True story: When I saw Titanic on opening night in New York City, Sam Waterston was sitting behind me and, within seconds of the credits rolling, was calling bullshit on the film. Almost 20 years later, his daughter, Katherine Waterston, gave two of the best performances of her young career in Queen of Earth and Steve Jobs, and given the response from critics and awards groups, it’s almost as if she never gave them. That Kate Winslet, a great actress who so artfully disappears into her role of Joanna Hoffman in the latter film that you barely notice her spotty accent work, has arguably robbed Waterston of her time in the sun probably has everything to do with name recognition alone. Or, and maybe Sam will agree with me here, the Golden Globe and BAFTA trophies that Winslet has collected for her turn may be explained by some weird reflex by which Titanic enthusiasts see a win for Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as a two-for-one special.
Though both actors have been nominated for Oscars before in the same year, they weren’t close to being favored to win, so the idea that Winslet may be benefiting from her association to frontrunner DiCaprio as stars of one of the highest-grossing films of all time doesn’t seem too far-fetched. But couple that with the fact that the Oscar telecast where Titanic won 11 trophies remains the most watched in history and my view about the media’s complicity in making an Oscar winner sounds even more reasonable to even myself. A win for both actors would make for good copy, and there may be enough AMPAs voters willing to make it happen simply because it would be cute to read said copy on Monday morning. Laziness and self-congratulation, after all, are among the Hollywood industrial complex’s greatest resources.
But, then, there’s the sad reality of Steve Jobs’s box-office failure. Winslet and Fassbender represent the only two nominations for the film, meaning that Titanic nostalgia can only take the actress so far, especially during an awards season where one of the biggest topics of conversation was category fraud. Both Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander are nominated here for roles that are only supporting in a world where the definition of the word is its antonym, and as the very Oscar voters already enamored of their work and who got them into this race in the first place are unlikely to vote against them on principle, we don’t see them suffering as a result of this confusion.
Mara once seemed like the one to beat, and in whatever category she landed, as soon as she won the actress prize at Cannes, but Carol’s exclusion from the best picture and director races is just one of many signs that her chances remain as slim as Carol Aird’s cigarettes. Even putting aside her SAG victory, Vikander enters this race checking off almost every conceivable box imaginable that has made many a winner here in the past. She’s a hard-working ingénue who could just as easily have been nominated for her much-buzzed-about turn in Ex Machina, but instead was recognized for her Oscar-friendlier—and, admittedly, far richer—work as the grieving wife of the first identifiable person to undergo gender reassignment. That the film, The Danish Girl, was realized by Oscar golden boy Tom Hooper only makes the outcome of this race that much more transparent.
Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Could Win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight