Friday, February 18, 2011

The Bottom Line: Melissa Leo's Personal Oscar Campaign

Crossposted on and commissioned by

In true industry fashion, for the first couple days following the publication of Melissa Leo's controversial "For Your Consideration" ads, the Internet was ablaze with talk of how inappropriate and awkward they were, asking what she was thinking and pondering whether it was going to hurt her chances. But in ever truer industry fashion, a couple days after that, the backlash to the backlash had begun, the Internet then ablaze with people being offended by the notion that these ads would affect her potential Oscar win, defending Leo, saying, *if* you're going to judge her at least try to get a sense of who she really is first.

I've actually been struggling with all of this myself. When I initially saw the ads, my reaction was one of pure and unbridled "WTF." Why on EARTH would the front-runner for the Academy Award find it necessary to take an ad out for herself, let alone an ad that is nothing more than a glamor shot. If this is about the performance? Why isn't the ad ... about the performance?

Then a few days later, after reading multiple defenses, I changed my tune. Everyone else has studios or publicists taking out ads for them; she had to take matters into her own hands. She isn't desperate, just excited -- who cares how she campaigns, plus, fun fact! She actually seems like a pretty amazing person.

Well now that the initial fervor has somewhat died down, I've finally settled on how I truly feel about the matter and whether or not it will affect her predicted win.

Academy members *should* only vote based on performance, this is true. It's what we all hope for. But if we are going to believe in this principle, we need to really believe it. All of us. Which would mean no ads based on anything other than touting the performance. How can we ignore the ads and claim awards are about the performance, when that doesn't even seem to be what Leo believes? I love her, but it does sort of seem like she wants us to think that this is about *her*, not the character of Alice Ward, that she's been in this industry for years, that she's an old pro, that she's due -- nothing about her campaign or previous speeches have implied otherwise. So the whole argument seems very uneven. I'm all for focusing only on the performance, but it needs to apply all around. This would also mean, as much as I've loved the pieces I've read on the matter, that there shouldn't be articles explaining why she is a good person. It shouldn't matter.

To further complicate the situation, Hailee Steinfeld was being primed to upset Leo before all this ruckus started. Her momentum had definitely begun. If anything, this mini controversy may have simply brought up the conversation slightly sooner. But in terms of predictions I've been reading and industry insiders I've been talking to, the win was starting to swing in Steinfeld's direction BEFORE the ads came out. And the reason is the performance. Many people simply appreciate Steinfeld's performance more. It's been explained to me that Maddie does more to support Cogburn's journey than Alice did for Mickey's, and that Alice is more of a fun character role than an Oscar-worthy one. The biggest argument I've heard against Steinfield is that this is her first movie (...and?), the second biggest being that she is so vital to the film because she is actually the lead and therefore shouldn't win supporting. But the mere fact that whether she is lead or supporting is debatable; add to that the fact that kids have traditionally always ended up in the supporting categories, and that should squash this argument once and for all. Her placement is what it is, don't blame Steinfeld for it. (For what it's worth, I think her monologue at the end proves that Cogburn is in fact the "lead" -- it might have been her story, but it was her story about *his* redemption. He is the one that changes. She supports that change.)

Ultimately it comes down to this: I don't think Leo should have taken out those ads, but I do hope the Academy ignores them. And for that matter, any other ads. Performance should always be considered first, then role, then movie, then sentiment/history, then politics. While those last two factors are unfortunately inevitable, they should *at least* be considered after what really matters.

The worst part of this? If someone does upset Leo, guess what people are going to point to for the reason? Not the performance. Not the role. Perhaps not even the movie. They will point purely to this controversy. And this is reason enough alone not to have taken the ad out. It makes the Supporting Actress race unnecessarily focused on politics and outside factors, pure and simple. If anything is to come from the ad, perhaps it is Academy members being forced to "think about the performance," as people jumping to Leo's defense have urged them to do, that will end up hurting her come Oscar night -- maybe such a suggestion will make members second guess going with a supposed lock and really take another look at the other nominated performances.

I'd like to think voters will forget about this entire situation before sending in their ballots, especially because Melissa Leo was an absolute genius in The Fighter, and I'd be thrilled to see her take the win with no controversy. Unfortunately, in true industry fashion, no one forgets anything. Expect mention of these ads in every Oscar wrap-up article on the Internet should Leo win OR lose. Sigh.