Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oscar Roundup 2012: Category Fraud Strikes Again!

Last night I saw the new Tarantino flick, Django Unchained.  Django was obviously a story about Django (Jaime Foxx) and his bounty hunter companion Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), the two were in the majority of the film.  At the moment Waltz was nominated in Supporting Actor category at the Golden Globes.  At the earliest part of award season Waltz was placed in the Supporting Actor category.  On November 8th the website reported Waltz would be campaigned in the Lead category instead.  After the lead race became crowded the Weinstein Company switched Waltz back to supporting, and if you look at the poster you will see him being campaigned in supporting category.  This Oscar placement, or category fraud has gone on for years on end, but there are a couple of cases this year, which may take things too far.

Over the years the process of category fraud has occurred on many levels, supporting performances competing in the lead category, and lead competing the supporting categories.  Sometimes these have happened when an actor has two great performances in one year.  Most recently Jaime Foxx from Django was part of this form of category fraud.  Foxx had two great performances in 2004 for Ray, and Collateral; he was a lead in both, but nominated in supporting for Collateral.  This happened with Jessica Lange in 1982 as well; she was nominated in the Lead Actress race for Frances, and supporting for Tootsie, her role in Tootsie was the leas role in the film.  Julianne Moore also has two brilliant performances as both similar as repressed housewife in the 50s, in the films Far from Heaven, and The Hours; she was nominated for both, but in supporting for The Hours.  All of these happen, but they are not the most common, nor are they the first instances.

Some of the first instances of category fraud occurred based on age.  Tatum O'Neil won for a lead performance in Paper Moon (1973) at the young age of 10.  One could argue that during the same year Linda Blair was a co-lead in The Exorcist; she was 14.  This trend continued throughout the years Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979 (8 years old),Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine (10 years old), Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (11 years old), Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (14 years old), Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (16 years old), Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause (17 years old), Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People (20 years old).  While these are not all of the cases these are a majority of the cases where younger people who were leads in their film were moved to the supporting category because of age.

Over the years this has changed slightly but mainly will change because of the competitive nature of campaigning, and the odds of getting a person a nomination, Keisha Castle Hughes bounced around different categories, but rightfully ended in the Best Actress category for Whale Ride (2002).  Hughes was in supporting at the Screen Actor's Guild, but the Oscars play by their own rules and did not follow the crazy campaigning from the studios.  This happens sometimes, for example Kate Winslet in The Reader, but the Academy often does listen to the FYC (for your consideration) ads, and previous awards.

The major example of award shows (and most likely the Academy) buying this lead player as supporting this year is with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master.  While The Master does focus on the lost soul Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) the film is also about the journey of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman).  Hoffman has been a victim of category fraud twice now, the other time was his portrayal of Father Brandon Flynn in Doubt.  Why campaign this great actor (who has won in the Best Actor) in the supporting category twice.  This year the lead category is incredibly crowded, and they want the film to get as many nominations as possible.  The year Doubt was nominated there were also a lot of strong performances, but I suspect if they "worked" hard enough Hoffman could have received a nomination in the lead category.

The big question in the case with Hoffman is why does such a well respected actor get pushed down?  This is not typically the case, most of the time these lead performances in supporting categories are for lesser known or actors trying to get their first nomination: Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain, Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind, Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls are just a few recent examples.

The problem with rampant category fraud is that the Oscars have become more of a game, or political strategy rather than a true test of defining the best in film.  Yet the game is becoming too much, with criticism all over the board from David Cronenberg, Joaquin Phoenix, and past winner Anthony Hopkins, with a win from The Silence of the Lambs.

Hopkins win is also seen as category fraud by many as well, during The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins was in the film for less than 30 minutes, but won the Oscar for Best Actor, because of his commanding performance.  While most people do not argue about this win, this would still be considered category fraud.  Other instances within this type of situation could be Patricia Neal in Hud, Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line, Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, David Nivens in Separate Tables, and Nicole Kidman in The Hours.  Together all of these roles have a large impact on the meaning of their film, but largely could be considered supporting players.

If the Oscars continue to remain a game, or about the politics of a film getting more nominations then these instances of category fraud like Waltz and Hoffman will continue to happen.  Both of these men are clear leads, and are both excellent in their films, their work should speak for itself.  When you have clear leads like Casey Affleck getting a nomination in a film where he is the star in the supporting category there is a problem.  Here is to hoping the Oscars work on this problem.

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