HOLLYWOOD (CBS) – As the Oscar horse race is about to heat up – this year’s nominations will be announced on Tuesday – it is well to remember that many factors go into why a particular actor or actress is nominated, let alone wins.
Some are veterans whose long careers reach a crescendo of applause with their latest work. Some are ingenues who burst onto the scene while stealing it.
And some characters just happen to have the right job description.
A glance at the nominees and winners of Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Awards over the last 30 years shows that some characters’ professions are much more prone to be recognized by the Academy than others – and, perhaps not surprisingly, actors who play actors, musicians or other creative types are much more likely to get nominated and win than those who play characters in any other profession.
Reviewing the 300 nominees, of whom 60 are winners, career descriptions were assigned to each character portrayed, though admittedly in some cases their job is incidental or irrelevant to the story. (Does the fact that Helen Hunt is a waitress in “As Good as It Gets” matter more than simply being the object of Jack Nicholson’s wooing?) If their job was not the defining characteristic, their role in the advancement of the drama (as mother, lover, addict, criminal, victim) is noted.
In the case of both male and female characters, creatives – actors, musicians, artists, writers – made up the biggest share of nominated and winning roles. (Is it strange that the film industry prefers to award actors for pretending to be performers?)
For women, 30 of the nominees (or 20%) were creatives, and six – Sissy Spacek (singer Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”), Holly Hunter (a musician in “The Piano”), Gwyneth Paltrow (an actress in “Shakespeare in Love”), Nicole Kidman (writer Virginia Woolf in “The Hours”), Reese Witherspoon (singer June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line”), and Marion Cotillard (singer Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose”) – have won.
The next closest job categories among actresses are lovers (20% noms, 1 win) of either the wistful or vengeful variety; mothers/grandmothers (9%, 3 wins); and spouses (8%, 1 win). The Academy loves women who fight (ask Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon); 5% of nominations were for activist parts. But nominations for activists pale compared to criminals (7%) and the disabled/addicted (7%). Other categories – crime victims, monarchs/politicians, socialites, farmers, businesswomen, nuns – garner 3% or less.
That should be extremely good news to Natalie Portman, who has already been winning awards for her portrayal of a psychologically tormented ballerina in “Black Swan.”
But watch out for Annette Bening, who plays a woman whose motivations to protect her family against her partner’s infidelities in “The Kids Are All Right” are a conjoining of both spouse (9%) and mother (another 9%).
Since 1980 some job categories have only managed a single win, including athletes (Hillary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby”), monarchs (Helen Mirren, “The Queen”), and farmers (Sally Field, “Places in the Heart”),
Some categories just have not managed to bring any Oscar home for the ladies: No military, scientists, servants or businesswomen. And despite three teachers and three students being nominated, all failed.
Long story short: If not playing a performer, an actress can up her chance of taking Oscar home by playing a criminal, a crime victim, or a mom (each with 3 wins).
Playing creatives is even more fortuitous for the men, accounting for 32 nominees (21%) and eight wins (F. Murray Abraham as the composer Salieri in “Amadeus”; Geoffrey Rush and Adrien Brody as musicians in “Shine” and “The Pianist”; Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray”; Jack Nicholson as a misanthropic writer in “As Good as It Gets”; Philip Seymour Hoffman as “Capote”; and Robert Duvall and Jeff Bridges as country singers in “Tender Mercies” and “Crazy Heart”).
Among the men, playing a creative is twice a likely to get you nominated as playing a criminal (14% noms, 3 wins) or a businessman (11% noms, 2 wins). And when it comes to war or peace, the Academy splits the difference: activists (3% noms) and statesmen/monarchs (4%) together account for as great a share as the military (7%), although activists (Gandhi, Harvey Milk) and statesmen (Idi Amin) were more generously rewarded with statues than the army (Maximus Decimus Meridius).
Teachers (8%) do better than athletes (3%) at getting nominated, but athletes go the distance and make it to the podium – a boxer and a pool player vs. nobody.
And while disabled characters make up a healthy segment of the nomination pool (16, or 11%), they really clean up with the Oscar statues. Six of the last 30 Best Actor winners (1 out of every 5) played characters afflicted with a disability or addiction: Dustin Hoffman (as an autistic in “Rain Man”); Daniel Day-Lewis (as a painter with cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot”); Al Pacino (as a blind man in “Scent of a Woman”); Nicolas Cage (as an alcoholic in “Leaving Las Vegas”); and Tom Hanks, twice (for depicting an AIDS victim in Philadelphia and the mentally challenged “Forrest Gump”).
So, add together a regal profession with stuttering, and Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) looks to have slightly better chances than Jesse Eisenberg’s Facebook founder in “The Social Network,” and James Franco’s amputee in “127 Hours,” and much better chances than Jeff Bridges’ Marshal Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” (law enforcement: 3% noms, 1 win).
Originally posted on CBSNews.com
(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)