There is a long tradition of nepotism in Hollywood (as the Spellings, the Penns, the Paltrows and Lloyd’s progeny — the Bridges of Los Angeles County — can attest). And, thanks to winners like the Fondas, the Hustons and the musical Newmans, the Academy Awards are often a family affair.
But the big secret in Hollywood is not that individual Oscar nominees are related — it’s that nepotism and in-breeding have resulted in entire Oscar projects.
Best pic winner “The English Patient,” for example, is clearly the offspring of “Casablanca” (bittersweet WWII love affair) and “Lawrence of Arabia” (ravishing desert sands).
And what do you get when you mate “All About Eve” (backstage comedy) with “A Man for All Seasons” (literate English history)? You get the sass and class of “Shakespeare in Love.”
“Braveheart” is a cross between “Ben-Hur” (lavish spectacle, but kinda boring) and “Some Like It Hot” (a lot of men running around in skirts).
Four pic winners of the 1960s are based on stage musicals that were in turn based on other sources. “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver!” are like members of the Baldwin family: They’re distinct, but it’s clear that they’re related.
And when it comes to Oscar performances, Hollywood cross-breeding is running rampant. Just look at recent acting winners.
In “Boys Don’t Cry,” the gender-bending Hilary Swank is a direct descendant of Linda Hunt in “The Year of Living Dangerously.” While Hunt is a woman playing a man who dressed as a man, Swank is a woman who played a woman dressing as a man. But then, new generations always rebel against their parents.
And if Hunt was her mother, Swank’s twangy clothes and aw-shucks mannerisms make clear that her father was Robert Duvall in “Tender Mercies.” Or maybe Duvall was the mother, and Hunt was the father. All this cross-dressing gets confusing.
In “Life Is Beautiful,” Roberto Benigni is the offspring of Sophia Loren and Tom Hanks. Like the character in “Two Women,” he’s a WWII victim, tending after an only child, and who can’t speak English. Like the title character in “Forrest Gump,” he is a total innocent caught up in world events who proves resilient, fun-loving, and really annoying.
This year’s crop of Oscar hopefuls similarly pay tribute to their Oscar forebears. Though the performances are totally original, the roles are the progeny of past Academy Award winners.
Jamie Bell in “Billy Elliot” comes from a long Oscar family tree: Billy is a cross between every gotta-dance character (James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” etc.) and every child winner (Anna Paquin in “The Piano,” etc.) In other words, “Billy Elliot” is the love child of George M. Cohan and Tatum O’Neal.
Joaquin Phoenix stole the show in “Gladiator,” playing the cuckoo-bird descendant of Angelina Jolie in “Girl, Interrupted” and Peter Ustinov in “Spartacus.”
Like many children, “Erin Brockovich” comes from a single-parent home: The uneducated, saucy rabble-rouser obviously takes after her mother, “Norma Rae.”
Martin Landau — playing a movie actor who achieved fame as a vampire in “Ed Wood” — has now spawned Willem Dafoe in “Shadow of the Vampire.” Like many actors and vampires, his mother is unknown. Maybe it was Robert Duvall.
Michael Douglas in “Wonder Boys” had all the crusty integrity of Robert Donat in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and the stoned sweetness of Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall.”
Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” — well, hey, what’s he doing in the Oscar race? He’s the son of two non-Oscar people, Richard Hatch (winner of CBS’ “Survivor”) and Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons.”
Cate Blanchett in “The Gift” is the result of the unlikely mating of Rod Steiger and Haley Joel Osment: solving a Southern mystery (“In the Heat of the Night”) while having psychic visions (“The Sixth Sense”).
Clive Owen of “Croupier” is the beloved son of Linda Fiorentino in “The Last Seduction” and Nicolas Cage in “Red Rock West.” Like his parents, he’s ineligible.
But perhaps the most influential performance of all time was 1978 supporting actress winner Maggie Smith in “California Suite.” She played an actress who was nominated for an Oscar, but lost. Come March 30, there are going to be four of her offspring in each category.