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