Contenders compete against selves

Voters asked to choose singular preferred perf

Once upon a time, as in 78 years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences would honor a performer for multiple films.

In 1929, Emil Jannings was recognized as best actor by starring in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh” while, that same year, Janet Gaynor was named best actress for performances in three films: “Seventh Heaven,” “Street Angel” and “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.”

Today, critics’ groups will occasionally honor an actor or actress for their films in a single year, although that can feel like taking the easy way out — quantity over quality.

Voters may hate to choose, but this year they have no choice. Or rather, too many choices: A gaggle of Oscar contenders in multiple movies will be competing against themselves, it seems, for either top or supporting awards.

Just to name a few, there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” “The Savages” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”), Russell Crowe (“3:10 to Yuma,” “American Gangster”), Christian Bale (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Rescue Dawn”), Casey Affleck (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Gone Baby Gone”) and Josh Brolin (“American Gangster,” “No Country for Old Men”).

The question, of course, that needs to be discussed is: Does being in multiple high-profile films help one’s chances come awards season? It all depends upon the actor and the films.

“You get these jobs and you’re grateful,” says Amy Ryan, who has a stellar perf as a mother whose child disappears in “Gone Baby Gone” as well as a smaller but vital role in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and as an ensemble player in “Dan in Real Life.” “You do them and they’re either going be these great, complicated parts — like in ‘Gone Baby Gone’ or ‘The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ or more of a guilty pleasure and a chance to hang around with friends. A health-insurance job.”

But the fact that Ryan is in so many films at once gives her a high profile and certainly reduces the chance of her being forgotten come ballot time.

“I’m not really thinking about it, honestly,” says Hoffman, who knows all about being the center of an Oscar derby, winning for “Capote.” “When you have bunch of films coming out, you’re kind of more concerned if they’re doing well and that kind of thing. There’s a lot to do around them — press and screenings — so you’re very busy doing that. It’s more about the films at this point. When it comes around to December, things get a little nuttier about awards stuff.”

For Brolin, whose perfs in “No Country” and “American Gangster” have many taking notice, he appreciates the kind words but is more invested in the short film he just submitted for next year’s Sundance Film Festival titled “X.” That being said, he’s willfully partaking in the awards season process.

“I think it’s OK to be excited about a film you’re in,” he says. “If there’s a film you truly do like that you did and it gets caught up in that hoopla, I think it’s OK to say, ‘Well, that’s a good thing,’ and do as much as I can to help a film be seen by as many people as possible.”

So in between screenings and talking to the press, actors do what they do best: keep working.

“I just started my first day of work  on Clint Eastwood’s  new movie, ‘The Changeling,’ with Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, so that’s a nice next job to go to,” admits Ryan. “I’m very much continuing to work because, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. That’s all you can really take home with you.”

Ryan, who has no experience on the awards season campaign trail, says she’ll consult with her friend, actress Patricia Clarkson, on how the process works and what it takes out of you.

“I watched her go through this a couple of years ago with ‘Pieces of April,'” Ryan says, “and she told me there’s something important about keeping the balance of family and friends. I watched her stay very sane through all that time. So should this happen, she’ll be the person I turn to and ask, ‘What do I do?'”

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