It’s hard to look at this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Actress and ignore the factor of lifetime career achievement. In the category we have an 85-year-old who has given us memorable performances for half a century. And we have a 9-year-old up for the award for her first role, which means she’s currently batting 1000. Of course, her youth and inexperience allows for skepticism regarding her future. How can a kid be nominated, many ask, when we don’t know if she’ll continue to display talent deeming her worthy of such recognition?
The thing is, the category and award is not for "Best Actress" but rather "Best Performance By an Actress in a Leading Role." That means we’re supposed to ignore any external context and only consider the specific performance. But is it that easy? Over at Movies.com, resident Hunger Games expert Perri Nemiroff argues that Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen could have an effect on the vote in this category even though she’s nominated solely for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Perhaps, but is that fair?
The Academy Awards are chosen democratically, which seems fair enough. They’re also watched by millions of people who will root for Lawrence because of her broader career achievements and popularity even if they haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook. Similarly, we could consider Jessica Chastain the most deserving of the Oscar because she’s given us a lifetime’s worth of exceptional performances in only two years, and she’s in the Hollywood consciousness right now for leading the two top-grossing films at the box office this week.
While the Best Actress category is the most notable in the discussion of context this year, the idea extends throughout the Oscars. Often we see the Best Director award appear to go to a aging filmmaker who has never received an Oscar and is thought to be owed the honor, such as Martin Scorsese’s win for The Departed. Yet with the same category, the Academy hasn’t exactly denied the win to someone nominated for their directorial debut.
Some film awards, while not going so far as to admit consideration of whole careers, may acknowledge (but don’t necessarily have to) a year’s-worth of performances. So, for instance, Lawrence was recognized as a Best Actress nominee by the New York Film Critics Circle for both Silver Linings Playbook and The Hunger Games, and the same group nominated Oscar contender Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises (they also named Matthew McConaughey winner of Best Supporting Actor for both Magic Mike and Bernie).
Will Academy members at least be conscious of multiple roles when voting this year? And if so, will it hurt "Best Actor" nominee Bradley Cooper for having The Words and Hit and Run on his 2012 resume? Or do you think we can easily disregard careers when considering the Oscars?
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