Tom O'Neil has the inside track on Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and all the award shows.
Lots of stars almost pulled off a full sweep of the key early awards during derby season, then went on to win the Oscar. But only 15 stars, according to my count, actually accomplished a total romp in modern times. Many others were like Robert De Niro ("Raging Bull"). He won most of the major kudos of 1980 except one. At the National Society of Film Critics, he lost best actor to Peter O'Toole ("The Stunt Man"). Or Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight"), who almost swept the board last year, but also got tripped up by the national society (losing to Eddie Marsden, "Happy-Go-Lucky") plus New York Film Critics Circle (lost to Josh Brolin, "Milk").
It sure looks like Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") and Mo'Nique ("Precious") are juggernauts that can't be stopped this year. They both won all four major critics' awards (National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., Broadcast Film Critics Assn.) plus the Golden Globe and Screen Actors' Guild Awards. It's important to note that SAG has only been bestowing awards since 1994, BFCA (Critics' Choice Award) since 1995. After that, four actors claimed all six prizes: Nicolas Cage ("Leaving Las Vegas"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen") and Forest Whitaker ("Last King of Scotland").
In 1994, Martin Landau ("Ed Wood") and Dianne Wiest ("Bullets Over Broadway") pulled off full sweeps of the precursor prizes that included the SAG Award. Before that, a sweep was defined as snagging laurels from the three leading groups of print journos (New York, L.A. and national society) plus the Golden Globe. Actors who accomplished that: Sally Field ("Norma Rae"), Gene Hackman ("Unforgiven"), Dustin Hoffman and Mery Streep ("Kramer vs. Kramer"), Holly Hunter ("The Piano"), Jack Nicholson ("Terms of Endearment"), Michelle Pfeiffer ("The Fabulous Baker Boys"), Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), Mary Steenburgen ("Melvin and Howard"), Meryl Streep ("Sophie's Choice") and Emma Thompson ("Howards End"). All of the stars mentioned above went on to win the Oscar with one exception. Pfeiffer was stopped by Jessica Tandy ("Driving Miss Daisy").
The New York Film Critics Circle began doling out trophies in 1935, the national society in 1966. To give our awards analysis in this blog article some context, I'm beginning our scrutiny at 1976, the year the L.A. critics joined the kudos game.
Of the above-named champs, these also won National Board of Review: Cage, Field, Hunter, Mirren, Nicholson, Pfeiffer, Spacek, Streep, Thompson, Whitaker. I don't consider that to be a crucial part of the definition of a full sweep, however, since it's not an industry award – not bestowed by journalists or industry insiders. NBR is really like a People's Choice Award bestowed by sophisticated New Yorkers. Since we don't count the nationwide People's Choice Award, maybe we shouldn't count NBR either.
National Board of Review goes crazy for Clooney and Clint again ... Will disaster follow at the Oscars?
Clooney's "Up in the Air" reaped prizes for best picture, lead actor (Clooney), supporting actress (Anna Kendrick) and adapted screenplay (Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner). Its helmer, Reitman, was cheated out of the director's award by NBR fave Clint Eastwood ("Invictus"). "Invictus" star Morgan Freeman tied Clooney for the lead actor's laurels.
Two years ago Clooney won best actor for "Michael Clayton." His "Good Night, and Good Luck" was voted best picture of 2005. Clint's "Letters From Iwo Jima" won best picture of 2006 and "Mystic River" best flick of 2003. Last year he won best actor for "Gran Torino." None of those wins repeated at the Oscars. Eastwood wasn't even nominated by academy members for his performance in "Gran Torino.".
The biggest NBR snub today was the omission of "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" from the NBR list of top 10 films. Just like "Up in the Air," it's considered to be a best-picture front-runner at the Oscars, but just because it got skunked by NBR doesn't necessarily spell doom at the Academy Awards. In 2003, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" failed to make the list too, then went on to sweep the Oscars, tying the record for most victories previously set by "Titanic" and "Ben-Hur." NBR voters did see "Lord of the Rings" — they gave it an ensemble award. In 2001, they snubbed "A Beautiful Mind" completely. In some other years when the eventual Oscar best-picture winner failed to make the NBR list, NBR voters didn't see the films, being too eager to be the first award of derby season in early December before the films opened.
