One of this year’s most heated Oscar races was for Best Actor, a neck-and-neck marathon that ultimately ended with Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) upsetting early front-runner Michael Keaton (“Birdman”). The two may very well go head-to-head again next year for films that have the potential to be major players: “The Danish Girl” and “Spotlight.”
In “The Danish Girl,” Redmayne portrays artist Einar Wegener, one of the first known recipients of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. The film, helmed by Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” 2010), is a true-life story right up Oscar alley, and the first images of Redmayne in drag hint at a transformative performance of the same ilk that led to awards-glory for “The Theory of Everything.” Should he win, he’d be only the sixth actor to win back-to-back Oscars in the same category, and only the third to do so in Best Actor.
The first person to pull off a repeat victory was Luise Rainer, who won Best Actress for “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936) and “The Good Earth” (1937). She was followed shortly thereafter by two-time Best Actor champ Spencer Tracy, who took the gold for “Captains Courageous” (1937) and “Boys Town” (1938). Three decades later, Katharine Hepburn won Best Actress Oscars #2 and #3 for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) and “The Lion in Winter” (1968), the latter of which she famously took in a tie with Barbra Streisand for “Funny Girl.” Jason Robards became the only person to win back-to-back Supporting Actor trophies for “All the President’s Men” (1976) and “Julia” (1977). Finally, Tom Hanks became the last repeat victor in Best Actor for “Philadelphia” (1993) and “Forrest Gump” (1994), almost sixty years after Tracy.
So while there is precedent, it’s an anomaly for an actor to win back-to-back Oscars. This is good news for Keaton. In “Spotlight,” he portrays Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter “Robby” Robinson, who led the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Roman Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal. Helmed by Original Screenplay nominee Thomas McCarthy (“Wall-E,” 2008) — who directed Richard Jenkins to a 2008 Best Actor nomination for “The Visitor” — the film could solidify the Keaton-comeback narrative that started with “Birdman.” Perhaps there will be enough goodwill leftover to carry him to victory this time around.
Of course, this is all highly speculative. Neither of the films is completed (“The Danish Girl” is still shooting), nor do they have release dates. Yet the possibility of a rematch is too juicy to ignore, and has brought the first bit of excitement to the upcoming awards season.