Eye on the Oscars: Actor Preview

Will we hear the voters sing?

“Les Miserables,” along with “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” could find itself vying for a handful of this year’s lead and supporting actor nominations.

Sight unseen, Tom Hooper’s megahit tuner adaptation is already generating buzz for Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe as Valjean and Javert respectively, and for Eddie Redmayne as Marius.

“Les Mis” is only one of an unusually high number of pics putting up multiple actors for Oscar consideration.

“Argo” helmer and lead Ben Affleck, as well as character kings Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston, will be on a mission. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro could both be looking for “Silver Linings” in their “Playbook.” “Lincoln” will be fielding David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones and Hal Holbrook and, of course, Daniel Day-Lewis.

And Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” has both Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz as leads, along with Leonardo DiCaprio for supporting actor.

Does having many contenders impact the total number of nods a single film racks up? Academy members steadfastly deny gaming their ballots or going out of their way to find balance in choosing their favorites.

“I take every category on its own terms,” says a member of the actors branch, “and I think everyone else does as well.”

Yet it does seem as if there’s a certain safety in numbers, or perhaps it’s the case that excellence in one thesp tends to bring it out in others. Whatever the reason, a stark Academy fact stands out: When actresses are also included, since the 1936 initiation of supporting statuettes, there’s never been a single year in which the 20 acting nods went to performances in 20 different films.

Pairs and trios from the same movies annually find themselves named in the different races. Last year, for instance, five features — “The Artist,” “Moneyball,” “The Help,” “Albert Nobbs” and “My Week With Marilyn” — accounted for 11 of the 20 slots. A year earlier, the same number of pictures bagged 12 out of 20. In 2009, just four films racked up 10.

The most common situation is the naming of a lead along with one or two thesps in support. Yet double nods in a category occur often and a few have managed the hat trick: 1935’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” boasted three lead actor candidates; “Tom Jones” romanced three of his ladies into 1963’s supporting race; and a trio of character actors stood up for “On the Waterfront” and each of the first two “Godfathers.”

So history may bode well for “Les Mis” and the other bulging ensembles as far as the Jan. 15 nominations announcement is concerned. But when it comes to bestowing the awards themselves, Academy members may take a longer, more discriminating view.

Asked whether multiple nominees for a single feature get a boost in the final tallies, a member of the directors branch replies, “I would think it would be a disadvantage. The vote could very easily be spread, and their chances diminished because of that.”

The record supports that view. Dual acting statuettes for a single effort, such as “The Fighter” in 2010, “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 and “Mystic River” a year before that, were once common but are now increasingly rare. Odds are, pics managing to place players in multiple categories are likely to emulate “My Man Godfrey” in 1936 and “Sunset Blvd.” in 1950, both of which managed to earn a nom in each acting category and then went 0 for 4.

Eye on the Oscars: Actor Preview
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