Eye on the Oscars: Actor Preview

Daniel Craig may have received a BAFTA nomination for playing 007 in 2007, but if history is any indication, he faces long odds in being nominated for his starring role as James Bond in “Skyfall” when Oscar nods are announced in January.

It is Craig’s third time playing the sophisticated spy, after “Quantum of Solace” and “Casino Royale,” for which he got the BAFTA nom, and many critics agree he’s the best Bond since Sean Connery. But that may not be good enough for Oscar voters to reward Craig with a nom, despite terrific reviews, big box office, direction by Oscar winner Sam Mendes and being surrounded by award-worthy co-stars.

Judi Dench, who plays M, won the supporting actress Oscar for 1998′s “Shakespeare in Love” and has been nominated five other times. Bond villain Javier Bardem took home Oscar for his supporting role in “No Country for Old Men” and has two other nominations. Ralph Fiennes has racked up two Oscar nods (“Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient”) and Albert Finney has five noms to his credit, the last for 2000′s “Erin Brockovitch.”

But film historians, critics and producers agree that when it comes to action-adventure heroes such as James Bond or Jason Bourne, statuettes are generally in short supply in all but the technical categories, such as film editing, sound mixing and sound editing.

“It’s not that they don’t like Daniel Craig or James Bond, but Oscar voters tend to give short shrift to action movie stars, and members of the actors’ branch are the ones who make the initial choices,” says film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, who notes that Harrison Ford never received a nomination for portraying Indiana Jones and Connery wasn’t recognized for his Bond.

“Historically, the Academy tends to favor ambitious performances in important movies,” Maltin continues. “They also like breakout stars and have been generous to newcomers over the years. They have a weakness for actors who undertake a dramatic change of pace.”

In Bond’s 23rd bigscreen outing in a franchise that is celebrating its 50th year, Craig’s work is getting strong reviews while Mendes’ direction is being compared to Christopher Nolan’s artistic helming of the previous three “Batman” films.

“You can also see this as a standalone film,” says Columbia Pictures president of production Hannah Minghella, who has worked on all three Bond pics starring Craig. “With this film, there are story elements (from the past) that get to pay off. Daniel is so funny. There are many lines in Bond movies where you need a great sense of humor, and he has that.”

Yet comedic elements of character don’t normally play into the equation of awards voters’ judgment of who merits nom. Also, the fact that 007 is a long-running franchise may be a demerit when it comes to acting awards, fairly or unfairly.

“The character has been etched in stone from the start of the franchise, and there isn’t really much that any actor can do to bring any startling new dimensions to a character like Bond, Superman, Batman, John McClane in ‘Die Hard’ or the characters in ‘Twilight,’ ” says Stephen Farber, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

“Maybe the first incarnation of such a character should be considered for awards, but by the time you get to the 12th or 27th rendition, the main job of the actor is not to disappoint the expectations of the loyal fans of the franchise. In my view, that’s not what acting awards are all about,” Farber says. “Daniel Craig, like Sean Connery, will get his recognition when he plays a different role.”

Eye on the Oscars: Actor Preview
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