Get those ballots in, stragglers. Forget that many professional pundits and even casual observers of this year’s Oscar race have already called it. (…The King’s Speech wins Best Picture… Best Actor for Colin Firth… Natalie Portman gets Best Actress… The Fighter‘s Christian Bale and Melissa Leo win supporting… The Social Network‘s David Fincher picks up Director… and Aaron Sorkin snags Adapted Screenplay…) But if these are such sure shots, then why are people seemingly getting so nervous? Ballots are due Tuesday at 5 PM at the offices of PriceWaterhouseCoopers in downtown Los Angeles. With Monday a postal holiday due to President’s Day, the only way a vote will count now is if it is walked into the accountants before the deadline. Usually a few hundred are. By my informal surveys, a surprising number of voters waited until the last minute to mail in their ballots. Those who didn’t perhaps thought their vote wouldn’t matter in a race that looks like it’s going to be a King’s ransom. But consultants working with The King’s Speech say they are taking nothing for granted. Which is why director and DGA winner Tom Hooper is across town tonight at the Cinema Audio Society Awards to present a special honor to DGA president Taylor Hackford.
The fact is, based on ever-shifting momentum and my own voter conversations this week, some of those last-minute votes could make a difference in several close races. The campaigns seem to realize this: that’s why the usually slow final days of balloting have been busy for hopefuls who want to burst the King’s bubble. Some Academy members I talked to at Thursday’s Spago lunch honoring The Fighter’s David O. Russell (hosted by Irwin Winkler and Eva Mendes) had done the same hobnobbing a couple of days earlier at a Mondrian Hotel party for The Social Network.
On the late end-of-voting schedule, The Fighter talent presented at the American Cinema Editors awards Saturday night and a Vanity Fair/Chrysler–sponsored benefit “celebrating” the pic Monday night in Hollywood. Russell and Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams (who was also at the luncheon) were still on the Q&A circuit as late as Friday night when they appeared before a packed house at American Cinematheque’s Aero in Santa Monica. One person connected with The Fighter told me: “We aren’t stopping until the last votes are in.” Appropiate for a film that fashions itself as an underdog. Russell uses as an analogy the 1968 Super Bowl where Joe Namath boasted that the longest-of-shots Jets were gonna win against Baltimore – and shockingly, actually did. The power of positive thinking.
Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight was among the last to buy ads emphasizing Golden Globe, Critics Choice, SAG, and BAFTA wins for their seemingly sure-shot Best Actress nominee Natalie Portman. Maybe it’s insurance. Or could it be nervousness over a suddenly aggressive bid by Annette (“this is her year”) Bening that has gained traction, at least among some of the voters I have talked to and other surveys published recently.
So if you are one of those still mulling your ballot, and still planning to get it in before that Tuesday deadline, here are the tightest races outside of the Best Picture category (which uses preferential voting) where one little vote might make a difference.
This is said to be Natalie Portman’s to lose with all of those precursor awards she’s been winning. But voters are not thinking landslide. In fact, in my informal surveys with Academy voters, every one of the five nominees including Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, and Jennifer Lawrence, have been mentioned quite a few times. This indicates no runaway by frontrunner Portman or her closest rival Annette Bening. So those last minute ads for Portman may not be such a bad idea.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This category has a deserved reputation for upsetting the apple cart and could again. Melissa Leo won at Critics Choice, the Globes, and SAG but has lost a little steam, maybe due to her personal ‘For Your Consideration’ ads. Co-star Amy Adams is getting some votes, perhaps even enough to cause a split and let another contender like True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld or The King’s Speech’s BAFTA winner Helena Bonham Carter sneak in.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
This was once thought to be a slam dunk for The Fighter’s Christian Bale and evidence says it still is. BUT last week’s BAFTA win against Bale by The King’s Speech‘s Geoffrey Rush has cast at least a little doubt. A big TKS sweep could make the difference here.
With his DGA win and presumed dominance of his film, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper should be in like flint here. But most surveys have him as the underdog to The Social Network’s David Fincher. Voters I talked to this week backed this up. Right now, too close to call.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Because voters have to prove they have seen all five films in a theate, this can be tricky. The past two years, longshots have bested the better known favorites. I have talked to several voters and only Greece’s Dogtooth appears to be completely out of it. Mexico’s Biutiful has emerged a slight favorite. (Javier Bardem’s Best Actor nod doesn’t hurt.) But there is doubt it can beat Denmark’s In A Better World. I also have detected lots of admirers for Canada’s Incendies and Algeria’s Outside The Law. This is a real horse race.
With two Disney songs from Toy Story 3 and Tangled competing against a country tune (the kind that won this race last year), and an ethereal piece written about a guy who cut off his arm, what mood will voters be in this year? Lately I am hearing a lot of support for Dido and AR Rahman’s If I Rise from 127 Hours. Searchlight has been aggressively pushing it, but will passion for Toy Story 3 sweep Randy Newman to his second victory in 20 tries? Or can Gwyneth Paltrow make Coming Home from Country Strong a real contender despite the fact that the studio didn’t even bother to send that DVD screener to voters. (But they did send the CD cut of the song). Or maybe Alan Menken with the most traditional sounding I See The Light from Tangled gets his 9th Oscar tying the all-time record for musicians. This one is anybody’s guess right.
With Inception surprisingly not nominated even though it was once considered the favorite, this category (which often presages Best Picture) is a free-for-all. At last week’s BAFTAs, it was here that The Social Network was able to slow down The King’s Speech’s big sweep. That could happen at the Oscars as the two go head-to-head again. Of course, voters could go in a completely different direction and favor the editing styles of Black Swan or 127 Hours , two films that wore their editing on their sleeves. Or follow Oscar tradition and give it to The Fighter just as they did Champion (1949), Rocky (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). This looks like a five-way race right to the end.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.