Kate Winslet always was going to land a best actress Oscar nomination this year.
That was understood. Otherwise, Vanity Fair wouldn’t have put her on the cover alongside the quote, “Do I want an Oscar? You bet your (bleepety bleep) I do.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Michael Shannon, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn
(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 26 Dec 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 30 Jan 2009 (General release); 2008)
Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, David Kross
(Weinstein Company; US theatrical: 10 Dec 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 2 Jan 2009 (General release); 2008)
But the assumption was that the honors would come for her fiery turn as the desperate ‘50s housewife of “Revolutionary Road,” in which she was directed by her husband, Sam Mendes, and reunited with her “Titanic” co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio.
She did a ton of press for “Revolutionary Road,” often with pal DiCaprio, and that movie earned her several best actress accolades, including a Golden Globe win and nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Yet when the Academy Awards are handed out Feb. 22, Winslet will be competing in the best actress category for “The Reader,” the movie for which she won best supporting actress at the Golden Globe and SAG awards. “The Reader,” in which Winslet plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard who has an affair with young man who later witnesses her war-crimes trial, was originally slated for 2009.
But thinking that it would be his namesake company’s big ticket to the Oscars, Harvey Weinstein put a rush order on the film’s editing, prompting producer Scott Rudin to remove his name from the credits. Weinstein’s move paid off, as “The Reader” was nominated for best picture, director (Stephen Daldry), adapted screenplay, cinematography and actress - even though the trade paper ads for “The Reader” touted Winslet in the supporting category.
How did this happen?
1. Oscar rules
Winslet’s “Revolutionary Road” performance may have been among the top five vote-getters on the actors’ nominations ballots - it may even have received more votes than her “Reader” performance - but the Academy Awards rule book stipulates: “In the event that two achievements by an actor or actress receive sufficient votes to be nominated in the same category, only one shall be nominated using the preferential tabulation process.”
In other words, you can’t get nominated twice in the same category; the prevailing contender is determined according to the Academy’s weighted vote-counting methods. What’s important here isn’t how many votes each performance receives but how many voters rank it at or near the top. Once Winslet’s “Reader” performance attracted enough first- (or second-) place votes to exceed the nomination threshold, her “Revolutionary Road” performance was out.
2. Slippery categories
Because Winslet couldn’t get best actress nominations for both movies, the Weinstein Co. shifted her to supporting actress for “The Reader” as a courtesy.
“(‘Revolutionary Road’) was a film that was very close to her heart. She was really the originator of that project,” “Reader” producer Donna Gigliotti said, noting that pushing Winslet for supporting actress “seemed an equitable solution.”
But the Academy has no strict rules on what constitutes a lead or supporting performance. “It’s completely up to (the voters) to place the name in the category that they think is appropriate to the performance,” Academy communications director Leslie Unger said.
So James Cromwell was campaigned for best actor but became a best supporting actor nominee for “Babe” (1995). Keisha Castle-Hughes was a SAG supporting actress nominee but an Oscar best actress nominee for “Whale Rider” (2003). Benicio Del Toro won the best actor SAG award and the best supporting actor Oscar for “Traffic” (2000).
One might also suspect that a shadow campaign was being waged to promote Winslet’s “Reader” performance to the lead category. Fox News gossip guy Roger Friedman, who is known for his close relationship with the Weinsteins (they distributed and executive produced his 2002 documentary “Only the Strong Survive”), opened his Jan. 7 online column by informing Oscar and SAG voters that they “don’t have to vote for actors in the categories for which studios advertise them” before touting Winslet in “The Reader” for best actress “because frankly, it’s her movie and she gives a more direct, dynamic performance in it than in ‘Revolutionary Road.’” That claim is debatable - “Revolutionary Road” certainly calls upon her to display more emotional range than “The Reader” - but columnist Tom O’Neil also speculated in the Los Angeles Times that Winslet could receive a lead nomination for “The Reader” because Oscar voters might not buy “her dubious claim that ‘The Reader’ role is supporting.”
Perhaps Winslet’s “Reader” performance simply shouldn’t have been in the supporting category in the first place. The film is more the story of Michael Berg, played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes at different ages, than Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz, but Winslet certainly is the lead female and pivotal character, and the film has been sold on her image (which again undercut the supporting campaign).
3. Preferred movie
Although “Revolutionary Road” got better reviews than “The Reader” (71 percent favorable on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site vs. 59 percent), anecdotal evidence indicates that many Academy members were repelled by it.
That impression was reinforced by the nominations, which recognized “Revolutionary Road” for supporting actor, art direction and costume design while “The Reader” snagged its five major nominations.
“That’s the film they liked,” Gigliotti said of “The Reader,” not buying the suggestion that Winslet wound up competing with herself after all. “Maybe people didn’t respond to her performance in ‘Revolutionary Road.’ That is something that we can’t know.”