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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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One of the strange things about the Academy Awards is how arbitrary qualification for the supporting acting awards is. The supporting acting categories were created in 1936. The rules of eligibility have evolved over time, but the bottom line is that there is no bottom line about what constitutes a lead performance and what constitutes a supporting performance. The decision is made by the studio, which decides on its own which category it wants to submit to and campaign for.

This can lead to oddities, like Frances McDormand going lead for Fargo (1996) with 28 minutes of screen time, while William H. Macy went supporting with 32. But McDormand dominates memory of the film, so maybe it makes sense. On the other hand, some performances seem even too short for supporting. Beatrice Straight won supporting for Network (1976), for less than six minutes of screen time. But it was a brilliant performance, and that's what counts.

Anyway, this year in particular, there seems to be more than the usual amount of unpredictability about who goes where. Oscar prognosticators are stuck until the respective studios make some decisions. Here's a brief rundown:

Jennifer Hudson

The one that's just come completely out of left field is Jennifer Hudson, currently best known as Finalist #7 in Season 3 of American Idol. She was voted out earlier than anybody anticipated, and Fantasia Barrino went on for the win. But when Hudson and Barrino both auditioned for the part of Effie in the forthcoming Broadway musical adaptation Dreamgirls, it was Hudson that got the part.

Dreamgirls has been on the short list of likely Best Picture nominees since before last year's Oscar season was over. So was Flags of Our Fathers, which faded when it opened, but Dreamgirls looks great and has been receiving raves. Much of the buzz is centered on Jennifer Hudson's performance. Until very recently, the assumption was that Hudson would be entered in the Best Supporting Actress race, but the early word is so strong that the studio might run her in Best Actress -- which is one of the most competitive categories this year, and she'd be a lot less likely to win. But it's the studio that will make the call, not anything inherent about the role. Ensembles are tough calls sometimes. In an ensemble, how can you single out leads? And if everybody is supporting, who are they supporting?

Anyway, one interesting ramification of this decision is that if Hudson goes lead, it opens the door for Beyonce Knowles to run in supporting. If Hudson stays supporting, count Beyonce out. It all depends on how strong the film catches on.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Sometimes the decision is made to keep an actor from splitting his own votes. That may be the case with Leonardo DiCaprio this year. He's a lead in The Departed and the forthcoming Blood Diamond, and Oscar buzz surrounds both performances. But if DiCaprio goes lead in both, the risk is splitting his votes and not getting nominated at all. His performance in The Departed is easier to justify in supporting, so that may be what happens if Blood Diamond takes off.

My guess, though, is that Blood Diamond's Oscar chances in anything are the weird, inexplicable fantasies of entertainment journalists, and he'll go lead for The Departed once studio executives figure that out.

Jack Nicholson

One of the people waiting on that decision is Jack Nicholson, who is almost certainly going to be nominated somewhere for The Departed. But just as an actor won't want to split his own votes in the same category, a film won't want to either. If Leonardo DiCaprio goes lead, Nicholson will probably go supporting. Otherwise, it'll probably be the other way around.

Cate Blanchett

Another with self-competition concerns is Cate Blanchett, who is getting a lot of attention for a lead in Notes On a Scandal, a lead in The Good German, and a supporting in Babel. Count her out of Babel, especially with two other Babel actresses with buzz for Supporting Actress. That leaves two lead performances. So Notes On a Scandal will probably go supporting. If so, they'll still both be shaky nominations. Both could hit, or both could miss.

Annette Bening

Many thought this would finally be Annette Bening's year, but when Running With Scissors opened, it was lambasted by critics and ignored by audiences. Bening's performance continued to win acclaim, but guilt by association dampens enthusiasm.

But, while Best Actress is strong this year, Best Supporting Actress is not, and there is speculation that if the studio submitted her there instead of as a lead, especially if Hudson abandons the category, she could win in a walk, accruing votes from people who felt guilty for twice passing her over for Hilary Swank.

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