Academy passes over housewife in favor of war-crimes defendant

Oscar rule stipulates that there will be no Winslet vs. Winslet in best-actress category

January 23, 2009|By Rachel Abramowitz | Rachel Abramowitz,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD - The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Kate Winslet half her wish, nominating her for best actress for her indelible performance as a one-time concentration-camp guard in The Reader, but skipping over her other acclaimed performance, as a suffering suburban housewife in Revolutionary Road, a film directed by her husband, Sam Mendes.

Winslet apparently had hoped to avoid having her two performances go mano a mano by expressing her wish (via the studios' campaigns) that The Reader be entered in the supporting-actress category, and Revolutionary Road in the best-actress category, a desire that was honored by the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards.

Yet the rules are different for the Oscars, which permit actors only one nomination per category and assign the categories as the academy - not the potential nominee - sees fit. The 5,800 Oscar voters clearly were overwhelmed by what many consider one of Winslet's career-best performances.

The 33-year-old has never won an Oscar, although she's been nominated six times, including for her performances in Sense and Sensibility, Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and now The Reader. This Oscar season, Winslet has been vocal about her desire to win one.

Winslet's only comment yesterday was a statement that said, "I'm genuinely thrilled not just for myself but for the wonderful Stephen Daldry and David Hare. These nominations are a testament to their unwavering commitment to this film. ... Surely Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack are smiling down on us today!" (Both producers died before The Reader was released.)

In Daldry's film, based on Bernhard Schlink's best-selling novel, a German teenager falls into an affair with a mysterious and much older working-class woman, Hanna Schmitz, only to find out eight years later that his former lover is now a defendant in a war-crimes trial. The movie garnered four other nominations, including best picture, director and adapted screenplay.

In an earlier interview with the Los Angeles Times, Winslet explained the motivation behind her portrayal of the controversial character. "The fine line for me playing Hanna is, I knew I couldn't try to make her likable. I'm playing a woman who contributed to some of the worst crimes committed against humanity, so how can an audience feel something for such a woman? So I knew I couldn't take on responsibility for asking for the audience's forgiveness, but I knew that if an audience could feel any level of sympathy for Hanna, and then feel morally compromised because that's what they felt, that would be potentially interesting."

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