In Todd Haynes’ lesbian romance “Carol” and James Vanderbilt’s CBS news drama “Truth,” Cate Blanchett has a pair of opportunities for best actress recognition this year. However, per the Academy’s arbitrary rule for actors, only one of these performances will be granted passage should she garner enough votes to be nominated for each.
It was interesting that The Weinstein Company decided on a lead designation in “Carol” the week after “Truth” bowed in Toronto. Was there a sense that her self-competition there was nothing to be concerned about? While I had some major issues with “Truth” myself, I can’t imagine this would be the case as she’s fantastic in the film and as much a threat to be nominated there as for “Carol.” Maybe it was just staying the course on an obvious designation, as anyone with eyes would cry foul at shuffling her off to supporting (and some already have regarding Rooney Mara’s supporting classification in the film).
Here is the specific language regarding all of this from Rule Six of the Academy’s official eligibility guidelines: “In the event that two achievements by an actor or actress receive sufficient votes to be nominated in the same category, only one shall be nominated using the preferential tabulation process and such other allied procedures as may be necessary to achieve that result.”
I have no idea what those “other allied procedures” might be, but the preferential system is enough to settle the issue if indeed it arises in January. So, as ever with this system, it’s a question of passion: Which performance is likely to register a higher ranking on the most ballots? On one hand, that could be boiled down to which film resonates more. “Carol” is more artful and moving than “Truth,” which is itself rather standard by comparison. But there will be voters more satisfied by the latter than the former, too. In addition, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will provide no help when the Golden Globe nominations are announced, as there is no rule there preventing actors from being nominated twice in the same category. It’s kind of a stalemate.
Blanchett owns “Truth” more than she does “Carol,” but she’s also the clear stand-out in each (as in the latter, Mara’s work is far more reserved while Blanchett’s pops with more verve and personality, just by nature of the characters they are playing). What’s interesting about each, though, and something that plays into a certain current in this year’s race, is that she’s tackling female characters who have agency over their own lives. Even in “Carol,” where Blanchett portrays a woman who must hide a part of who she is in an unaccepting society, she is still a strong-willed woman who maintains principle and control throughout.
I’m not even sure I could pick a personal favorite. I have issues with both movies (“Carol” is too muted for my taste, “Truth” too on-the-nose). By necessity, Blanchett provides more nuance in Haynes’ film. In Vanderbilt’s, however, the character is more fleshed out, making for a more complete picture of who she is. Seriously, flip a coin.
I think ultimately, if I had a ballot, I would put “Truth” on top. There just seems to be a little more going on with that performance, a dynamic balancing act as the events of the plot weigh heavily on the character throughout. Blanchett never falters, outshining the film itself. And my hunch is voters might feel the same way.
Or not. We’ll have to see how it pans out. But I would argue it’s a reminder that the Academy’s rule here is unnecessarily restrictive. After all, there is no rule stipulating that a cinematographer can only be cited once in a given year (just ask Roger Deakins). Or a costume designer (Colleen Atwood, Sandy Powell). Or a film editor (Michael Kahn). Why be so hard on actors? If voters decide that an actor is deserving of two nominations for separate films in one category, there should not be a mechanism preventing that scenario. Such an occurrence would be rare enough as it is, and such rarity ought to be celebrated.