Thursday, October 20, 2016

Flying Solo in Best Actress

It's been a while since we've talked about this upcoming year's Oscar fact, I don't know that we have.  Between the election (that cavernous and ridiculous thing that's coming to an end in 19 days) and a plethora of film reviews that I've been meaning to get on here, we haven't started to talk about the direction of a race that's already in full bloom.

In opening that chapter though (there will be more), I wanted to revisit a topic we haven't touched on in a while: the strange case of the Best Actress field, and how much Oscar tends to love the ladies that he loves, and excludes those that he doesn't.  This year, once again, we have a number of women in this category who are competing to add to their nomination count.  Viola Davis, Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, and Amy Adams, while not all women that have been in Best Actress before, certainly are not new to Oscar.

On the flip side, though are a few names that Oscar has never invited over for tea.  Ruth Negga, Emily Blunt, and Isabelle Huppert, in particular, appear to be in the hunt for their first citations in Best Actress.  While not as insular as Best Costume or Score, it's actually quite rare for a woman to receive only one nomination for only Best Actress and never again be nominated in her career.  Only 1 in 5 women, in fact (by my math) have ever received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and not been invited back, either in lead or supporting.  Let's take a look at the women Negga, Blunt, and Huppert may soon (potentially briefly) be joining, and who from the below list could end up seeing a nomination again n the near future.

Merle Oberon
Number of Solo Nominees: 12 (Nancy Carroll, Ann Harding, Lynn Fontanne, May Robson, Diana Wynward, Grace Moore, Elisabeth Bergner, Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Gladys George, Carole Lombard, and Margaret Sullavan)
Any Winners?: Not a one of them.  Luise Rainer, Marie Dressler, Viven Leigh, and Helen Hayes came the closest, each only receiving two Oscar nominations in their careers.
I'd Like An Explanation: One of the larger lists of actresses, this may be because only a couple of actresses really dominated the decade in terms of public consciousness, and one of those oddly didn't receive a nomination (Joan Crawford).  The early years of the cinema seemed to be kinder to emerging talents and in particular, crossover stars from the theater and opera like Fontanne and Moore.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: A few of them probably came close.  Hopkins received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in The Heiress, so I suspect she was in the running, Lombard was a major player who definitely wanted an Oscar (and may well have gotten one if she hadn't died tragically so early in her career), and Oberon certainly came close with her lead role in Best Picture nominee Wuthering Heights, though she had the misfortune of contending in 1939 against Oscar titans like Bette Davis and Greer Garson.
Most Likely to Get a Second: Elisabeth Bergner was the last living member of the dozen solo nominees listed above, dying in 1986, so no one will be getting a second citation.

Dorothy McGuire
Number of Solo Nominees: 7 (Martha Scott, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Gene Tierney, Celia Johnson, Dorothy McGuire, and Jeanne Crain)
Any Winners?: Ginger Rogers is one of the only women to win a Best Actress Oscar on her only nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: The 1940's were dominated by a select 6-7 actresses (Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis, Kate Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and Greer Garson) resulting in very few openings for ambitious screen stars.  With the exception of perhaps Rogers (who was more noted for musical comedies) none of these are particularly stunning solo nominees, frequently getting upstaged even in their era by the more nominated women at the Box Office.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: My money is on Tierney, who was a major dramatic actress for 20th Century FOX (her nominated film, Leave Her to Heaven, was the most successful film for the studio during the 1940's), and starred in significant motion pictures of the era like Laura, The Razor's Edge, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Behind her would be Jean Arthur, who starred in two major Oscar films (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Shane), but was famously press-shy which probably didn't help, even in a pre-Twitter era.
Most Likely to Get a Second: Both Martha Scott and Jeanne Crain died in 2003, the last living women on that list.

Dorothy Dandridge
Number of Solo Nominees: 10 (Judy Holliday, Shirley Booth, Julie Harris, Ava Gardner, Maggie McNamara, Dorothy Dandridge, Carroll Baker, Nancy Kelly, Lana Turner, and Doris Day)
Any Winners?: Judy Holliday and Shirley Booth both won on their only shots at the fair.
I'd Like An Explanation: We see a slight uptick in the 1950's, possibly because of the decline of the studio system, and possibly because certain women that normally wouldn't do well with the Oscars (glamour girls and romantic comedy leads) both saw a major increase in popularity.  Still, women such as Deborah Kerr, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Hepburns continued to prove that it's easy to repeat.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Ava Gardner was probably tops amongst the many legends on this list, with her performance in Night of the Iguana grabbing nominations at the Globes and BAFTA's but not the Oscars (Tennessee Williams-penned roles were a major Oscar draw for women of the era, with women ranging from Kate Hepburn toVivien Leigh to Anna Magnani to Geraldine Page all landing nominations for his plays).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Doris Day and Carroll Baker are still living, though both have been retired from acting for over a decade.  I suspect that if she actually was willing to show up and win it that an Honorary Oscar would be Day's for the taking, but she's very press shy and I doubt would attend.