That situation could repeat this year if "Avatar" wins best picture at the Oscars. "Avatar" is the only major film that NBR voters didn't see before casting ballots. They did view "Nine" and "The Lovely Bones" and snubbed both, but that wasn't a surprise considering the split reactions those films are getting at early industry screenings. Both could still end up being nominated at the Oscars, especially because the best-picture race will consist of 10 slots this year. In recent years, when there were only five contenders, Oscar best-picture nominees "The Reader," "There Will Be Blood" and "The Queen" failed to make the NBR top 10 lists.
NBR's best-actress champ of last year, Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married"), did make the Oscar list on nominees just like NBR's lead-acting winners of the previous year, Clooney ("Michael Clayton") and Julie Christie ("Away From Her"). All lost at the Oscars.
Most of NBR's lead-acting champs of 2005 and 2006 did well at the Oscars: Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen") and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote"). NBR victor Felicity Huffman ("Transamerica") got nominated by the academy, but lost to Reese Witherspoon ("Walk the Line") on Oscar night.
In recent years, NBR foretold the best-picture winner at the Oscars twice: "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) and "No Country for Old Men" (2007). Earlier, the last agreement occurred in 1999 ("American Beauty").
Comparisons between Oscars and NBR aren't too relevant before 2005 because a power coup caused a toppling of old leaders of the Exceptional Photoplay Committee around then. Committee members decide award winners along with fractional input from the general membership. Current voters clearly have a strong bias toward Clooney and Clint that may or may not be shared by Oscar voters this derby season. Hmmm, should Clooney and Clint actually be worried about being hailed again by NBR?
The NBR winners:
BEST FILM: "Up in the Air"
TEN BEST FILMS
"(500) Days of Summer"
"The Hurt Locker"
"A Serious Man"
"Where the Wild Things Are"
BEST DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"
BEST ACTOR (tie): George Clooney, "Up in the Air"; Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
While snooping among the ranks of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. today, it became quite clear that "Slumdog Millionaire" is destined to win best drama picture next Jan. 11. Considering it recently won the National Board of Review and is the current fave of The Envelope's Oscar pundits to bag the top Oscar, it seems poised to sweep most of the annual derby.
But the cliffhanger remains: how thorough the sweep?
Only once in modern film history has one movie won the top prize at every major Hollywood award — "Schindler's List" (1993) — so the odds are stacked against "Slumdog" to do the same. I don't think it can sweep the trifecta of print critics' awards, for example: the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the National Society of Film Critics. Even when the Gothamites and Angelenos agree on a best pic, the NSFC usually takes its own course. In 2004, when New York and L.A. picked "Sideways" in early December, NSFC embraced "Million Dollar Baby" a month later. In 2005, when New York and L.A. picked "Brokeback Mountain," NSFC chose "Capote."
New York and L.A. don't usually select the same film, though. Last year NYFCC picked "No Country for Old Men" and LAFCA chose "There Will Be Blood." This year I'm betting that they both pick "Slumdog" when the Angelenos vote today and the New Yorkers cast ballots Wednesday. The reason: The movie is not only a winner in every way, it's got snob appeal, being an indie with art-house credentials. Director Danny Boyle has been a critics' darling since "Trainspotting" (1996), but he's never won an award from a major U.S. film critics group. "Slumdog" is just the chance they've been waiting for.
The big difference between the New York and L.A. critics' awards will be in acting races. If the Angelenos pick Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), as I think they will, then the New Yorkers will pick someone else, just to be different, a day later. Rourke's a good bet for LAFCA because the group of 44 members is more than 75% male. Count on them getting caught up in a testosterone rush over "The Wrestler." Wanting to pick something else the next day, the New York group (also overwhelmingly male, but it just added several female members!) will probably opt for a low-budget, critically praised indie about a nerdy abandoned old guy (just like NYFCC members) that was produced in New York: "The Visitor," starring Richard Jenkins.
Beware: If "The Wrestler" sets off a hormonal tsunami, it might end up snatching away one of the best-picture awards from LAFCA or NYFCC. The other one will still go to "Slumdog."
In the best actress race, one of the two critics groups will inevitably opt for snooty Kristin Scott Thomas speaking French and looking all morose and depressed all the time in "I've Loved You So Long." Since LAFCA votes first, it'll probably nab her before the New Yorkers do. Gothamites will want to pick someone else, but who? I'm just guessing Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road"), but that's just a wild guess, and anything's possible given the group's odd voting process.
Here are my full predix below. See a full breakdown of other pundits' at AwardsDaily.com.
LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSN.
Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Best Actress: Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
If "Slumdog Millionaire" is really the new "Chariots of Fire" — a little indie flick about champion underdogs that wins best picture at the Oscars — then it just hit a kudos jackpot by being named best picture of 2008 by the National Board of Review. In 1981, the National Board of Review was the first and only major U.S. awards group to give its top prize to the small film about runners with big dreams of breaking into the Olympics before it went the distance in the Oscars derby. Now the little movie about a ghetto boy who wins India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has emerged as a top dog in this year's Oscars race.
This is the second year in a row that National Board of Review issued its top 10 list of best films separately from the winner of best picture. This year's entries: "Burn After Reading," "Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Defiance," "Frost/Nixon," "Gran Torino," "Milk," "Wall-E," "The Wrestler." Notable snubs: "Doubt," "Revolutionary Road," "The Reader," "Australia" and — considering the awards love it received in other NBR categories — "Frozen River."
All major movies were seen by National Board of Review members this year with one exception: United Artists did not screen "Valkyrie" before voting but will show it to members before it's released to theaters this month. In past years, NBR's awards came out so early in December that its voters missed seeing such Oscar best picture winners as "Gone with the Wind" (1939), "Rain Man" (1988), "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (2003).
Other winners of 2008 NBR Awards:
Best director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Best actor: Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Best actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best supporting actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Best supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best foreign-language filim: "Mongol"
Best documentary: "Man on Wire"
Best animated feature: "Wall-E"
Best ensemble cast: "Doubt"
Best breakthrough actor: Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best breakthrough actress: Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Best directorial debut: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Best original screenplay: Nick Schenk, "Gran Torino"
Best adapted screenplay (tie): Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"; Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Spotlight Award: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"; Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Freedom of Expression: "Trumbo"
William K. Everson Film History Award: Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris
Top five best foreign-language films, listed alphabetically: "Edge of Heaven," "Let the Right One In," "Roman de Guerre," "A Secret," "Waltz with Bashir"
Top five documentary films, listed alphabetically: "American Teen," "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)," "Dear Zachary," "Encounters at the End of the World," "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired"
Of the 100 films nominated for best picture at the Oscars over the last two decades, the NBR named 72 of them on their annual lists. The comparison is a bit skewed since National Board of Review picks 10 or 11 films per year instead of five, but it's still worthy of note. Three times in those 20 years all five Oscar nominees made the NBR top list and the winners agreed: 1989 ("Driving Miss Daisy"), 1994 ("Forrest Gump") and 2002 ("Chicago"). The two awards also chose the same best pictures five other times in those two decades: 1990 ("Dances With Wolves"), 1991 ("Silence of the Lambs"), 1993 ("Schindler's List"), 1999 ("American Beauty") and 2007 ("No Country for Old Men").
Comparisons between the awards are most apt only when stacking up results over the past several years since there was a huge changeover in members of the exceptional photoplay committee after a power coup at National Board of Review. Consider how these top NBR awards compare with Oscar results over the past three years:
X = Oscar champ
X - Best picture: "No Country for Old Men"
Best actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"
Best actress: Julie Christie, "Away from Her"
Best picture: "Letters From Iwo Jima"
X - Best actor: Forest Whitaker, "Last King of Scotland"
X - Best actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Best picture: "Good Night, and Good Luck"
X - Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"
Best actress: Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica"
The National Board of Review is the New Hampshire primary of kudos season because the group is hellbent to be the first major award of the derby. Its influence has been considerable through the years, dating as far as 1934 when it probably nudged the Oscars to notice its eventual best-picture choice, "It Happened One Night," which came close to being dismissed as a quickly lensed screwball comedy.
In 1955, low-budget, black-and-white indie "Marty" got attention at the Cannes Film Festival, but the board was the first to hail it stateside before it snagged the top Oscar.
Its impact can probably be measured best by three of its best-picture choices: "Patton" (1970), "The Sting" (1973) and "Chariots of Fire" (1981). All were subsequently snubbed by the film critics' groups and the Golden Globes, then resurfaced later at the tail end of the derby.
The National Board of Review was founded in New York in 1909 by a coalition of forces determined to stop the city government from censoring movies. The coalition consisted of movie-makers plus community and family organizations and, in effect, it took over the censoring job themselves. NBR gave its seal of approval to films it liked and assigned viewing-age recommendations: "M" for mature audiences (18 and older), "F" for families (12 and up) and "J" for juvenile (under 12). From the 1920s to the 1940s, many U.S. cities forbid the public showing of films unless they displayed the legend "Passed by the National Board of Review" in their credits.
