Will ‘Game Change’ win over Emmy voters?

With strong reviews, a little controversy and solid ratings, HBO’s “Game Change” looks to be a major frontrunner to score a boatload of Primetime Emmy nominations later this year.

Director Jay Roach won Emmys for directing and co-producing 2008’s “Recount,” another political film that chronicled the 2000 presidential election. That film scored a whopping 11 Emmy nominations (including five acting bids) and won three. Roach’s latest effort, which recalls the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, is likely to match or exceed that haul.

McCain and Palin’s camps have dismissed the film as “Hollywood lies,” but critics and audiences say otherwise. The premiere of the film gave HBO its highest ratings for a TV movie since 2004’s “Something the Lord Made,” another film that scored multiple nominations and wins. Meanwhile, critics have given “Game Change” a solid 74 rating on Metacritic which indicates generally good reviews.

“Game Changev should be a safe bet for at least 10 Emmy nominations. Look for nominations for Best TV Movie/Miniseries, Directing (Roach), Writing (Danny Strong), Casting, Makeup and Editing. HBO TV movies have won the top category 8 out of the past 10 years. Voters tend to gravitate toward historical dramas with urgent political messages. Past winners in the TV movie and miniseries categories range from the 1989 abortion drama “Roe vs. Wade” to 2008’s “John Adams,” which depicts the political rise of the second president.

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Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris could both contend for their lead performances. Harrelson, who plays senior campaign advisor Steve Schmidt, was nodded for Supporting Comedy Actor in “Cheers” from 1987-1991, winning in 1989. He was also cited for Guest Comedy Actor for “Frasier” in 1999. Harris, who plays McCain in the film, was previously nominated for Movie/Miniseries Actor for 2005’s “Empire Falls.”

Many actors have won this category for playing real-life people. Barry Pepper pulled off an upset  last year, winning for his portrayal of Robert F. Kennedy in “The Kennedys” miniseries. Al Pacino prevailed in 2010 for playing euthanasia advocate Jack Kevorkian in “You Don’t Know Jack” and Paul Giamatti won in 2008 for the title role in “John Adams.” Both Brendan Gleeson (“Into the Storm”) and Albert Finney (“The Gathering Storm”) earned Emmys for playing Winston Churchill in 2009 and 2002, respectively.

Julianne Moore may be the frontrunner to win Best TV Movie/Miniseries Actress for her uncanny performance as Palin. As with lead actor, Emmy voters prefer women who depict real-life ladies. Recent winners include Claire Danes for the title role in “Temple Grandin” (2010), Jessica Lange as socialite Edie Beale in “Grey Gardens” (2009) and Laura Linney as First Lady Abigail Adams in “John Adams” (2008). 

Moore won a Daytime Emmy in 1988 for her work on “As the World Turns” but has yet to contend for a Primetime Emmy. Two other Primetime Emmy virgins — Ron Livingston and Sarah Paulson — could reap supporting bids for their portrayals of husband and wife politicos Mark and Nicole Wallace.

Emmy champ Peter MacNicol could contend in the supporting actor race for his performance as campaign manager Rick Davis. Nichols earned three consecutive nods for Supporting Comedy Actor for “Ally McBeal” from 1999-2001, winning in 2001.

Voters also embrace performers playing real-life folks in the supporting categories. Three of the last four supporting actor champs won for doing just that: David Strathairn as a mentor to “Temple Grandin” (2009), Ken Howard as blue blood Phelan Beale in “Grey Gardens” (2009) and Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin in “John Adams” (2008). 

Over in supporting actress, Tammy Blanchard (“Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”) won in 2001 for her depiction of Judy Garland, Jane Alexander triumphed in 2005 for portraying Sara Roosevelt in “Warm Springs” while Shohreh Aghdashloo prevailed in 2009 for playing the first wife of Saddam Hussein in “House of Saddam” and Julia Ormond won in 2009 as the mother of “Temple Grandin.” 

According to Goldderby Editors and Users, “Game Change” is ahead of “Birdsong,” “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” “Great Expectations,” “Page Eight” and “The Hour” for Best TV Movie/Miniseries.

Moore edges out Nicole Kidman (“Hemingway and Gellhorn”) and Emily Watson (“Appropriate Adult”) in the Best Actress category. Harrelson and Harris trail Clive Owen (“Hemingway and Gellhorn”) and Bill Nighy (“Page Eight”) in Best Actor.

In the supporting races, MacNicol is behind Powers Boothe (“Hatfields and McCoy”) and David Strathairn (“Hemingway and Gellhorn”) while Paulson trails Mare Winningham (“Hatfields and McCoy”) and Judy Davis (“Page Eight”).

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