The boss said he had a bone to pick.
OK, I said eagerly, smiling. Because that's what you do when the boss has a bone to pick.
He was bothered by something to do with the Academy Award nominations last week.
I managed to keep myself from saying, “Get in line.” The carping over Oscar nominations begins each year before the announcement ceremony is even over. And I'm as guilty as anyone.
The bone the boss wanted to pick was one that has more than once stuck in my craw, too.
Why, he wanted to know, do actors and actresses so often get nominated in the wrong category?
His case in point from 2013 was Philip Seymour Hoffman, nominated for his role in “The Master,” in which he plays the title character.
If you've seen the movie, you know it's almost entirely focused on the relationship that develops between Hoffman's character, the founder of a cultish religion that seems a lot like Scientology, and a WWII veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (Joaquin Phoenix), who becomes a combination muse and court jester.
Hoffman was nominated for supporting actor. Phoenix was nominated for lead actor. My boss saw those roles as near equals, and I agree. An argument could easily be made that Hoffman belongs in the lead-actor category.
Raising that issue reminded me of 1981, when Timothy Hutton won the supporting-actor Oscar for “Ordinary People.” He remains the youngest supporting-actor winner to this day. He was 20 years old.
His character was the center of the movie, and he had more screen time than anyone. But if he'd been nominated in the lead-actor category, he'd have been up against Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull” and Robert Duvall in “The Great Santini.”
The academy places an actor's name in the category for which he or she first receives the number of votes needed to be nominated. Voters choose the category, but makers of each movie typically “suggest” to voters the categories in which actors should be nominated. It's unclear whether movie studios scope out the field when making those “suggestions.”
Tatum O'Neill, the youngest to win a supporting-actress Oscar, was 10 years and 148 days old in 1973 when she won for “Paper Moon.” She, too, was the heart and soul of the movie and probably belonged in the lead category.
Her competition for lead actress would have included Ellen Burstyn (“The Exorcist”), Barbra Streisand (“The Way We Were”) and winner Glenda Jackson (“A Touch of Class”).
You could make the same argument about Mary Badham, who played Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She, too, was a supporting-actress nominee, at 10 years and 141 days old. Another example is Hailee Steinfeld in 2010's “True Grit.” She was 14 years old when nominated for supporting actress.
On the other hand, Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated in the category where she belonged, best actress, for “Whale Rider” in 2003 at age 13.
So was Quvenzhane Wallis, a best-actress nominee this year for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — the youngest best-actress nominee at 9 years old. She'll be competing with the oldest acting nominee ever, Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour,” who is 85.
Most people think sentimentality plays a role in kid nominations. Maybe it plays a role in which category they're placed in as well.
But it isn't only child actors who are sometimes deemed supporting players when they might belong in the lead category.
Was Kevin Spacey the lead in “The Usual Suspects”? What about Al Pacino in “The Godfather”? Or William H. Macy in “Fargo”? They were all supporting nominees. Macy was on-screen about as much as Frances McDormand, who won the best-actress trophy for “Fargo.”
What about Helen Hunt in this year's “The Sessions”? Nominated in the supporting category, she's on-screen nearly as much as John Hawkes, who played the movie's central character, a polio victim seeing a sex therapist.
On the other hand, was Reese Witherspoon a lead actress in “Walk the Line,” though she didn't have that much screen time? What about Patricia Neal in “Hud”? They might have been placed in the supporting category, though Witherspoon won as lead actress playing Johnny Cash's wife.
Maximilian Schell won best actor in 1961 for “Judgment at Nuremberg,” but his screen time was far less than fellow nominee Spencer Tracy. Schell may have belonged in the supporting category.
Awards will never be an exact science. They're subjective. And it's perhaps human to focus on the perceived flaws in any system. This is one flaw readers have often asked about.