Over time the Motion Picture Association of America took over the role of officially approving film content and NBR evolved into a film appreciation society. The New York-based group got into the awards game by issuing lists of the year's best films just months after the first Oscar ceremony was held out on America's other coast in 1929.
NBR is not a journalists' group, as commonly believed. It comprises sophisticated New Yorkers, a few of whom are journalists, but others are scholars, lawyers, doctors, students, etc. Of its 122 members, 41 are either film students or people who can be classified as young filmmakers. Last year NBR bestowed 29 student scholarships ranging in sums from $500 to $5,000, totaling $75,000.
The National Board of Review will unveil its winners Thursday. What do you think will win the top prize? Keep this in mind: The NBR often likes to pick offbeat fare in order to push its own pony into the derby. It did that with dark horses that subsequently went the distance ("Chariots of Fire") and others that didn't but at least got nominated ("Moulin Rouge!" — its director, Baz Luhrmann, is back in the derby now with "Australia"). Of course, it has also been totally off track ("Quills"), but I think it's more focused on predicting the Oscars nowadays. In recent years there was a power coup that ousted the old Trotskyites who once ruled the small Exceptional Photoplay Committee, which really decides the award champs. There are a few hundred members of NBR who contribute their opinions after viewing films year-round, but frankly they're usually overruled by the NBR politburo. Under this new regime, NBR named "No Country for Old Men" as best picture last year.
Here are key dates of major kudo news coming up on the derby track:
Dec. 2 - Gotham Awards declares winners
Dec. 2 - Indie Spirits announces nominees
Dec. 4 - National Board of Review announces winners
Dec. 9 - Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. winners unveiled
Dec. 9 - Critics Choice announces nominees
Dec. 10 - New York Film Critics Circle declares winners
Illustration by Ty Wilson
For the first time in modern memory, members of the New York Film Critics Circle will vote for their awards on a Wednesday instead of the usual Monday. This year balloting will occur on Dec. 10. Apparently, waiting until the following Monday, Dec. 15, would be too late and moving up to Dec. 8 too early.
Now the next question is: What will the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. do? To stay out in front of the Gothamites, they're going to have to convene on Dec. 7 if they want to stick with powwowing, as usual, on a Sunday. Too early? Last year LAFCA voted on Sunday, Dec. 9. NYFCC on Monday, the 10th. Voting dates in 2006: Dec 10 in L.A., Dec. 11 in N.Y. In both cases, the National Board of Review stayed out in front, as usual. However, in 2005, things got tricky. NBR planned to announce winners on Dec. 7, but missed the date and ended up unveiling its choices on Dec. 12, the exact same day as NYFCC. (LAFCA got out front on the 10th.)
Those snooty members of NYFCC insist they don't care a hoot what NBR does because it's not a critics' organization (call NBR an uppercrust People's Choice Award bestowed by a small group of New York lawyers, teachers, dentists, writers, PR folk), but, in 2005, NYFCC members halted their voting periodically throughout the day to find out if results of NBR were in yet, then read off the NBR winners during their meeting. Being snobs, they didn't want to pick the same stuff NBR did and probably would've changed their vote outcome just to be different, if necessary. But it wasn't. NBR chose "Good Night, and Good Luck" for best picture. NYFCC had no problem copying what their counterpart critics in L.A. picked two days earlier: "Brokeback Mountain."
This year NBR plans to trumpet choices even earlier: Dec. 4. Can members manage to see all major movie contenders in time? Sometimes its dogged insistence upon being first out of the derby gate carries a high price. They missed "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" in 2003 and had to leave it off its award list, which was especially embarrassing because it went on to tie the Oscar record for most wins (11) set by "Ben-Hur" and "Titanic." But that also happened way back in 1939 with "Gone With the Wind." Talk about oversights! This year it's possible they could miss "Gran Torino," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" or "The Reader."
This year the National Board of Review will celebrate its 100th anniversary with its award bash on Jan. 14, 2009, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York.
Illustration by Ty Wilson
On Tuesday night our Envelope contributor Paul Sheehan attended the National Board of Review's awards gala in New York in order to provide this report. Words below are Paul's.
