Ten Years Later – Johnny Depp’s Oscar Introduction

A bankable movie star in Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster overcame the Oscar odds…

JohnnyDepp_LoneRangerSince it’s the week of Christmas, there will likely not be any noteworthy stories to break outside the occasional Martin Scorsese-“Shame on You” from The Wrap, which you should take a read.

Ten years ago, probably the first Oscar season I was fully immersed in as a freshman in college, had a very interesting feel and look to it, even looking at it now.  It was well-known that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would be a critical and Academy favorite.  Who knew that on the night, eleven Oscars would be handed out to the ending trilogy, sweeping the awards it was nominated for.  The only other films that captured multiple awards were Clint Eastwood’s crime epic Mystic River and Peter Weir’s high-sea drama Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.  What remains so cool about the year as a whole, were the things that 2003 offered cinema and the liberties that Oscar took in recognizing a few of them.  One of which was the career catapult for Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp.

Recalling the Best Actor race of the year, so many factors were being considered at one point or another.  Jude Law held on by a thread after missing a SAG nomination for his work in Cold Mountain, a very reserved and compelling performance by the British star.  Tom Cruise delivered one of his most surprising portrayals in Edward Zwick’s fascinating The Last Samurai, which introduced America to Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe.

There were some works that went virtually unnoticed that warranted consideration.  Hayden Christansen‘s frantic yet committed work in Shattered Glass was equally as powerful to co-star Peter Sarsgaard, both Oscar snubbed.  William H. Macy performed his best as a leading man opposite Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello as the unlucky light of casino gambling in The Cooler.  And I find myself, every now and again, thinking of the outstanding and masterful work of Paul Giamatti in American Splendor, one of the great and quiet gems of that year.  One thing that still stands up well next to the other works is Depp’s work in the first edition of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

JohnnyDepp_PiratesUp until this point Johnny Depp was a bankable movie star, well-known for his romantic comedies and his frequent collaborations with Tim Burton.  Prior to his work in Pirates, Depp had three Golden Globe nominations to his credit (Ed Wood, Benny & Joon, and Edward Scissorhands), none of which came within an earshot of AMPAS attention.  $305 million dollars later, the Gore Verbinski action-packed pirate film netted the charismatic and hilarious Johnny Depp his first nomination for Best Actor over formidable contenders Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, and Peter Dinklage.  His nomination and success for the film even translated into a surprise SAG win for Best Actor over the top two contenders Sean Penn and Bill Murray.  It was a great ride to watch and at the end of the day, Depp may or may not have been second in line to winner Penn.  The itself netted five Oscar nominations in total.

It was this lovefest that helped him along in lesser nominated acting pieces like Finding Neverland and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  As Depp dips his hand here and there in Oscar-friendly territory, it’ll be interesting to see if Depp ever lands THE role that finally scores him that Oscar win.  With Neverland, pure Oscar-bait with a well-polished feature directed by Marc Foster had Depp sneak in over sure-thing Paul Giamatti in Sideways.  In Sweeney Todd, Depp had hiccups while on the awards circuit, missing out on Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nods but in the end, sneaking in alongside the other surprise Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah, over the beautiful and haunting work of Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild.  Great case studies of name recognition carrying through until the end.

In 2014, Depp will star opposite Meryl Streep in Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Into the Woods.  “The Wolf,” in the Original Broadway production, was nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Musical by the Tony Awards.  Perhaps this means Depp could be on his way to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar?  The role, originated by Robert Westenberg, and later by Greg Edelman in the Broadway revival, has the fire power to get noticed by critics groups and voters.  Depp may fare better in a scene-stealing supporting role.  More than anything, I think the Oscar pedigree may befall on Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife.

TranscendenceDeppFaceHeadfulltsr1Depp also has the lead role in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence along with two crime thrillers, Mortdecai and London Fields all due out in 2014.

This year, Depp was at the mercy of a questionable and ill-fitting adaptation of The Lone Ranger opposite Armie Hammer.  Panned by many critics, the film is shortlisted as a possible contender for both Visual Effects and Makeup & Hairstyling.  Maybe its Depp’s star power that is keeping those aspects of the film on Oscar’s radar.

Is there anyone this year that you would compare to Depp’s career stock that has risen significantly?  The closest thing we have is probably Matthew McConaughey with his towering works in Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and The Wolf of Wall Street, all Oscar worthy in their own right but breathtaking and audacious turns looked at individually.  McConaughey is someone still very much on the table not only in terms of an Oscar nomination but for winning consideration as well.

What a difference ten years can make, eh?  Discuss in the comment section.

What do you think?

Film Lover

Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.

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