Samantha Eggar
Number of Solo Nominees: 9 (Melina Mercouri, Lee Remick, Rachel Roberts, Debbie Reynolds, Samantha Eggar, Elizabeth Hartman, Anouk Aimee, Ida Kaminska, and Genevieve Bujold)
Any Winners?: Not a one.  Sophia Loren, Patricia Neal, and Barbra Streisand all only received two acting nominations in their careers, so that's the closest.
I'd Like An Explanation: The 1960's are a bit odd in that no woman received more than three nominations (that would be the ever dependable Kate Hepburn, as well as Mrs. Robinson-herself Anne Bancroft), but the decade is dominated by women who either were getting the final nominations of their oft-recognized careers (Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr) or were starting a long affair with Oscar that would continue into the coming decades (Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Christie).  That leaves a hodgepodge of foreign-born actresses (very much the rage in the 1960's) and random younger stars who never managed to pop to get the sole nominations.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: I would imagine it was Lee Remick, to be honest.  I know that Debbie Reynolds is the name everyone remembers from the above list, but Remick was nearly nominated in 1959 for Anatomy of a Murder where she played a rape victim and won a Globe nod.  It's worth noting that in a very odd year (1966) Elizabeth Hartman could have been cited for her bizarre turn in You're a Big Boy Now as pretty much anyone with a pulse was contending that year (she did get a Globe nod).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Four of these women are still living, and actually all of them have made films in the past six years: Debbie Reynolds, Anouk Aimee, Samantha Eggar, and Genevieve Bujold. Of the five, Reynolds would have the best luck both as the biggest movie star (in the US, at least) and as someone who picks the right material (she may well have been cited if Behind the Candelabra had played theatrically).  Even if she doesn't, she still has her Honorary Oscar to keep her warm at night.

Cicely Tyson
Number of Solo Nominees: 11 (Ali MacGraw, Sarah Miles, Carrie Snodgress, Janet Suzman, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Perrine, Louise Fletcher, Carol Kane, and Marie Christine-Barrault)
Any Winners?: Louise Fletcher's nurse from Hell (which is pretty much a supporting turn, let's be honest) was the only victory for a sole nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: This decade saw a number of women that could get nominated basically every time they opened a picture (Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, Glenda Jackson), but like the years before we saw a combination of foreign actresses and movie star careers that didn't quite pan out.  It's also worth noting the unfortunate fate of black actresses in this category (only two of which have ever been nominated for a second trophy), which means that Ross, Tyson, and Carroll were all one-and-done nominees.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Sarah Miles headlined a Best Picture nominee in 1987 in Hope and Glory, which could well have been a contender in a less competitive year.  Diana Ross actually had buzz for Mahogany back in the day (1975 was a weird year), and there was some movement to make her the first black actress to win a Best Actress Oscar (that feat would happen 26 years later).  Otherwise none of these women came particularly close before or after.
Most Likely to Get to Second: Snodgress is the only woman on the above list to have passed away, but the only women who seem like they could someday score another nomination are Tyson and Kane, both of whom work extremely regularly, though more so on television than in the cinema.

Mary Tyler Moore
Number of Solo Nominees: 6 (Mary Tyler Moore, Marlee Matlin, Kathleen Turner, Sally Kirkland, Melanie Griffith, and Pauline Collins)
Any Winners?: Marlee Matlin became the youngest winner ever of the Best Actress award when she picked it up for Children of a Lesser God at the age of 21.
I'd Like An Explanation: No other decade will probably ever have a run quite like this.  Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Sissy Spacek dominated (there is no year of the decade where at least one isn't nominated) and routinely it was the bulk of them.  Most of the above women were either randomly-cited for tiny films (Matlin, Kirkland, Collins), matinee idols with quickly burnt-out movie stardoms (Turner, Griffith), or headlining a Best Picture winner (Moore).
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Most assuredly Kathleen Turner, who was a major movie star in the 1980's and won back-to-back Golden Globes for Romancing the Stone and Prizzi's Honor, both mammoth hits that for some reason Oscar didn't really want to put his stamp on (the 1980's were very fond of drama, more so than usual, but even then Prizzi's Honor was a major Oscar-player with eight nominations and 1984 had a weird glut of similarly-themed farm-movies, so this one is hard to explain).  Either way, there's a decent chance she was in sixth place twice before finally getting cited for Peggy Sue Got Married (when she probably came in second to Matlin, give-or-take Sissy Spacek).
Most Likely to Get to Second: All of these women are still alive and working, though none of them seem particularly prone to a second nomination.  Turner gets the most attention currently, but that's almost entirely on-stage and she rarely makes movies.  Perhaps it would be Pauline Collins?  She's British, of-a-certain-age, and does bit roles frequently in BAIT-y looking projects (Albert Nobbs, Quartet).  Perhaps she'll pull a Janet McTeer and randomly get in once more?