The awardsfest attracted a high turnout of stars eager to walk a red carpet this season and collect their trophies. Among those attending the lavish affair at Cipriani were best actor George Clooney, best actress Julie Christie, supporting actor Casey Affleck and his big brother Ben (a winner for directorial debut), as well as breakthrough performers Ellen Page and Emile Hirsch.
As the event was not televised, it did not fall victim to a boycott by the various unions. Unfortunately, the three-hour-plus ceremony could have used the services of a writer or two to give certain of the stammering presenters and recipients something to say while the more long-winded could have used some judicious editing.
Among the highlights: Phil Donahue's enthusiasm at winning best documentary for "Body of War," a gripping account of one soldier's hellish journey to Iraq and back. His impassioned speech reminded us that his civility is much missed from daytime TV while presenter Mike Wallace showed all that at age 89 he's still got it.
Showing us that they still have a very different kind of "it" were a trio of sexy sexagenarians: presenters Glenn Close, feting a delighted Michael Douglas with the lifetime achievement award, and Susan Sarandon, who beamed while talking about the talents of painfully shy newcomer Hirsch, and Christie, who wowed the crowd when she acknowledged the NBR's roots as "a board set up to combat censorship."
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The National Board of Review, founded in New York in 1909, began naming the year's best movies a few months after the first Oscar ceremony was held in Hollywood in 1929. New this year for the NBR was a top ten list separate from the actual winner — "No Country for Old Men." How many of these eleven will make it to Oscar's final five?
Looking back over the last 20 years may give us some idea of how closely (or not) the opinions of the NBR members (most of whom are not involved in moviemaking) will match up with the best picture nominees. However, the recent changes to the true decisionmakers at the NBR — the Exceptional Photoplay Committee — could mean that this year's list is more in line with that of the critics rather than Oscar voters.
Of the 100 films nominated for best picture at the Oscars over the last two decades, the NBR named 72 of them on their annual lists. While this is a respectable enough percentage, remember that the NBR doubles their chances by choosing ten movies a year versus the Academy's five. Having said that, in three of those years, the NBR not only had all five nominees but also had as their pick for best pic the one that ended up winning the Oscar - 1989 ("Driving Miss Daisy"), 1994 ("Forrest Gump"), and 2002 ("Chicago"). However, there were only four other years when the NBR choice went on to win at the Academy Awards - 1990 ("Dances With Wolves"), 1991 ("Silence of the Lambs"), 1993 ("Schindler's List"), and 1999 ("American Beauty").
With buzz building for "Sweeney Todd," it appears that Helena Bonham Carter could be a lead actress Oscar contender again. Her only other nod was back in 1997 for playing another scheming woman who manipulates a man in "The Wings of the Dove." Both roles, that of Kate Croy then and Mrs. Lovett now, required the well-bred actress (a great-granddaughter of a British prime minister) to get down and dirty.
A decade ago, Carter was but one of four English roses in the race, all pricked at the finish by the sole American — Helen Hunt, winner for her thorny portrayal of a put-upon single mom in "As Good as It Gets." While Hunt had taken home the Golden Globe (comedy) and SAG award, she had been ignored by all of the critics groups.
Was this because of her television pedigree? At the time, she was in the middle of a seven-year run with Paul Reiser as Manhattan marrieds in "Mad About You" and had already won the first two of four consecutive Emmys as best comedy actress. While her track record in films was spotty — battling tornadoes in "Twister" gets you MTV Movie award nods, not Oscars — triple Oscar winner James Brooks, also a TV vet, cast Hunt opposite the irascible Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets." Holly Hunter had turned down the role, citing the two-decade age difference with Nicholson, but 26-years-younger Hunt had no such problem playing the tart-tongued waitress who swaps quips and spit with Jack.
Since her unexpected Oscar win, Hunt's career has faded fast. After her series ended in 1999, she starred in four films of varying quality in 2000, made one of Woody Allen's lesser comedies in 2001, and appeared in "A Good Woman," an ill-conceived update of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan," in 2004. After taking time off to have a baby, she tore a page out of Barbra Streisand's book and wrote, produced, directed and starred in "Then She Found Me," a comedy-drama about a woman in a mid-life crisis. While THINKfilm picked up the distribution rights at the Toronto filmfest in September for a spring 2008 release, Hunt has no future projects planned.
Back to 1997: Carter had won the National Board of Review as well as recognition from the L.A. and broadcast film critics for her riveting role as the anti-heroine in this sumptuous screen version of the Henry James novel. Five years earlier, she had had seen her on-screen sister Emma Thompson sweep the awards derby starring in another literary adaptation, E.M. Forster's "Howards End."
