Stat Awards Monday #1 – Making sense of the fresh faces in Best Actor

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Welcome to Stat Awards Monday (or, SAM, for short—see what I did there?—I know, but just go with me here). In this new awards season weekly column for Awards Circuit, I—Sam—will be taking you on an investigation of interesting stats currently brewing in the Oscar race. Sometimes, it’ll be big (have the Oscars ever “split” three years in a row?) while other times, it’ll be small (has anyone ever won an Oscar for playing an Alzheimer’s patient?).

This week, we tackle the 2014 Best Actor race. Specifically, the high dosage of both young actors and Oscar newbies. These stats tend to show that when the Oscars like you, they really, really like you.

STAT #1:

The last time a former WINNER was not a member of the Best Actor lineup was 2006. Since then, Daniel Day-Lewis, George Clooney, Tommy Lee Jones, Sean Penn, Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman, Javier Bardem, Denzel Washington, and Christian Bale have kept the streak alive.

Interpreting the Stat: Okay, so what? Well, from 2003 ­– 2006, Best Actor lacked a previous winner. Since then, the Academy has welcomed back their old friends with open arms. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or…a computer scientist—er, astrophysicist?) to see that former Oscar winners are nearly nowhere to be found in 2014’s Best Actor race.

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There’s former Original Screenplay and Best Picture winner Ben Affleck for his much underloved work in David Fincher’s masterful Gone Girl—but all the buzz seems to be with the heavenly Rosamund Pike. Likewise, last year’s winner for Best Picture, Brad Pitt, is also somewhat in contention for Fury. Beyond that, we have Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar, Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man, Kevin Costner in Black or White, Al Pacino in The Humbling, Christopher Plummer in Elsa & Fred, and Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight.

Doesn’t look too good, right? Okay, so maybe there won’t be a former Oscar winner in the Best Actor lineup for the first time since 2006. No big deal. Streaks has short as 8 years get broken all the time. But what about streaks that are 84 years running?

 

STAT #2:

The last time a Best Actor race had ZERO previous Oscar nominees was 1930/31 (a.k.a., the 4th Annual Academy Awards) when Lionel Barrymore beat Jackie Cooper, Richard Dix, Fredric March, and Adolphe Manjou on their very first Oscar nominations for acting.**

**(although if you want to get technical, the last time was probably the 1929/30 ceremony, since Barrymore was a previous nominee for Best Director stemming from the 1928/29 ceremony. In that case, the record dates back to the 3rd Annual Academy Awards, when double-nominee George Arliss beat himself, future winner Wallace Beery, double nominee Maurice Chevalier, double nominee and future winner Ronald Colman, and Lawrence Tibbett. Oy.)

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Interpreting the Stat: That was a very long time ago.  Let me repeat that: 1930/31! Check it out yourself. Recently, this nearly happened in 2005 if it weren’t for Joaquin Phoenix’s pesky supporting nomination for Gladiator. So what does this mean? Simply, I think it means that Academy voters vote for who they like (i.e., their friends) and that, typically, actors with an Oscar nomination get the chance to make good work in the future.

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In case you were unawares, Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), David Oyelowo (Selma), Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Miles Teller (Whiplash), James Corden (Into the Woods), and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) are not Oscar nominees. None of them have really, honestly ever been close. Oh, and did I mention that these gentlemen are most of the frontrunners for a Best Actor nomination? Looks a little atypical, doesn’t it?

So this second stat ALONE is why I’m looking towards performers like Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) to round out my personal Best Actor predictions.

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While sometimes it can be foolish to rely too heavily on statistics, I think it’s equally as foolish to predict something that hasn’t happened since 1930. Check out Clayton’s Best Actor predictions here and the Staff’s Best Actor predictions here (notice both he and I throw a bone to Bradley Cooper, thereby preventing something that hasn’t occured since the Herbert Hoover administration).

Thoughts on SAM #1? Let me know! This is a new Column and I want it to be the best it can be! What other stats would you like me to talk about?

  • Robert MacFarlane

    Well, Oscar history is made all the time. Perhaps this year will be one of those years that makes it.

    • Sam Coff

      Very true. But I have a hard time predicting so seriously against historical data. Anomalies happen, sure, but predicting an anomaly with confidence is…tough.

  • Connor

    I think most of us are predicting Cumberbatch, Keaton, Redmayne, and Carell to fill up the first four slots. Originally, I was going to say O’Connell for that fifth slot, but after seeing both this post and the film ‘St. Vincent’, I feel safe in predicting Bill Murray.

    • Robert MacFarlane

      Uh, Murray doesn’t have much of a shot. The film’s buzz has gone and died, plus the reviews weren’t exactly all that kind.

      • Anthony Moseley

        75% Certified Fresh on RT is pretty kind if you ask me. Not to mention that nearly every review claims that it’s Murray’s performance of his career. I’m not saying Murray will get the nomination, I’m just saying that he has a much better shot than you naysayers are willing to admit.

        • Robert MacFarlane

          I’m not a naysayer, I’m a pragmatist.

    • Sam Coff

      Interesting that you settle on Murray. I think that film and Murray could have a second wind once TV awards start. I think Murray is a shoo-in for a BFCA Comedy Actor and a Golden Globe nod for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy…and after that, anything can happen.

  • Anthony Moseley

    It is pretty telling that the top four in the Best Actor race have never been nominated before. I love it though. It’s always good to see new faces in the line-ups. As far as the former nominees go, the hype for The Grant Budapest Hotel died ages ago. I see Fiennes getting a Golden Globe nomination, but unless he gets some surprise wins from the critics, I consider his chances the lowest out of the names listed. Gyllenhaal could get in, but I just don’t see Nightcrawler being an awards friendly film based on what I’ve seen from the trailers, much like Fiennes, unless he gets some early critic awards, he’s most likely out as well. Neither Phoenix nor Inherent Vice even appear to be in awards talk at all this year, save for maybe Josh Brolin in a very weak supporting actor field. That being said, out of all the former nominees in contention, I’d say Murray and Cooper are the two most viable candidates to score a nomination, though there’s always a chance that American Sniper could bomb critically based on Clint Eastwood’s recent track record. If Clayton’s opinion on Interstellar is shared by many, then McConaughey may be in there as well.

    • Troy F

      I really wish Gyllenhaal had a chance, he is really incredible in Nightcrawler. My fav Actor performance so far this year.

      • Anthony Moseley

        I’ve never been a huge Gyllenhaal fan myself, but I’ve heard a lot of people say this movie will change my mind about him. I’m very interested in seeing it.

        • Troy F

          He’s kinda like a Travis Bickle who has internet access

  • Joe G

    “The last time a Best Actor race had ZERO previous Oscar nominees was 1930/31 (a.k.a., the 4th Annual Academy Awards) when Lionel Barrymore beat Jackie Cooper, Richard Dix, Fredric March, and Adolphe Manjou on their very first Oscar nominations for acting.**”

    Wouldn’t it be 1934, when you had a lineup of William Powell, Frank Morgan, and Clark Gable, all first time nominees?

  • Jack Moulton

    I’m with you on this factor bolstering McConaughey and especially Cooper. Can Cooper get in on his own merits if American Sniper is a capable but unremarkable film? Will be interesting to watch.

    Great idea for a series and can’t wait for more!

    • Sam Coff

      Thanks! Since I wrote the article, people have soured slightly on Cooper’s chances…but I don’t think Cooper can slide through on his own merits if the film is unremarkable. Voter vote in bunches nowadays…really tough for an actor to slide in when his film isn’t embraced.

      …which makes me look to McConaughey