Category Check 2014: 2 down, 6 to go

All right! Some computer problems have finally been put to bed and I’m happy to return for an update on the overall progress of the Oscar Quest.

Having now completed the Best Actress and Best Actor categories, I find that I still have a long way to go. Updating each of the six remaining checklists, I’ve realized that the Big Eight categories are far less interconnected than I originally thought. I’d anticipated that most of the Best Director nominees would be multi-category juggernauts, and indeed many were, especially when one factors in the craft categories. However, true across-the-board nominees tend to be the ones I had seen already, and my recent conquests barely made a dent in most of the remaining fields: I’ve only checked off 21 of the 123 remaining Best Actor nominees and a mere 10 of the remaining 127 Original Screenplays. To be sure, by finishing Best Director I made much more overall progress than I did by finishing Best Actress, but the fact remains that I’ve now seen over one thousand movies with major Oscar nominations, and I still have several hundred to go.

This prospect is daunting and exhilarating at the same time. With six diverse and extensive categories remaining, it’s clear that unless I should wind up in traction or under house arrest in the near future, finishing the Oscar Quest will mean five more summers of heavy film viewing. Frankly, though, I’m glad to have so much still ahead of me! I don’t doubt for a second that each of these categories has brilliant, fascinating, and downright perplexing nominations in store, just like those I discovered on the Best Actress and Best Director Quests.

Last year, I posted individual profiles of all seven remaining categories. I doubt there’s any need to replicate such detail, so I’ll confine myself to a link to last year’s overview, a quick update, and a few sundry thoughts.

Best Picture – 27 down, 43 left

Here, of course, we do see a lot of Best Director overlap. I won’t conceal that I am saving this category for last, and that I’ll probably tackle it right after I finish the penultimate category. I’ll be curious to see the different facets of this category that are revealed as I peel of each screenwriting and acting category. This is the only category left in which I’ve seen all the winners, but I do still expect some remarkable filmmaking from among the remaining contenders! I’m particularly looking forward to two longtime holes in the DVD universe (Ruggles of Red Gap and The Magnificent Ambersons) and two disaster spectaculars (Airport and The Towering Inferno), all of which I hope to catch on the big screen!

 

Best Actor – 21 down, 102 (including 10 winners) left

Though I typically think of Best Actress as the real “one-shot” performance category, Best Actor also has its fair share of films nominated exclusively in that category. Given that many of my favorite Best Actress performances (Testament, Séance on a Wet Afternoon) came from such low-profile films, I’ll eventually take on this category with an open mind and high hopes! Sight unseen, I’m particularly anxious to see the non-winning work by several of the category’s winners, such as Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker, Jeff Bridges in Starman, and Denzel Washington in The Hurricane (1999).

Best Supporting Actress – 10 down, 82 (including 9 winners) left

Supporting Actor and Actress are a fascinating mixture of moonlighting stars, rising or fading legends, true character actors, and complete outsiders. As I’ve said before, I often know so little about the nominated performance that I’m looking forward to the film first and foremost. However, I’m especially keen to see the Oscar-nominated work of actresses I know for completely different reasons: Billie Burke in Merrily We Live, Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail, and yes, Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted.

Best Supporting Actor – 13 down, 104 (including 12 winners) left

With a total of 305 separate nominees, Supporting Actor represents more separate individuals than any other acting category. Again, it’s a spendid mix of the famous, the familiar, and the unknown, with several of my all-time favorite performances included among the ones I’ve already checked off. I hardly know how to start narrowing it down, but I’d say I’m most excited by the truly great character actors, like Thomas Mitchell in The Hurricane (1937), John Lithgow in The World According to Garp, and Arthur Kennedy in The Trial.

Best Original Screenplay – 10 down, 117 (including 9 winners) left

Original Screenplay is the youngest and thus the smallest category among the Big Eight, and yet it still has the most left for me to see.  That just shows how exceptionally idiosyncratic the category is. As with Best Actress, the category defines a minority of commercial films (around the world as well as in Hollywood), and the best work often comes from the most marginal movies. I have a huge array of anticipated and totally unknown titles before me, but I’m especially looking forward to the robust contingent of international films, including Rossellini et al’s Paisan, Duras’ Hiroshima, mon amour, and Jackson & Walsh’s Heavenly Creatures.

Best Adapted Screenplay – 18 down, 78 (including 1 winner) left

As this is also something of a shadow Best Picture/Director category, I have fewer remaining in this category than any other and it will likely be my next target. Many of the titles still outstanding come from those pesky 2nd Academy Awards, in which multiple works were under consideration for each individual. I don’t know if I can expect to find all of them, but I’ll do my darnedest! Meanwhile, as with Original Screenplay, I look forward to catching up with many of the foreign offerings: Amedei & Fellini’s Rome, Open City, Bertolucci’s The Conformist, and Hodge’s Trainspotting.

That should do it for now!  I’ll post sporadically in the coming weeks and months, including comments on the 2013 Oscar race and the season that will intervene between now and the start of the next category.  And if all goes according to the current plan, I’ll be back next spring for Best Adapted Screenplay!