Carter's chief rival on Oscar night was thought to be Julie Christie, who could well be her main competition again this year for her astonishing work as an Alzheimer patient in "Away From Her." Born in India in the last days of the Raj, the upper-class Christie won the lead actress Academy Award back in 1965 as a bed-hopping babe in "Darling." More than three decades on, she was winning plaudits in 1997 for playing an unhappily married woman in Alan Rudolph's love-rectangle drama "Afterglow." She was named best actress by both the New York Film Critics Cicle and National Society of Film Critics and took home the Independent Spirit award the night before the Oscars for her subtle portrayal of a woman on the verge.
The fourth nominee, Judi Dench, was starring in her first film after decades of toiling on the British stage, and 12 years after her first substantive movie role in "A Room With a View" (Carter's film debut). She had won the Golden Globe (drama) for playing the widowed Queen Victoria in "Mrs Brown" and was fast becoming a favorite by Oscar night. Though she lost then, Dame Judi returned the next year to win the supporting-actress award for playing another monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, for all of 8 1/2 minutes in best picture winner "Shakespeare in Love." Her competition then? Two Brits — Brenda Blethyn ("Little Voice") and Lynn Redgrave ("Gods and Monsters"), one Aussie Rachel Griffiths ("Hilary and Jackie") and one American, previous lead actress winner Kathy Bates ("Primary Colors").
Since that win, Dench has had four more nods including one in 2001 for "Iris" with her younger self in that biopic played by the fifth nominee from Oscar night 1997, Kate Winslet. At 22, Winslet became a two-time loser in 1997, having been nominated in the supporting actress race two years earlier for playing Emma Thompson's younger sister in "Sense and Sensibility." (A decade on, she is the youngest actress to have had five nominations, but alas no win). Winslet may just have to make do with having starred in the biggest grossing film of all time — "Titanic" — which turned out to be quite the juggernaut on Oscar night winning 11 statues.
When Hunt won, many thought she had caught the wave of momentum that got her co-star, Jack Nicholson, his third Oscar. Indeed, they were only the seventh on-screen team in Oscar's first 70 years to win both awards for lead actor and actress. However, the more jingoistic Oscarologists think that she won because she was the only American in the race.
Does that theory really hold up? See separate post below. Meantime, give us YOUR vote for the 1997 race, please.
It pains me to do this — to take my fellow Oscar prognosticators to task in public — but I think they can take it and I hope they find this discussion an interesting exercise in kudos analysis. And, perhaps, even helpful, although perhaps a bit painful in spots.
Recently, Scott Feinberg, who operates the admirable AndTheWinnerIs.blog.com, sounded a fascinating rallying cry to all of his fellow Oscar bloggers: Hey, kids, let's launch our own awards and proclaim what film work WE think is the best of the year!
Great idea, I say. Can never be enough awards, as far as this awards expert is concerned. After all, they all promote something very important: a discussion of superior film achievement. Up till now, we've received the perspectives of filmmakers (Oscars, guilds, Indie Spirits, BAFTA), American critics (New York, L.A., National Society, women, African-Americans, even groups like — my personal fave — the Central Ohio Film Critics), foreign journos (Golden Globes), festivals (Sundance, Cannes), the public (People's Choice), wee ones (Kid's Choice), viewers of tube music channels (MTV), etc. Why not the journos who write about these awards, too? Yes! Here! Here!
But I declined Scott's kind offer to participate for several reasons, a chief one being skepticism about the results. I've been writing about Oscars, Globes, Emmys and other awards for nearly 20 years for the L.A. Times, New York Times, London Times, Variety, Reader's Digest, TV Guide and scores of other publications and I've written in-depth books "The Emmys," "The Grammys" and "Movie Awards," published by Penguin Putnam and, at one point, by Variety. CLICK HERE to see the latter, which spans the histories of the 13 top U.S. film kudos and is the only tome ever written on many of them, including the Globes and the leading film-critics' awards. In 1999, I launched the first website devoted to all of these prizes — GoldDerby.com, which was acquired by the L.A. Times in November, 2005, and folded into the launch of TheEnvelope.com.
