Are we underestimating Hugh Jackman’s Oscar potential in ‘Les Miserables’?

Our Oscar predictors have narrowed down this year’s crowded Best Actor field to a race between four men: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“), Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master“), Denzel Washington (“Flight“) and John Hawkes (“The Sessions“).

All of their films have either opened or screened for the press, but “Les Miserables” and its star Hugh Jackman are still unknown quantities. Universal Pictures has yet to screen the film to award gurus, so there’s still no way to know whether it will stage a last-minute Oscar ambush, or end up like “J. Edgar” or “War Horse” last year: highly anticipated films whose Oscar hopes were dashed when they were finally shown.

Nevertheless, our Oscarologists consider it a top contender for Best Picture, with eight currently predicting it to win. (See our latest predictions roundup here.) And 13 expect Anne Hathaway to win Best Supporting Actress. But none are predicting a Best Actor win for Jackman. We currently rank him fifth with 12 to 1 odds. Should our Oscarologists be taking him more seriously?

Our forum poster Snuggle4, recent winner of our Oscar predictions contest, indicated in early October that he may have seen the film (if so, he probably attended an unannounced test screening that was held at the Hollywood Arclight) and he considers it the frontrunner to win the top prize. He currently ranks Jackman second behind Hawkes in the Best Actor race. See his initial report on the film’s chances here.

Jackman, on paper, has several factors working in his favor. He is a major Hollywood star, popular within the industry and without; he hosted the 2008 Oscars, and was arguably the best emcee of the past 10 years. He has proven dramatic range, from big-screen action hero to on-stage song-and-dance man, for which he has already won Tony and Emmy Awards.

Jackman can even be considered overdue for Oscar recognition. He has worked with directors including James Mangold, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, and Woody Allen, all of whom have directed Oscar-winning performances, but he’s never been on Oscar’s radar. Now headlining a major Best Picture contender, the timing could be right to honor him for the first time.

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Jackman plays Jean Valjean, who is jailed for stealing a loaf of bread in 19th century France. The role earned Colm Wilkinson a Tony bid for Best Actor in a Musical in 1987, which he lost to Robert Lindsay in “Me and My Girl.” In that race, Wilkinson was also up against his costar Terrence Mann, who played his adversary, Inspector Javert. But in the film version, Javert is played by Russell Crowe, who is expected to compete as a supporting actor, so Jackman will have the lead-actor race all to himself.

Jackman’s biggest challenge could be overcoming Oscar’s bias against male marquee idols. Beautiful ingenues often win acting awards, but male heartthrobs seldom do. However, he de-glamorizes for his “Les Mis” role much like fellow hunks George Clooney and Christian Bale, who transformed themselves physically to win Oscars for “Syriana” and “The Fighter,” respectively.

It will all be moot is “Les Miserables” disappoints, but if it proves equal to its early hype, Jackman could become a Best Actor frontrunner.

18 thoughts on “Are we underestimating Hugh Jackman’s Oscar potential in ‘Les Miserables’?

  1. Hugh Jackman is one of the most talented performers around, equally at home on film and on stage! As an actor/performer, he has shown his dramatic acting range, his ability to generate excitement in intensely physical roles, and now the film genre will see his much vaunted musical theatre talent! It is about time that Hollywood honored a man who has given much credit to the acting profession! He has also been in many crowd-pleasing movies and soon the role of Jean Valjean will prove that he can handle this unusual role which requires the best of acting and musical talent. Not every actor can deliver that kind of a performance!

  2. It’s about time the critics catch up to what his fans have known for years. Jackman can do more with one tilt of his head or quirk of a grin than most actors can do with a two hour script. He is a master of nuance and when the time comes to deliver power and emotionalism, it explodes off the screen – eruptions of acting prowess in what have been at times the mediocre films he has saved. If this all comes to fruition, he now has a vehicle that will reveal the full range of that talent , and it will be a joy to experience.

