One thing agreed upon by most of us awards watchers is that the three leads of Lisa Cholodenko's 'The Kids Are All Right' are all frontline contenders for nominations. Whoops, did I say leads? Talk was overheard that this could be Annette Bening's year. After years of losing to Hilary Swank (of all people) here was another great Bening performance in a very fine film that was going to stay in the conversation even with another five months of competitors to come and go. One problem though: Her chief competition might be an even more overdue actress in Julianne Moore. Four nominations since 1998 compared to Bening's three since 1991. There could be a silver lining in all of this though if Focus jumps at the opportunity. Win-win for the film and perhaps even both actresses. They just need to campaign Bening for Best Supporting Actress.
Shifting performers into categories they don't actually belong deserves to be a practice frowned upon like professional steroid users taking jobs from hard-working amateurs. Metaphors be damned it is just really cheesy to put a loaded screen time performance that is clearly a lead up against those who only have the benefit of showing up in half the allotted time and try to steal the show. In Bening's case though, it is not so cheesy or clear-cut and a case can certainly be made that her character takes a backseat to both Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Once their relationship takes center stage, Bening begins showing up only sporadically to voice her displeasure at the role Ruffalo has taken in her family's life - i.e. the center of attention, the father figure, the leading man. Ruffalo is likely to go as a supporting player too and minute-for-minute he probably has more screen time than Bening.
That is the diplomatic way to reasoning this out though. There are just as many political and statistical reasons to move Ms. Bening into the category with the best odds of being announced first in the evening.
Since 1980, there have been 19 instances in the four acting categories where two people from the same movie were competing against one another. Seven of those times (3 men, 4 women) beat out their co-star and won the Oscar. Five of them happened in the 80s and once in the 90s. Not since Catherine Zeta-Jones defeated Queen Latifah in 2002 has anyone pulled off this feat and there have been three opportunities in '06, '07 and '09. All in the supporting category. Hopefully Focus is not encouraged to move both Bening AND Moore over here.
THE LEAD CATEGORY IS LOADED
In a nice change of pace, the Best Actress race is overflowing with possibilities. Even if we feel safe in taking Diane Lane ('Secretariat'), Naomi Watts ('Fair Game') and Hilary Swank ('Conviction') out of the equation, there are at least another seven seriously in the running and that is without having seen work by Reese Witherspoon ('How Do You Know'), Angelina Jolie ('The Tourist') and Gwyneth Paltrow ('Country Strong') yet. The lackluster response to 'Never Let Me Go' may have already doomed one of the year's very best performances by Carey Mulligan. On the other hand, Lesley Manville's great work in Mike Leigh's 'Another Year' will be peaking at just the right time. If Moore, Bening and Manville are locks, who is going to be squeezed out? Natalie Portman is drawing raves for 'Black Swan' and may be that film's best chance for a nomination amongst the big eight. Jennifer Lawrence may need some support from critic's groups as a needed reminder of her stellar work in 'Winter's Bone'. Anne Hathaway is a standout in 'Love and Other Drugs' and Michelle Williams can draw strength from work in 'Blue Valentine' and her supporting turn in 'Shutter Island'. Moore and Bening will be frontrunners for nominations no matter what category they are placed in. But...
THERE IS NO CLEAR FRONT RUNNER
Aside from Colin Firth for 'The King's Speech', every other acting race is wide open and looking for a leader. Perhaps we have not seen the winner yet, but working with what we have does anyone feel comfortable labeling the top dog yet? Supporting Actress is going to be as much of a stretch run in just the nominations. Helena Bonham Carter can snag a nod just from 'King's Speech' osmosis. Previous nominees Marion Cotillard ('Inception'), Sissy Spacek ('Get Low') and Keira Knightley ('Never Let Me Go') are all deserving repeats but will they be replaced by youngsters Chloe Moretz ('Kick-Ass'), Elle Fanning ('Somewhere') or Hailee Steinfeld ('True Grit')? Will Ruth Sheen be the Mare Winningham to Lesley Manville's Georgia in 'Another Year'? And can nearly everyone's favorite (cough, not mine) bad mama Jacki Weaver from 'Animal Kingdom' stand a chance if she is not being singled out by the critics in December? We're just scraping the iceberg here too.
If Focus is paying attention, though, they should make the announcement sooner than later. Forget the numbers. Forget the competition. It's not like they need to explain themselves to us anyway. Just to Ms. Moore and Ms. Bening. They will be happy to have the conversation. Who wouldn't when the strategic, but justifiable, move could actually make both of them the front runners to win Best Actress and Supporting Actress?