Sunday, November 08, 2015

Oscar Trivia: Michael Keaton and Best Picture Nominations

Spotlight opens nationwide this upcoming weekend, and with it comes a load of major expectations.  While The Revenant, The Martian, and Room have all been clamoring for the position at the front of the Best Picture pack, Spotlight is at least at this point nominally the frontrunner.  The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and most importantly for the purposes of this article, Michael Keaton.  For you see, Keaton is one of the people that is considered a frontrunner for a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor field, and is coming off a nomination in Birdman, last year's Best Picture winner.

Keaton getting doubly-nominated for two Best Picture winners would be extremely rare.  There are only eighteen actors, in fact, who have been nominated for two Best Picture winners, and so I though it might be worth an investigation, particularly since Keaton is currently Oscar-less after losing last year to Eddie Redmayne.  Is a second consecutive nomination in a theoretical Best Picture winner a good story for him?  Let's take a look at the eighteen actors who already trod this path:

Actors Who Won on Both Best Pictures

This is a club, of course, that Keaton can't already enter unless he manages a third Best Picture contender, which is pretty damn rare.  Believe-it-or-not, though, there are four men who have won two Oscars for Best Picture winners.  The first to do it was Marlon Brando, who won for On the Waterfront and then eighteen years later for The Godfather.  Gene Hackman (The French Connection and Unforgiven), Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Terms of Endearment), and Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man) all followed, with Hackman being the most recent person to do it.

While Keaton, as I stated above, can't really compete here, it's worth noting that all of these four men were Oscar veterans, and did in fact lose more than they won.  Hackman was the least nominated of this quartet, and was still a five-time nominee.  Hoffman, in fact, had to lose in a Best Picture winner before he won twice (Midnight Cowboy), making him one of only three actors to be nominated for three separate Best Picture winners.  Keaton, while clearly "of-the-moment" right now, is not what you'd consider an actor in these men's leagues, and probably wouldn't have had much of a shot at winning for Spotlight had he made it last year for Birdman.

Actors Who Won Once, and Lost the Rest

This solution, the one that Keaton is hoping for, is the most common outcome.  Nine actors have won one of their two shots, though for those thinking that Keaton would gain from a bit of sympathy this isn't the case as more of the actors won on their first nomination than the second.  Russell Crowe (Gladiator/A Beautiful Mind), Robert de Niro (The Godfather Part II/The Deer Hunter), Celeste Holm (Gentleman's Agreement/All About Eve), Clark Gable (It Happened One Night/Mutiny on the Bounty/Gone with the Wind), and Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur/Tom Jones) all were winners on their first tries but lost on subsequent races.  Meanwhile Laurence Olivier (Rebecca/Hamlet), Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy/Million Dollar Baby), Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter/Kramer vs. Kramer/Out of Africa), and Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment/Terms of Endearment) all needed a second go before they got to the stage.

Looking at these contenders, Keaton can take solace in knowing that the only three actors who were nominated in back-to-back Best Picture winners (Streep, Crowe, and Gable) all ended up winning trophies.  It's worth noting that for the actors who won on their second tries, though, that all of them were in films that were more expected winners than the previous victory.  In some fashions this bodes well for Keaton (Birdman was predicted, but had a really strong competitor in Boyhood that many thought could emerge victorious), but it only works if Spotlight ends up being unbeatable.  The Revenant and The Martian are not traditional Best Picture winners in the same mold as the Boston Globe drama, but a tough competition could hurt Keaton here.

Actors Who Lost Both Times

There are five actors who have been nominated for two different Best Picture winners and never ended up winning for either film.  They include Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven/Million Dollar Baby), Al Pacino (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II), Geoffrey Rush (Shakespeare in Love/The King's Speech), Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List/The English Patient), and Talia Shire (The Godfather Part II/Rocky).

Three of these actors, it should be noted, were actually Oscar winners, and in the case of Clint Eastwood should largely be disqualified in terms of "not winning" (Eastwood ended up winning four Oscars for those two pictures, though neither were for acting, and so was amply rewarded in a way that Keaton wouldn't be).  Keaton's cautionary tales, therefore, are Shire and Fiennes, both of whom lost both times and have yet to win an Oscar.  It's worth noting that both actors went from supporting to lead (the opposite of what Keaton is attempting to do) and both faced much more difficult competition on their second shots (Geoffrey Rush in Shine and Faye Dunaway in Network), and were only serious contenders on their first shot.  We still need to see the buzz from Keaton for Spotlight in comparison to the buzz of some other strong contenders, but aside from maybe Mark Rylance no other significant competition is emerging that could threaten an "it's time" trophy for Keaton if he is nominated.

Actors Who Missed on Their Second Try

Of course, there's a fourth possibility here even if Spotlight wins Best Picture-Keaton could actually miss entirely for Spotlight.  By my count, eight actors have had significant roles in two Best Picture winners, where they made it for the first film and missed on the second.  They are Willem Dafoe (Platoon/The English Patient), Robert Duvall (The Godfather/The Godfather Part II), Alec Guinness (Bridge on the River Kwai/Lawrence of Arabia), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi/Schindler's List), Karl Malden (On the Waterfront/Patton), Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia/The Last Emperor), Claude Rains (Casablanca/Lawrence of Arabia), and Robert Shaw (A Man for All Seasons/The Sting).

Keaton should take comfort in most of these actors.  Over half of these men would win Oscars in their careers, and only O'Toole was nominated in lead for his first Best Picture and then missed on a second Best Picture.  Plus, Shaw is the only one of the eight to be only nominated one time.  Keaton's precursors should be a way to monitor whether or not he'll be on this list too, as only two of the eight received a significant precursor nomination and still missed with Oscar (O'Toole and Kingsley were both nominated at the BAFTA Awards).

And there you have it folks-some fun Sunday Oscar trivia.  Do you think Michael Keaton has what it takes to win a second Oscar nomination, and will Spotlight score a Best Picture trophy?  The comments are yours for the arguing.

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