Monday, February 11, 2013

Oscars 2013: First Time Nominees

The Academy Awards are a few weeks ago and, as a result, “Tony’s Talking: Movies” will be presenting several Oscar-related posts in the weeks leading up to the awards.

Of the 20 acting-related nominees this year, four are first-time nominees or less than half the number of first-time nominees from last year. Generally, the number of first-time nominees fall somewhere between those two and, in hindsight, some signal the beginning of a great career and others are an odd footnote in a performer’s career. This year, one of the first-time nominees, Quvenzhané Wallis, was born in 2003 and was appearing in her first film. A second, Emmanuelle Riva, does not make English-language movies and, as a result, it is nearly impossible to get on the Academy’s radar. The other two Oscar virgins, though, present an interesting question and could perfectly bookend what a first Oscar nomination can do.

Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman have appeared in a lot of movies over the years and neither one has garnered much awards consideration prior to this year. Sure, Jackman was solid enough in “The Prestige” and “The Fountain,” although he certainly wasn’t irreplaceable. The same can be said for Cooper, who was almost exclusively a comedic actor prior to last year.

Because of their film history, whether it’s as Wolverine or the guy that made out with Michael Ian Black in “Wet Hot American Summer,” the expectations for both men tend to be closer to “Don’t make the film worse” than “We can’t make this movie without you.” However, this year, both men reached that second level and rightfully earned their first Oscar nominations, which begs the question of whether both men are truly capable of performing at such high levels or if every actor is capable of having that one career-defining performance.

While the answer to that question cannot be discerned now, as neither man has made another film since their nominated turns, historically, the odds are stacked against these men suddenly turning into Marlon Brando. The list of one-time nominees is huge and includes everyone from Kate Hudson (“Almost Famous”) to Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and that doesn’t even include the people who made their one random nomination really count, like F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”) and Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”).

Based on that history, it would seem that these two men are likely to be regulated back to playing superheroes (Hugh Jackman really just can’t help himself anyway) and slapstick comedians in commercially huge but critically indifferent films and for the nearly 45-year-old, well-established Jackman, that will probably be the case. For the younger and much less established Cooper, however, it could be a very a different story, as his career may have the potential to follow another actor that garnered had worked primarily in comedy and earned his first Oscar nomination in his early-to-mid-30s for his role in a dramedy and that man went on to earn another four nominations, including back-to-back wins in 1994 and 1995.

While saying anyone is on their way to being the next (SURPISE!) Tom Hanks, it would not be impossible for Bradley Cooper to end up with a similar kind of legacy. There is an old expression about anyone that can master comedy is capable of mastering any kind of acting and if Cooper hasn’t mastered comedy, he is certainly enrolled in the graduate program.

His filmography includes “Wedding Crasher,” “The Hangover,” the aforementioned “Wet Hot American Summer,” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.” All four films are highly successful comedies and, even more impressively, are different styles of comedy. “The Hangover” is a classic raunchy comedy. “Wedding Crashers” is a raunchy comedy with a heart and Cooper plays the villain. “Wet Hot American Summer” is a prime example of absurdest humor and “He’s Just Not That Into You” is a class rom-com (or chick flick). Cooper performed admirably in all those roles.

The real test for Cooper will be his performance in his next film, “The PlaceBeyond the Pines,” which also stars the always dependable Ryan Gosling. If he takes another leap forward, we could be talking about Cooper as budding acting powerhouse and perennial Oscar nominee. If he falls flat out of the gate, though, at least he’ll always have “Silver Linings Playbook.”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea is good but the research and execution is lacking. Perhaps the follow up should be "Why does Hollywood waste the talents of so many good actors?" Hugh Jackman being a prime example. He made his first film back in 1998, a tiny ($300k) australian movie called "Erskineville Kings". He won critics' awards, was nominated for as AFI Best Actor. He was the lead in a production at the Royal National Theatre in London and was nominated for an Olivier award. Then came X-Men which got him into Hollywood but only as an action hero. He steped sidewards and did a show on Broadway, received critical raves in a show that was otherwise panned and won every award going that season. This seemed to help with Hollywood and he landed a couple of good roles - "The Fountain" and "The Prestige" and was pretty good in both. Unfortunately, the critics are pretty slow on the uptake so they're still not seeing what he can do. The next stop was "Australia" which took up a lot of his time but fizzled. When you look at his filmography, what's missing is the kind of prestige projects that garner awards. It's not that he gets cast but underperforms, he just doesn't get cast. We can blame him for not picking the right projects but how much of it is not being offered those projects?

I know much less about Bradley Cooper, but I remember that he received good notices for his performance on Broadway in "Three Days of Rain" and tha he's due to return to Broadway shortly. It sounds like he's another actor with skills beyond those that have been recognised on film.

February 12, 2013 at 4:53 AM 
Blogger Tony Fioriglio said...

Honestly, I am pretty sure that Hugh Jackman would get more prestige projects if directors thought he was capable of handling them. He did have movies like the aforementioned "The Fountain" and "The Prestige," both of which had enough depth that he could have catapulted to that next level. Instead, he chose to continue making Wolverine movies.

I'm not trying to diminish the acting talent of either of these two men. I'm willing to wager that even the absolute "worst" actors are better than 99 percent of society. I was trying more to say that any actor is capable of a great performance, regardless of past history but that this could be the start of something bigger for Bradley Cooper.

February 13, 2013 at 10:48 AM 

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