It’s hard to believe Woody Harrelson has a career spanning five decades now. The versatile actor’s breakthrough came in 1985, when he joined the talented cast of NBC’s “Cheers,” playing the naive bartender, Woody Boyd. In the early ’90s, Harrelson became a more prominent figure in film, with memorable turns in “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Indecent Proposal.” As “Cheers” handed out its last call, Harrelson’s star was just taking off. Through the next few decades, Harrelson would go on to be nominated for two Academy Awards – Lead Actor (“The People vs. Larry Flynt” in 1996) and Supporting Actor (“The Messenger” in 2009).
Starring in five films last year alone, Harrelson comes into 2017 with over 60 movies on his resume. With at least six films on his slate this year, the 55-year-old is not showing any signs of slowing down. So let’s peer into our crystal balls and ponder if this is finally the year Woody Harrelson receives Oscar glory.
1. “Lost in London” (January 19)
Of the six films on his list this year, “Lost in London” is the least likely Oscar player. Woody wrote, directed and starred as himself in this dramedy that takes place within the course of one night in London. His blundering mishaps lead to him ending up in prison. The film co-stars Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson.
2. “Wilson” (March 24)
Harrelson plays a lonely and raucous middle-aged man who reunites with his ex-wife (Laura Dern) in order to meet his teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) for the first time. Wilson, in his own neurotic and outrageous way, attempts to connect with his estranged family.
We have seen brazen characters like this go on to win Oscars in the past (think: Jack Nicholson in “As Good as it Gets”), but my gut says a lot will hinge on how emotional the film decides to go. If it is just a raunchy comedy, then his odds diminish. But if “Wilson” can pack an emotional punch, and Harrelson carries his character through some form of metamorphic arc, anything is possible.
3. “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14)
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is among my most anticipated films of the year, but Harrelson’s turn as the antagonistic Colonel who will lead the humans against the apes seems rather atypical for Oscar. In fact, the only comparable role to win Oscar would probably be Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.” While this might not be the film to earn him the Academy Award, this dark and granular role could be a feather in his cap if something else finds him on the precipice of winning.
4. “Shock and Awe” (TBD)
In Rob Reiner’s “Shock and Awe,” Harrelson plays real-life DC National Security Correspondent and veteran war reporter Jonathan Landay. In 2003, Landay and a group of journalists covered George Bush’s declaration that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and his ensuing plan to invade Iraq. This one sounds like it has all the trappings of an Oscar player. Biopic – check. Political agenda that will probably sit favorably with liberal Hollywood – check. All it’s missing is some connection to Tinseltown itself, and you might have a B-I-N-G-O. One thing to consider: Reiner hasn’t directed a performance to an Academy Award nominee in over 20 years (James Woods, “The Ghosts of Mississippi,” 1996). Temper your expectations, but keep this one on your radar.
5. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (TBD)
Martin McDonagh’s resume is short but sweet. The director of “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” now delivers “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The film sounds like what we’ve come to expect from the McDonagh canon, with the same stylistic dark comedy that seems to behoove him. Whether or not that translates into an Oscar-winning performance is yet to be seen, of course, but I would imagine it would improve Harrelson’s odds if his performance as a local sheriff caught up in a murder case fell into the Supporting Actor category.
6. “The Glass Castle” (TBD)
Finally, we come to “The Glass Castle,” the third feature film from Destin Daniel Cretton, who brought us the heart-wrenchingly wonderful “Short Term 12.” If I had to bet on any of Woody Harrelson’s performances to get him to the red carpet, this would be the one. Harrelson, Naomi Watts and Brie Larson star in the film – based on the memoirs of Jeannette Walls – about a deeply dysfunctional family who wanders from state to state in order to escape the large debts they have incurred. Harrelson plays the alcoholic father unable to hold down a steady job, who spins whimsical tales about his dream to build a glass castle in order to distract his children from their unforgiving poverty. It sounds like the perfect type of human interest story that will play like a string quartet to the Academy, and Harrelson’s role could potentially deliver the emotional appeal that oftentimes places an actor of his caliber at the podium of the Dolby Theatre. Lionsgate will be distributing “The Glass Castle,” and they helped deliver Oscars to Halle Berry, for “Monster’s Ball”; Mo’Nique, for “Precious”; James Coburn, for “Affliction”; and to Emma Stone, most recently, for “La La Land.”