  3. This is the authoritative opinion of Steven Spielberg about Jackman: “Hugh’s a great actor. He’s a great entertainer. He could do anything. He could do Broadway. He could do musical theater. He could do movie and probably a few other mediums we haven’t invented yet”. If people judge him by movies for kids as X-Men, they know only 1% of his great potential as an actor. Nowadays, he’s the only one who can keep up with the greatest actors of the Hollywood golden age, if the Academy jurors have not yet realized, it’s better that they change job.

  4. Of course he should be considered a contender. It could be that his “marquee idol” image has held him back, but it’s long past time that bias was overcome. I believe that, once his performance in Les Miserables is seen, there will be no question he should be a nominee, and should win.

  5. Critics need only look to Jackman’s past performances in “The Fountain” and “The Prestige” to see exactly what this “heartthrob” is capable of. This actor has faced many challenges on both stage and screen and always excelled in every performance; proving himself a worthy “Oscar” opponent time and time again. Here’s hoping those considering the Best Actor category will finalize realize (in the role of Valjean), the tremendous talent that is Hugh Jackman.

  6. Here are the reasons you cite for Jackman getting an Oscar…. none of them are good ones. 1) popular within the industry and without. 2) hosted the 2008 Oscars. 3) He is a major Hollywood star (he seems somewhat on the fringes in this last category since his only real recognition is from the early wolverine work). When it comes to judging a performance these don’t entitle actors to awards. Hollywood can be political, but those are never proud moments. Furthermore in The Prestige, Bale was the standout. Jackman was absorbing in The Fountain but I don’t think he’s ever demonstrated that can equal much less trump what Phoenix did in The Master. The truth is Hugh Jackman’s canon of work is very limited. I’m sure this musical will give him a chance to shine but I think there is a reason that he’s not most director’s actor of choice. I also think that if Jackman was the cast member in Les Mis to beat during award season, he certainly would have been featured in the trailer, not Hathaway. Especially since his was the name most featured in the early media about the project and the name that was clearly supposed to sell it. Whoever wins let’s hope it’s NOT a political gesture like back in 90s when Emily Watson lost out on the big trophy. Talk about an actor who is overdue an award.

  7. I couldn’t disagree more with the comment from “A Closer Look”! First, FYI Anne was featured in the trailer because she completed her scenes early on and everyone else was still filming when it was made. A lot of things are being held back because the main marketing campaign hasn’t begun yet. Secondly, there is no way that Christian Bale was the standout in The Prestige! He played basically one note throughout while Hugh Jackmans gave a multi-layered and nuanced portrayal of a man consumed by grief and obsession. He was even better in The Fountain playing 3 different personas. Re: the article above, I wholeheartedly agree with Daniel that Hugh Jackman is overdue for recognition of his acting talent. I think the world will be amazed at Les Miserables and Hugh as Jean Valjean. And as someone else pointed out a lot of people including Steven Spielberg seem to be in agreement on that.

  8. Granny these comments seem out of left field. The film wrapped months ago. From a marketing standpoint Jackman would be featured by now not Hathaway, as he was the film’s buzz name. They wouldn’t leave it to something as arbitrary as “he didn’t complete all his scenes yet” to promote a big budget film. I’m sure he will be very, very good but I wouldn’t be surprised if Anne is the standout. I don’t understand your comment about Bale at all. He played two very different characters with very different temperaments and balanced it in a way that the audience didn’t figure it out. And Bale has long been credited as a top actor of his generation. Frequently among actors. Hugh was also very good but somehow he doesn’t shine on screen the way I’m sure he must on stage. Comments like the last one make me think posts about Hugh are mostly made by Jackman obsessed fans . Not people who are objective about the industry or who revel in the work of the talented competitors. Hardly a breeding ground for a fair competition.

