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Are the Kids All Right Despite Oscar 'Steak Eaters'?

Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right
Focus Features
The Kids Are All Right

Big blogs are abuzz about Anne Thompson's theory that "Steak Eaters" -- male directors, writers and craftspeople who outnumber Academy women -- will kill Lisa Cholodenko's best director hopes and favor more hemoglobinous he-man fare (The Fighter, The Town and especially True Grit, with their probable role model, Snake Beater Rooster Cogburn). 

But since the big actors branch is 50/50 male and female (and actors are more inclined to imagine themselves in other roles), Thompson predicts The Kids Are All Right, besides its obviously imminent Golden Globe wins for best comedy and best actress in a comedy (Annette Bening), "will get nominated for a best picture Oscar... best actress (Bening) and supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo), and best original screenplay," which she thinks Cholodenko has a shot at winning. A better shot, now that potential rivals like The King's Speech have been deprived of WGA eligibility.

The Steak Eater Theory is beautiful, but it has its detractors. Yes, AMPAS guys probably do "vote for big movies that make big money," as an Oscar campaigner told Thompson: Silence of the Lambs, Braveheart, Gladiator, Avatar, Crash over Brokeback Mountain. Kathryn Bigelow did have more Steak Eater appeal with the big, manly war movie The Hurt Locker than indie Cholodenko does with her relationship movie. As Bill Maher said, men whose girlfriends dragged them to Eat, Pray, Love should make the women watch a man's movie: Football, Jerk Off, Nap. That movie could star Ruffalo's character, and men have kvetched to Thompson that Kids is mean to his shallow womanizing outsider character. I can see that men aren't used to seeing a man as the Other Woman, and Ruffalo told me he based his character on a whole bunch of Hollywood guys he knows. Perhaps some are offended Steak Eater Oscar voters -- though I buy the idea that the actors branch will outvote them.

But lots of frontrunners aren't really all that steaklike. "How steak-eating is The King's Speech?" asks one veteran of the Oscar wars. Tea-sipping, more like. If The Social Network isn't vegan, at most it eats takeout sushi. Yes, it's got some bachelor-party Steak Eater action in the Justin Timberlake scenes, but even though he's got charisma, he's not the one getting the Oscar-prediction action. The Fighter may not be Million Dollar Baby, but its intense female energy is almost equal to that of the slugger brothers. And I'd sooner bet on Melissa Leo's acting Oscar nom than Mark Wahlberg's.

Indeed, balancing the Oscar menace of the Steak Eaters are what I call the Often Female Vegetarians -- people who shy away from the artful, wonderfully red-blooded violence in 127 Hours, for instance. "My wife said, 'I can't watch this movie,'" says longtime Academy member Murray Weissman, in the PR branch. "I'm seeing this great movie, and she said, 'You'll have to watch this by yourself.'" 

Weissman pooh-poohs the notion that AMPAS is dominated by Steak Eaters who crave red-meat movies. "I don't buy any of that. I think they're in pursuit of excellence, movies they're touched by. I was involved in the Crash campaign. It wasn't a question of meat eaters." He was also involved in Shakespeare in Love's upset victory over the positively steak-devouring (yet also soulful) Saving Private Ryan, a contest that others have cited as precedent for Kids' possible Oscar victories. "I don't buy that Steak stuff. It sounds like blog people trying to do something interesting."

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