Oscar Update: ‘Reader’ Love, My Hathaway Problem and More Best Pic Talk

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Tom O’Neil at the “Los Angeles Times” was kind enough to invite me to join in the fun of doing a little bit of early Oscar predicting this past weekend. The results are online now and you can check them out right here. Before I get into my Anne Hathaway rant I will start off by saying I was shocked to see The Reader getting some love and Frost/Nixon remaining in the running.

First to The Reader. I don’t say I am shocked because I think director Stephen Daldry isn’t capable or because Kate Winslet can’t act. I am sane after all and I hope you think so too even after reading the second half of this article. However, it shocked me because whenever you hear about troubles surrounding a film, which The Reader has certainly had, it usually doesn’t end well. Pete Hammond is the first, and in this round of Oscar bidding the only, pundit to tap The Reader for a Best Pic prediction and when I brought up my surprise to O’Neil he tells me early buzz and Harvey Weinstein’s push is primarily due to the film’s quality. Let’s hope he’s right, not particularly for the sake of the lagging Weinstein Co. but because it would be nice to have another top notch contender in a year where I believe picking the final five will end up being quite easy, but picking the winner may be a completely different story.

To that end, let’s consider Frost/Nixon, a film that recently debuted in LA and London and opened to London Independent) with a 3/5 star rating. The reviews tell us the film is “one of the most compelling cinema waltzes” ever, it is “surprisingly gripping” and “works thrillingly as drama, and should make Sheen a star.” In my mind Sheen has been a star for some time now, he was just overlooked in The Queen by — um — well — everyone (but me of course).

I am still not convinced, and after seeing the trailer again last night, prior to the overly melodramatic Changeling, I couldn’t help but feel bored. I could be wrong, but in my mind the jury is still out on this bad boy, even if two of the six polled kept it in the running.

The overwhelming leader is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Milk, Slumdog Millionaire and Revolutionary Road coming in second leaving Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino picking up the fifth and final slot. Outside of festival play and private screenings here and there none of these films have been widely seen, which means the best may still be ahead of us, competition is going to be weak or pundits are going to soon start looking backwards for their favs. I assume the best is still ahead of us and thought I was going to get that today with a screening of Milk, but it was cancelled on me (smack down!) so I remain empty.

Now, for Anne Hathaway. In the same prediction piece, Meryl Streep (Doubt) was the overwhelming winner with Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) coming in second. Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) is seen earning the fourth slot leaving Angelina Jolie (Changeling) and Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) battling for the fifth and final slot. At least with this category four of the six performances discussed have been seen pretty much by all with Streep and Winslet’s perfs still left in the dark.

All things considered, I can’t help but wonder why Hathaway is still part of the discussion. I thought it would be a passing thought and never would get to this degree. Reviews of Rachel Getting Married glow with praise for Hathaway saying she is finally growing out of her Princess roles and is able to “play a complex and tortured soul.” That quote comes from Claudia Puig’s review in USA Today. However, if that is the argument for Hathaway’s performance getting an Oscar I think Puig’s review also shoots it down at the same time when she calls the film a “moving family drama, interspersed with plenty of stark realism”, “cringing realism” and it the gets so real “the emotions expressed here mostly ring painfully true.” These quotes bother me because all of the actors were involved in this stark and cringing realism that rings painfully true and Hathaway’s performance is just one of the many on the Rachel Getting Married team.

I am yet to find a review of Rachel Getting Married that points to any of the performances in this film as bad or lacking. I’ve seen praise for Hathaway, Bill Irwin, Rosemarie DeWitt and Debra Winger. Yet, Hathaway gets the attention with a pat on the back for DeWitt and a couple of “Atta ways” for Winger and Irwin.

To draw a sports comparison let’s imagine DeWitt is Scottie Pippen, Bill Irwin is Bill Cartwright, Winger is Horace Grant, which means Anne Hathaway is Michael Jordan? Sorry, if anything Hathaway is just another Pippen and Jonathan Demme is the Zen master best known as Phil Jackson. Perhaps comparing Rachel Getting Married to the Chicago Bulls is a little silly, but I think it proves the point. Hathaway’s performance is a credit to her environment and those around her. Sure, Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever (yes he is!), but without his supporting cast he would have been Kobe without Shaq. Hathaway is a similar story, only on a much smaller level because she isn’t delivering a Jordan-like performance.

From what I can tell Hathaway is gaining traction because people are following suit and it is turning into a foregone conclusion. She is a name that can turn into the “next big thing” and it just seems like a perfect fit. Give her an Oscar nom, but give the win to someone more deserving. It’s become a tired story: Ellen Page in Juno, Cate Blanchett in The Golden Age, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, Charlize Theron in North Country. Come on, these are just fillers and I would hate to see that happen here because no one expects her to win.

Maybe some of these people do consider her performance to be one of the best and believe others will see it that way as well. Maybe it’s too early to say. I obviously have my mind made up and think Hathaway’s being looked at as a Michael Jordan when all she is is a Scottie Pippen in a film that is the sum of many performances rather than just the one. Of course, this is coming from someone that didn’t like the film all that much so take my opinion on this one as far as you see fit, but I would like to think my liking or disliking a film doesn’t preclude me from looking at the situation logically.

It would just be nice to have an Oscar year where we finally have a much larger group of good performances from top notch actresses not be muddled with politicking. A sentence like that coming from someone who appears to be running an “Anti-Anne Hathaway” campaign probably looks a bit hypocritical, but what can I say… My hypocrisy appears to know no bounds… and on that note…