By Ryan C. Showers
As we transition from critics’ association nominations and winners to the televised and industry award shows, there is a key piece of predicting acting nominations we must consider: A trend we have seen from the Academy in the acting categories this past decade is a pattern to reward many actors from a single film. It has been very common for the past ten years to see two, three, and even sometimes four actors from the same film nominated together. Suppose an actor is actively competitive in the televised precursors – Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA – but not securely fastened in for the final nomination at the Oscars. In that case, they will most likely come along for the ride if they have co-stars who are surefire locks.
The number of films that fit into this mold has been consistently growing over the years. We can gather from the data below that between 4-7 films will have more than one acting nomination at the Oscars. Five films are the average, though the past two years there have each been six films to receive multiple nominations.
Seven films with more than one acting nomination
Four Nominations: “American Hustle,”
Three Nominations: “12 Years a Slave”
Two Nominations: “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “August: Osage County,” “Blue Jasmine”& “Nebraska”
Four films with more than one acting nomination
Four Nominations: “Silver Linings Playbook”
Three Nominations: “The Master”
Two Nominations: “Lincoln” & “Les Miserables”
Five films with more than one acting nomination
Three Nominations: “The Help”
Two Nominations: “Albert Knobbs,” “The Artist,” “My Week with Marilyn” & “Moneyball”
Five films with more than one acting nomination
Three Nominations: “The King’s Speech” & “The Fighter”
Two Nominations: “True Grit,” “The Kids Are All Right” & “Winter’s Bone”
When there is a popular movie with the Academy as a whole and a cast ensemble-focused film that appeals to the acting branch in particular, that popularity is an invaluable tool in multiplying acting nominations. Whether the voters selectively see a limited number of films or nominate actors with high name recognition to fill out empty spaces on their ballots, the Academy has proven that they are not afraid to over-reward the same film with multiple acting nominations. This would be expected for top-tier Best Picture frontrunners like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “American Hustle,” and “The Favourite,” all of which had substantial characters and worthy performances nominated.
But there are instances like “The Shape of Water” where Octavia Spencer came along for the ride in a much less praised performance than her co-stars Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins. We can analyze this event by acknowledging the following facts: Spencer was a previous winner, a big name, and in a popular film. The Academy has also proven “coattail” nominations can happen for very small roles for previous nominees and winners. There is no better example of this than Sam Rockwell’s nomination for “Vice” alongside the more-acclaimed Christian Bale and Amy Adams for his brief appearance of President George W. Bush in 2018. This is a nomination loathed by most Oscar enthusiasts.
A rule of thumb can be: if there is a multiple Oscar-nominated or -winning actor in a film where other actors are receiving nominations, they will, probably, come along for the ride. The only recent instance where this fails is Robert DeNiro’s failure to secure a Best Actor nomination for “The Irishman” next to his co-stars, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, in Best Supporting Actor. A key difference here is that DeNiro only received a Critics Choice nomination; he was snubbed by Golden Globes, SAG, and BAFTA and at the Oscars. Perhaps, more specifically, if a performance is seriously in the conversation with the televised precursors by an Oscar-friendly actor in a film receiving attention for other actors, then they probably stand a good chance at inclusion, too.
Actors who are on-the-bubble for a nomination fare better if they have co-stars who are surefire locks for nominations. However, performances that prove to be competitive in the precursors that are eventually snubbed by the Academy are usually actors who are the only performers competing for their film, or even the only Oscar possibility for their project overall. Oscar pundits are fascinated by performances that receive Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nominations, yet miss the Oscar nomination. Every year, there’s an irrational game to try to predict who this year’s enormous snub will be. But if an actor is out there alone, unaccompanied by co-stars, in the acting categories, or by the Academy overall, they tend to miss. For example, here are some considered ‘snubs’ of recent years:
Amy Adams – “Arrival“
Emma Thompson – “Saving Mr. Banks“
Marion Cotillard – “Rust and Bone”
Tilda Swinton – “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Jake Gyllenhaal – “Nightcrawler“
Timothee Chalamet for “Beautiful Boy“
All of these performances received the four pre-Oscar televised awards nominations yet failed to achieve Oscar nominations. They were either 1: the only actor contending for their film or 2: the only nomination on the table for their film overall. A possible explanation is that significant parts of the acting branch do not waste time watching films for one particular actor or performance and, instead, invest their time in more well-rounded cast ensembles. Actors who slide in without the best precursor track record like Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea,” a film with a weighty ensemble and three acting nominations, is evidence that this could be the case or at least somewhat of an explanation. The only big Oscar miss after successful precursors who had a co-star nominated is Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips,” but every rule has its exception.
Hanks is an interesting case because the reason he missed was probably that the category became crowded with hot contenders who broke in at the last minute. Christian Bale for “American Hustle” and Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf of Wall Street” had a track record with the Academy at that point in their careers and were nominated alongside their co-stars for their films at the time. This also suggests that when this Hanks Exception occurs – increased competition squeezes out a solid contender – it is not necessarily for someone who is new to the business and who is not tried and tested. The increased competition was probably the case in this instance for Best Actor in 2013 with Hanks. Still, I would strongly advise against characterizing all of the big misses listed above as such, especially when such a correlation exists: when someone is the sole representation for their film, acting or otherwise, they are more vulnerable to a snub as opposed to an actor who is in a large cast ensemble with other members surely receiving a nomination or win.
