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 Supporting Actress

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Next up is Best Supporting Actress: another young, stable category with a relationship to an older, more hegemonic category–in this case, Best Actress, my wheelhouse.  The formation of the Best Supporting Actress category in 1936 led to a fascinating, evolving relationship between the two.  As the slate of 1936 set of nominees suggests, the advent of Supporting Actress at first opened up the Oscars to a whole new range of roles and performers.  Indeed, during the first two decades of the categories’ coexistence, while character actresses like Ethel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead racked up nominees in Supporting and studio stars like Greer Garson and Katharine Hepburn thrived in Lead, only five actresses (Fay Bainter, Olivia de Havilland, Teresa Wright, Jennifer Jones, and Grace Kelly) surfaced in both classes.  After that, the two began to mingle, as the first generation of A-list stars began roosting in secondary roles: Wendy Hiller & Shelley Winters, as past Best Actress nominees, and Ingrid Bergman & Helen Hayes, as past winners, all won in Supporting.  Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, the flow reversed as an increasing number of rising stars like Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Annette Bening, and Kate Winslet earned Supporting nominations on their climb up to the Best Actress plateau. These days, the flow has reversed again, with ten actresses migrating from Lead to Supporting in the past decade, versus two (Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain( who moved in the other direction–a number that will likely rise in retrospect, but still quite low.  All in all, 63 of the category’s 295 unique individuals have shown up in both categories, though only a few (Geraldine Page, Shelley Winters) have anything like a balanced split between the two.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Best Supporting Actress is now my strongest among the three remaining acting categories: I’ve seen 292 of 385, leaving 93 performances to go (including fourteen winners).  There are plenty of gaps I look forward to filling, including actresses I got to know through the Best Actress quest (Edith Evans for The Chalk Garden, or Geraldine Page for three still-unseen films), and those whose names I only know because of their nominations in this category (Flora Robson for Saratoga Trunk, Marjorie Rambeau for Primrose Path and Torch Song).  In this category, I look forward to the individual films more than the individual performers in most cases, such as John Cassavetes’ Faces (Lynn Carlin) or seminal disaster film Airport (Helen Hayes and Maureen Stapleton).

If Best Actress has always interested me for the way in which the nominated performers seem to will themselves and their films into the Oscar conversation, single-nomination films are rare in this category.  I cheer the cases where Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom or Laura Dern for Wild at Heart can break on through, but this category sometimes frustrates me with its tendency to reflect the opposite phenomenon: performers riding in on the coattails of major awards-contender movies.  Since 2000, eight films—seven of them Best Picture nominees—have featured dual Best Supporting Actress performances (contrast this with only 5 such instances in the entirety of the Best Actress category).  I find this a deeply mixed blessing, as it can bring small roles (Viola Davis in Doubt) and obscure performers (Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air) to the fore; but also often reflects lazy thinking that brings in actresses as an extension of the goodwill for another aspect of the film.  Still, I can’t dismiss a category that features such brilliant wins as Tilda Swinton’s for Michael Clayton and Jane Darwell’s for The Grapes of Wrath, or nominees like Lily Tomlin for Nashville and Julianne Moore for Boogie Nights.  I do hope to explore this category in the future, and it may be the next acting category that I attempt, but it will still have to wait!

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.