For someone who follows the awards season with a close, particular eye, you read the tea leaves of a cinematic year based on precedent. What have the Oscars done in their history that warrants such a prediction or outcome? Statistics are heavily scrutinized and precedents are meant to be broken under the right circumstances, as we’ve seen in recent years.
Always expecting the unexpected, I took a look at some of the longest-standing Oscar stats, expecting to be proven wrong at some future ceremony; but when it comes to the age of nominees, these records are likely never to be broken under Hollywood’s current behaviors.
The youngest lead actor nominee was 9 years old.
This record has been owned by Jackie Cooper, who was nominated for lead actor for Norman Taurog’s classic comedy “Skippy” (193o-31) at the fourth Oscar ceremony at the age of 9. This declaration of Cooper hanging on to the title is that there’s never been any other child actor nominated for a lead performance since. The second-youngest to be nominated in the category is Mickey Rooney for “Babes in Arms” (1939) at age 19. Rooney had held the third-youngest slot until Timothée Chalamet came on the scene for “Call Me by Your Name” (2017) at age 22.
This doesn’t mean we haven’t had worthy leading child performances over the years. Abraham Attah’s towering work in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” and Hunter McCracken’s subtle and moving turn in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” are prime examples.
The blame for many of the omissions does not just fall upon the Academy. It’s shared with the awards strategists and studios that choose to commit category fraud by campaigning these performances in the supporting races when they are clearly the narrative threads of their films. Jacob Tremblay’s co-leading performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” is an example of a failed switcharoo, despite the SAG Award nomination in supporting actor.
The younger girls in Hollywood’ve actually had an “easier” road of acceptance by the Academy. At 9, Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest nominee in the lead actress category ever, while Keisha Castle-Hughes was 13 when she nabbed her nod for “Whale Rider.” Coincidentally, Castle-Hughes campaigned in supporting actress and was nominated in that category at the SAG Awards, but the Academy voided that submission and nominated her in the lead.
For young men under 18, only five have ever been nominated. In contrast, the top 10 youngest supporting actress nominees ever range from ages 10 to 14, with Tatum O’Neal’s turn in “Paper Moon” being the record holder for nomination and winner. Jodie Foster holds the 10th youngest spot for her work in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” which she nabbed when she was 12, but she may be edged out of the top 10 this year for Helena Zengel’s Golden Globe-nominated performance in “News of the World.” That will put her just ahead of Saoirse Ronan’s nominated work in “Atonement” in the sixth spot.