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How Overdue Actors Can Win for the ‘Wrong’ Performance

The frontrunners in this year’s Oscar actor races look to be made up of a lot of first-time nominees. Patricia Arquette is sitting pretty at the top of most pundits’ lists for supporting actress for “Boyhood” and J.K. Simmons is most people’s pick for supporting actor for “Whiplash.” The competitive best actor race is shaping up to be made up of almost entirely first-time nominees.

It’s only the best actress race where the veterans are thriving, from frontrunner Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” (a four-time nominee) to the likes of Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank and Marion Cotillard and frequent nominees Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain. Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are the only newcomers circling the field.

Moore is currently considered the one to beat, and not just because her performance as a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice” is stunning work—she also has the overdue factor on her side. There are many who believe she should have won several times before and the fact she has yet to score a statuette speaks volumes to the legitimacy of awards in general. Her stellar, fearless work as a porn star in “Boogie Nights” lost to Kim Basinger in “L.A. Confidential”—a nice turn in a great movie, but does anyone doubt who the “best” actress is between the two?

So “Still Alice” is the chance to finally reward Moore—which is not to sell the fantastic performance short, she would likely win even if she already had an Oscar. But right now her toughest competition comes in the form of Reese Witherspoon, so revealing and wonderful in “Wild.” Yet I’ve already heard many people tout the line: “But Reese has already won…”

Of course, sometimes it doesn’t matter how many awards a person has—it certainly never hurt Meryl Streep. And Tom Hanks won back-to-back statues for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.” Though he probably deserved to win a third in a row for “Saving Private Ryan” and lost to…Roberto Benigni. Had Hanks not already been a two-time winner, is there any doubt he would have snagged the trophy for his work?

Sometimes, an actor winning for the “wrong” film creates a crazy domino effect. After losing for 1999’s “The Insider,” Russell Crowe won best actor for 2000’s “Gladiator.” But then when he was nominated for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” he lost to Denzel Washington for “Training Day.” Ironically, that win for Washington was perceived as make-good by many people for losing for “The Hurricane.”

Many people would argue Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges won for the wrong roles—Firth in “A Single Man” lost to Bridges for “Crazy Heart.” The following year, Firth won for “The King’s Speech,” besting Bridges for “True Grit.”  Had Firth won for “A Single Man,” it’s doubtful the Academy would have chosen to reward him two years in a row. It’s also doubtful they would have denied Bridges two years in a row. And on it goes.


(Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Tom Hanks lost a bid for his third-straight Oscar for “Castaway” when, in fact, the 1999 movie was “Saving Private Ryan.”)

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