Oscar campaigners call them the Steak Eaters. The Academy is full of them–they’re red-blooded males (not just American–Europeans and Aussies too), often directors, writers and craftspeople. They’re the guys who voted for The Silence of the Lambs, Braveheart, Gladiator, Avatar and yes, Crash over Brokeback Mountain. “They vote for big movies that make big money, good solid moviemaking with great actors and good storytelling,” says one veteran Oscar campaigner. “True Grit is for them.”
This faction of the Academy is also likely to vote for Ben Affleck’s The Town and David O. Russell’s The Fighter. One movie that is not likely to be inside their wheelhouse: Lisa Cholodenko’s audience and critics‘ hit, The Kids Are All Right. For those who think that the Academy proved itself not sexist by voting for Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker last year, not so fast. Bigelow was one of the guys, a proven member of the big-budget studio club, who made a resolutely male war movie. No women were in it.
The Kids Are All Right faces several obstacles.
1. It’s a women’s picture, not a drama, but a rambunctious, sexy, provocative relationship comedy. While this genre requires tremendous skill, the Academy tends to undervalue comedies.
2. It’s a gay movie about two lesbian parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) of two teen kids who seek out their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo). Women are trained from birth to learn to see things from the male point-of-view. Some men are able to look at things from a female perspective, but most men don’t. Thus, I fear that the Steak Eaters in the Academy who were uncomfortable with the gay male love story in Brokeback Mountain may also shy away from the gay subject matter in The Kids Are All Right, from the butch Bening’s taste for gay male porn to the way Ruffalo is treated. More than one male has complained that they do not like the movie’s attitude toward Ruffalo. They think the movie is not kind to him. For one thing, he is not the central character; he’s an attractive single male who likes women and enjoys meeting his kids but has never made a commitment in his life. The movie is about what happens to this family unit when he is introduced. He is an interloper, no question.
3. It’s written and directed by a woman. Although Cholodenko lives in L.A., she comes from the indie world, and her prior films, High Art and Laurel Canyon, while well-reviewed, have not been widely seen. (She has been directing such TV series as Six Feet Under, Hung and The L Word.) Over the years, the Academy has embraced more women writers than directors. Bigelow can be seen as the exception that proves the rule: she was the fourth woman to win a directing Oscar nomination and the second American woman. She was the first woman to win the DGA award for best director and the Oscar for director or picture.
4. It’s a small-scale $4-million contemporary film which grossed $20.8 million last summer. Focus Features turned its modest Sundance acquisition into a hit. But while Kids is well-made and good-looking, it isn’t the sort of movie that will draw support across all the craft branches.
Academy voters are predominantly male, and so is the Academy directors branch. The dominant actors’ branch comes closest to a 50/50 male/female split. Hence I predict that The Kids Are All Right will win best comedy and best actress in a comedy (Bening) at the Golden Globes, will get nominated for a best picture Oscar but not director, best actress (Bening) and supporting actor (Ruffalo), and best original screenplay, which Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg might have a shot at winning. Such are the vagaries of the Academy.