Stars double Oscar chances

Winslet, DiCaprio, Rudin offer multiple projects

This year’s Oscar race could become a textbook case of multiple personality disorder.

A cadre of actors, producers and one director — Clint Eastwood — have dueling projects that are being positioned as awards contenders. This has happened throughout Oscar history, but not to this degree, or with quite the same intensity.

Over Christmas, Kate Winslet will have two titles in theaters that could earn her lead actress noms: DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage’s “Revolutionary Road” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader.” Usually, when a thesp does end up with two projects like this, they don’t open so close to each other.

It doesn’t end with Winslet. Leonardo DiCaprio –Winslet’s co-star in “Revolutionary Road” — also is the star of Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies,” which Warner Bros. opened Oct. 10.

Also, Scott Rudin produced both “Revolutionary Road” and “Reader,” along with another awards candidate, “Doubt.” Rudin reportedly took his name off “Reader” in a dust-up with distributor Harvey Weinstein over the release date of the film.

On awards consultant says of the clash of projects, “It’s a bit of a nightmare. And it’s unfortunate, because it just takes more work to make sure people know which movie is which.”

In other words, the already complicated and expensive campaigning process gets more thorny. Studios suddenly have to compete with other studios to make sure talent is available, which means lots of conversations and coordinating with agents, managers and publicists who serve as go-betweens.

If the movie comes out early enough, a studio and actor can rely on reviews and box office grosses as their guide. As an example, DiCaprio and Warners have plenty of time to assess the playing field in deciding how hard to push for “Body of Lies.”

“I think what you have to do is listen to what the critics are saying and figure out which movie has more of a chance,” says one veteran publicist. “You have to do a reality check.”

This year, though, many of the kudo potentials are being released in December. That’s after studios file paperwork with AMPAS listing their award picks by category.

Actors like DiCaprio certainly have a big say in the process, if not the final word. They’re not always thrilled, however, with the outcome.

Winslet was not pleased when the Weinstein Co. decided to speed up the process and open “Reader” this year. Winslet was a driving force behind getting “Revolutionary Road” made, and wanted to focus on that pic.

Ultimately, “Reader” director Steven Daldry and Rudin had no choice but to abide by Weinstein’s decision, which he and Rudin announced earlier this month. “Reader” opens in New York and L.A. on Dec. 12, and then expands for the first time on Dec. 25 — one day before “Revolutionary Road” debuts.

“I can’t think of any other situation where two movies are so close to each other,” the consultant says.

Meryl Streep, for instance, wanted the Julia Child biopic “Julia & Julia” to open next year, so that it wouldn’t conflict with “Doubt” and “Mamma Mia!” “Julia & Julia” is now set to unspool in August.

No studio likes to see its star talk about another film on its dime, so to speak, but there’s no way that Winslet won’t be asked about “The Reader” when she’s talking about “Revolutionary Road,” or vice versa.

The actress has already hinted, however, that her priority will be “Revolutionary Road,” since it was dated months ago. (The fact that Sam Mendes, her husband, directed the film isn’t the reason.)

For DiCaprio, it’s got to feel like déjà vu. Two years ago, he and Warner Bros. went back and forth about whether to put him up for lead actor for “Blood Diamond,” or for “The Departed.” He decided to go for lead actor with “Blood Diamond,” only to lose and stand on the sidelines as “Departed” won best pic and director.

Sometimes, actors with two films in any given awards season will campaign for lead actor for one pic, and supporting with the other. It can actually be to their advantage, because they’d just doubled their chances of winning in one or the other category.

This year, Robert Downey Jr. will try to win noms in both categories; lead actor for “The Soloist” and supporting for “Tropic Thunder,” both from DreamWorks/Paramount. Josh Brolin also could try to get double noms, one for “W.” and another for “Milk.”

Only 11 times in Oscar history has an actor, or actress, been nominated in the same year for lead and supporting actor. The first time was in 1938 when Fay Bainter was nominated for lead actress for “White Banners” and supporting for “Jezebel” (she won for the latter).

In 1944, Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both categories for the same film, “Going My Way.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences quickly moved to disallow double noms for the same pic.

Jamie Foxx won lead actor for “Ray” in 2004, after having also been nominated for supporting role for “Collateral.” During last year’s awards season, Cate Blanchett was nominated for lead actress for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and supporting role for “I’m Not There.” She didn’t win for either performance.

But it’s not always so cut and dry.

It’s less than ideal to have two actors in the same category for the same film. Potential trouble spots this year are “Frost/Nixon,” starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

There are already rumblings that only Langella will be put up for lead actor, and Sheen for supporting, although the film doesn’t even open until Dec. 5. Similarly, DiCaprio could always have the option of lobbying for supporting role for “Body of Lies,” and lead actor for “Revolutionary Road.”

On the directors side, the biggest question mark is Eastwood, since one of his movies, “Gran Torino,” remains shrouded in mystery. Warners hasn’t even dated it yet, except to say it will come out in December. He directed the film and has one of its starring roles.

His other awards contender is Universal’s “The Changeling,” which opens Oct. 24 and stars Angelina Jolie. In the 2007 awards race, Eastwood was nominated for directing “Letters From Iwo Jima,” his companion piece to “Flags of Our Fathers.”

Both Universal and Warners will want their films to prevail, but it will ultimately be up to Eastwood which one to focus on. He could even go for both, although that means he will be competing against himself.

Steven Soderbergh is the only filmmaker to ever be nominated twice in the same year for director. Those films were “Traffic,” which he won for, and “Erin Brockovich.”

Producers with multiple projects also have to roll the dice on what they think is the best prospect. Then they have to make sure that studios are paying what they think is the proper level of attention to their projects.

Along with Rudin, Brian Grazer has more than one project this year, “Frost/Nixon” and “Changeling,” both Universal titles.

Last year, Rudin produced two of the most prominent award pics, best pic winner “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.” Miramax and Paramount Vantage were partners on the two titles, making life easier.

Keeping producers and talent relatively happy during Oscar season can be a difficult proposition, particularly as clear favorites emerge and studios figure out which title deserves the most care.

Or, as another awards veteran puts it, “not all of your children are going to be treated equally.”