Thursday, September 04, 2014

Oscar Trivia: The Quest for Six Decades

An Oscar nomination is a truly amazing moment in an actor's career.  For many, it's the moment they have dreamt of all of their lives-the culmination of years of work, determination, and a little bit of luck when just the right fates align and nab them their career high point.

And for most Oscar nominees, that's it.  If I remember my statistics right, it's about 65% of all Oscar nominees for acting will only get that one nomination, that one moment in the sun that will be in the first two lines of their obituary.  And that's great-we'll get to all of you in the OVP (or we've already gotten to you, in which case don't get greedy).

But for other actors, that one Oscar nomination is hardly enough, and they want more.  Some of these actors enjoy quick bursts of nominations like Renee Zellweger or Russell Crowe, but we're going to focus today on people who have managed to sustain decades of Oscar stamina.

It's actually extremely rare to be able to be nominated at least one time in four different decades, and even rarer to pull it off consecutively.  Since we're about to hit the decade's halfway point (can you believe that?!?), this is the perfect time to see who is on-track to continue their streaks and who might be in trouble.

Before we start, let's go through the people who have passed on and are no longer in the running but hit 4 or 5 decades (as the title alludes to, no one has hit six...and yes, this is a trivia article so if I missed an actor, share in the comments below).

Five Decades in a Row: Laurence Olivier (1930's-70's)
Five Decades Non-Consecutively: Katharine Hepburn (1930's-1980's, no 70's), Paul Newman (1950's-00's, no 70's as well)
Four Decades in a Row: Bette Davis (1930's-60's), Jack Lemmon (1950-80's), Geraldine Page (1950's-80's),
Four Decades Non-Consecutively: Mickey Rooney (1930's-70's, no 60's), Peter O'Toole (1960's-00's, no 90's)...both of whom never won competitive Oscars though they both won Honorary ones

Again, it's a short list, and one that has gotten considerably longer as the stars of the 1960's have stuck around further than was typical with stars of yore.  We'll start out with those actors that are still living and have already hit three decades.

Waiting for the Fourth...

Of the thirteen living actors who have been nominated in three separate decades for acting awards (and for the record, the year the film came out is the beginning of the decade-none of this "Google Search Driving Miss Daisy won the 1990 Oscars" crap), some actually have to wait a few more years before they can try again as their third nomination came in the 2010's and they can't get another decade under their belt for a few more years.  Most of these actors did this in the 1990's, 2000's, and 2010's: Brad Pitt, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Annette Bening all have nominations in each of the past three decades (it's worth noting that Bening is the only one of these four actors who doesn't have an Oscar, and is one of only two actors who have hit more than three that is still alive without an Oscar-I'm just saying AMPAS, but keep that in mind in a few years when you're handing out Honoraries and Bening is still empty-handed).  The only non-consecutive actor who has scored this decade would be Sally Field, who took a 28-year gap between her second and third nods, and did this oddly with only three nominations (Lincoln, her most recent nod, is her only loss to date).  And though it's hardly worth listing all of the actors who have two decades behind them, at least a trio of theoretical threats this year (Julianne Moore, Hilary Swank, and Marisa Tomei) could potentially join this list.

There are eight other actors, however, who could well reach their fourth decade citation in upcoming years.  Most promising of the bunch would be Robert Duvall, who is actually on most people's projections for a nomination later this year with The Judge (though Duvall has come extremely close to grabbing a nomination before with Get Low in 2010 and came up short so he may miss again).  Duvall is in the majority in not having consecutive decades: he's joined by Jodie Foster (who hasn't been nominated in twenty years), Sissy Spacek (who skipped the 90's), Ellen Burstyn (who also skipped the 90's), and Al Pacino (who skipped the Aughts).  All of these actors work fairly consistently, though Burstyn is more about television these days and Pacino is more about cashing in on his once grand legacy as an actor.  Still, though, if Robert de Niro can randomly get nominated for Silver Linings Playbook, anyone can come out of awards show retirement.

Only three actors are working on the slightly more impressive four consecutive decades: Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, and Holly Hunter.  Freeman and Kingsley work consistently and constantly, and Kingsley in particular is the sort of actor who gets nominated every time there's something prestigious about his work (he also has that feel of an actor who may score one last supporting win to get two trophies).  Hunter has long since been relegated to television (she got her third-in-a-row for a supporting role in Thirteen in something of a comeback, and you only get so many of those).  Still, these are actors to be on the lookout for in coming years to see if they can continue their respective streaks.

Waiting for a Fifth...

Once again, we can start out with five actors who have already scored their 2010's hit and are now just biding their time until they can try again.  Two of these actors have done five decades (shockingly) non-consecutively (which means they very well could have been in the running for six if they'd had a little more luck in a certain year).  Jeff Bridges skipped the 1990's (missing for The Fisher King) and Robert de Niro missed the Aughts (probably getting closest for Meet the Parents...though admittedly not too close).  The other three actors, though, have hit every decade since the 1980's consecutively: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, and Daniel Day-Lewis (all, oddly enough, nominated in 1989), and have already gotten this decade crossed off.  Day-Lewis has notably won in three of those four decades.

