AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS GET SPECIAL TREATMENT

30 Jan

bullock5

The Academy is rather elitist when it comes to rewarding actors, but every once in a while, when given a passable enough excuse, it embraces someone who is known less for his or her body of film work than his or her popular appeal.

Often, these people are multi-hyphenates — people whose identity was forged in the popular imagination through some field other than moives, such as music (Bing Crosby), comedy (Robin Williams), or even war (Harold Russell). Sometimes, though, they’re just actors who have been working for years in the sorts of movies (often commercially popular) that the Academy doesn’t typically recognize (not coincidentally, musicals, comedies, and war films).

Regardless, when these sorts of people (the domestic variety are often called “America’s sweethearts”) have ventured even slightly into Oscar’s territory (dramas, period pieces, message films) over the 81 years that Oscars have been dished out, the Academy tends to notice and seize the opportunity to invite them into the club with impunity. This is precisely why Sandra Bullock — a longtime fan-favorite at the box-office for action-packed thrillers like “Speed” (1994) and romantic-comedies like “The Proposal” (2009) — has a lot of reason to be hopeful this year, even if she is going head-to-head with the mighty Meryl Streep.

“The Blind Side” is unlike any film Bullock has made since she became a star: it’s dramatic, inspirational, and a social conscience film with “important” messages to promote (be kind, be tolerant, stand up for what you believe in, etc.) — the Academy loves that kind of stuff! Moreover, Leigh Anne Tuohy is unlike any character Bullock has played since she became a star: a real person who couldn’t be more different from Bullock herself.

To play the part, Bullock transforms herself — her hair, her accent, her attitude — without compromising her screen persona that people have come to love. She may not look the same, but you know it’s still her under there, and you’re still rooting for her like you always do. That’s the trick. Julia Roberts did it a decade ago in “Erin Brokovich” (2000) and was rewarded with an Oscar over Ellen Burstyn, a revered actress with a lot of Oscar nominations and a best actress Oscar on her shelf like Streep. Now, unfortunately for Streep, it may be Bullock’s turn.

Following is a list that I have compiled of actors and actresses whose primary focus was/is something other than Oscar-fare but who were honored with an Oscar upon appearing in a film that could pass as it, probably as much out of affection for them personally as for their performance

Best actor

  • Bing Crosby (“Going My Way,” 1944) — (first nomination)
  • John Wayne (“True Grit,” 1969) — (third nomination)

Best actress

  • Joan Crawford (“Mildred Pierce,” 1945) — (first nomination)
  • Barbra Streisand (“Funny Girl,” 1968) — (first nomination)
  • Liza Minnelli (“Cabaret,” 1972) for best actress — (second nomination)
  • Cher (“Moonstruck,” 1987) for best actress — (second nomination)
  • Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love,” 1998) — (first — and only — nomination)
  • Julia Roberts (“Erin Brokovich,” 2000) — (third nomination)
  • Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line,” 2005) — (first — and only — nomination)

Best supporting actor

  • Harold Russell (“The Best Years of Our Lives,” 1946) — (first — and only — nomination)
  • Frank Sinatra (“From Here to Eternity,” 1953) — (first nomination)
  • George Burns (“The Sunshine Boys,” 1975) — (first — and only — nomination)
  • Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting,” 1997) — (fourth nomination)

Best supporting actress

  • Donna Reed (“From Here to Eternity,” 1953) — (first — and only — nomination)
  • Goldie Hawn (“Cactus Flower,” 1969) — (first nomination)
  • Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls,” 2006) — (first — and only — nomination)

NOTE: The glaring omission is Judy Garland, perhaps the ultimate “American sweetheart,” who — after a lifetime in the movies, and primarily in musicals — took on the lead role in the very Oscar-y drama “A Star Is Born” (1954), was nominated for best actress, but inexplicably lost. Well, maybe not so inexplicably — the person who vanquished her was another “American sweetheart,” Grace Kelly. Interestingly, she, too, was probably honored less for her specific performance in “The Country Girl” than for her body of work that year, which also included “Dial M for Murder” and “Rear Window.”

Photo: Sandra Bullock in her “other” 2009 film, “The Proposal.” Credit: Disney.

6 Responses

  1. Robert Hamer 30. Jan, 2010 8:02 am #

    I would say, though, that Joan Crawford, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Harold Russell and (to a lesser extent) Jennifer Hudson deserved their Academy Awards, personal affection or no. But I think you’re giving a little too much credit to Bullock in your description of her performance. Wait, did you actually ENJOY The Blind Side???

