Actors stay awards hopeful

Some may find Oscar love despite lack of buzz

Michael Stuhlbarg, Alfred Molina, Abbie Cornish and Maggie Gyllenhaal may not be getting much awards traction right now, but that doesn’t mean their Oscar hopes are dead.

Just ask Laura Linney.

Two years ago, Linney picked up a lead actress Oscar nomination for “The Savages” despite the fact that the Golden Globes, critics groups and Screen Actors Guild all ignored her in the award-season lead-up. Veteran publicists say she won the nod because these groups often overlook the kind of quieter performances that connect with Academy members.

“It was a surprise to everyone, except the people working on the movie,” says an awards campaign consultant.

You’d think that with all the blogging and prognosticating going on throughout the year, there wouldn’t be much of a chance for upsets anymore. But Oscar campaign consultants, and awards bloggers themselves, say surprises can still happen provided you have the kind of movie and performance that connects with Academy members.

“If you aren’t picking up the early awards, sometimes you just need to keep plugging along and assume you’ll get nominated,” says a studio publicist. “You’ve got to have confidence in certain kinds of movies that are Academy-driven and play to the right crowd. If you have that kind of movie, it will happen, no matter what the prognosticators say.”

“Crash,” for instance, was relatively quiet in the lead-up to winning the best picture Oscar over “Brokeback Mountain” five years ago. Paul Haggis’ controversial drama was barely a factor at the Globes and had won only the ensemble acting award at SAG. Yet it received six Oscar nominations, winning picture, original screenplay and editing.

“Where I see surprises happening now are with people or films that had been written off by the general consensus or group think,” says Oscar pundit Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. “For instance, if Robin Wright (“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”) suddenly turned up, it will have been absolutely out of nowhere. If ‘Bright Star’ was a prominent nominee at the Oscars, that would be surprising.”

Could those sorts of things happen this year? Possibly, say consultants, provided you have a studio willing to spend money and stars that go out and work the Academy and guild screenings.

“If you’re not in the conversation, sometimes you need to ramp it up a bit,” an awards consultant says. “Get out there, do the Q&As and work the bloggers. Make sure you’re on the radar with Academy members.”

Some actors — Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), Colin Firth (“A Single Man”) and, of course, Meryl Streep (“Julia and Julia”) — don’t exactly need to make the rounds. They’re well-liked industry vets, pro’s pros who have generated much good will over the courses of their careers. Prognosticators often overlook the likability factor, one campaigner says, noting Tommy Lee Jones’ “surprise” nomination two years ago as supporting actor for “In the Valley of Elah.” Jones had been entirely absent from the precursor awards that year.

Sandra Bullock, as well, has been generating plenty of good will for her turn in “The Blind Side,” and although the film is a relative latecomer to the awards circuit, her performance has definitely picked up steam.

Whether or not Bullock could go on to win if nominated is another story. While it’s still possible to influence the conversation at this stage of the race, once nominations are set, a win, says Stone, is out of their hands.

“For actors, early buzz can make the difference between obscurity and a nomination,” Stone says.

Ben Foster has been receiving strong notices for his leading turn in “The Messenger,” but breaking into that elite nomination status is difficult. That doesn’t mean, however, if you’re working on Foster’s movie, “The Messenger,” that you abandon all hope until Oscar noms are announced.

“You’ve got to keep fighting,” one studio publicist says. “When people stop talking, then you’re dead. As long as people are writing and talking about you, anything can happen.”

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