Decisions, decisions: Academy Awards voters have plenty of worthy nominees to choose from as they mark their ballots in the final stretch of a particularly competitive Oscar season.
But what about those voters who struggle with divided loyalties? There are a handful every year: those who, in fact, have strong ties to more than one of the nominees. On the macro level, the spotlight would probably be on Focus Features and Fox Searchlight Pictures, which each have two films in the thick of the hunt for the best picture prize.
Searchlight has Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” both of which emerged from the Telluride-Toronto-New York fall-festival nexus. Focus’ “Darkest Hour” and year-end entry “Phantom Thread” claim two more of the positions in competition. That sound you hear is the barely suppressed glee of parents who each have two children in solid contention for the top prize.
They’re not the only ones. Warner Bros. has three films — “Dunkirk,” “Blade Runner 2049” and “Kong: Skull Island” — going head-to-head at various points in the various design, sound and visual-effects categories. If any of those entries wins, so does Warners.
History lovers: Are you split between Christopher Nolan’s viscerally exciting “Dunkirk,” with its action-movie take on the heroic rescue of British troops, and “Darkest Hour,” Joe Wright’s more character-driven look at this particular historic turning point? Will “Dunkirk” fans vote for Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill?
More to the point, will Lesley Manville root for Oldman? Manville, nominated for supporting actress for her work as the icily controlling Cyril Woodcock in “Phantom Thread,” was the first of Oldman’s five wives; they divorced almost 30 years ago. Does time heal all wounds — or will Manville be secretly pulling for someone else as Oscar voters mark their ballots? And vice versa?
And what about the kind of interfamilial rivalry this sort of thing can breed? Greta Gerwig, only the fifth woman ever nominated for director, is romantic partner and sometime muse/collaborator for writer-director Noah Baumbach. Need we point out that Baumbach has created a film oeuvre filled with characters whose lives are controlled by envy and unfulfilled ambition? If Gerwig wins, will Baumbach’s art continue to reflect life?
The multiple nominee “Three Billboards,” McDonagh’s brutally funny meditation on grief and vengeance in a small town, offers its own unique case of divided loyalties in the supporting actor category. Both Woody Harrelson, as the sheriff who serves as his men’s emotional anchor, and Sam Rockwell, as a dim deputy with hidden depth, are up for the same award in a very competitive category.
In cases like this, nominees from the same film have an unfortunate tendency of canceling each other out. Jack Palance, for example, was nominated as supporting actor for “Shane” in 1953 — but young Brandon de Wilde was nominated for the same film, and they both ended up losing to Frank Sinatra for “From Here to Eternity.” Almost 40 years later, Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were both supporting actor nominees for “Bugsy” — and lost to Jack Palance, for “City Slickers.”
Meanwhile, if you’re Harrelson and Rockwell, who do you really think should win?
Or consider the plight of young Timothée Chalamet. One of the breakout stars of 2017, the 22-year-old is nominated for lead actor for his performance as a love-struck teen in “Call Me by Your Name,” which is a best picture nominee. But Chalamet owed at least some of his rocket-like take-off last year to his performance as a bookishly brooding guitarist in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” — also a best picture candidate. Which one does he choose?
Several of the nominees, in fact, share cast members. If you’re Caleb Landry Jones — who had significant roles in “Get Out,” “The Florida Project” and “Three Billboards” — which film are you rooting for in the best picture race: “Get Out” or “Three Billboards”? Or in the supporting actor category: Willem Dafoe for “The Florida Project” vs. Harrelson or Rockwell in “Three Billboards”? The same goes for Lucas Hedges: Which will it be — “Lady Bird” or “Three Billboards”?
What if you’ve got more than one film in contention for the same prize? Costume designer Jacqueline Durran and the production design team of Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer are all rightful nominees for their fanciful work on “Beauty and the Beast” — and also for their evocative eye for a bygone era in “Darkest Hour,” in the same categories. If you’re them, how do you choose?
The dual nominee is a phenomenon that goes back to the third Oscars (which covered 1929-30), when George Arliss, Maurice Chevalier and Ronald Colman were each nominated as lead actor for two different films, comprising six of the eight lead acting slots (Arliss won for “Disraeli”). That same year, Norma Shearer and
Greta Garbo both grabbed nominations for two different films apiece as lead actress, with Shearer winning for “The Divorcee.”
Barry Fitzgerald took that idea a step further in 1944, when he was nominated as both lead and supporting actor, for the same role in “Going My Way.” Fitzgerald’s co-star, Bing Crosby, won the lead actor Oscar — but Fitzgerald won for supporting, hamming his way past Clifton Webb in “Laura.”
The rules subsequently changed to prohibit actors from that sort of double-dipping (thus engendering ever-more-creative definitions of a “supporting” performance in the ongoing Oscar-Strategy game).
Luckily for Oscar voters, the ballot isn’t nearly as confusing as it might have been, given the “wonder” of last year’s choices: there was Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel,” and Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder,” the only film of that group to earn an Oscar nomination (for makeup).
It makes you wonder indeed.