In short, I really know showbiz awards and have made a particular study of how they affect each other. That's the premise of "Movie Awards," which arranges those 13 film kudos chronologically year by year and week by week so you can see how they influence each other. Ever wonder how "Rocky" won the Oscar for best picture? Well, it happened because the brand-spanking-new Los Angeles Film Critics Association was desperate to pick something totally out of the blue and distinguish itself from the New York Film Critics Circle, which had been around since 1935 and usually preferred snooty fare to prove how smart its members were. The year was 1976. Many LAFCA members happened to be together at a screening of a low-brow, crowd-pleasing popcorn pic that captured the spirit of the American Dream during America's Bicentennial. Impressed by how the audience whooped and whistled at Sly Stallone's punch-drunk drive to succeed, one of them turned to the others as they left the theater and gasped, "That's it!"
When you study one year's awards consecutively, the influence they have on each other is obvious. Oscar voters never would've chosen "Silence of the Lambs" as best picture if the New York Film Critics Circle hadn't given them permission to anoint a horrorfest, something they'd never done before, and haven't done since. "Annie Hall" never would've won the top Oscar if the National Society of Film Critics hadn't reached back to the previous spring to hail a movie alternative to the late-breaking biggies of 1977.
So when Scott announced the formation of SOAP — the new Society of Online Awards Prognosticators — I thought, snidely, to myself: Oh, jeeeeez, it's just going to serve up refried beans. Ideally, a group like SOAP, being comprised of savvy award-watchers, would have the stomach to break away from the groupthink of other awards, proudly pooh-pooh all that, and declare across kudosland: Look, you idiots, THIS is really the best movie, the best performance, the best screenplay of the year! Why are you taking your lead from the National Board of Review, for Chrissake?!
But that's what they did, of course — I mean borrow from many other awards — and I shake my head with disappointment. These, of all people, should know better. True, there are occasional departures from the mainstream, but look at the soggy beans on their platter of best-pic nominees: "The Departed," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Pan's Labyrinth" (which won best pic from the National Society), "The Queen," "United 93." All tasty, sure, but warmed over after being snatched from other plates.
Why not some hot, gourmet alternatives like "Casino Royale," "Army of Shadows," "Deliver Us from Evil," "Volver"? What I think they should REALLY do, if only they had the guts and they don't, is to break from the lockstep of film critics completely and set the record straight about "The Fountain," for example, a magnificent achievement shrugged off by testosterone-blinded, cynical bullies who dominate film criticism (more than 85 percent male) and get their jollies out of bashing sissy flicks full of wild romantic abandon. Many critics are wrong about "The Fountain" — period, because I say so — but SOAP has issued very few nominations that dare to defy the thugs. OK, sure, "The Fountain" got a nod for music score, but why not best picture?
Oh,yeah, they did make one brave departure in the best-pic lineup, but it's a guy-friendly one: "Children of Men." No small wonder. Anyone who reads the excellent Hollywood-Elsewhere.com knows that its bell-ringer Jeff Wells, a SOAP participant, has been blasting his adoration of "Children of Men" from every steepletop he can scale. And I admire him for that. And his readers know of his disdain for "Dreamgirls," which is obviously shared by fellow SOAPers. So that's not nominated for best picture. Personally, I think they're loco, but I compliment them for expressing strong, independent views because they should really do more of that.
Here's PROOF of how easily led they are. It's ridiculously obvious from just one nomination: Jennifer Hudson as best supporting actress. Anyone who's seen "Dreamgirls" knows full well that she's the lead. They only put her in supporting because everybody else did. Memo to SOAPers: who the hell is she supporting? You're supposed to be awards experts, supposed to detach yourself from the nonsense and give kudosland a reality check.
Next year I'd love to see SOAP issue its nominees BEFORE the other groups. Let's see what they think before being so obviously influenced by everybody else. If the National Board of Review can do it — a group of dentists, schoolteachers, PR flacks and ad execs — they can, too. They're in the biz. They have access to the same early screenings that members of NYFCC, LAFCA and Broadcast Film Critics Association do. All four groups, including NBR, issue their awards or nominations within days of each other. If Scott gets SOAP organized properly, his gang can work the logistics.
That would be a list I'd REALLY like to see and one that, I bet you, would be very different this year from the nominees just announced. And one I'd probably applaud loudly, cheerfully. How fascinating it would be to compare that list to what comes after, eh?!
CLICK HERE to see the full list of SOAP's nominees, included in its PR release, reprinted in full.
Photo: Not one of the usual suspects. The new SOAP award nominations rubber-stamp other kudos, but take one worthy departure in the top races: "Children of Men."