If “Bridesmaids” miraculously manages to get itself into Oscar’s Best Picture lineup this year, it would be the anomaly of all anomalies – a broad, crass, raunchy, female-dominated film breaking the mould. Regardless of whether this happens or not, there’ll always be the nagging issue of Oscar’s general attitude towards comedy, which tends to get forgotten about when it comes to year-end awards. The implication that comedy/”light” performances are lesser fare than dramatic ones is both inaccurate and offensive, but it’s often the preconception adopted by middlebrow filmgoers.
Whatever you think about the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press have always used their ceremony to help celebrate comedy, despite that often leading to even more guffaw at their nominations than in their drama categories. Predictably, those singled out in this section are far less likely to have success with SAG and AMPAS, and the fairly grim reality is that lively, funny, and layered performances like Kristen Wiig’s this year won’t make it past this particular precursor hurdle.
In the past ten years, the Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical category has seen fourteen nominations translate to Academy Award notices.
• Juliette Binoche, “Chocolat”
• Nicole Kidman, “Moulin Rouge”
• Renee Zellweger, “Chicago”
• Diane Keaton, “Something’s Gotta Give”
• Annette Bening, “Being Julia”
• Kate Winslet, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
• Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”
• Judi Dench, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
• Keira Knightley, “Pride and Prejudice”
• Meryl Streep, ”The Devil Wears Prada”
• Marion Cotillard, “La Vie En Rose”
• Ellen Page, “Juno”
• Meryl Streep, “Julie and Julia”
• Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”
*Catherine Zeta Jones received a Golden Globe nomination for “Chicago”, but a Supporting nomination with Oscar.
This is a 28% transfer to Oscar, which is relatively decent, but not considering that Witherspoon’s, Knightley’s, and Cotillard’s are arguably dramatic performances masquerading as musical or comedic ones.
The situation looks comparatively positive for women when you look at the men. In the past ten seasons only five men nominated in the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical category have been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.
• Nicholas Cage, “Adaptation”
• Bill Murray, “Lost In Translation”
• Jamie Foxx, “Ray”
• Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”
• Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Just a meager 10% transfer from Globes to Oscar, folks. And even that’s with Foxx and Phoenix producing essentially dramatic performances in films about musicians.
Donald Sutherland in “M*A*S*H”
Lost out to: Melvyn Douglas, “I Never Sang For My Father,” James Earl Jones, “The Great White Hope,” Jack Nicholson, “Five Easy Pieces,” Ryan O’Neal, “Love Story,” George C. Scott, “Patton”
Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”
Lost out to: Kenneth Branagh, “Henry V”; Daniel Day-Lewis, “My Left Foot”; Tom Cruise, “Born on the Fourth of July”; Morgan Freeman, “Driving Miss Daisy”; Robin Williams, “Dead Poets Society”
Tim Robbins in “The Player”
Lost out to: Robert Downey Jr, “Chaplin”; Clint Eastwood, “Unforgiven”; Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman”; Stephen Rea, “The Crying Game”; Denzel Washington, “Malcolm X”
Lost out to: Tom Hanks, “Forrest Gump”; Morgan Freeman, “The Shawshank Redemption”; Nigel Hawthorne, “The Madness of King George”; Paul Newman, “Nobody’s Fool”; John Travolta, “Pulp Fiction”
Lost out to: Don Cheadle, “Hotel Rwanda”; Johnny Depp, “Finding Neverland”; Leonardo Di Caprio, “The Aviator”; Clint Eastwood, “Million Dollar Baby”; Jamie Foxx, “Ray”
All of this is especially worrying given that this year has seen one of the greatest lineups in this category in recent memory; Jean Dujardin, Brendan Gleeson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, and Owen Wilson all giving smart comedic(ish) performances. The only one in with a legitimate chance (and a great one at that) of an Oscar nomination is Dujardin, which will be the first crossover nomination of the decade, and a mightily well-deserved one.
It’s a bit much to ask for Oscar to dramatically change its dirty habits, but could they at least appreciate our funnymen a little more?