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« Hail "César"s. France's Favorite Pictures | Main | The Art Direction I Live In »
Friday
Jan272012

Oscar Loves Two Women. In The Same Film. Often. 

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.)

Trivia: The two longest double supporting runs (though 47-50 actually had a year with two double noms."Pinky" is not pictured by accident. Apologies). In both one actress appeared multiple times (Amy Adams and Celeste Holm) and one of those times she played a nun!!!

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

1939 began the double dipping, in the 4th year of Supporting Awards

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.

These figures are not padded by counting a triple dip as one more. Same point value as double dip though it happens very very rarely.

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?

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Reader Comments (35)

Something else your article has made me notice - Celeste Holm was nominated three times in four years, and each time it was part of a double act.

Do you think sharing a nomination field with a co-star hurts a nominee's chances? There are two winners out of the seven decided categories you've listed above - but it must often split the vote.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaika

Great article! Yeah....I would also like to know when oscar "double dips" if one usually ends up winning or losing? Like what are the odds?

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Isn't it because there are so often movies with NO women, or no women in significant roles, that Oscar is forced to double dip?

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

Good article! The figures are however 17 double dips for the supporting actors and 33 dips for their female counterparts (if u count The Godfather - part 1 & 2, On the Waterfront & Tom Jones w three nominees).

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTobias

It's thirteen for supporting actor if you count only the times they double dipped and sixteen if you count the three triple dippings. It's thirty two for supporting Actress if you count only the times they double dipped and thirty three if you count the single time they triple dipped.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I haven't cconsidered three nominees any different from two. The concept is essentially the same thing where the voters looks for great performances in the same film. So I haven't counted extra nominations for films like On the Waterfront, The Godfather (1&2) and Tom Jones.

I noticed I've missed a douple dip for Pinky which surprisingly happens in the same 1947-1950 streak. Strange! And the number 28 doesn't include Spencer and Chastain (I wrote the post on Monday!) My apologies.

In any case, naturally the vote gets divided up often, but if people love a performance, I think they'll vote for it anyway. If Spencer is worried, she should probably look to McDaniel, Wiest, Leo, Holm, De Niro, Hutton, etc. for confidence ;)

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I remember thinking in 2007 and 2008 that a supporting actor double dip was SO possible, with Tommy Lee Jones looking like a decent bet for No Country, and then James Franco seeming possible for Milk. When Dev Patel was left outside in 2008 for a surprise nominee, I was thrilled about the snub of the category fraud/weak performance, but wishing it could have been Franco instead of Shannon, because it is so weird that it never happens for the supporting actors, even when they're great.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Nitpickers ;) -- I've notated that three doesn't up the percentage ratio (why should it when the discussion is multiple performances nominated from same film?) and added the note about PINKY. oops. but AMIR can you clarify if that's what you meant. Obviously they should count ONCE for that just not twice for having three.

Mike -- yeah, MILK is a perfect example. if that were a movie abotu women both Franco & Brolin would have been nominated, easy.

January 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Forgot about Julia's double dipping (as have most people). Okay. Seventeen. Sorry.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

The Departed is another example where Oscar didn't double-dip in Supp. Actor when it could have. (Nicholson was such an odd snub, too.)

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRax

Les Mis looks ripe for double-dipping. Seyfried, HBC, Swift, Anne if they committ category fraud...

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Django Unchained looks good on the male side - Samuel L., Leo, Russell, Waltz and others.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I agree with your point that it's lazy viewing. If there are few lead roles for actresses, then most working actresses must be doing supporting roles. So there should be a deep pool to choose from. But these performances are scattered across a wide variety of movies and genres. The Academy seems to focus on a narrow slice of fashionably prestigious movies to view. Generally, to be considered a contender, a film must be a serious drama with 1, 2, or 3 male leads, the more the better. Actresses that happen to have a supporting role in one of these films has a good chance at a nomination, no matter how tedious her performance is.

That said, no, I don't get it. Why not Vanessa Redgrave? Why not the Inglourious Basterds actresses? Why not the truly stunning performances of the year? And with so many choices of where to nominate Jessica Chastain, why The Help where she will lose?

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Sawyer - have you read Django Unchained? As characters and performances go, we have a lot to look forward to, as Oscars go... I wouldn't say the male side looks any more promising than any other aspect. If the film maximizes the script and talent's potential in every way and becomes some sort of phenomenon it could score but I think it'll be outside of the Academy's wheelhouse to say the least.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

I read this and thought you were making up the PSH for 'Charlie Wilson's War' thing, but no, that atrocity TOTALLY HAPPENED.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Nat - Yeah, exactly. It doesn't change the percentage since we're not talking about the number of performances but the number of films</> with multiple nominations. So from my perspective, The Fighter and Tom Jones are not different: two films with more than one nomination in the category.

Also, I just noticed De Niro won his oscar when THREE men from the film were nominated. Talk about (lack of) vote splitting. Though I wouldn't have been surprised if Spencer won even if, say, Allison Janney was nomianted as well, but just saying...

