a pretty substantial proportion of votes from the actors as well.

To just say that it was the below the line people that voted for her is just absurd. Felicity's movie was completely aimed at getting votes, no doubt about that.

I think I can pretty much say that I am completely done with reading your predictions or what you have to say about movies. You are biased against some, and it clearly shows.

Plus Tom does not mention the fag factor. Fellicity was playing a man who wants to be a woman, which was as much a turn off as was the gay cowboy thing. Hollywood is not as liberal as one would like to think. Tom didn't even post a comment I made about the supporting actress curse, that it didn't effect Kevin Spacey out of a curse, but bad choices, and his state of living in the closet. I doubt he'll post this one either.

I have many friends living and working in the LA area, they tell me all the time, 'you would not believe how many stars are married but gay" yet they all play straight, and fear being labled otherwise.

Not to worry Tom, we know you are straight, just what we call a 'bimbo' pretty to look at, but not much else.

I loved Reese Witherspoon in WTL and thought she gave an effortless performance birmming with heart and soul. I will see Transamerica this weekend (if I can get in cuz I'm only 16) and after that will judge between the two.

But I have a question: You said that the 'below the line' factor was the reason that Reese won but I thought that only certain branches can vote for certain categories except Best Picture which everyone votes in. Therefore, why do cinematographers and sound mixers and film editors vote for the acting awards if they don't act???"

Could you please inform us of who votes for who and if you know, please indicate how large the groups are. Thanks.

Could you be anymore insulting to the people you mention in your article?
Reese: How dare she have the nerve to stay home with her kids and husband rather then pimp herself for the win?
Felicity: Lacks youthful beauty - as do all women over 40?
Film editors, cinematographers, sound mixers: Screwed the win for Felicity because they all vote the "babe" factor.

Am I supposed to believe that below the line voters dont have the intelligence or artistic ability to vote for the best performance?

Give me a break.

The "Below The Line" factor? Honestly, I don't know if I've ever heard of anything so ridiculous! "Below The Line" artists don't have the ability to judge performances fairly? They, too, are filmmakers and, in this case even more importantly, voting members of the Academy. Editors, by the way, know a thing or two about acting as many performances are crafted in the editing room. It's insulting to those branches to presume that they can't view a performance and vote for what moved them. Perhaps they voted for Reese because they loved the movie and wanted to make sure it didn't walk away empty handed, maybe it's because they admired Reese's breakthrough performance which was different from anything she'd done in the past, maybe they just appreciate a good, old-fashioned love story. Maybe more voters saw Walk The Line because it was a movie that appealed to a wider audience than TransAmerica. Maybe it's because Walk The Line made $120 million and Trans made $12. Felicity was awesome and had a great year but it just wasn't hers. Whatever the case, the Academy has spoken - Walk The Line got 5 nominations and Reese Witherspoon won. Your "post mortem" on this issue is simply... insulting to crafts people working in the "below the line" categories.

Let it go, Tom. Just let it go. Felicity was sensational in Transamerica, but Reese had the buzz going for her from day one. And seeing as how she even won at the SAG awards, she obviously had plenty of support from her peers.

Not one kind word about Reese in this whole article. It is funny how Tom never mentioned the "below the line" factor in any of his previous articles. He was always touting the "last movie seen" theory. Reese Witherspoon gave a heatfelt and sincere speech on Oscar night, perhaps the best of the evening, and Tom failed to mention that fact in his article either.
Like it or not, Mr. O' Neil, Reese Witherspoon is now an Oscar winner, and one of the most beloved actresses in Hollywood.



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