Richard Gere has starred in some of the most popular films of the past 30 years, including “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Pretty Woman” and “Chicago,” but the actor has never earned an Oscar nomination.

That could change this year, with his performance as Bernie Madoff-like Wall Street scammer in “Arbitrage.” The film has generated strong reviews and the thesp is receiving some of the best notices of his career. But will it be enough to make the shortlist that has eluded him during a career that began in the early 1970s.

He wouldn’t be the only actor who’s invested decades in the business but has no Academy love to show for it: This year’s lead and supporting actors field could be littered with first-timers who have clearly put in their dues over the years. Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables”), Ewan McGregor (“The Impossible”) and John Goodman (“Argo”) will be in the conversation.

“The thing about the annual Oscar race is it doesn’t come in with a built-in sense of perspective,” says film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. “All the voters can do is examine the cards they’re dealt this year. I don’t think anybody sits there and diagrams who hasn’t won.”

Still, while no actor will go on record admitting he feels slighted for never getting receiving a nom, having top talent getting blanked year after year can baffle even experienced producers.

Says Belen Atienza, producer of “The Impossible,” “It surprises me that at this point in his career, (McGregor) hasn’t had one yet. We’ve grown up with his films. He’s like Gregory Peck, someone people empathize with immediately. He feel like he’s an everyday man and you get that connection. Ewan breathes that.”

“Arbitrage” producer Laura Bickford has theories as to why Gere has gone overlooked.

“He’s done so many roles that are all Oscar-worthy, but maybe it’s because he’s so good looking,” she says. “It took a while for him to get older, and for people to go, ‘Shit, he’s a great actor, too.’ ”

Jim Piazza, co-author of “The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History,” says she might be on to something — early roles can color later career moves. He notes that Gere “came on right away as a sex bomb” with roles in films such as “American Gigolo” and “Breathless.”

“He’s never played someone in an iron lung,” Piazza says. “He’s a real tentpole actor, but he’s never had this breakout role. Ewan McGregor also has played this cutie, even though he has some fantastic performances. Whereas someone like Michael Fassbender, who out of the box has this instinct for roles that are out there. He’ll end up with three or four Oscars before you know it.”

Still, there’s the lingering question of whether the lack of nominations over a long career can, in fact, help an actor once the right role does come out. Every year, there’s always buzz that it’s one particular actor’s “time,” whether or not the role the nomination is for the best performance of their career.

“There’s a certain affection that comes from surviving,” says Piazza. “Last year Christopher Plummer finally did something voters thought was brave (in “Beginners,” for which he won his Oscar), and then there was his age.”

And age does play a factor when it comes to increasing an actor’s chance of getting a nomination, agrees Maltin. “That would seem to accrue to Richard Gere’s credit at this point,” he says.

Producers are less keen to acknowledge that age, or if being a particular actor’s “time” signals a boost in voters singling them out, but as Producers Guild of America VP Gary Lucchesi suggests, there’s no way to keep emotion off the ballot.

“Actors are a very discerning group of artists, and they’re quite emotional when it comes to giving nominations to fellow actors,” he says. “It’s a studied, but emotional decision.”

What no one suggests, though, is that the lack of an Academy Award nomination or win is some kind of judgment on the actor himself.

“Honestly, it’s a nightmare to choose,” says Atienza. “That’s the good news, to see how much talent is out there. But it’s not a judgment at all. There’s just a limited number of awards, and you can’t always get to everyone who deserves one.”

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