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Category Check: Best Actor

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I’ve often mentioned that Best Actress attracted me because so much of it was off the beaten track—as strong roles for women have always been in the minority since the Academy was founded, a lot of the nominees have been marginal in the narrative of film history.  Not so with Best Actor, given the wealth of male-centric roles out there.  It was hardly a coincidence that, of the first twenty films I saw after completing the marathon, ranging from blockbusters to indies, documentaries to classic Hollywood, all but one—Before Midnight, with its equal billing of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke—favored the men.  As a result, I’ve often expected this category to kind of take care of itself.  Even removing the heavy Best Picture overlap (which I’ll discuss below) from consideration in both categories, just pursuing Best Actress helped to polish off a couple dozen Actor nominees in the process: James Mason in A Star Is Born, Laurence Fishburne in What’s Love Got to Do with It, etc.  However, it wasn’t until I took a full tally that I realized how much the category truly is its own beast.

To my surprise, I’ve seen of 298 of 421 Best Actor nominees, meaning that I’ve still got 123 performances to go in this vaunted category, including thirteen winners (with one in every full decade!)  That leaves this as the category with the most work left for me to do, even if I’ve seen a greater percentage of these than I have in Original Screenplay (where I hover under than two-thirds done).  Among the missing are landmark wins (Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field, Paul Newman for The Color of Money) as well as deeply polarizing portrayals (Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, Denzel Washington in both Malcolm X and Training Day).  Some actors are relatively unknown quantities for me (Dan Dailey, Anthony Franciosa), while others I primarily know as Bond villains (Giancarlo Giannini, Javier Bardem—just kidding, but seriously I scarcely know the first thing about him in Before Night Falls).  I’m definitely looking forward to checking out the nominees of the 1980s: good or bad, films with concepts and source materials as diverse as Starman, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Under the Volcano, and The Stunt Man intrigue me.

Best Actor is a fabled category, with many of the iconic performances in American film finding a place in the spotlight: from Brando and Peck to De Niro and Hopkins, innumerable iconic performances and characters have won, while Welles, O’Toole, and company have rounded out the nominations.  In so many cases, the Best Actor race has played out as a shadow of Best Picture: the categories do occasionally stray off in separate directions (including complete separations in 1927/28 and 2006), but as goes Best Picture, often so go the Best Actor wins (27 of 86) and nominations (54 of 86).  Even seemingly female-oriented Best Pictures like Mrs. Miniver and Annie Hall, which won for their leading ladies, managed otherwise-unlikely nominations for Walter Pidgeon and Woody Allen.  This category also has a strong tendency to reward a career, either in an actor’s twilight (John Wayne, Richard Farnsworth), or following a decade or more of well-liked work off the beaten path (Edward Norton, Lee Marvin).  Altogether, far fewer individuals earn multiple nominations in this category than in Best Actress, and those that do generally earned far fewer than the six-to-twelve nominations garnered by the likes of Bette Davis, Jane Fonda, or Katharine Hepburn, let alone the phenomenon-unto-herself that is Meryl Streep.  Indeed, the lifetime nominations ceiling stood at five until 1960, when Spencer Tracy went on a run that pushed it up to its present cap of 9.

Even though, as I’ve said, this category has an appreciable number of unique entries, it still remains more heavily intertwined with the Picture, Screenplay, et al than the other acting categories.  Consequently, I expect the mountainous number in this category to whittle itself down as I prowl through the surrounding categories, and I’d rather let this category shrink down to a manageable size before tackling it head-on.

NOTE: As far as lost films like The Patriot are concerned, if I’ve seen all of the surviving footage, then I check it off my list.  In other words, if there’s nothing more I can do, then there’s no reason for it to be on what’s essentially a “to do” list (and the same goes for films like Cleopatra or The Wizard of Oz with famous missing scenes).  If more or all of The Patriot does turn up, then it’ll be unchecked, but I’m certainly not holding my breath.  Also, from what little remains of Lewis Stone’s performance, I know enough to say that I prefer Emil Jannings and that Warner Baxter is my favorite of the nominees to date.

Category Check: Miles to Go

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Lest anyone think that my recent completion of the Best Actress category is the rule and not the exception, I’m starting a survey of my progress in the other seven categories as of the day that I watched the last Best Actress nominee. Among the overabundance of reasons that led me to begin the Best Actress Quest was that it was my weakest category, and would remain so unless I took deliberate action.  It’s funny now to see where the other categories lie relative to one another, and how the completion of the Best Actress quest has affected their trajectories.

These lists remain essentially accurate as of the time of writing–as an intentional change of pace, I’ve spent the last three weeks sampling films well outside of the Best Actress wheelhouse.  Between cult films (Primer, Point Break), documentaries (Stories We Tell, The Yes Men Fix the World), and new movies (Star Trek into Darkness, 42, Before Midnight), not to mention gobs and gobs of TV from To Play the King to Redwall, I’ve had a nice refreshing break from the typical range of the Best Actress film.  Only 1 of 19 features I’ve seen since The African Queen boasts any major Oscar nomination, the exception being Mildred Natwick’s Supporting Actress nomination for her delightfully haphazard mother-in-law in Barefoot in the Park–though I’ll be appalled if the number doesn’t retroactively rise to 2 in January with Julie Delpy’s nomination for her magnificent work in Before Midnight.

Anyhow, the next three days will see me post overviews of the Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, along with a few comments on the best of what I’ve seen and the work cut out for me.  And last but not least, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s now the beginning of summer, leaving me just under three months in which to polish off a second category!  Which one ought to become clear soon enough.  In the meantime, let’s take a look at the mountains yet to be scaled.