This week, let's talk beginnings and breakthroughs.
The annual Hollywood Awards, which announced their awards and nominees on Friday (previously noted), aren't typically considered part of the Oscar race. Unofficially-officially the National Board of Review's early December announcement is still the kick-off though the Gotham Awards (late November) have been rising as an alternative "first stop" in power. Still, the Hollywood Awards are glance at in order to see which publicity teams are working overtime to gather kindling for awards fire. Of particular interest, I think, is the plethora of "breakthrough" awards that they hand out. Breakthrough Awards are nearly always more PR driven than other categories by their very nature regardless of worthiness of whoever is honored. That's not a judgement but a neutral statement.
If breakthrough awards didn't exist, it would be much harder for young talents to be competitive in an awards race. They don't come into any contest with the advantages of pre-sold media interest, critical reputation, or habitual preferencing. The only advantage newbies have each year is nascent; people of all shapes, sizes, and ages (including Oscar voters) like receiving shiny new toys to play with at Christmas. Make of this what you will but this lone advantage is quite potent for actresses and often inconsequential for actors.
But you made me feel...
Yeah you made me feel shiny and new
Like a virgin
If you stop to think about it from a publicity perspective, Breakthrough Awards are very much like those old Vanity Fair Hollywood covers. Yes, there were probably teams of editors or creative directors selecting the 9 to 13 cover beauties, but those same beauties were essentially culled from whichever young "up and coming" stars had management teams that were able to bend Conde Nast's ears in the first place.
The Hollywood Awards are but the first organization of many to come to name their favorite shiny new toys of 2011. They offer up not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE (whew) for us to play with. CONSIDER...
Breakthrough Actor Award: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT - 50/50
Breakthrough Actress Award: JESSICA CHASTAIN - The Tree of Life; The Help; Take Shelter; Coriolanus
New Hollywood Award: FELICITY JONES - Like Crazy
Spotlight Award: SHAILENE WOODLEY - The Descendants
Breakthrough Director Award: MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS - The Artist
Though I was joking last week about 16-years-famous Joseph Gordon-Levitt "breaking through", he's actually a perfect example of the gender divide about what constitutes "new and exciting!". Women can and do win big industry prizes their first year or two in the biz, but men nearly always have to prove themselves for a few (to several) years before they're crowned as The Next Big Thing. You'll see this play out again when Jeremy Irvine rides in on his War Horse. Let's assume people end up loving him in the movie. He'll vault forward in the "must cast" ranks but he won't be THE NEXT BIG ANYTHING until 2015 or so (provided things go well), mark my words.
Which brings us to the actresses.
Oscar watchers have been wondering about 'the next big thing' since January when hype began to coalesce around four relatively "new" women (Felicity Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Jessica Chastain, and Rooney Mara) due to Sundance debuts in the first three cases, and in the latter case, a leading role in a hot property (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) that was filming during last year's Oscar season when David Fincher was presumably just not sleeping, travelling from set to awards functions for The Social Network and back again. Cut to: nine months later and the same four women are still being talked up as potential Oscar nominees.
Only one of them (Chastain) has taken the step from hype (manufacturable) to buzz (a living thing that belongs to the public as much as the publicists) because her work has actually seen the inside of movie theaters. People have seen a lot of it in fact with Take Shelter, The Help, The Debt and The Tree of Life all opening in a four month span (with two more yet to open this year: Coriolanus and Texas Killing Fields) and they've already been moved to hand her prizes. If The Help manages to maintain its Best Picture buzz, you could see her winning a nomination in Supporting Actress, that's more a nod to her Queen of Newcomers prolificness than to her amusing performance as the bombshell town outcast.
The other newbies are all in Best Actress where they will have to compete with each other for media annointing and with their elders for performance recognition. I don't know about you but I'm getting wildly impatient to see how this three-for-all plays out since it's an interesting case study. Does Oscar go with an all previous nominee lineup (as I've predicted this week) or do they cast out some of the regulars for one or more of these newbies? It's truly difficult to say with Dragon Tattoo as yet unseen, Martha Marcy May Marlene well respected but alienating (purposefully so but that probably won't help it win votes), and Like Crazy as the wild card. From my vantage point the latter two look more like solid Indie Spirit bets than Oscar but there is overlap each year.
The newbie situation in the male acting categories is different because all three of the "brand new!" people (Jeremy Irvine, Thomas Horn, Asa Butterfeld) are very young. As in way too young for Oscar outside of the supporting actor categories. Only trouble is they're all leads.
So for this week's Oscar charts I've goosed them up a bit using this debut & breakthrough theme.
PICTURE Hugo climbs into the top ten pushing J Edgar out. Or so this week's hunch says | DIRECTOR - newbie contenders with the most current heat are France's Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Sweden's Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor). seems likely but can any other freshman squeeze in? | ACTOR -Gary Oldman is still waiting on his first nod. Will he have to go on waiting in this very competitive category? | ACTRESS -Mara vs. Olsen vs. Jones vs. dark horse Dunst for the first-timers.
SUPP ACTOR -The heat this year is with previous nominees but some newbies in the mix are Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), and Armie Hammer (J. Edgar) | SUPP ACTRESS - This seems like the acting category most likely to have a heavy percentage of first timers. | FOREIGN FILM - New Zealand submitted for the very first time this year (!), Albania had to switch their entry and we are now up to a 61 wide official list. More details to come. | SCREENPLAY | VISUAL CATEGORIES | AURAL CATEGORIES
Finally, I leave you with John Hawke's singing "Marcy's Song" from Martha Marcy May Marlene. He was part of the freshman class last year. When he started singing in Martha Marcy May Marlene I had fantasies that his afterglow nomination could be for songwriting but, alas, the song is not an original.
- Which people looking for their first Oscar grab, will have their baptism of fire?
- Which will have to keep dreaming?
- How are you feeling about all the freshmen this year?
You know what to do in the comments!