Putting this year’s Oscar contenders in context surprises and also deepens appreciation of their achievements.
“Dreamgirls,” with eight nominations, is the first pic in Oscar history to have earned the most bids in a year without scoring a best picture nom. Pic falls short of matching the overall record for most noms for a film without a best picture nomination, held by 1969’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” with nine. (That year, best pic nominee “Anne of the Thousand Days” earned a field-leading 10 bids.) “They Shoot Horses” did receive bids for helmer Sydney Pollack and its screenplay; “Dreamgirls” writer-director Bill Condon was passed over in both categories.
Last pic to earn as many bids as “Dreamgirls” without picture, directing or writing noms was “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, which from its octet of noms took home only a song Oscar (plus a special trophy for its visual effects).
SHARING THE WEALTH
The total number of noms earned by the five best picture contenders (26) is the lowest in more than 70 years. One has to go back to the awards for 1932-33, which had only eight other categories, for as low a tally, despite there being twice as many best picture nominees that year. (“Cavalcade” was the winning pic — it took home three of the four Oscars for which it was nommed.)
Also, “Babel’s” seven bids rep the fewest earned by a top-nominated best pic contender in 54 years. “The Quiet Man,” “Moulin Rouge” and “High Noon” — which each earned a field-leading seven nominations at the 1952 awards — were defeated for the top honors by “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which had only five noms.
SPEED OF YOUTH
With her “Little Children” nom, Kate Winslet, at 31, has broken the record among thesps for the most noms at the youngest age. She has earned five career bids, a sum that thesps Olivia De Havilland (with 1949’s “The Heiress”), Bette Davis (1941’s “The Little Foxes”) and Marlon Brando (1957’s “Sayonara”) all crossed at age 33. De Havilland was the youngest of the trio by mere months.
BEATING THE ODDS
Nommed thesp duos from four films — “Dreamgirls,” “Blood Diamond,” “Notes on a Scandal” and “Little Children” — have a shot at duplicating a feat only two pairs of actors have managed to pull off: Win two statuettes for a film that missed out on a nom in the top category. In 1962, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won actress and supporting actress for “The Miracle Worker,” and 1963’s “Hud” earned trophies for lead actress Patricia Neal and supporting actor Melvyn Douglas.
For the first time since the first Oscars, none of the actor nominees is from a pic nominated for best picture. Only then, when Emil Jannings won the actor laurel for two pics — “The Way of All Flesh” and “The Last Commander” — has this happened before.
Also, four of this year’s actor nominees — Forest Whitaker, Ryan Gosling, Will Smith and Peter O’Toole — have a shot at becoming only the fourth actor winner for a pic with no other nominations. Michael Douglas (1987’s “Wall Street”), Cliff Robertson (1968’s “Charly”) and Jose Ferrer (1950’s “Cyrano de Bergerac”) are the only previous lone-wolf lead actor winners.
Peter O’Toole, with his best actor nom for “Venus,” has eight career Oscar bids but has yet to win the trophy. Should he lose this year, he’d become the first thesp to have earned that many nominations without a victory.
But there is a bit of precedent on O’Toole’s side: Geraldine Page (1985’s “The Trip to Bountiful”) and Al Pacino (1992’s “Scent of a Woman”) won their first Oscars on their eighth noms, previously the only thesps to reach that mark without a prior victory.
Also, should O’Toole win, he’d become only the third thesp to win his first competitive Oscar subsequent to receiving an honorary trophy, which was bestowed on O’Toole in 2003 . Henry Fonda won for 1981’s “On Golden Pond” a year after accepting his lifetime laurel, and Paul Newman followed up his 1985 honorary statuette with an actor win the next year for “The Color of Money.”
Alan Arkin’s supporting actor bid for “Little Miss Sunshine” comes 38 years after his last Oscar nom, for his lead perf in “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (1968), one of the longest gaps between thesp bids. It ties the gap between Helen Hayes’ two career noms (and wins) for “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” at the 1931-32 awards and “Airport” at the 1970 Oscars as well as the span between Jack Palance’s second acting bid, for 1953’s “Shane,” and his 1991 winning supporting actor nomination for “City Slickers” in 1991.
Henry Fonda holds the record for the longest span between acting bids: 41 years between his nom for “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940 and his win for 1981’s “On Golden Pond” — but in the interim he did earn a 1957 best pic nom as a producer on Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men.”
Either Helen Mirren, Judi Dench (“Notes on a Scandal”) or Meryl Streep (“The Devil Wears Prada”) — 61, 72 and 57 years old, respectively — would be the oldest femme to win a best actress Oscar in several years. In fact, since 1990 the average age of the actress Oscar winners has been 34. Incidentally, Dench most recently struck a victory for experience over youth in the female thesp races when, at 64, she won the supporting actress Oscar for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” — a rare victory by a seasoned performer in a category dominated in recent years by ingenues as young as 11 (Anna Paquin, in 1993’s “The Piano”).
Mirren is in line to be the third actress to win an Academy Award for portraying a queen onscreen. Her Oscar-winning royal predecessors include Dench’s brief turn in 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” as Elizabeth I and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1968’s “The Lion in Winter.” Other nominated queens include Dench’s 1997 essaying of Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown,” Cate Blanchett as the eponymous “Elizabeth” in the 1998 pic, Vanessa Redgrave’s title turn in 1971’s “Mary, Queen of Scots,” Janet Suzman that year as the wife of Russian Tsar Nicholas II in “Nicholas and Alexandra,” Norma Shearer as French queen Marie Antoinette in the eponymous 1938 pic and Mirren as Queen Charlotte in 1994’s “The Madness of King George.”
With the best pic nom for “Babel,” Paramount Vantage (formerly Paramount Classics) has scored its first bid in the top Oscar race, leaving Warners’ nascent Picturehouse division as the sole studio specialty arm without a best pic nominee to its credit.
Fox Searchlight earned its third best pic nom with “Little Miss Sunshine,” tying it with Sony Pictures Classics and Universal’s Focus Features. Disney’s Miramax Films unit, however, this year increased its comfortable lead among majors’ arthouse shingles. Since its 1993 acquisition by the Mouse House, the division has earned (as either sole or co-distributor) 16 best pic nominations, including this year’s bid for “The Queen.”
For only the second year in Oscar history, not a single best picture nominee received a cinematography bid. It first occurred at the first Academy Awards in 1928. Also, for only the second time in Academy Award history, no best pic nominee received a corresponding art direction nomination. The last time it happened was 1945, when out of 10 bids (half for color pics, half for B&W) none went to the five best picture contenders.