The summer movie season is rapidly winding down, which means a couple of things. First, we are about to enter a couple of months of really poor cinema – not entertaining enough to be a summer blockbuster, not good enough to be a holiday treat. Second, the Oscar race is about to get moving. Just like Christmas moves back earlier and earlier each year (Hallmark is selling ornaments already and Starbuck should be selling pumpkin lattes this month), the Oscar race has expanded to cover the Autumn movie doldrums. The big Oscar-bait films don’t really hit the big screen until December, but the hype hits the newsstands as early as possible. This year has not really generated any Oscar caliber films yet. There was no summer sneak-attack like The Dark Knight or Inception. We will see some tech nominees from the first 2/3 of this year. And Inside Out and Minion Movie will get animated nods. But we have not seen any acting performance worth remembering four months from now.
To get a jump start on the the useless Oscar arguments, I have come up with an interesting topic. It started when I was watching the trailer for Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s upcoming film, The Walk. I thought to myself, “Self. You would not be surprised in Jo-Go won an Oscar someday.” I was right. I wouldn’t be surprised. He is one of those young actors with a lot of charisma and talent that makes some pretty good acting choices. He has been in big action pieces (Inception, Looper), smaller thoughtful pieces (Don Jon), and movies with Oscar potential (Snowden, The Walk). It got me thinking about which actors, currently working and without the Gold Statuette, could possibly be Oscar winners by the time they finish their portfolio. To keep this manageable, I came up with four categories: Old Guys, Veterans, Newcomers, and Women. I will highlight one group each article. Keep in mind, I am NOT saying they will win THIS YEAR. I am looking at the potential for these actors and actresses to EVER win an acting Oscar. Let’s roll it – Oscar Odds!
OSCAR ODDS – OLD GUYS
You know what I mean when I say “Old Guys.” I mean actors who have been toiling for decades. These are guys that your parents watched, you watched, and your kids will watch. They have been in major movies and in major roles. They may have flirted with Oscar in past roles, but never won. They may never have come close. But The Academy LOVES to reward guys like this. Think about Jack Palance. He had never done ANYTHING close to Oscar-worthy work in his career. He had done big work, but it wasn’t Oscar worthy. Then City Slickers comes along and he somehow sneaks off with an Oscar. It was a career- achievement award more than a real Oscar.
This has happened many times in Oscar history. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Christopher Plummer, James Coburn, Alan Arkin, George Burns, Don Ameche, Sean Connery. They all won Oscars over the age of 60; most of them won due to a career of big films. The single biggest Oscar-winning age group is guys over 50. I am sticking with older guys – ones who have a legacy of big film roles. (Those 50 something guys will be in the next article.) Which older guys have the best chance of winning a “thanks for the memories” Oscar?
Nominations: 1985 for Witness
Career Achievements: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Fugitive, Air Force One, Jack Ryan, Blade Runner
Ahhhh, Harrison Ford. For a while, he was box office gold. Any role he touched was destined to be a blockbuster – especially if it was passed on by someone else. But somewhere along the line, Ford’s Midas touch petered out. He became more famous for being grizzled and cantankerous and marrying Ally McBeal. His movie choices were not as careful. Even films that sounded like sure hits (Widowmaker, Indy 4, Cowboys vs Aliens, Ender’s Game) didn’t make tons of money. More importantly for our discussion, Ford drifted further and further from Oscar bait roles. For people who like Harrison Ford (me included), there is a desire to see him do well. And there is a lot of anticipation surrounding the new Star Wars movie. But those are not going to get Ford’s hands on some Golden Man Statue. There was a little discussion about Ford getting a nomination for his performance in the Jackie Robinson biopic, 42. But that came to nothing. Aside from that, Ford hasn’t been in the vicinity of an Oscar caliber movie for decades.
Prospects: On the surface, the prospects for Han Solo are not good. But that actually puts Harrison Ford in a GREAT place for the Old Guy Appreciation Oscar. The guy who wins this often comes out of nowhere in a slightly “out of his wheelhouse” role. Ford could easily get put into a small role in a Quentin Tarantino movie or a David O Russell film and sweep a wave of nostalgia into a win. He is still acting. He has become more likable in recent years. And there are a LOT of younger people in the movie business that love the early roles by Ford – which increases his chances of jumping into a choice role.
