One of the more frustrating aspects of the seemingly year-long awards season is watching pundits and prognosticators remain largely oblivious to their role in shaping the Oscar race. The noise people like Tom O’Neill make throughout the year feels as influential to this rat race as the awards handed out by critics, which makes it frustrating when these pundits refuse to promote films they’ve seen instead of lavishing free publicity on productions that won’t come out for many months. These forecasters buy into the idea that films released during the beginning of the year have no chance at snagging Oscar nominations, and their disinterest in endorsing films such as The Witnesses and Flight of the Red Balloon rubs off on distributors, when it stands to reason that some of these films might actually connect with Oscar voters if more awards watchers were less interested in snagging better batting averages than their fellow soothsayers. But is this trend changing? Take, for example, the rather exceptional cases of Richard Jenkins and Melissa Leo. It’s unlikely these two fine, older performers would be on any Oscar voter’s mind right now if it wasn’t for the concerted reportage of people like Awards Daily guru Sasha Stone, one of the few Oscar bloggers out there who seems to recognize that Academy members are among her readers, and who often took a break from conventional prognosticating last year to spotlight films and performances she felt should to be on AMPAS’s radar. There’s never joy in seeing films like The Visitor and Frozen River (both, curiously, without prime real estate over at Stuff White People Like) lapping up praise, but there’s no doubt that Jenkins and Leo survive these risible films with their dignities in tact, or that Stone’s coverage of the Oscar race is thoughtful in a way O’Neill’s never is. Without the efforts of persons like Stone, it’s impossible to imagine Leo with a SAG nomination, something Sally Hawkins doesn’t have—though Hawkins has something Leo doesn’t: a Golden Globe and the adoration of the collective critical community, to say nothing of Meryl Streep’s approval. If Hawkins, Anne Hathaway, Streep, and Kate Winslet are locks by this point, that leaves Leo to fend off Angelina Jolie for the final spot, assuming you believe Cate Blanchett’s predictably chilly non-performance in The Curious Benjamin Button and Kristin Scott Thomas’s heralded turn in Me Love You Long Time don’t have enough fans. Jolie, who was arguably snubbed last year for A Mighty Heart, received both a SAG and Golden Globe nomination for her work in Changeling, and though she has big-studio muscle behind her, the Clint Eastwood film’s tepid critical reception will undoubtably hurt the superstar actress. For sure, just as the buzz around Jolie’s performance has continued to dissipate, Leo’s has only built since being vetted by people like Stone (was this partly responsible for Sony Pictures Classics beating every other studio out of the gate with Frozen River screeners?) and catching the attention of both SAG and the Independent Spirit Awards.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.