You have to stop nominating actors and actresses into the lead category when they are clearly supporting roles. Your understanding of what a protagonist or anti-hero and character arc is continues to be–
Wait a minute. I’m sorry. Before I begin criticizing you, I want to be as clear as day. I love you very much. As a child you were my gateway drug into film and the conversation that could be had about film. You were (and still are) bigger than any other holiday in my personal calendar. While I have grown to understand your trivial nature, my enchantment with you is unwavering. I used to be able to name every single best picture, actor, and actress winner. I knew all the facts and figures. My first “MUST WATCH” lists were based on what you deemed ‘the best’. Then, through backwards ways, you taught me the true meaning of subjectivity and objectivity in art.
My summers are spent going to the movies, absorbing all of the fantasy, superhero, sci-fi movies my little brain, eyes, and ears can handle. My fall and winter are spent seeing everything that will potentially be nominated or just in your nomination conversation. Then I take your nominations list, run it against everything I know about you, pick your winners, and win some Oscar-pool prizes. I dedicate my free time to my love of film and my obsession with you.
Since I know so much about you, I also see your glaring flaws. (We all have them, so don’t get defensive.) I could go on and on about how your broadcast doesn’t prioritize its viewers, or how your nominations system is flawed, or how I see more of the nominated movies than your voters, or how you don’t pay attention to certain genres, or how– okay, I’ll stop. You get it. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before and you’ll hear it from years to come. What really bothers me though, like really, really bothers me is when you compromise your understanding of Lead and Supporting Actor/Actress–a semi-straight forward concept when it comes to basic storytelling.
Let’s use this year’s nominations as an example. Steve Carell is nominated in the category of: BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE for ‘Foxcatcher’. I saw that movie. I have the ticket stub to prove it, so I’m pretty sure that Channing Tatum’s character, Mark Schultz, is the main character. He’s the protagonist that the audience connects and empathizes with throughout the bloated two hour and fourteen minute running time. Tatum’s Mark is the character that we follow as he is led to make bad choice after bad choice. The story that ‘Foxcatcher’ is presenting is the story of Mark Schultz. Once his story is complete, Schultz isn’t in the movie for about 20 minutes. The director, Bennett Miller, had told his full story, so despite the shocking penultimate scene, the last portion of the movie is dull and without a main character.
Oscars, I totally agree that Carell is excellent as John du Pont. I’m not criticizing his performance. He’s haunting as the manipulative, isolated rich man, but still only serves as an obstacle in Mark’s way of self-discovery. Regardless of screentime, du Pont is a supporting character in Mark’s story. John Du Pont has no real character arc–he’s just as troubled at the start of the film as he is at the end. His barometer needle doesn’t move enough to warrant a lead actor credit. Du Pont doesn’t go through any type of transformation that puts him in a different place–he just chooses to act on his already tainted thoughts. Your cousin, the BAFTA’s, got it right, Oscars. Carell should be nominated for Supporting Actor. His nomination bumps two actors, Jake Gyllenhaal (‘Nightcrawler’) and David Oyelowo (‘Selma’), out of the field that they actually fit and gives Robert Duvall’s unworthy performance in ‘The Judge’ a spot in the supporting line-up*.
*Note: Duvall does fit your historically documented love of giving supporting nominations to veteran actors in when they haven’t been around a lot lately.
You have a very clear history of allowing for this sort of category jump, Oscars. I can name dozens of examples. For instance, Meryl Streep’s monstrous Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ was nominated for Lead Actress. I saw that one too! I’m almost positive that Anne Hathaway’s Andrea Sachs is that movie’s lead character. It’s almost exactly like the ‘Foxcatcher’ example. Do you get what I’m saying, golden statue man? You know, I can’t tell because you haven’t moved a muscle, so I’ll try and figure out another one. Okay, here. Did you see ‘Training Day’? You probably did because Denzel Washington won Best Lead Actor for the role of Alonzo Harris. That’s so interesting to me because Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is that film’s lead character and Hawke was nominated for Supporting Actor. Oscar, I could go on with examples like Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin Dada in ‘The Last King of Scotland’, Judi Dench as Barbara Covett in ‘Notes on a Scandal’, Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz in ‘The Reader’, and to lesser extents, Louise Fletcher in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Morgan Freeman in ‘Invictus’ and Michelle Williams in ‘My Week with Marilyn’.* In my opinion, in a weaker year for all male categories, JK Simmons would be up for Best Lead Actor for ‘Whiplash’. All of these performers are 100% worthy of accolades for their work in these roles, but in the correct category.
Is it because it’s a famous actor bringing a human side to a villainous character? (Most of these parts are charismatic villains that create obstacles for the leads.) Is it purely because of the studio’s campaign for the lead nomination? (These are your rules, so you can do what you want.) Maybe it’s because these parts seem to overshadow the other actors or actresses in the film? (Character roles are usually the most entertaining parts of a film, especially when executed at high level.)
Oscars, if you had a mouth, you’d probably say something like, “Bryan, I love you too, but a movie can have more than one lead! Why can’t Carell and Tatum both be considered leads?” First of all, thanks, I love you too. Second, sure they can. I’ve seen ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, ‘The Theory of Everything’, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘9 to 5’, and of course, ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’. Films can absolutely have two lead characters, but both the characters need to have full arcs and do more than ‘hinder that other person’. We get caught up in the glitz and glamour in what these big time actor and actresses are doing in this films that we don’t think that, well, maybe they aren’t the emotional focus. It’s not as crazy as it seems when you actually break it down.
So, Oscars, I doubt you’ll do anything to appease my request to shape this up, but I had to try, right? I mean, can you imagine how much more competitive both the Lead and Supporting categories would be if Simmons was up against Carell or Oyelowo/Gyllenhaal went mano y mano with Keaton and Redmayne?! Wowza! Again, I love you and know that you’ve been doing this since 1927. I hope there are no hard feelings, but seriously, know how narratives and story work before you start handing out awards.
One more quick thing while I have your attention. If ‘American Sniper’ wins Best Picture based on its current box office momentum over any of the other seven nominees, I’ll never watch you again. I seriously mean that statement. I don’t think I can handle that letdown. Thanks, man.
Keep on Watchin’!