Nominations: 1974 The Sting
Career Achievements: All the President’s Men, The Natural, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
For a lot of younger people, Robert Redford is the guy who founded Sundance. Or he was the bad guy in Captain America 2. But in the 1970s, Redford was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Every woman wanted him; every man wanted to be him. It may be hard to fathom that now, what with the leathery face. But Redford is a great actor. And somehow, even with his impressive resume, he never won an acting Oscar. Now he doesn’t act all that much. But when he does, he still brings that same depth and twinkle to the role. I’ve seen him in several of his later projects (The Natural, Sneakers, Indecent Proposal, Captain America 2, Spy Game) and really liked him in everything he did. It is actually a little confusing why he is not still working full time.
Prospects: Robert Redford seems to be the kind of guy that easily has one last great role in him. There has to be some movie out there that is just a tour de force for someone like him. The problem is that movie already happened. In 2013, Redford started in All is Lost. He is the ONLY CREDITED ACTOR in the entire movie. It rose and fell on his performance. It was in the vein of Sandra Bullock’s performance in Gravity (Oscar nominee) and Tom Hanks’ in Castaway (Oscar nominee). Redford didn’t even get nominated. It could be that Redford actually has missed his boat. Plus, to many people, Redford has two Oscars. He won Best Director and received an honorary Oscar. So the urgency is not really there.
Nominations: 1988 Gods and Monsters, 2001 LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring
Career Achievements: X-Men, Lord of the Rings, Last Action Hero
Ian McKellen is awesome. I am very biased, due to his stellar work in two major franchises that I really enjoy: X-Men and The Lord of the Rings. A lot of actors turn their noses up at comic book adaptations or fantasy films. Or they see them as a paycheck and a vacation somewhere overseas. But those films are not like they used to be. Bad acting is not tolerated. Look at some of the people who have been cast recently in that genre of films and you’ll see Oscar caliber actors everywhere. McKellen did what few thought possible: he earned an Oscar nomination from a fantasy film with the first LOTR movie. How many people can say they did that? Not many. McKellen was brilliant in the role of Gandalf. And he was equally impressive as Magneto, bringing great depth to that character. His non-Comic Con roles have been equally impressive. He just seems to have timed them in the wrong years.
Prospects: I have little doubt that McKellen will end up with an Oscar. He is the right caliber of actor and he still is grabbing great roles – like this year’s Mr. Holmes. With LOTR and X-Men behind him, it seems likely that he will be able to spend more time in films that will gain the Academy’s attention.
Career Achievements: Star Trek: TNG, X-Men, Christmas Carol, Shakespeare
Nowadays it is hard to talk about Ian McKellen without mentioning his running buddy, Patrick Stewart. They teamed up in the X-Men franchise, joined forces on Broadway, and generated some very funny Twitter posts. So what do we do with Patrick Stewart. He is mostly celebrated for four things: Captain Picard, Professor Xavier, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Shakespeare roles. The problem is that he is not going to win Oscar for any of those things. Even if someone brilliantly decided to cast him in a big screen version of King Lear before all was said and done, the Academy wouldn’t care. Of late, Stewart has been satisfied to tweak his stuffy British persona in favor of random appearances in comedies or on social media. He is genuinely funny and obviously talented. Is there a chance that he could get a role that would nab him Oscar gold?
Prospects: I could totally see Sir Patrick being cast in a small drama that captivates the Academy voters while completely whiffing with the general public. But I also could picture him in a Sean Connery in The Untouchables kind of role or as a big time villain. The catch would be someone taking a chance on him instead of a bigger movie star. Stewart is still known as a stage or TV performer.
Nominations: 2003 Lost in Translation
Career Achievements: Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Wes Anderson
Bill Murray is a tough actor to nail down where Oscar is concerned. Early in his career, it seemed he couldn’t shake the Saturday Night Live tag. So those more comedic performances were overlooked, even when they could have earned Oscar love – like Groundhog Day. (Robin Williams was the only zany actor who could snag nominations.) Then Murray teamed up with Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson and suddenly Murray was a viable Oscar candidate every year. He still satisfies his silly side with cameo roles in movies like Get Smart, Zombieland, and Dumb and Dumber To. He also drifted away from the madcap roles that defined his early years into a more dramatic comedic approach, which has repositioned him as a genuine Oscar threat.
Prospects: It is easy to assume that it is only a matter of time before one of Murray’s dramatic roles brings him home Oscar. But there are several things working against him. First, Murray is completely unpredictable when it comes to his career (and his general life). He could just decide to stop making movies or to only do voiceover work or live in Mexico. Second, his reinvention has kind of gotten a little predictable. He has had several roles in recent years that seemed destined for nominations (St Vincent, Hyde Park on the Hudson, Moonrise Kingdom) that got passed over. It is almost like he needs to veer back to the zany to get attention now. This year’s upcoming Rock the Kasbah could be the perfect balance of kooky and touching.
Nominations: 2011 Warrior, 1997 Affliction, 1991 Prince of Tides
Career Achievements: 48 Hours, Cape Fear, Lorenzo’s Oil, Hulk, Looking Homeless
There was a time when Nick Nolte was a commanding movie presence. He was able to work as an action or romantic lead. He was gruff with a soft interior. And he gravitated toward Oscar friendly roles. Then things started going poorly for old Nick. His role opposite Julia Roberts in the big-budget movie I Love Trouble tanked. Not only did it do poorly, but the reports of tension on-set reflected poorly on Nolte, since – let’s face it – nobody would besmirch Julia Roberts. Then that 2002 DUI picture surfaced, and Nolte was done-for. It wasn’t that he stopped working. But he no longer commanded big salaries and lead roles. And he became rougher and harder to recognize. I’m surprised sometimes to see he is in a movie because it doesn’t look anything like what I remember him to look like.
Prospects: This may be one of those cases where Nick Nolte’s best chance at the sentimental Oscar already passed him by. His 2011 nomination for Warrior smacked of nostalgia. Nolte had received and made good. Since that loss, though, his roles have been smaller and his movies have been less noticeable. There still is a chance that some director will grab him for a powerful Supporting Actor role where his grizzled look and raspy voice will resonate. But I think that chance is slipping away.
Samuel L Jackson
Nominations: 1995 Pulp Fiction
Career Achievements: Jurassic Park, Marvel, Tarantino Movies, Time to Kill
There are times where I sit there and say, “Wait a minute. So and so never won an Oscar?” Samuel L. Jackson is one of those cases. He has been in an average of 19 movies a year for the last 20 years.* (*All numbers are estimates.) Think about the number of roles that Sam has completely inhabited in the last couple of decades. He IS Nick Fury. He IS Shaft. He has the potential to steal every movie he is in. BUT he also is in a LOT of crappy movies. He is such a chameleon that he worms his way into all kinds of flicks. Change his hair, change his facial hair, change his glasses… BOOM. He can play arch-villain (Kingsman), ultra-good guy (Star Wars), grieving father (A Time to Kill), random guy (Die Hard 3). Isn’t that what acting is all about? Slipping into many different roles and making them your own?
Prospects: As long as Quentin Tarantino is making movies and casting Jackson in them, he will have a shot at Oscar. But it seems as if the Academy is starting to see every Jackson role as another Jackson role. He may look different, dress different, have a different beard. But he is still Samuel L. Jackson with the f-bombs and the swagger and the “don’t f with me” look. And he still isn’t scared to take roles for the paycheck – something that voters hold against him, it seems. It seems that Jackson is too good to end up un-awarded at the end of his career. But, unless he finds a way to play a different version of himself, he may just never find love with Golden Oscar.
Career Achievements: Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit, Taxi (TV), Addams Family
Why in the heck is Christopher Lloyd on this list? He has never been a full-fledge movie star. He has some well-known and beloved roles. But he never has been known as an AC-TOR. He is funny. He can be crazy. He does a lot of bank-building roles. This isn’t like Peter O’Toole toiling away in multiple powerful roles and getting passed over for trophy after trophy. This is DOC BROWN. He is a nut.
Prospects: And that is exactly why he is on this list. Christopher Lloyd is the type of older actor that could very easily sneak into an Oscar. If the right director comes along with the right project, Lloyd could very well ride a wave of sentimentality onto the Kodak Theatre’s stage. Jack Palance was not an Oscar-baiting actor before City Slickers. Sean Connery wasn’t churning out high-quality cinema before The Untouchables. But they just happened to hit the right combination and got lucky. Could Christopher Lloyd hit that same set of numbers? Sure. It is unlikely, but I won’t be surprise when it happens.
Next time, I will take at look at the veterans of Hollywood – the gentlemen who have not yet crossed the old-age line of demarkation.