Amir here. Since the Oscar nominations were announced on tuesday we’ve all heard tons of new stats about this year's slate. All the ‘oldest’ and ‘youngest’ and ‘most’s aside, the one thing that caught my eye was the double nomination for Best Supporting Actress for The Help’s ladies Jessica Chastain & Octavia Spencer. This is now the fourth consecutive year that the category has included two nominees from the same film. For the trivia lovers among you, this equals the previous longest streak of double supporting actress nominations from 1947 through 1950: Gentleman’s Agreement, I Remember Mama, Come to the Stable, Pinky and All About Eve... (though the earlier run is more impressive since 1949 had two sets of double nominees.)
Last year’s winner, The Fighter’s Melissa Leo, was accompanied by her co-star Amy Adams, who had been nominated along with Viola Davis for Doubt two years earlier. When Adams was taking time off inbetween, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick filled in for her for their performances in Up in the Air. Had it not been for 2007's spread of wealth, the record could have been extended another two years since Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza were both nominated for Babel the year before.
If you look back through the history of the shiny gold man you'll find that in the 76 years since the Supporting categories were introduced 28 films have managed two supporting actress nominations. That’s an astonishing number but here’s what's more interesting. (Continued... with Pie Charts!)
Only 12 times has the supporting actor category seen such a feat. In fact, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1991 when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were both nominated for Bugsy to find an example. In the 20 years since, the supporting actress category has seen EIGHT such occurrences.
This is not at all a new phenomenon at the Oscars. The first time double nominees were seen was in 1939 and it happened in both categories: Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland were both nominated for Gone with the Wind and Claude Rains and Harry Carey for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
But I’ve been struggling to find a good reason why it happens so much more frequently with women. Are women really better ensemble performers than men? Are there more films with men in the lead and women in supporting than the other way around? What do you make of it?
I think one major reason might be that the Best Supporting Actor category is often the weakest and the most lazily voted of all acting categories. There is very little wiggle room left after all the overdue giants, demoted leads and cruising-on-the-film’s-tide spots are given out. If there were less Matt Damons in Invictus and Philip Seymour Hoffmans in Charlie Wilson’s War, maybe the voters would look more carefully for possibilities in ensemble pieces. Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) and Steve Carrel (Little Miss Sunshine) are just three recent examples that arguably should have accompanied their nominated male co-stars to the Kodak.
This year’s Supporting Actor race, though less rigid than usual, never really considered the possibility. That, of course, is not indicative of the quality of male performances in ensembles. Colin Firth and Tom Hardy were both deserving, but their chilly film didn't catch on with the voters on a large scale. Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey could have been possibilities if Margin Call was more widely seen. The Tree of Life's Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken, who would have made the year’s most commendable pair of nominees, never heard their names mentioned by major precursors. And it will surely be too much to ask why Bryan Cranston didn’t have any luck given that Albert Brooks ended up on the outside looking in.
Anyway, It’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s race so I’ve been looking at upcoming films, wondering whether gentlemen can break the 21-year curse or the ladies can continue their streak. If August: Osage County was in the race, we’d have bona fide contenders on our hands. Don’tcha think?