Gwyneth Paltrow
Number of Solo Nominees: 8 (Catherine Deneuve, Angela Bassett, Stockard Channing, Elisabeth Shue, Sharon Stone, Kristin Scott Thomas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Fernanda Montenegro)
Any Winners?: In one of the weirdest moments in on-paper Oscar history, Gwyneth Paltrow's career totally stalled with Oscar after Shakespeare in Love.  Perhaps the Cate Blanchett curse?
I'd Like An Explanation: We continued to see a few actresses that totally dominated (Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson), but by-and-large this list was actually considerably larger a few years ago.  Actresses like Janet McTeer, Helen Hunt, and Helena Bonham Carter have made good in supporting roles in recent years, winnowing down the list a bit, something I suspect will continue to happen.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: I mean, Gwyneth seems like the obvious choice, but she wasn't actually that close with Sylvia or Emma, so I'm going to go with Sharon Stone, who was such a big star in the 1990's and was very much in the HFPA's favor (scandalously so).  Basic Instinct or The Mighty might have been close possibilities.
Most Likely to Get a Second: We're now going from the possible to the plausible for "most likely to get a second."  All of these women are still living, and in the cases of Scott Thomas, Bassett, and Paltrow, so regularly make major films that it's difficult not to see at least one of them scoring again, if not all three.  Plus, I think Sharon Stone is going to be discovered by Quentin Tarantino any minute now and that could be not only a nod but a trophy.

Ellen Page
Number of Solo Nominees: 10 (Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, Felicity Huffman, Ellen Page, Carey Mulligan, and Gabourey Sidibe)
Any Winners?: Halle Berry is the most recent woman to win an Oscar on her only nomination.
I'd Like An Explanation: Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, and Cate Blanchett may have been nominated in perpetuity, but the biggest explanation is that we're not far enough away for this list to be super small.  All of these women are still living and most of them are still very much in the hunt.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Carey Mulligan, probably, who somehow missed a lot of her buzz for Shame despite that seeming like a pretty plum part (then again, Fassbender missed there so the prudish Academy may just not have been feeling that sex addiction drama).
Most Likely to Get a Second: Like the 90's, it could be pretty much any of these women (even Castle-Hughes and Sandino Moreno, the most obscure names on this list, work regularly).  Carey Mulligan is so frequently in Oscar-adjacent films, however, that she seems most likely (though Berry is a big enough star still that if she made something Oscar-bait, it'd likely land).

Charlotte Rampling
Number of Solo Nominees (so far): 6 (Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhane Wallis, Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Brie Larson, and Charlotte Rampling)
Any Winners?: It was only last year, but Brie Larson surely counts here.  Otherwise, none.
I'd Like An Explanation: Too soon to tell, though it does appear like a number of strange ages for winners, either old (Rampling, Riva), or young (Wallis) could be a contributing factor.
Who Came Closest to Another Round?: Probably none of them.  Pike, Jones, and Rampling have all had key roles in Oscar-nominated films in the past, but it's doubtful any of them made any sorts of waves in voting prior to their nominations.
Most Likely to Get a Second: My money is either on Larson (I suspect she'll get an afterglow citation, particularly since she's a truly fabulous actress) or Jones, who is British (always helps), transitioning to movie stardom (sometimes helps), and is in a lot of movies (generally helps, albeit in supporting).  It's worth noting that Jones is the only woman this year who seems something of a threat, as she's a contender in Supporting Actress for A Monster Calls.

And there you have it-the few, the proud, the really-wishing-they'd-landed-one-more.  Who do you think is the most likely sole Best Actress nominee to repeat (My money is on Felicity Jones or Gwyneth Paltrow)?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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