Since the 1960s – by that time the Academy and its golden statuettes had been around for more than three decades – nearly every year has featured at least one “Oscar veteran” in the acting and directing categories. Some of those were veterans getting their first chance at the Oscars, e.g., Lauren Bacall in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), Fred Astaire in John Guillermin’s The Towering Inferno (1974); others were Oscar veterans receiving their first nod in years, e.g., Henry Fonda, following his nomination as Tom Joad in John Ford’s The Grapes Wrath (1940) with another nod forty-one years later for his frail patriarch in Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond (1981).
Another example of an Oscar veteran: Julie Walters, nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for Billy Elliot (2000) 17 years after her first nomination (as Best Actress) for Lewis Gilbert’s Educating Rita (1983).
Please follow the links at the bottom of each of the next several posts for a few such examples in the last 15 years. Surprisingly, for the most part those veterans did not come out victorious.
Christian Bale nominated as Best Supporting Actor for David O. Russell’s The Fighter. This is Bale’s first Academy Award nomination. He began his film career as a child actor in 1987, in Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama Empire of the Sun and Vladimir Grammatikov’s Swedish-Soviet-Norwegian fantasy adventure Mio in the Land of Faraway.
Bale became a bankable star after landing the role of Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008).
Jacki Weaver has been acting in Australian films, plays, and television shows for more than four decades. Her Best Supporting Actress nomination for David Michod’s Animal Kingdom isn’t technically a “comeback,” nor was Weaver ever a Hollywood star. However, I chose to include her here because, after all, she is a film veteran whose first Academy Award recognition arrived 40 years after her debut in Tim Burstall’s Stork (1971).
Among Weaver’s other film credits are Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975); Donald Crombie’s Caddie (1976), for which she shared (with fellow Caddie player Melissa Jaffer) the Australian Film Institute’s Best Supporting Actress Award; and Mark Joffe’s Cosi (1996).
Photos: The Fighter (Paramount Pictures); Animal Kingdom (Sony Pictures Classics)
Lauren Bacall was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Barbra Streisand’s domineering mother in the Streisand-directed melodrama The Mirror Has Two Faces. In one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history, Bacall lost to Juliette Binoche, who was one of the leads in Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient.
The Mirror Has Two Faces earned Bacall her first Oscar nomination. She began her film career in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not in 1945. Among Bacall’s other film credits are Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946), John Huston’s Key Largo (1948), Jean Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and Ed Bianchi’s The Fan (1981).
Julie Christie was nominated as Best Actress for Alan Rudolph’s Afterglow. She lost to Helen Hunt in James L. Brooks’ As Good as It Gets. Christie had two previous Best Actress nominations: for John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965), for which she won, and Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Following Altman’s “anti-Western,” Christie had to wait 26 years for another Oscar nod.
Judi Dench was nominated as Best Actress for John Madden’s Mrs. Brown. That was Dench’s first nomination. She lost to Helen Hunt in As Good as It Gets. On the other side of the Atlantic, Dench had already won three British Academy Awards for her film work, in addition to two other nominations for film and eight – including three wins – for her television appearances.
Dench’s first film role was in Charles Crichton’s 1964 thriller The Third Secret. Since then, she has done some film work, and lots of plays and television shows. Like in the case of 2010 Best Supporting Actress nominee Jacki Weaver and 1998 Best Actress nominee Fernanda Montenegro, Dench’s Oscar nomination did not mark a cinematic comeback. She is listed here because of the American Academy’s belated recognition of the British film, stage, and television veteran.
Peter Fonda was nominated as Best Actor for Victor Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold. That was Fonda’s first nomination for acting. He had been previously nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category for Easy Rider (1969).
Lynn Redgrave was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as James Whale’s opinionated German maid in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters. She lost the Oscar to fellow British veteran Judi Dench for John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love.
Lynn Redgrave had previously received a Best Actress nod for Silvio Narizzano’s Georgy Girl (1966). Her film career began in earnest with a supporting role in the Oscar winning comedy Tom Jones, directed by her brother-in-law, Tony Richardson.
