Winslet's double victory gets a distinct lack of support


I would never want to rain on Kate Winslet's parade, especially when she has given two impressive performances as she did in "Revolutionary Road" and "The Reader."

But a best supporting actress Golden Globe victory for "Reader"? If one goes along with that theory, why not Sean Penn in the supporting actor division for "Milk"?

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., a group famous for making strange award choices in its umpteen-year history, obviously bought in to the campaign being waged to win recognition for each of Winslet's two strong 2008 performances, a plan that requires us to believe that this fine actress plays a leading role in "Revolutionary" but a supporting one in "Reader."

One wonders whether those Oscar- campaign planners actually have seen the latter movie.

I'm in favor of actors getting all the awards and rewards they can comfortably haul away in a stretch limo, but it seems time for a reality check. Who in "Reader" does the noble Kate support? She is the basic hub and thrust of the story. She's the one with top billing. Further, she plays her character throughout the movie, unlike teammates David Kross and Ralph Fiennes, who take turns playing younger-older versions of one person.

Pretending that Winslet's "Reader" role is a supporting one negates why the Academy inaugurated a supporting category in the first place, which was to honor work by actors with limited screen time.

During the first eight years of the Academy, performances that lasted 10 minutes or two hours were lumped in the same category. For instance, in 1935, when there was no special recognition for supporting actors, Franchot Tone's performance in a secondary role in "Mutiny on the Bounty" competed in the same best actor category as "Mutiny" leads Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.

It's one reason perhaps that just before the 1936 awards, the Academy board of governors decided to make a distinction: In the future, there would be four categories for performers instead of two, with recognition at last given to those who added much to films with their shorter if no less potent support.

In the early years, the studio made the decision as to the category — lead or support — for which a performance would be eligible. (An asterisk next to the performer's name on the Academy's Reminder List meant that person could be nominated only in the lead division.) The Academy eventually decided to let voters make the upstairs or downstairs decision, and it has remained that way since; studios may suggest "for your consideration" in a specific category, but voters make the call.

There has been many a year when a performer has had two or more strong performances, like Winslet. During the landmark movie year of 1939, Bette Davis gave tour de force efforts in four flashy films. But all were leads, and because Academy rules allow only one nomination per category, her sole mention was for "Dark Victory."

It also is worth noting that there have been several years in which an actor or actress has received two nominations in the same year — one in the lead category, the other in the supporting division, as the Winslet camp is trying to accomplish.

Fay Bainter was the first doubleheader in 1938; more recently, there's Jamie Foxx (2004) and Cate Blanchett (2007). But those have been cases in which the actors in question played a clearly defined lead role in one film and an unmistakable supporting role in the other.

Bottom line: Does it really matter who gets nominated where? Yes, I think it does, particularly if it means the inclusion of someone in a slot where they don't belong shuts the door on someone who deserves to be there.

Stage set for pair

On Saturday, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Denis O'Hare and Mamie Gummer open in Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" off-Broadway at the Classic Stage. Meanwhile, prevues begin Tuesday for Will Ferrell's "You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush," in for an eight-week Broadway run at the Cort.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host and anchor of Turner Classic Movies.