  9. Comments from Robert Downey, Jr ( The Hollywood Reporter) — “” ‘The Prestige.’ It’s like the old film ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ — that Sherlock Holmes movie — it was so not what you expected. To me, it was a Ferrari engine of a script, and Christian Bale is always exciting and innovative. The scene where Hugh Jackman is dying and then has a page and a half monologue….How do you deliver a speech like that? But Jackman handled it.” “. He must be another “obssessed fan” *wink*

  10. Saying Jackman “handled it” in one scene in one flick is not a recommendation for an overdue award considering his limited canon of work. Especially considering Downey and Jackman I’m guessing bonded over a magazine shoot they’d done together. I think he was very good in Prestige but I believe it was Bale really shined. That kind of originality is why he, Penn along with others are frequently declared as the best in the business. And hyperbole for all kinds of reasons isn’t unheard of in the industry. Consider the way Jackman built up “Origins” as the greatest film since Citizen Kane. *wink*

  11. Why wouldn’t Downey be capable of a professional opinion of a colleague’s work, not fair to insinuate that his praise was given only as a personal favor ( because they bonded together over a magazine shoot, even if I have never heard of such an occasion). Why is Bale not being talked about for his TDKR role ( neither for his TDK) despite the hyperbole for both movies…and why is there a buzz about Jackman now? The role of Valjean is centric in Les Miserables, the movie is a great opportunity for Jackman to apply his dramatic and musical talent and including the physicality called for by the role, and the movie itself, from early word of mouth ( there was a first screening at Arclight), promises to be a very, very strong contender. The focus on Jackman’s potential Oscar chances is anchored on a rare talent in Hollywood to handle such a role!

  12. “Especially considering Downey and Jackman I’m guessing bonded over a magazine shoot they’d done together.” So this is how you handle it when people don’t agree with you…you make stuff up! And how exactly does that make you someone who is “objective about the industry” While we’re on the subject of making stuff up I’d love to see a link to an article where Hugh Jackman or anyone else came even close to saying or implying that .”Origins” was “the greatest film since Citizen Kane.” Some of us might be fans of HJ but we are also movie fans and are probably adults who cah judge good performances. Just because you are high on Christian Bale doesn’t negate what people think about Hugh Jackman. I think CB has given some terrific performances and he was very good in The Prestige, I just don’t think he gave the best performance in it. Now you have me wishing I had saved every quote I’ve read about HJ from his peers over the years. But I guess I’m not “obsessed” enough, just someone who recognizes talent.

  13. “A Closer Look” We are not denying that Christian Bale is a good actor. He is an amazing performer and totally earned his Oscar in “The Fighter”. But, what you are saying is that the Academy only takes into consideration a “body of work” for an actor to be worthy of receiving an Oscar, and that is not always the case. On many occasions an actor has been awarded because the role they played was incredible and they earned the Oscar just on that performance alone. Some actors even received an Oscar for their first film performance! An example of that is Jennifer Hudson. She made her film debut in “Dreamgirls” in 2006 and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that role (along with a Golden Globe, BAFTA and a SAG Award). She was brilliant in the role and so was awarded for it. She had no “body of work” in film prior to that. Regardless of Hugh’s past performances, we believe this role of Jean Valjean is what is going to make everyone sit up and take notice that this actor has a great talent and is worthy of that gold statue. Only when the film comes out will anyone be able to truly judge his performance. Those who have already had the priviledge to see this film or some of the scenes in it, have said that Jackman shines in this movie. We believe he’s going to do just that, and showcase tremendous talent in this film and that he’s worth sitting among the Oscar nominees of 2012.

  14. He has that extreme likability that Sandy Bullock had + he’s in a movie that will likely be leagues better than The Blind Side. He’s very close to being a lock for a nomination. Nevertheless, I’m still holding out for Richard Gere to get a nomination…we shall see…

  15. No, you’re not under-estimating him. If you look at your “expert’s” predictions, he’s a top-five pick for about half of them. He’s also the only top-five pick whose performance has yet to be seen by the experts or their acquaintances. Once the film is screened, he’ll really be in the race. If he’s just ok, he’ll drop out but if he’s very good, he’ll probably make his way to the top of some of those predictions. For now the only information we have on his performance is 1) snuggle4, who may have seen it, puts him behind Hawkes but ahead of Day Lewis, Phoenix, Washington, Cooper et al. 2) Jeff Wells has second-hand information that “it’s Hugh’s film”.

  16. Best Actor is super-stacked. There are 15 or so contenders vying for spots. He could make it but there are a lot of deserving contenders that are going to miss this year regardless. I currently have him at #8 on my Oscar Predictions page. Need to see it to put him up.

    Clayton
    The Awards Circuit

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