James Coburn won as Best Supporting Actor for his unstable, domineering patriarch in Paul Schrader’s psychological drama Affliction. That was Coburn’s first nomination. He began his film career with a supporting role in Budd Boetticher’s 1959 Western Ride Lonesome.
Like this year’s Jacki Weaver, Fernanda Montenegro is included in this series not because her Best Actress Oscar nod for Walter Salles’ Central Station marked a Hollywood comeback or belated Academy recognition for her years as an actress. Yet, Montenegro had been a stage, television, and sometime screen star in her native Brazil long before her Academy Award nomination. In that regard, she was very much a veteran when she received her first Oscar nod.
Montenegro’s film debut took place in Leon Hirszman’s drama A Falecida / The Deceased. Prior to Central Station, she had appeared in 15 motion pictures.
Richard Farnsworth was nominated as Best Actor for David Lynch’s drama The Straight Story. Farnsworth had previously received a Best Supporting Actor nod for Alan J. Pakula’s Comes a Horseman (1978), in which he was featured opposite Jane Fonda and James Caan. Among Farnsworth’s other credits are William Wiard’s Tom Horn (1980), Phillip Borsos’ The Grey Fox (1982), and Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990).
The former stuntman was 79 when the 1999 nominations were announced in early 2000. He killed himself that same year after discovering he was terminally ill with cancer.
Jeff Bridges was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Rod Lurie’s political drama The Contender. He lost to Benicio Del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. Bridges had three previous Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and for Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), and a Best Actor nod for John Carpenter’s Starman (1984).
Ellen Burstyn was nominated as Best Actress for Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. She lost to Julia Roberts in Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. Burstyn had five previous nominations: Best Supporting Actress for Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971), and Best Actress for the following: William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973); Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), for which she won; Robert Mulligan’s Same Time Next Year (1978); and Daniel Petrie’s Resurrection (1980).
Albert Finney was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. He lost to Benicio Del Toro in Soderbergh’s other 2000 release, Traffic. Finney had four previous nominations in the Best Actor category: Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963), Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Peter Yates’ The Dresser (1983), and John Huston’s Under the Volcano (1984).
Julie Walters was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot. She lost to Marcia Gay Harden for Ed Harris’ Pollock. Walters had previously received a Best Actress nod for Lewis Gilbert’s 1983 comedy-drama Educating Rita.
Sissy Spacek was nominated as Best Actress for her performance as a mother whose son was brutally killed in Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. She lost to Halle Berry in Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball. That was Spacek’s first Oscar nod in 15 years.
She had five previous Best Actress nominations: Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976); Michael Apted’s Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), for which she won for her portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn; Costa-Gavras’ Missing (1982); Mark Rydell’s The River (1984); and Bruce Beresford’s Crimes of the Heart (1986).
Diane Lane was nominated as Best Actress for Adrian Lyne’s psychological crime drama Unfaithful. She lost to Nicole Kidman for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. Unfaithful was Lane’s first nomination. She began her film career as a teenage actress in George Roy Hill’s A Little Romance (1979).
Christopher Walken was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. He lost to Chris Cooper in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. Walken had previously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Michael Cimino’s 1978 Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter.
Roman Polanski was the Best Direction winner for The Pianist. However, Rob Marshall’s musical Chicago won that year’s Best Picture Oscar. Polanski had two previous Best Direction nominations: Chinatown (1974) and Tess (1980).
Best known for the long-running 1970s television series M*A*S*H, Alda has appeared in more than 30 motion pictures since his 1963 debut in Nicholas Webster’s Gone Are the Days! Among his credits are Herbert Ross’ California Suite (1978), Robert Mulligan’s Same Time Next Year, Jerry Schatzberg’s The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979), Alda’s own Four Seasons (1981), and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
William Hurt, nominated as Best Supporting Actor for David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. He lost to George Clooney in Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana. Hurt had three previous nominations in the Best Actor category: Hector Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), for which won in the role of a South American drag queen; Randa Haines’ Children of a Lesser God (1986); and James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News (1987). Following Broadcast News, Hurt had to wait 18 years to get another Oscar nomination.
Alan Arkin won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as an untactful heroin-addicted grandfather in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ sleeper hit Little Miss Sunshine. Arkin had been previously nominated for two other Academy Awards, both in the Best Actor category: Norman Jewison’s comedy The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966) and Robert Ellis Miller’s heavy drama The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968).
