Award season - what a prize mess

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The award-season shenanigans surrounding Kate Winslet's multiple nominations reveal a flaw at the heart of the system, says Kaleem Aftab

Red carpets, tearful acceptance speeches, ugly little trophies – yes, the Oscars are coming.

Kate Winslet has a best leading actress nomination for The Reader, but, hang on, isn't this the same performance for which she received a supporting acting gong this week from the Screen Actors Guild, and before that at the Golden Globes? Once again, the Oscars and its hangers-on, supposedly highlighting the best in film, demonstrate that they're a sop to studios and producers.

Everyone knows, not least Martin Scorsese, that five turns as the bridesmaid will make some Oscar voters feel that it's your time to win. The makers of The Reader and Revolutionary Road have together ensured that the 33-year-old British star Winslet sweeps the board this year – so much so that we arrive at the odd situation where different awards are classing Winslet's role in The Reader as either supporting or leading in order not to ruin her chances.

The confusion began at the Globes when she won the best supporting actress award for The Reader. Anyone who's seen the film knows that that is a leading role; she dominates the film, the plot revolves around her, and she has top billing. She plays throughout the movie, while her leading man morphs between David Kross and Ralph Fiennes. So how did it come to pass that Winslet was nominated in the supporting actress category?

Look back at the history of awards, and it seems that whenever a star is nominated twice in the same category in the same year, his or her vote is split and the prize is gazumped by a surprised third party. Such a fate befell Mrs Sam Mendes at the 2005 Baftas; Winslet was nominated for both Finding Neverland and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the mask went to Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake.

Winslet is not the only anomaly on the gong lists this year. Why is Philip Seymour Hoffman up for a best supporting actor Oscar for Doubt, while his counterpart Meryl Streep is up for the best actress prize, when they have almost equal billing and screen time? And let's not get started on that other Streep film, Mamma Mia!, being nominated for Outstanding British Film at the Baftas. Those litigators claiming that Barack Obama couldn't take office because he was a British citizen at birth must have invented the rules for this category.

It's been reported that the studios of Winslet's respective films campaigned for her performances to be nominated in different categories. So the Reader team campaigned for her to win the best supporting actress gong, while Revolutionary Road was given a free run at the best actress prize.

The discrepancy in category highlights both the whimsical nature of awards and the shenanigans behind the scenes. Actors are thrown into categories that studios believe they're in with a chance of winning. The suspicion must be that the Doubt producers didn't have total confidence that Hoffman would get the best actor nod.

The studios have the power when it comes to nominations. They take out huge adverts in the trade press, put on screenings and orchestrate campaigns. Harvey Weinstein was adept at this in the 1990s, which is why Miramax films always seemed to win big when he was at the helm. Often, it's the film producers who decide what award their talent is up for, but different rules for the Oscars occasionally lead to discrepancies.

In the first eight years of the Oscars, there were no supporting actor awards. The change came after Franchot Tone's performance in Mutiny on the Bounty rivalled the film's leads, Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, in 1935. The next year the supporting category was created – but the Academy didn't stipulate hard rules as to what differentiated a supporting from a leading role.

But the Academy did include a caveat that actors, unlike directors, couldn't be nominated twice in the same category in the same year. So, while you could be up for best actor and best supporting actor, as has happened on three occasions – Fay Bainter in 1938 (White Banners and Jezebel), Jamie Foxx in 2004 (Ray and Collateral) and Cate Blanchett in 2007 (Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There) – an actor could not be nominated twice as best actor.

Also, for the Oscars (unlike the Globes), it's the members rather than the studios who decide who qualifies in which category. So when they made the sensible decision to class Winslet's turn in The Reader as a leading role, either that or her turn in Revolutionary Road would be excluded from the final nomination list and so the ruse of her being nominated twice was ruined.

But does any of this really matter, when awards seasons are an excuse for back-slapping by movie producers and have little to do with genuine merit?



The Orange British Academy Film Awards take place on 9 February; the 81st Annual Academy Awards take place on 22 February

AWARD MIX-UPS

Kate Winslet
Supporting Actress, The Reader, Golden Globes
The Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild have classed her performance in 'The Reader' as a supporting role – seemingly to avoid a clash with her turn in 'Revolutionary Road' – while the Oscars and Baftas have, more correctly, viewed the performance as a leading role.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Supporting Actor, Doubt, Oscars
Despite having as big a role as Meryl Streep, in the face of stiff competition for leading man gongs, Hoffman has been pushed as a supporting actor.

Mamma Mia!
Outstanding British Film, Baftas
The director and writer were Brits. But this film depended on Hollywood cash. And all the main selling points are international.

Persepolis
Film in a foreign language, Baftas
This animation was made in French but in the UK many screens showed it in a dubbed English version.

Ralph Fiennes
Best supporting actor, The Duchess, Golden Globes
Unlike his supporting role in 'The Reader', in 'The Duchess' Fiennes features throughout. It's another categorisation that seems to have awards in mind.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world