The announcement that the biopic “Hitchcock” will open on November 23 invites the question: Can the film succeed at the Oscars where its subject, director Alfred Hitchcock, never did?
The legendary English filmmaker was nominated for five directing Oscars – “Rebecca” (1940), “Lifeboat” (1944), “Spellbound” (1945), “Rear Window” (1954), and “Psycho” (1960) – and he was given the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967, but he ended his illustrious career without ever winning Hollywood’s top prize.
Based on Stephen Rebello‘s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho,'” the film focuses on the relationship between Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) during the making of his landmark 1960 thriller about cinema’s most infamous motel. The film earned four Oscar nominations – Director, Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Art Direction, and Cinematography – but went away empty-handed.
Overlooking Hitchcock is one of the Motion Picture Academy’s greatest oversights. They may decide to indirectly atone by honoring the biopic, and if so it would come at an especially significant time in the filmmaker’s legacy.
In August, “Sight & Sound” magazine, in its decennial poll of film professionals, for the first time ranked Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” as the best film of all time, unseating “Citizen Kane,” which had held the top spot since 1962.
But despite its present adoration, “Vertigo” fared even more poorly than “Psycho” at the Oscars, receiving only two unsuccessful nominations in technical categories: Art Direction and Sound. (That year’s Best Picture winner was the musical “Gigi.”)
It would be ironic if the Academy decides to honor the “Hitchcock” biopic instead of the man himself, but it would not be the first time voters honored a film portraying an unsung film legend.
Just last year, the Oscars nominated “Hugo” for Best Picture. Set in the early 20th century, the film told the story of a boy who stumbles upon French filmmaking pioneer Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley). Melies was never nominated for an Oscar, but in “Hugo” there is a scene in which he is feted by the early Academy with a festival of his films.
Silver-screen bombshell Marilyn Monroe was also never nominated for an Oscar, but last year Michelle Williams earned a Best Actress bid for playing her in “My Week with Marilyn.” Kenneth Branagh received a supporting nomination for playing acting legend Laurence Olivier.
In 1998, Ian McKellen received a Best Actor nod for playing another famous filmmaker, “Frankenstein” helmer James Whale, in “Gods and Monsters.”
But sometimes, to be a winner, it helps to play a winner. In 2004, Cate Blanchett channeled four-time Oscar-winner Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator” and won Best Supporting Actress. Three years later she was nominated for playing another Oscar-winner, musician Bob Dylan, in the unconventional biopic “I’m Not There,” but lightning didn’t strike her twice.
It’s too early to tell if the “Hitchcock” film will fare better than its subject. Will the Oscars be kinder to him in reel life than they were in real life?