Sally Hawkins stars in two strong Oscar contenders this year: the fantasy flick “The Shape of Water” and the touching biopic “Maudie.” But due to an arcane Oscar rule, she can only be nominated as Best Actress for one of these roles. To that end, she will be forced to pick one of these ponies to ride during campaign season.
In Guillermo del Toro‘s “The Shape of Water,” which claimed the top prize at the Venice film festival, Hawkins plays a mute woman who communicates through sign language who gets a job cleaning a government laboratory. There she encounters a humanoid aquatic creature (Doug Jones, who played multiple creatures in Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”) who is the subject of scientific research and testing. This Fox Searchlight feature is scheduled for release on Dec. 8. According to the predictions of our Oscar experts drawn from major media, Hawkins is a strong second to Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) in the race for Best Actress.
Hawkins could see her stock rise as Oscar voters watch the screener of Aisling Walsh‘s “Maudie,” which tells the true story of the humble beginnings of Canadian artist Maud Lewis, who overcomes physical adversity to find fame as a painter and love with fisherman Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). Buoyed by rave reviews, this Sony Pictures Classics release merited an impressive 93 at Rotten Tomatoes when it was released in May.
Were she so obviously not the star of both “The Shape of Water” and “Maudie,” Hawkins could try to convince voters that one role is lead while the other is supporting. Kate Winslet opted for that strategy, albeit unsuccessfully back in 2008, touting her lead performance in then-husband Sam Mendes‘ “Revolutionary Road” and her supporting work in “The Reader.” The acting branch ended up nominating her in Best Actress for “The Reader” where she won after five losses (the same number that Adams has racked up over the years.)
Why should those that give two acclaimed performances in a year have to choose one over the other when it comes to the Oscars? After all, the BAFTAs allow multiple bids, as when Scarlett Johansson was a double nominee for Best Actress in 2003 for “Lost in Translation” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring”; she won for the former.
And in its earliest days, the academy cited multiple films in both acting categories. At the first Oscars in 1928, Emil Jannings won Best Actor for two movies (“The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh”) over just one other nominee, Richard Barthelmess who was also cited for two films, (“The Noose” and “The Patent Leather Kid”). Best Actress went to Janet Gaynor for her work in three films: “7th Heaven,” “Street Angel” and “Sunrise.” Her two rival nominees appeared in just one picture apiece: Louise Dresser (“A Ship Comes In”) and Gloria Swanson (“Sadie Thompson”).
At the third Oscars in 1930, each of the winners had another nomination as well: George Arliss prevailed with “Disraeli” and also contended for “The Green Goddess” while Norma Shearer was honored for “The Divorcee” and had another bid for “Their Own Desire.” And several of their rival nominees contended with two pictures apiece. In Best Actor, Maurice Chevalier was up for both “The Big Pond” and “The Love Parade” while Ronald Colman was nominated for “Bulldog Drummond” and “Condemned.” Over in Best Actress, Greta Garbo was cited for both “Anna Christie” and “Romance.”
While the academy ended this double dipping in the acting categories in the 1930s, it has continued in the other races. Indeed, Steven Soderbergh won Best Director in 2000 for “Traffic” against, among others, his helming of “Erin Brockovich” in 2000. And in 2014, Alexandre Desplat claimed Best Score for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” having doubled his chances of finally prevailing after six losses as he also reaped a bid that year for his work on “The Imitation Game.”
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.