How Kirsten Dunst and ‘Power of The Dog’ Could Make History for Women at the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

With Kirsten Dunst's Oscar campaign exclusively confirmed for supporting actress, "The Power of the Dog" from Jane Campion looks to make history on multiple fronts.

The Power of the Dog - Kirsten Dunst, Jane Campion, Ari Wegner
Courtesy of NETLFLIX

With Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” picking up steam after playing nearly the entirety of the fall festival circuit, Netflix has confirmed to Variety exclusively that Kirsten Dunst, one of the standout sensations from the Western, will campaign for supporting actress for the awards season.

This decision doesn’t surprise those who have seen the film, as the story and characters orbit Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank. Nevertheless, an Academy coronation for Dunst has been long overdue, and her role as Rose, a widow who becomes an alcoholic out of paralyzing fear of her brother-in-law, is among her very best yet. It should be noted that of the four acting categories this awards season, supporting actress is the most competitive, and she’ll do battle with the women from the best picture frontrunner “Belfast,” particularly Caitriona Balfe, and Richard family pillar Brandi in “King Richard,” played by recent Emmy nominee Aunjanue Ellis.

Starting her career as a child actor with an Oscar snub is no easy feat. Still, she was criminally overlooked for her breakout role as the young vampire Claudia in Neil Jordan’s classic “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994). After making her way through blockbusters such as “Jumanji” (1995) and “Spider-Man” (2002), Dunst built an impressive resume on the independent circuit with memorable turns in movies like “The Virgin Suicides” (1999) and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004). Unfortunately, the critics and precursors couldn’t build momentum for her more revered works in films like Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” (2011) and her re-teaming with Sofia Coppola on the remake of “The Beguiled” (2017), with both coming up empty in their respective Oscar years.

The other acting campaigns for “Power” are as expected, with Kodi Smit-McPhee and real-life partner Jesse Plemons  angled for supporting actor attention. Both have a strong shot of making the final five, with three of the last four years double-dipping for men from the same movie (something Focus Features’ “Belfast” is hoping to do as well). Cumberbatch’s lead campaign will likely take front and center, even with three other films this year — “The Courier,” “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — not posing any threat of vote-splitting.

Dunst won’t be the only woman looking for a celebration, as she hopes and discusses during our season opener of “Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast.”

Writer, director and producer Campion will be contending in three categories, which at the moment all look to be within reach. She already walks in with a historical feat as the second woman to be nominated for directing for “The Piano” (1993), for which she won her Oscar for the screenplay. If nominated for directing again, she’ll be the first woman to do it twice, after Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) failed in their quest. But that’s not it for her.

Even though Chloé Zhao made history last year as the only woman ever to be nominated for four Oscars in the same year (“Nomadland” noms for picture, directing, adapted screenplay and editing), she’s doesn’t hold the title for most-awarded. That designation is currently owned by Fran Walsh, who won three statuettes for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2004) in picture, adapted screenplay and original song. Could Campion join her, which would also mark Netflix’s first best picture win at the Academy Awards, after coming up short with films like “Roma” (2018)?

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Only four women in total have earned three noms in a single year — Edith Head (in 1964 for costume design when it was split between black-and-white and color), Marilyn Bergman (in 1983, all for original song), Sofia Coppola (in 2004 in picture, director and original screenplay) and Walsh.

Netflix is also the same studio that fielded the first woman nominated for cinematography when Rachel Morrison was recognized for “Mudbound” (2017), though she lost out to Roger Deakins’ first win for “Blade Runner 2049.” “The Power of the Dog” DP Ari Wegner, who just was recognized at the Middleburg Film Festival last week and also shot the early year dark comedy “Zola,” has the best shot to become the second woman to achieve this feat. Coincidentally (and thankfully), multiple women are vying for cinematography attention, many of which are from Netflix, including Alice Brooks (“tick, tick…Boom!”) and Helene Louvart (“The Lost Daughter”). There’s also Claire Mithon’s dreamscape palette to consider from Neon’s “Spencer,” a film that shares composer Jonny Greenwood, who worked on Campion’s Western and the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson movie, “Licorice Pizza” from United Artists/MGM.

With an abundance of riches in its arsenal, it’s been no secret that the streaming platform is leading its awards slate with Campion’s adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel of the same name. The film will also submit for editing (Peter Sciberras), production design (Grant Major and Amber Richards), costumes (Kirsty Cameron), sound and makeup and hairstyling (with official names to be announced and determined).

“The Power of the Dog” is also produced by Oscar-winners Iain Canning and Emile Sherman (“The King’s Speech”), BAFTA nominee Roger Frappier (“Jésus de Montréal”) and Emmy nominee Tanya Seghatchian (“The Crown”). The movie is scheduled for limited release on Nov. 17 before debuting on the Netflix platform on Dec. 1.

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