SAM #3: Meryl Streep and “fantastical” non-human performances



Welcome to Stat Awards Monday (or, S.A.M., for short). In this new awards season weekly column for Awards Circuit, I—Sam—will be guiding an investigation of interesting stats currently brewing in the Oscar race. Three weeks ago, in the inaugural S.A.M., I scrutinized the unlikelihood that Best Actor will be populated with ZERO former nominees. And in SAM #2, I examined the rarity with which screenplays with four writers win Oscars.

This week, I go hyper narrow. I look at how many actors have been nominated for playing a character that is not purely human. This means the character could have super powers, be a wizard, a witch, an alien, or a ghost. Why am I running this comically specific article? Because, my friends, Meryl Streep plays a witch in Into the Woods. Many think she’s in serious contention for a Best Supporting Actress nomination and even Oscar #4.  I investigate to see how playing this…fantastical type of role can alter her Oscar chances. Herewith, a list of Oscar nominated performance for playing a character that is not purely human:

Cecil Kellaway, The Luck of the Irish – a leprechaun
Jeff Bridges, Star Man – an alien
Wiliem Dafoe, Shadow of a Vampire – vampire
Ian McKellen, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Maiar of race & Istari (wizard)
Edmund Gwenn, Miracle on 34th Street – arguably, Santa Claus
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – ages backwards
Sissy Spacek, Carrie – psychic powers
Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins – witch nanny
Frederic March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – creepy monster man Mr. Hyde
Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster – the devil
Cliff Robertson, Charley – psychic powers
Linda Blair, The Exorcist – the demon Pazuzu
Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait – an angel and/or ghost
Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan – an angel and/or ghost
Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense – sees dead people
Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile – heals people and nice
Alec Guinness, Star Wars – technically, an alien, since Obi-Wan was not born on Earth; also, Jedi, moving things with his mind, speaking from beyond the grave, etc.

(Note: while I THINK this is an exclusive list, I may have missed a performance ot two. Notice this list is strictly characters with fantastical or supernatural elements, which is why performances in sci-fi films like Don Ameche and Melinda Dillon are absent.)


STAT #1: Only 17 “fantastical” performances have managed an Oscar nomination.

Interpreting the Stat: That’s only 17 nominations in the entire history of the Oscars. That’s over 1,600 nominated performances. And of them, only 17. ONLY 17. That’s a percentage of 1%. Pretty low.

But that doesn’t foreclose Meryl’s possible nomination. This stat is indicative of many things. Firstly, it could mean that the Academy doesn’t take these types of roles or the films that house them seriously. And that’s not a surprise. Many of these performances come from sci-fi or fantasy films. However, just as many come from human stories that skew sci-fi only slightly.

Then again, the stat could also be indicative of the general quality of these types of films. I’m not saying sci-fi and/or fantasy films are bad, but they can typically come off as popcorn fare, rather than serious drama, therefore not appealing to a better-than-thou thespians.

Again, I’m not sure what to make of these stats. Over time, it seems these performances mostly get nominated. I can’t recall many “non-human” performances being close and getting snubbed. Perhaps it’s an irrelevant stat. But then again, we are talking about a witch…in a fantasy film. Who’s to say? In the end, I think I believe that films housing non-human characters are just less appealing to this group of voters rather than the supposition that they are generally adverse to non-human characters.

Conclude of this what you wish, I’m only here to deliver the stats!

Check out Clayton’s Best Supporting Actress predictions here, where he’s got he three-time Oscar winner as the bridesmaid at #6 (however, based on his article this week, I imagine Meryl will make Clayton’s lineup since he thinks she will “cake walk her” way to a nomination). Meanwhile, I have her securely nabbing a nomination, along side Patricia Arquette, Emma Stone, Keira Knightley, and Jessica Chastain. Thoughts?

Thoughts on SAM #3? 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?

  • Jack Moulton

    I guess this is more about how likely she is to win. Only one of those won (Gwenn), right? The Streep factor will get her in the 5, the fantasy element will keep her from winning, however showy she may be.

    • Sam Coff

      A few won–Gwenn, Andrews, March. But the article is more about nominations

  • Michał Szwaciński

    Julie Andrews and Fredric March also won.

  • Connor

    So, you consider Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense but not Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost? Both of them “see dead people”

    • Sam Coff

      I thought about including Whoopi, but I couldn’t remember to what extent she was a fraud in the film. Even so, then there’s 18.

  • Connor

    Oh, and what about Tom Hanks in Big? Little boy trapped in a man’s body, nominated.

    • Sam Coff

      I thought about including him, too, but didn’t because he’s still basically human and doesn’t have any sort of powers. I dunno. Maybe I should have added him–in which case (with Whoopi) we have 19.

  • Ryan

    I agree with your line of thought through the second half of the article and with Jack. I don’t think Oscar voters really consider whether they are supernatural or not at all, and it is just that fantasy films don’t always appeal to the Academy. In Streep’s case, yes this is a fantasy film, but it is also a broadway musical directed by Rob Marshall, something that I could easily see them embracing. Oh, and its Meryl Streep. She could be playing an orc in The Lord of the Rings and the Academy still wouldn’t notice the difference. (By the way, we need Meryl to do that. Or maybe a jedi…) So I think its safe to put Meryl in a lineup so long as the film is semi-loved.

    Also, a stat that I would like to see analyzed might involve the ‘supportive wife’ role, and how often they win in comparison to the men. With Felicity Jones, Carmen Ejogo, and Jessica Chastain (to an extent), mirroring Eddie Redmayne, David Oyelowo, and Oscar Isaac, I wonder what the stats would be of where each pair would split (one gets nominated the other doesn’t).

    • Bailey

      I’m in complete support of a jedi Meryl.

  • Joel Meléndez

    I was thinking, does Johnny Depp nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean counts? He was cursed so in a sort of way he wasn’t human… Also the Sweeney Todd one, but I haven’t seen this film nor the musical so I don’t know what is the true nature of the character. Interesting article!

    • Sam Coff

      Thanks–glad you like the article. I hadn’t even thought of Depp in POTC 1, since he’s human most of the time, but you’re right–he turns into a skellington at the end! Good call.

      Re: Sweeney Todd, I have seen the film and the musical, and while they’re certainly ghoulish characters, he’s not non-human, just a creepy serial killer.

  • Burt Mizaki

    IMO Streep gets the nomination, no question. But just sit down for a moment and think, what your reaction would be, if you fell asleep today and woke up a day after the Oscars and heard that she won a record-tying award for a role of a Witch. Think about your reaction. And everybody else’s.
    That does play a factor, in my opinion. However I do think that she looks terrific in the clips and trailers etc. Who knows? This would be an unprecedented event. I mean okay – Mary Poppins. But look at how Meryl Streep looks. She’s the real witch! 🙂
    And look at how the Oscar glorifies “uglifying” the actresses. Charlieze Theron (Monster), Nicole Kidman (Hours), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady — although the overdue factor played the biggest part), Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose). Just kidding, but they did make Meryl ugly here.