Something I notice every year with Oscar predictions is, people on Film Twitter make their predictions thinking that the Academy is taking as meticulous of a time narrowing down the nominees as they do for their blog. The Academy does not compartmentalize and overanalyze in the way that we do. Here’s where an argument of logic comes into play. I have observed many people calling Amanda Seyfried a near-lock for “Mank” in Best Supporting Actress and arguing for her to become the winner. Yet, the same people also say Gary Oldman stands no chance for Best Actor because there are ‘better’ performances this year in that category. We have yet to know what the industry thinks of the film. Currently, I do not see the logic in that the Academy would bend over backwards and only select Seyfried, but snub Oldman, who is a previous, recent winner himself, has received several nominations this decade and is playing a real-life, Oscar-winning figure from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Either the acting branch will like “Mank” or they won’t. And if they do, then both Oldman and Seyfried will receive nominations. If they don’t, “Mank” will be the “First Man” of this year – a long-anticipated, baity project with technical gravitas that simply fails to connect with the moment. Unless Oldman severely flops with the televised precursors like DeNiro for “The Irishman” last year, it does not logically make sense for the Academy to admit one and not the other. The only justification that makes sense for predicting Seyfried and not Oldman is if people are trying to “influence” the race with a personal agenda. There is a huge segment of cinema lovers and people on Film Twitter who have issues with Oldman, for his personal life, for his previous Oscar win…whatever.
Speaking of personal agendas guiding predictions, no 2020 film has had the perception of its Oscar prospects more skewed by personal agenda than “Hillbilly Elegy.” Even before there was a trailer, this film has been stewed in controversy because of the film’s source material, the real-life figure in the film, and the political temperature of the moment. And yet, the film was still constructed by one of Hollywood’s gold boys, Ron Howard, and stars two of the most celebrated actresses of our lifetimes, Amy Adams and Glenn Close, in the most Academy-friendly roles they have ever had. The film’s reviews are the worst of any high-profile Oscar-bait film in 2020. However, many have viewed the reaction by critics to be hyperbolic sabotaging, and remembering the film will still likely appeal to old school Academy voters. While critics have mostly revolted at the film’s existence, general mainstream audiences have responded positively, which quickly deepened a divide between audiences and critics.
This year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar race has been long seen as Close’s to lose. Even taking the substance of the film out of the equation, many see this as an opportunity to make up for her epic loss for “The Wife” two years ago and to memorialize Close as an Oscar winner after what will be eight nominations. Despite the overall reviews for “Hillbilly Elegy,” Close has been singled out as the film’s best element. Meanwhile, Adams’s reviews have been less enthusiastic, though most skewing positive. If nominated this year, it will be Adams’s seventh nomination in 15 years. While some have written off both Adams’s and Close’s chances because of the dire critical response, others see the film’s controversies falling flat with the industry and televised awards. Close could very well still cakewalk to her overdue Oscar win with the strength from the five televised award shows.
Adams’s bid in Best Actress reads very similar to Oldman’s candidacy in Best Actor. People, in particular, do not love Adams’s work in “Hillbilly Elegy.” However, that may not matter considering the fact that she performs for seats in the back row as a drug-addicted mother struggling through rehab and has abusive tendencies. It is the type of acting that is too obvious for the Academy to ignore.
Also, if the Academy can overlook the tornado of controversy and poor reviews for the film enough to allow Close a spot or a win in Best Supporting Actress, why would these hold back Adams, who is equally well-liked by the Academy and has an equally Oscar-magnet performance? It seems illogical to predict Seyfried or Close, but not Oldman and Adams. In particular, Adams is a darling of The Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it’s the type of work that seems likely for a SAG nomination. If she manages traction with all or most of those groups, it would seem silly to predict a snub, especially if Close is predicted in Best Supporting Actress. My theory is, people see other hipper contenders in play in Best Actor and Best Actress and see getting Oldman and Adams out of the way as the route in which these younger, cooler contenders could materialize for a nomination. Especially when considering the previous decade’s pattern of awarding a good number of films with two or three acting nominations.
This year, there are no realistic options at this point for a single film to have three acting nominations. Therefore, it’s probably more likely to see a higher number of films than average with two acting nominations. However, there are many films with foreseeable double acting nominations. Some Best Picture contenders – which helps – and others which are just acting-showcase films.
Here’s where the acting categories stand from my vantage point:
Two Very Likely Nominations
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis. This is the only option for three nominations, with Colman Domingo or Glynn Turman in Best Supporting Actor, but it is quite a stretch.
“Pieces of a Woman” – Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn
“The Father” – Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman
Likely One Nomination, Longer-Shot Second Nomination
“One Night in Miami” – Leslie Odom Jr. is very likely; Kingsley Ben-Adir remains in the conversation due to the fact that Malcolm X is perhaps the quintessential Academy-baity role on paper.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – Sacha Baron Coen is the frontrunner to win; Frank Langella or Mark Rylance could surprise for a nomination, rather than the current trajectory, which is the scope of the cast is allowing standout performances to get lost in the ensemble overall.
“Minari” – Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung are either locks for nominations or on the bubble of making the cut, depending on who you ask.
So what do you think? Which pairing of actors will the Academy go with this year? Let us know in the comments section down below or on our Twitter account and be sure to check out our latest Oscar predictions here.
You can follow Ryan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @rcs818