Oscar Acting Nominees: Who Worked the Room, Who Laid Low

Oscar Campaigning
Brian Taylor

Because there were so many strong acting contenders, campaign frenzy has been unprecedented, with strategists piling on Q&A screenings and “in honor of” parties on 24-hour notice. One actor confided to Variety he’d done more than 200 Q&As. Sometimes talent was dragged to many events in one evening.

And the payoff?

Active campaigners like Matthew McConaughey and Amy Adams got Oscar nominations. People who were virtually invisible, like Robert Redford and Kate Winslet, were shut out.

So can we conclude that the keys to landing a nomination are hand-shaking and small talk?

Not so fast.

Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence were campaign absentees, yet both were nominated. However, Oscar Isaac and Emma Thompson worked the room like polished politicians many times — yet neither landed a nomination.

In other words, campaigning is like every other aspect of this year’s acting awards: There’s nothing but mixed messages.

A true analysis of the Jan. 16 Oscar nominations is impossible without seeing the tallies and quizzing each member of the Academy’s acting branch about who they voted for and why. Did Redford and Tom Hanks (whose campaigning was limited) miss out by one or two votes, or by several hundred? We’ll never know.

But in terms of campaigns, the 20 actors who earned nominations in the four acting categories can be placed in three groups:

ACTIVE ON THE CIRCUIT

Barkhad Abdi, Amy Adams, Bruce Dern,

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong’o, June Squibb

LIMITED APPEARANCES

Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts

ALMOST INVISIBLE

Judi Dench, Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep

Though people outside Hollywood often scratch their heads at the concept, sometimes campaigns do serve a purpose. Success stories this year include Chiwetel Ejiofor and June Squibb. He’s been working steadily overseas for more than a decade; she’s an 84-year-old whose showbiz credits go back to the 1950s. But both were unknown to many in the industry, and their appearances were clear reminders: These two are nothing like the roles they play. They’re ACTING! Without such exposure, Oscar voters might think they’re just “playing themselves.”

The appearances also worked for actors who were more well-known, including Bruce Dern. He reminded people that he is chatty and sharp, 180 degrees from his character in “Nebraska” and some sessions were accompanied by film clips that served as vivid reminders of his range over the years.

Voters don’t need reminders about actors like Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio, but they appeared at select events, turning on the charm and speaking eloquently about their films. They actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. (I’m sure that is more great acting on their part.) But other limited-access thesps ended up empty-handed, including Oprah Winfrey, Mark Wahlberg and Harrison Ford.

Of the five actors who were MIA from the circuit, most had a good reason. Dench was recovering from knee surgery, then went to India for “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2.” Streep was in London filming “Into the Woods.” Fassbender serves as a poster boy for actors who want to set up limits, but he also was filming projects. He created a minor sensation when he told GQ that he had campaigned for “Shame” a few years ago, and was not nominated: “I won’t put myself through that kind of situation again.” But he did work to publicize the film when he was available at Toronto (including a Variety interview) and then between filming jobs.

Awards strategists try to use up every spare second in an actor’s schedule, and some understandably set up limits. It worked for Fassbender. It didn’t work for Joaquin Phoenix and others.

And when talking about actors, a special tip of the hat to the casts of “August: Osage County” and “12 Years a Slave,” who worked tirelessly, not necessarily to promote themselves, but to help their films.

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  1. carrie says:

    when did Bale campaign? he did a week-end of promotion in december for American Hustle and was absent at every award shows in january (even after the end of EXODUS’s filming)
    he was at Oscar’s luncheon and BAFTA but didn’t give interview
    Jennifer Lawrence came when she was able (she’s working on the Hunger Games final movies)
    if Lawrence is “almost invisible” category ,Bale deserves it also

    Dicaprio ,Meryl Streep and Cooper campaigned actively

  2. fernanda says:

    This list is totally fail. how Bale did more campaign than Lawrence, or as much as Cooper, DiCaprio and Roberts? and Cooper should definitely be on the list of actives.

  3. TCMesta says:

    “A true analysis of the Jan. 16 Oscar nominations is impossible without seeing the tallies and quizzing each member of the Academy’s acting branch about who they voted for and why.” And there therein lies the flaw in the Academy Awards. The problem lies in the the Academy being this vague crowd of people in the industry. No one can really be held accountable for how he/she votes, making the finally tally rather arbitrary and skeptical. Did I (an academy member) vote for Jennifer Lawrence because I like her new haircut? Or perhaps because I like her personality according to PEOPLE magazine? Or because I believe she truly gave a wonderful performance, the best performance? Who knows!

  4. Sam says:

    Jennifer Lawrence has not absent from campaigning. She has been all over the place. Oscar Isaacs has been practically absent except for two major events. I wish he had campaigned more.

    • With Lawrence that only seems like that because the media is obsessed with her and provides constant exposure even when she hasn’t been around for weeks. Don’t mix that up with award season presence though. She personally only did a few press events for AH, and didn’t even show up for the movie’s premiere. Of the big award shows and events she only attended the two big ones: SAG and the Golden Globes. But she wasn’t there to accept her award from the New York Film Critics, and she missed the Critics’ Choice Awards as well. I’d say that she’s been pretty invisible inside the award circuits. Of course she has good reason for it: she’s filming, and let’s be honest, she probably doesn’t need that second Oscar right now.

      Same with Oscar Isaac: you’re mixing up media exposure with good old fashioned campaigning.

  5. Ryan says:

    Seriously? Especially this year, great acting ruled in every category.

  6. AlanaSmithee says:

    And the “almost invisibles” who got nominated had other cast members who were out there campaigning and doing Q&As. The interest in hearing & pressing the flesh with those other cast members, many of whom are stars, brought more folks to see the film and their performance. In the case of Redford, I don’t think anyone was interested in a Q&A with a sailboat!

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