Peter O’Toole was nominated as Best Actor for Roger Michell’s Venus. Even though that was O’Toole’s eighth Academy Award nomination – and his first in 24 years – he lost the 2006 Oscar to Forest Whitaker for his multiple-award-winning performance as Idi Amin Dada in Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland.
O’Toole’s previous nominations were for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Peter Glenville’s Becket (1964), Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter (1968), Herbert Ross’ Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972), Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man (1980), and Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year (1982).
Eddie Murphy was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Bill Condon’s musical Dreamgirls. He lost to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine. That was Murphy’s first Oscar nomination after starring in more than 30 movies during the course of 24 years.
Forest Whitaker, Jackie Earle Haley
Other veterans at the 2006 Oscars were two first-time nominees: Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker, whose career also spanned 24 years, and Best Supporting Actor nominee Jackie Earle Haley, who began his film career as a child actor in Jacques Deray’s crime drama Un homme est mort / The Outside Man (1972). Haley was nominated for Todd Field’s socio-psychological drama Little Children.
Hal Holbrook was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. He lost to Javier Bardem for Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men. That was the first Oscar nomination for Holbrook, whose film career kicked off in 1966, with Sidney Lumet’s drama The Group. Holbrook was 83 when the 2007 nominations were announced.
Ruby Dee was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. She lost to Tilda Swinton, a (20-year) “newcomer” – for Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton. That was the first nomination for the then 83-year-old Dee, whose film career began in earnest in Joseph Lerner’s 1949 crime drama The Fight Never Ends.
Among Dee’s other film credits are Daniel Petrie’s A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Paul Schrader’s Cat People (1982), and Reza Badiyi’s The Way Back Home (2006).
Photos: Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage); American Gangster (Universal Pictures)
Frank Langella was nominated in the Best Actor category for Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon. Langella lost to Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant’s Milk. That was Langella’s first Oscar nod in a film career that spanned 38 years, from his debut in Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) and Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs (also 1970) to George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck. (2005) and Andrew Wagner’s Starting Out in the Evening (2007).
Mickey Rourke was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. As mentioned above, Sean Penn was that year’s winner for Milk. That was Rourke’s first nomination.
Rourke began his film career in a small supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s expensive flop 1941 (1979). Among his other film credits are Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983), Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), and Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (2005).
Robert Downey Jr.
Another 2008 Oscar comeback was that of Robert Downey Jr, nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his “method” actor in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Downey Jr lost to Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He had been previously nominated in the Best Actor category for Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992).
Photos: The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight); Frost/Nixon (Universal Pictures)
Colin Firth received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his bereaved gay professor in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. He lost to Jeff Bridges in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart. That was Firth’s first nomination, even though the actor had appeared in nearly 50 movies since his debut in Marek Kanievska’s 1984 gay/political drama Another Country.
Sandra Bullock won what amounted to a career Oscar for her performance as a middle-class white woman who helps out a homeless black teenager (Quinton Aaron) in John Lee Hancock’s blockbuster The Blind Side. That was Bullock’s first nomination.
Bullock began her film career in a supporting role in J. Christian Ingvordsen’s 1987 adventure-thriller Hangmen. By the time she won her Best Actress Oscar, she had appeared in nearly forty features.
The Blind Side was one of her two 2009 hits – the other was Anne Fletcher’s The Proposal. Prior to that, she had starred in a string of critical and box office disappointments. And in-between her two ’09 hits there was Phil Traill’s All About Steve, which earned Bullock a Razzie Award for Worst Actress of the Year.
Christopher Plummer was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for incarnating Leo Tolstoy in Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station. He lost to Christoph Waltz, himself a thirty-year veteran of German-language films and television productions, for his Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Plummer was 80 years old when the 2009 Oscar nominations were announced.
Plummer, best known for his Captain von Trapp in Robert Wise’s 1965 musical blockbuster The Sound of Music, began his film career in Sidney Lumet’s 1958 drama Stage Struck.
Photos: The Blind Side (Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.); A Single Man (Eduard Grau / The Weinstein Company); The Last Station (Stephan Rabold / Sony Pictures Classics)