We’ve said it before and we’re going to say it again: Oscar prognostication has become a craven act of self-fulfilling prophecy, and the fear of getting nominations wrong has usurped actually evaluating the performances in question. How else to explain the fact that Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger didn’t make even a passing mention of critics’ darling and recent Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton’s brilliant and, more to the point, baity performance in Julia? You’d think a proven, previously-awarded commodity bearing the full weight of a ginormous one-woman show, weaving in and out of hangovers and maternal instincts for well over two hours, would delight both the Oscar voters who slipped Gena Rowlands into the 1980 lineup for Gloria (to which director Erick Zonca’s gutsy melodrama is obviously indebted) as well as the voters who have actually seen a film by Derek Jarman.
But, as much as it pains us to say it, you can hardly fault Karger and all those like him for steering clear this time around. Even if Hurricane Tilda had swept the critics’ awards (which she didn’t, instead taking a back seat to critics’ apparently coordinated move to give Oscar the okay for Meryl Streep’s third win), last year’s shocking Sally Hawkins snub is a still-fresh reminder of how this particular category, among all four actors’ groupings, seems the most conspicuously immune to critical enthusiasm. Add to the mix the fact that Julia did not open in December and doesn’t have any significant campaign muscle behind it, and can you really blame Karger and the rest for asking, in effect, “Who cares?”
Now the tricky part. Do we eat our words and place Tilda in our lineup of predicted nominees, as a show of faith that these things ought to be predicted on quality? Unfortunately, no. She hasn’t got a shot in hell, and as Oscar prognosticators, we’ll willingly share the shame. But not the blame, since we don’t run our predictions weeks in advance of the ballot due dates. Others do, and they are the same people who advance performances like Helen Mirren’s in The Last Station onto the next round even before anyone has had a chance to see them. It can never be totally clear who’s zooming who when it comes to cases like this, whether Oscar voters are listening to prognosticators (i.e. autodidactic lobbyists) or vice versa, but one thing’s unavoidably true: Mirren is now filling that presumptive fifth slot, and Swinton probably doesn’t give a shit.
Will Be Nominated: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), and Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)