  2. John H. Foote 30. Jan, 2010 11:03 am #

    Al Pacino should be there for Scent of a Woman — worst performance to ever win an Oscar for Best Actoar behind Begnini — Pacino won for his body of work, of The Godfather Part II but certainly not for his hoo-hawing over the top work in Scent of a Woman.

  3. Editor 30. Jan, 2010 3:55 pm #

    Robert,
    You’re right that several of those folks gave Oscar-worthy performance–I’m not disputing that, I’m just listing examples of people who are essentially “outsiders” to the Oscar game who were embraced pretty quickly upon stepping into it, often as much out of affection for them personally as for their performance. I’ve amended my intro to the list to clarify that.

    John,
    You’re absolutely right about Pacino not getting it for the right role. Following is a whole long list of people who I’d submit fit that description. My intent with this list, though — as I’ve just updated the description to say — is to identify “actors and actresses whose primary focus was/is something other than Oscar-fare but who were honored with an Oscar upon appearing in a film that could pass as it.” Pacino, of course, was anything but unfamiliar with Oscar-fare.

    # Bette Davis won best actress for “Dangerous” (1935) in part to make up for her loss the previous year for “Of Human Bondage” (1934)
    # James Stewart won best actor for “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) in part to make up for his loss the previous year for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)
    # Joan Fontaine won best actress for “Suspicion” (1941) in part to make up for her loss the previous year for “Rebecca” (1940)
    # Joan Crawford won best actress for “Mildred Pierce” (1945) in part to make up for her having never previously been nominated
    # John Wayne won best actor for “True Grit” (1969) in part to make up for his previous loss for “Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949) and his having not been nominated for other great performances
    # Paul Newman won best actor for “The Color of Money” (1986) in part to make up for losses in past years for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “The Hustler” (1961), “Hud” (1963), “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “Rachel, Rachel” (1968), “Absence of Malice” (1981) and “The Verdict” (1982)
    # Al Pacino won best actor for “The Scent of a Woman” (1992) in part to make up for his losses in past years for “The Godfather” (1972), “Serpico” (1973), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), “… And Justice for All” (1979) and “Dicky Tracy” (1990)
    # Henry Fonda won best actor for “On Golden Pond” (1981) in part to make up for his previous loss for “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) and also for having not been nominated for other great performances
    # Shirley MacLaine won best actress for “Terms of Endearment” (1983) in part to make up for her losses in past years for “Some Came Running” (1958), “The Apartment” (1960), “Irma La Douce” (1963), and “The Turning Point” (1977)
    # Russell Crowe won best actor for “Gladiator” (2000) in part to make up for his loss the previous year for “The Insider” (1999) and in part to make up for having not been nominated for “L.A. Confidential” (1997)
    # Nicole Kidman won best actress for “The Hours” (2002) in part to make up for her loss the previous year for “Moulin Rouge!” (2001)
    # Peter Jackson won best director for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) in part to make up for his previous loss for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) and also for having not been nominated for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
    # Martin Scorsese won best director for “The Departed” (2006) in part to make up for his losses in past years for “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “Goodfellas” (1990), “Gangs of New York” (2002) and “The Aviator” (2004)
    # Kate Winslet won best actress for “The Reader” (2008) in part to make up for her losses in past years for “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), “Titanic” (1997), “Iris” (2001), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), and “Little Children” (2006)

  4. med 30. Jan, 2010 7:45 pm #

    So Streep should receive the Oscar to make up for losses for Prada, Adaptation, B. Madison County, Postcards from the Edge, Silkwood, Cry in the Dark, Ironweed, F. Lieutenant’s Woman, Deer Hunter and a few more I’m sure I forgot to mention.

  5. ben 31. Jan, 2010 11:07 am #

    So agree with what med said. I think Halle Berry should be on this American Sweethearts list as well.

  6. mark 01. Feb, 2010 10:49 am #

    I detest make up oscars and is the reason why I DON’T want streep to win this year but neither do I FEEL B ullock deserves it newcomers such as this years sidibe,mulligan or renner always make more of an impact ‘cos we edon’t knwo their other work it is few n far between I feel when you forget it is sean penn being harvey milk or jpaquin phoenix being johnny cash or helen mirren being the queen etc etc

Leave a Reply