Oscar Observation: Why Isn’t Rooney Mara Nominated for Best Actress? by Kevin M. Thomas

Rooney Mara nomimated for "Carol" Best Supporting Actress

Rooney Mara nomimated for “Carol” Best Supporting Actress

The Academy Award nominations were announced Jan. 14 and no matter how many surprises or snubs were among them, nothing was more noteworthy than to see if Rooney Mara was nominated for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress for “Carol” and if Alicia Vikander will be nominated for one or two awards. Spoiler alert, both are nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But read on to see why and how they could have both been up for Best Actress.

The Academy rules allow the acting members to decide when they vote whether they think a performance is a lead or a supporting, and then they mark their ballot accordingly. Even if an actor gets enough votes in each of the categories, the final result, or nomination, will be based upon which category they had the most votes.

So the studio behind “Carol” has been pushing Mara for supporting actress so that they have two chances to win Oscars – hoping Cate Blanchett takes the Best Actress Award and Mara goes home with the supporting award, even though she’s on screen almost as much as Blanchett.

Then, there’s a studio battle over Vikander who was in “The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina,” receiving praise and accolades for both movies. Some critics’ associations honor an actors’s complete work for the year so giving multiple memorable performances can help.

Alicia Vikander nominated for Best Supporting Actress

Alicia Vikander nominated for Best Supporting Actress

But with the Academy Awards, only one performance per actor and an actor cannot compete against himself. (In other categories, a candidate can compete against themselves – ask Alan and Marilyn Bergman who received three Best Song nominations in 1982).

With that in mind, the producers of independent movie “Ex Machina” hope that Vikander is nominated for Best Actress for “Girl,” giving them a shot at a supporting actress nomination. But the final result is in the hands of the Oscar voters.

This isn’t the first time these category wars have come into play – sometimes it helps an actor win the prize and other times it has worked against them.

Talia Shire in “Rocky” and Valerie Perrine in “Lenny” might have won Best Supporting Actress had they been nominated in that category. Alas, they end up in the lead category and both lost their chance at gold even though they both won a few awards for supporting actress from critics’ circles.

But the opposite worked favorably for Timothy Hutton in “Ordinary People” and George Burns in “The Sunshine Boys.” They both were the leads in their movies but won Best Supporting Actor Oscars. Ironically, Mary Tyler Moore played against type in “Ordinary People” and gave a bravura performance,  but was put in the lead category (and lost) instead of supporting (maybe she could have won).

Campaigning can also be topsy turvy but can work out in the end for an actor. Such is the case of Kate Winslet, who won an Oscar for “The Reader.” While she is truly the lead in that film, the studio pushed her for Best Supporting Actress, thinking she’d get a nomination in the same year for Best Actress for “Revolutionary Road.”

While great in both pictures, voters opted for her work in “The Reader” for lead actress so she was nominated and actually won – and no recognition for “Road.”

Billing doesn’t necessarily play a part in award classifications. It’s true Moore had billing over Hutton in “Ordinary People” and their nominations reflected that. But other times, third billed Lynn Redgrave was nominated for lead actress for playing title character “Georgy Girl” and top billed James Mason ended up in the supporting actor race.

Marquee worthiness helped David Niven win Best Actor in “Separate Tables,” even though he’s on screen for fifteen minutes. Anthony Hopkins commanded the screen in “Silence of the Lambs” and it’s no wonder he won the Best Actor Oscar. He was so riveting in the role that it’s hard to believe he was only on screen for sixteen minutes.

In the cases of Mara and Vikander, they both have better chances to win in the supporting category. Watch the suspense come to an end on Feb. 28 during the Oscar Telecast. To see all of the surprises and nominations, go to www.oscars.org.