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Oscar buzz builds for an upset by Marion Cotillard

February 24, 2008 |  9:54 am

Our Buzzmeter gurus Pete Hammond and Dave Karger are getting nervous, I hear. Really nervous. They're among the vast majority of our pundits (29 out of 32) on the Julie Christie train in the best-actress race now fretting that it might suddenly get derailed when a winner crosses the finish line tonight.

That's because they're hearing more and more of what I've been hearing for the last few weeks too, causing me to jump off and switch to Marion Cotillard in our final Buzzmeter logged earlier this week. When you talk to actual voters, you find out that gads aren't voting with the Christie pack, as widely presumed. Cotillard is ahead in the private count I've been keeping but only narrowly. The few dozen academy members I've polled isn't a scientific sampling, but it's enough to convince me of an upset ahead.


The reason: Voters, contrary to general belief, love to crown ingenues. Gone are the days when they automatically gave it to icons like Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. Over the last 10 years, six of the winners were first-time nominees, such as Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron.

Next, there's the reality factor. Four of the five past best-actress champs re-created the role of a real person, like last year's champ, Helen Mirren, as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Cotillard portrays French chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," of course. Christie's role is fictitious.

Another major consideration: The Babe Factor. Read my detailed description of it HERE. In brief: Voters are old guys who lust after the chicks. (Opposite of the Slap the Stud Syndrome — read HERE — in which they punish the pretty boys for their looks, no doubt out of jealousy.) Only two women older than 50 have won any acting role in the last 15 years: Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") and Helen Mirren ("The Queen"). While on the campaign trail last year, Mirren blatantly flirted with voters by cranking up her still-got-it charms. Christie, age 66, is still a babe, but she hasn't been selling it like a Joan Collins. Perhaps that's OK, though. Most voters are old enough to remember fondly when they gave her an Oscar 42 years ago for shedding skimpy miniskirts while bed-hopping her way through "Darling."

Christie's new Oscar hopes may also be OK thanks to timing. Remember the last big award she won was from the Screen Actors Guild. The award was doled out just a few days before ballots were sent to academy members. Most pundits say award voters tend to fill out ballots right away. In this case, Chritie's winning acceptance speech would have been fresh on their minds. After thanking a few friends and colleagues, the star, who portrays an Alzheimer's victim in "Away from Her," said, "If I've forgotten anybody, it's just that I'm still in character."

However, it's possible that a key factor behind Christie edging out Cotillard at SAG may have been that the full 100,000 membership received DVD screeners of "Away From Her" but not "La Vie en Rose." Oscar voters received both.

Bias against foreign-language roles may also be in Christie's favor, considering that her chief foe speaks en francais on screen. Virtually no French-language role, male or female, has won anyone an acting award. But Italian-speaking Sophia Loren won best actress for 1960's "Two Women," the first to a non–American actress in a foreign-language film.

But I have a hunch that Cotillard, age 32, is this year's Juliette Binoche, a kittenishly appealing French star with exotic appeal who can pull off The Big Jawdropper. The late-breaking buzz we're hearing for her now reminds me of similar rumblings in the home stretches of derbies past when "Braveheart" and "Crash" won best picture.

Pete concedes most of these points and counterpoints but tells me that, when he ran into Karger on the Oscar party circuit last night, they agreed that they're sticking with Christie.