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I meant to italicize "films" but screwed up, but you get the point. :)

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Celeste Holm was actually never nominated without a co-star included in the category with her, since these were her three at-bats. Two of Anne Revere's three nods came this way, also. The one time she got in by herself, for National Velvet, she won.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Celeste Holm was actually never nominated without a co-star included in the category with her, since these were her three at-bats. Two of Anne Revere's three nods came this way, also. The one time she got in by herself, for National Velvet, she won.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

The thought is so profound, I hope it just keeps getting re-posted and re-posted.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I'll throw in another male non-double-dip: Terrence Howard in "Crash" (he seemed so likely) joining Matt Dillon.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnthonyDC

This article is great! Now, Amir, let's go for the Lead Actor and Actress categories! The first one ever was actually a triple dip! Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone in Mutiny in the Bounty (1934). And, just like DeNiro for The Godfather - Part II, Gable won. We'll be eagerly awaiting your article, Amir.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Actually, Marcos, Gable didn't win for Mutiny on the Bounty, he won for It Happened One Night. Mutiny won Best Picture but none of the actors won- Laughton had also won on a previous nomination.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Since men will have opitions in supporting projects for plenty of Hollywood product and it isn't the same for women I don't see the big deal for the Academy to double dip for male ensembles when watching women play off of each other is a chance to give at least each working character actress and demoted female lead a shot at a nomination and possible win.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter//3|RT

Marcos - Sure, I'll get on it :)
But that post will be much shorter. I can think of the number of times it happened off the top of my head. The most interesting is, I think, All About Eve that managed to get both its leading actresses (as well as both supporting ones and a supporting actor) nominated!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I hate to be the one to point to a (vaguely) sexist theory, but I think the Academy has a harder time gathering good female performances from across the board than they do with male performances, and that's why they're more prone to picking two women from the same film. In other words, I think there are often a wider assortment of male contenders each year than there are female ones. This year's Supporting Actress race was narrowed down to, what, 6 performances? Maybe 7, if you wanted to include a dark horse? Meanwhile, the Supporting Actor category had at least 8 distinct possibilities, and depending on how far you were willing to stretch it, up to 10 or 11. The Supporting Actor category is almost always more crowded than Supporting Actress, and whether that's the result of there being fewer good roles for women or just short-sightedness on the Academy's part, I will leave to you to decide.

Also interesting is that double-dips in the lead categories have essentially become a thing of the past, possibly because category fraud has become more prevalent as a nomination-getting strategy. However, there have been considerably more cases of double-dips in the Best Actor category than the Best Actress category. Here are the instances of double-dips in the lead categories:

BEST ACTRESS:
1991- Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon for Thelma & Louise
1983- Shirley MacLaine & Debra Winger for Terms of Endearment
1977- Anne Bancroft & Shirley MacLaine for The Turning Point
1959- Katharine Hepburn & Elizabeth Taylor for Suddenly, Last Summer
1950- Anne Baxter & Bette Davis for All About Eve

BEST ACTOR:
1984- F. Murray Abraham & Tom Hulce for Amadeus
1983- Tom Courtenay & Albert Finney for The Dresser
1976- Peter Finch & William Holden for Network
1972- Michael Caine & Laurence Olivier for Sleuth
1969- Dustin Hoffman & Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy
1964- Richard Burton & Peter O'Toole for Becket
1961- Maximilian Schell & Spencer Tracy for Judgment at Nuremberg
1958- Tony Curtis & Sidney Poitier for The Defiant Ones
1956- James Dean & Rock Hudson for Giant
1953- Montgomery Clift & Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity
1944- Bing Crosby & Barry Fitzgerald for Going My Way
1935- TRIPLE DIP: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, & Franchot Tone for Mutiny on the Bounty

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn-Paul

I think it has to do with shortsightedness. There may be a problem with leading roles for women, and there are CERTAINLY problems with roles for women with color, but I don't think SUPPORTING roles are a problem.

Speaking of Django Unchained (however we got on that topic), all I hope is Kerry Washington breaks through because of it.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Good work!

There are more female actors than male actors everywhere you go and they're usually better but, clearly, they are more films with men in the lead, so I think women really need to do their best if they wanna get noticed at all. Spenser and McCarthy's careers are the perfect example.

"August: Osage County" will probably be an awards magnet for actresses and "The Normal Heart" the same for men.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

All the Amy Adams love is good news for Laura Dern when The Master comes out.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrendan

If Lincoln is any good, there could be a double dip in supporting actor for Tommy Lee Jones and David Strathairn.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlandshark

I think 1959 had three double dipping acting categories!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYoyo

@John-Paul: I think there used to be a rule, written or unwritten, that anyone who was billed above the title was considered a "lead" actor, with all others designated "supporting." It would certainly explain why James Dean was nominated in the "lead" category for Giant, because let's face it—under today's protocols, he would definitely be nominated in the Supporting category. Ditto Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way) and Maximillian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg).

But you're right about category fraud more or less ending double-dip nominations in the lead category for the last 20 years—Brokeback Mountain being perhaps the most notorious offender, and The Kids Are All Right almost following in its footsteps. (Remember when Nathaniel correctly predicted that it would be the bottom in Brokeback who would be relegated to Supporting?) In fact, other than Michael Sheen's unsuccessful lead campaign for Frost/Nixon, I'm hard pressed to think of an instance when we could have had a lead actor/actress double-dip, at least in genuine contention for nominations, since that last instance in '91.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

2002 The Hours (Streep and Kidman).

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTobias

Fascinating article, Nate!

Pulp Fiction was one that I immediately thought of that could've theoretically double-dipped in Supporting Actor if it wanted to -- Samuel L. Jackson + Bruce Willis + Ving Rhames + Harvey Keitel + Walken, if you're gonna opening that limited screentime door. Part of me wishes Willis had actually joined Samuel L.

Also, Magnolia for both categories.

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark

@Mike- I think you are right on the money in regards to Milk. I don't think Hollywood is comfortable seeing a man play the supporting boyfriend or husband role, they want to see their men rough and tumble. They are much more comfortable seeing a woman play that kind of role especially since that is what 90% of the work in Hollywood is for actress.
So yes if Milk was a movie with a female cast Brolin, and Franco would've been nominated, heck they might have even thrown a bone to Emile Hersh.

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJayJ
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