Another twelve actors have scored four decades and are on the search for a fifth.  They range from actors who are constantly churning out films to actors who have largely retired from the cinema but are thankfully still kicking.  Though many of these actors scored their nominations consecutively, only one of the dozen is currently on a streak: that would be Diane Keaton, who has scored a nomination every decade since the 1970's (and only one nomination per decade, it's worth pointing out).  Keaton rarely challenges herself since Something's Gotta Give, but she's the sort of actor who bides her time until something brilliant randomly comes along and everyone remembers how much they love her.

Other working actors that could make it include busy actors such as Jon Voight (who skipped the 1990's despite constantly making movies since his big break in Midnight Cowboy), Shirley MacLaine (who, had she scored for Postcards from the Edge as she was expected to, would be a column down), Vanessa Redgrave (her botched campaigns for Atonement and Coriolanus actually mean that she could well have had the record by now!), Dustin Hoffman (who continues to make enough films often enough that he should be able to pull this off in a surprise supporting role, despite missing the Aughts), and of course Dame Maggie Smith (who skipped the 1990's, but came roaring back in the past ten years as a genuine box office draw and nearly won a citation for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a couple of years ago).  The only one with a legit shot this year appears to be Smith, who has what could be a sleeper hit later this fall in My Old Lady (in a weak Best Actress year her name could be enough, and she's my dark horse contender for a nomination).

Other actors who are looking for a fifth don't work as often or are notoriously curmudgeonly about working again.  Joanne Woodward (not nominated since 1990, but extending all the way back to the 1950's with her streak, the earliest nomination for a living person in this article) rarely works anymore, and Gene Hackman (who missed for The Royal Tenenbaums due to category confusion, costing him his fifth consecutive citation) is happily retired.  Albert Finney (who missed the 1990's) hates the Oscars and only does bit parts these days, though he's the other actor (aside from Bening) who is living and has hit the 3+ decade counter, so he'd also be a decent contender for an Honorary Award (that he'd never show up for it in a million years).  Warren Beatty keeps claiming that he'll make another movie (that long-rumored Howard Hughes biopic is the stuff of cinematic legend), but I'll believe it when I can hold a ticket for the film (my plan is to see it as a double feature with Flora Plum)-he missed the Aughts but made it back to the 1960's with Bonnie and Clyde.  And finally there is Julie Christie, who has resumed working if not necessarily in major cinematic work.  She skipped the 1980's and bizarrely has only received one nomination in each decade she's been cited in (much like Keaton).

Waiting for a Sixth...

As the stats above corroborate, getting a sixth is damn hard work, as there's a reason no one has done it.  Kate Hepburn probably could have had she done more significant film work in the 1970's, but she spent most of that time on the stage, and she's probably the only one who has come close until now.  Three living actors have pulled off five decades in a row, and one in particular seems determined to break yet another of Hepburn's records (not settling for a tie).

Meryl Streep is the only actor who has managed to pull off a 2010 nomination already and have five in a row.  Streep, it's worth noting, is also the only actor to have more than one nomination in five different decades (Olivier getting Rebecca made a year too late), a record that may stand for infinity (of all of the living actors we've profiled, Robert Duvall is the only other actor who has gotten more than two in each of his eligible decades, and he's twenty years behind Streep and is 83-years-old).  Streep will need to continue her current stamina to hit the goal, but at this rate she could well take it in the 2020's (she'll only be in her seventies).

That is if one of the two other living actors don't go for the title first.  Both have received consecutive nominations since the 1960's, and at least one is still working.  Michael Caine, an actor you don't always think of for such lists, got his first nomination in 1966, then got cited in 1972, 1983, 1986, 1999, and 2002, and despite being 81, continues to work constantly (he'll be in the highly-anticipated Interstellar later this year) and has made no secret about his desire to win a third Oscar for a leading role.  Just one nomination would land him the record, and put Streep in a difficult position-2030 is a long way to go to actually beat this title outright.

The other person is the recently retired Jack Nicholson, who made his last film four years ago and claims he is done with cinema.  I don't want to call Jack a liar, but part of me wonders if his best friend Warren Beatty couldn't talk him out of that self-imposed exile to do a showy supporting role in that long-gestating Hughes biopic (surely Beatty's final film?) and get one last nomination.  Either way, it's hard to deny he's had a spectacular career.

And there you have it folks-a morning's dose of Oscar trivia.  Do you think that Streep, Caine, or Nicholson could take the record?  Who will be the next person to score four or five decades' worth of nominations?  Share in the comments!

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