By Hannah Lodge
As the Oscar frontrunners slowly begin to take shape through the announcements of the precursors, there’s still just a little bit of time left for rampant speculation. After finally seeing a late-in-the-game screening of Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” some are wondering whether Bradley Cooper’s turn as the film’s grifting and ambitious showman, Stan Carlisle, still has a shot at the Oscar’s Best Actor race. Add to that the existing buzz for his supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” and Cooper could be nominated in both acting categories this year, increasing his already impressive nomination total up to ten (and it could be eleven if del Toro’s film is nominated for Best Picture as Cooper is credited as one of the producers).
An actor or actress has been nominated for Best Lead and Supporting roles a dozen times throughout the Academy Awards’ history.
Best Actress: “White Banners” (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “Jezebel” (Won)
Best Actress: “The Pride of the Yankees” (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “Mrs. Miniver” (Won)
Best Actor: “Going My Way” (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actor: “Going My Way” (Won)
Best Actress: “Frances” (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “Tootsie” (Won)
Best Actress: “Gorillas in the Mist“ (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “Working Girl“ (Nominated)
Best Actor: “Scent of a Woman“ (Won)
Best Supporting Actor: “Glengarry Glen Ross“ (Nominated)
Best Actress: “The Piano“ (Won)
Best Supporting Actress: “The Firm“ (Nominated)
Best Actress: “The Remains of the Day“ (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “In the Name of the Father“ (Nominated)
Best Actress: “Far from Heaven“ (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “The Hours“ (Nominated)
Best Actor: “Ray“ (Won)
Best Supporting Actor: “Collateral“ (Nominated)
Best Actress: “Elizabeth: The Golden Age“ (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress: “I’m Not There“ (Nominated)
However, no one has ever managed to win both prizes in the same year. The most recent example of an actor receiving dual-acting nominations was Scarlett Johansson, who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in “Marriage Story” and Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Jojo Rabbit.” She joined the ranks of other actresses such as Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Jessica Lange, and Sigourney Weaver for being nominated in both categories simultaneously. However, she was unable to translate either nomination into a win.
When it comes to actors, though, fewer have achieved this feat. Jamie Foxx was nominated in 2004 for his roles in “Ray” and “Collateral,” and Al Pacino was double nominated in 1992 for “Scent of a Woman” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Before that, the last time an actor picked up a nomination in both categories at once was 1944, where Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for the same performance in “Going My Way” in both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (winning the latter).
So what are Bradley Cooper’s chances at prevailing with his first Oscar win if he is to be nominated in both categories? There’s been a steady buzz around Cooper’s shot at a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” ever since the casting was announced. On his side is the fact that the Best Supporting Actor race still seems wide open, with no clear frontrunner at the moment or consensus on who will even be nominated. “Licorice Pizza” was also a critical hit, elevating the film’s prospects across the board and will surely land a Best Picture nomination. Cooper arguably steals the show with very minimal screentime and electrifies the film each time he’s on-screen, knocking the role of high-adrenaline, high-ego film producer Jon Peters out of the park. But Cooper’s kinetic performance is limited in screen time and doesn’t have the breadth of a traditional supporting role, which may sour his chances versus those who have higher-profile roles.
In his leading role as drifter Stan Carlisle in “Nightmare Alley,” Cooper is given the opportunity to demonstrate considerably more range. He spends the first act of the film barely uttering a word as a desperate and down-on-his-luck man who joins a circus but slowly opens up as he gains confidence and starts developing long cons. By the film’s final act, he has convincingly transformed into an entirely new character, in a performance filled with equal parts charm and menace. In particular, the final shot is a stunner and lingers on in the mind long after the film is over, ensuring that his performance leaves a lasting impression. But Cooper is a dark horse in the Best Actor category, which already had many actors viewed as locks before “Nightmare Alley” premiered. Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Andrew Garfield seem like shoe-ins for Best Actor Oscar nominations, leaving only a few spots open for speculation. Add to that the seemingly mixed to positive reception to “Nightmare Alley” (not full-on raves), which has earned heaps of praise for its production design and noir sensibilities but left critics feeling chilly about the film’s pacing and heart (it’s a spectacular looking but undeniably mean film, in this writer’s opinion). It will be an uphill climb for him to even gain a nomination without Best Picture support.
Still, del Toro might now be considered an Oscar darling, having won Best Director and Best Picture for “The Shape of Water” in 2017, which helps to give “Nightmare Alley” an extra sheen of prestige surrounding it. Cooper is no stranger to the Academy, having been nominated four times in the acting categories. He and his co-star, Cate Blanchett, are receiving strong praise from the first wave of critical reactions and reviews for the film. Will it be enough to get him in an already packed Best Actor race? He may have missed with both the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes, but there’s still SAG and BAFTA left, which could rally over to him and provide the boost he needs to crash either the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor lineup at the Oscars. If only he had more screen time in “Licorice Pizza.” If only “Nightmare Alley” were better received, this could’ve been Cooper’s year. As is, he’s an underdog to snag nominations in both categories this year and may have to wait for Netflix’s Leonard Bernstein biopic to bring him that first, long overdue win.
Do you think Bradley Cooper will be nominated for either Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Hannah and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @hjlodge