The Path to the Oscars

Peter Wintersteller

On Aug. 9, The Help premiered at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Right afterward, our editors in attendance huddled together and made a bold decision: to invite not one but two of its female stars to join The Hollywood Reporter's Roundtable Series on the same panel.

Both Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis graced the season's first Roundtable cover and are now Oscar front-runners as best supporting actress and best actress, respectively. But it's easy to forget that back then, few would have predicted this is how the race would end up, and most people had never even heard of Spencer. THR's staff makes a point of going deep into the Oscar competition early, however, using its knowledge about the people and process to identify front-runners -- and fight for the people in whom they believe.

Putting the annual Oscar Roundtables together (six in all: actors, actresses, writers, directors, producers and animators) is a yearlong process that, for the 2011-12 season, got under way a year ago this week. That was when news director Matthew Belloni singled out future contenders including The Descendants, The Tree of Life and War Horse in last year's Oscar issue.

At the Cannes Film Festival, it was clear Tree of Life would be a serious contender; at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, The Artist and Descendants broke out of the pack. Editors compiled extensive notes on who was in the running and who we wanted to feature. The staff then set about the enormously complicated task of juggling schedules to get leading contenders together for photo shoots and Roundtable interviews in their respective fields. Unforeseen complications got in the way, as they always do: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn) had to pull out because of his Wallander TV series; The Artist's Jean Dujardin didn't speak English fluently at the time.

Entire spreadsheets were organized to chart who was where and when. Panicked publicists yelled at us. Weekends were ruined. But the effort paid off.

This year, four of the six actresses THR included received Oscar noms, with Glenn Close and Michelle Williams joining Davis and Spencer. Four of our actors, additionally, made the list: George Clooney, Christopher Plummer, Gary Oldman and Nick Nolte.

It's been thrilling to see just how much impact awards season can have on the individuals. Back on Oct. 24, when photographer Mary Rozzi shot the actresses, Spencer was incredulous when she learned that the Actor Roundtable was going on in the same studio. THR editor Stephen Galloway took her by the hand and introduced her to Clooney, Plummer and Oldman.

Few people present knew who she was. Now she's a household name.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and best of luck on the 26th.

Janice Min
Editorial Director

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