Is Annette Bening Oscar’s comeback kid in the best actress race?

When each nominees name was announced to receive their certificate yesterday at the 83rd Academy Awards luncheon, according to all accounts, the name that got the biggest ovation was a bit of a surprise.  It wasn’t industry and Academy favorite Jeff Bridges, show co-host and nominee James Franco or the very pregnant and always adorable Natalie Portman.  No, the biggest round of applause appeared to be for best actress nominee Annette Bening.

Now, granted, Bening is an Academy Governor and with the other Governors in the room it must have assisted somewhat in the reaction, but it created enough buzz that two unrelated attendees told me about it later that day with that “what do you think about that?” look.  And while the smart money has been on “Black Swan’s” Natalie Portman to win best actress because of her Golden Globe and SAG wins, it appears Bening can’t be counted out.  


The four-time nominee has come to the campaigning game a bit later than her “Kids Are All Right” co-horts Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo who worked the rounds in November, but Bening wasn’t at full steam.  That’s certainly changed in 2011.  Bening received a tribute and honor at the Santa Barbra Film Festival last month and followed up a busy day on Monday with yet another Q&A, this time for the working actor’s periodical Backstage.  This event was part of a two-night retrospective of Bening’s career and the actress sat for a half-hour discussion about her impressive resume, her work in “Kids” and her experiences as an actress while her husband, Warren Beatty, looked on faithfully from the front row.  

Bening was asked if receiving her fourth nomination was as exciting as the first time and she enthusiastically replied, “More.  It’s like having children, the more you have the better it gets. I think it’s also because I know how [fleeting] it all is. I know that some things go well.  Some things don’t go well. I love the picture. I’m very proud of it. I do appreciate it more and I can enjoy it more.”

She also noted her agent called her and woke her up to tell her the news of the nod, but “it was a good thing the phone rang. It was a good sign.”

Gracious as ever, Bening also talked about her admiration and happiness for the rest of the “Kids’s” family who received nominations.  

“We had a nominees luncheon today and I looked over at Lisa Cholodenko who directed the picture and she and Stuart [Blumberg] who wrote it together, they sat and toiled away for years and years and we had a really hard time getting it financed.  And all of that which is not a compliant, it’s just what happened,” Bening says. “Seeing her there today I got all choked up just looking at her.  She’s been working in the business for many, many years and now she’s been recognized. So, I was happy for all of us.”

It was an entertaining conversation as Bening talked about some of the horror stories of auditioning in her early years and the luck she had landing roles in films such as “The Grifters” and “Bugsy.”  She also heaped praise on fellow nominee Christian Bale and the whole cast of “The Fighter” as well as revealing how much she loved Meryl Streep’s work in “Julie & Julia.”

The theater was packed and Focus Features’ hope was that a good number of Academy members were in attendance and a few more votes would come Bening’s way.  Whether she can really overtake Portman, however, remains to be seen.  It’s worth noting that except for last year, the SAG Awards — a bellwether of the acting branch and Portman’s trump card for those playing at home — hasn’t always lined up with the eventual Oscar winners.  In fact, in 2009 only three winners were the same, in 2008 only two, in 2007 only three, in 2006 only three, in 2005 all four repeated and in 2004 only three did.  So, the chances for an upset in at least one category are there statistically.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine a surprise in best actor as Colin Firth has that in the bag.  It would also be a shock of Christian Bale wasn’t announced as the winner in the best supporting actor field. That leaves actress and best supporting actress. There is speculation Hailee Steinfeld could knock Melissa “Consider This” Leo to capture best supporting actress, but when it comes down to it, maybe Bening’s impressive career helps her over take the powerful “Swan” of Portman.  

We’ll find out when the Oscars are announced on Feb. 27.  

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