As per usual at this time of year, I’ve barely seen any of the Oscar nominees. I am frankly astounded that I have seen one of the nominated performances, and it’s topped by the fact that it means that the Academy recognized a performance in a superhero movie. It’s the first time the MCU has been recognized for acting despite having one of the most award-winning assemblages of performers outside an actual Oscar ceremony. Still, that hers is the only performance I’ve seen that has been nominated means I don’t actually have an opinion yet on who should win—except for emotional ones based on people I think are “due.”
The strongest that notion has come across in recent years is with the “Leo deserves an Oscar” types. As it happens, I never really thought he was. Most of the years he was nominated, I either didn’t have a strong feeling about any of the movies or else thought someone else definitely deserved the win more, far more, than he did. (Though that person didn’t actually win in either of those cases and was beaten by someone who absolutely positively shouldn’t have in the second.) I’d also note that he still has fewer acting nominations that Kate Winslet, who never had the same narrative behind her before her win.
Still, if you look over the list, there are many nominees this year who have never been up before or never won. Sixteen of twenty this year have never been nominated at all, including such major industry figures as Jamie Lee Curtis. Angela Bassett’s only other nomination is a loss to Holly Hunter in a frankly stacked year from before several of our writers were alive. Judd Hirsch’s only other nomination likewise from a stacked year is from the year my younger sister was born. Michelle Williams has gotten four nominations in previous stacked years; this is likely to be her fifth “yeah, that’s understandable” loss in the category. Cate Blanchett alone has won before.
This all means that this year gets some interesting conversation in the Discourse about who, exactly, is “due” for the Oscar. On the one hand, Judd Hirsch has a career that is older than I am and was last nominated for Ordinary People, losing to his young costar Timothy Hutton. On the other, Ke Huy Quan is a former child actor the same age as Hirsch’s career who, as we’ve discussed before, is hard done-by by the Hollywood establishment. He’s making a well-deserved comeback. In an ordinary year, the narrative could be about either.
Similarly, Bill Nighy has 156 credits to his name and is being nominated for the first time. He has two BAFTAs, but that’s still not very many by British film standards given the sheer number of performances. He’s one of those fine old British character actors of the type to regularly get Oscar nominations so the Academy can feel classy. And the narrative this year is behind another “considerably younger man making a well-deserved comeback,” this one with bonus trauma. I’m about ninety percent sure I wouldn’t like The Whale and even I hope Brendan Fraser wins.
Part of me will always be a little sad that Peter O’Toole never won, though easily half of his nominations were in “Well, yeah, okay” years. (“You lost to Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull? The hell you say!”) Richard Burton likewise, and I will die on the hill that The Narrative is what made them both lose to John Wayne in ‘69. The Academy was famously so banking on the narrative two years ago that they reordered the ceremony in a clear belief that we’d all end on happy memories of Chadwick Boseman getting a posthumous win instead of the Academy’s refusal to accommodate Sir Anthony Hopkins and insisting he’d have to go to London to accept his. The idea that people are “due” permeates Oscar Discourse.
Hot take—it has to. If humans are so programmed to such things that they believe slot machines are “due” to let them win, it’s impossible not to feel the same way about Jamie Lee Curtis. In another year, Brendan Gleeson would be part of that conversation—an Irish actor toiling through the salt mines of low-budget for decades before finally becoming a Beloved Grumpy Uncle type? Oh, he’s due, and it’s his first nomination. Paul Mescal? Sure it’s his first nomination, and sure he has a BAFTA—but also he’s a baby and they appear to give BAFTAs away like TicTacs. Ana de Armas will doubtless be nominated again, and for a less awful movie (I will not be seeing Blonde); Michelle Yeoh is another “my career is as old as her” type.
It is interesting that it’s possible to track the narrative around these movies without actually having seen most of them; Supporting Actress seems the one most likely to give an upset because it’s the one where I’ve heard the most about specific performances. But also, based purely on who’s “due,” it seems likely to me to be down to Jamie Lee Curtis or Angela Bassett, depending on whether you go for “first nomination” or “should have won last time.” Still, I’ll likely have more of an opinion after I actually see a few movies.