There is perhaps no individual this awards season who could garner more recognition come Oscar nominations morning than the incomparable Warren Beatty. As star, director, writer and producer of 20th Century Fox’s “Rules Don’t Apply” — the story of an aspiring actress (Lily Collins), her driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and their employer, the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes (Beatty) — it is not inconceivable that he could land four nominations. Eye-popping as that may seem, such would not be the first time, or even the second for Beatty to receive four bids for a film. A 14-time Oscar nominee, with one competitive win and one honorary prize under his belt, Beatty has for nearly half a century been a mainstay at the Oscars.
At age 30, in 1967, Beatty received his first two Oscar nominations, for producing and starring alongside fellow up-and-comer Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn‘s “Bonnie & Clyde.” While this landmark picture proved divisive among critics at the time – Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert were among its fiercest defenders – it was a box office success and garnered 10 Oscar nominations. Ultimately, it took home two prizes — Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons) and Best Cinematography (Burnett Guffey) – while “In the Heat of the Night” and that film’s Rod Steiger topped “Bonnie & Clyde” and Beatty in Best Picture and Best Actor respectively.
By the mid-1970s, Beatty was among the most powerful players in Hollywood. His next appearance at the Oscars came in 1975, when he, alongside Robert Towne, landed a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Hal Ashby‘s biting social satire “Shampoo.” The picture, another box office hit for Beatty, earned four Oscar nominations in total, winning one – Best Supporting Actress for Lee Grant. Beatty and Towne lost to future AMPAS president Frank Pierson, who penned “Dog Day Afternoon.”
Three years later, in 1978, Beatty pulled off a truly monumental achievement on Oscar nominations morning. “Heaven Can Wait,” a charming retooling of the 1941 film “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” marked Beatty’s directorial debut (alongside Buck Henry) and he had acting, writing (alongside Elaine May) and producing duties to boot. Yet another critically acclaimed moneymaker, “Heaven Can Wait” scored nine Oscar nominations, including quadruple recognition for Beatty (thereby equalling the record set by Orson Welles for “Citizen Kane” in 1941). In a year dominated by two films on the Vietnam War (“Coming Home” and Best Picture winner “The Deer Hunter”), “Heaven Can Wait” only took home one award – Best Art Direction (for Paul Sylbert, Edwin O’Donovan and George Gaines).
For more than a decade, Beatty had wanted to make a movie about author and journalist John Reed (“Ten Days That Shook the World”). In 1981, he delivered “Reds,” an ambitious, big-budget epic chronicling key moments in Reed’s life. While not quite the box office success of his prior films, “Reds” earned Beatty some of the best critical notices of his career. The picture landing a hefty 12 nominations, including another quadruple showing for Beatty. On Oscar night, Beatty at last took the stage to accept an Academy Award, Best Director. “Reds” scored two other victories: Best Supporting Actress (Maureen Stapleton) and Best Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro). “Chariots of Fire” scored what was deemed a major upset for the Best Picture prize.
It was at this point that Beatty took nearly a decade-long hiatus from the director’s chair. He ultimately returned in a big way, in 1990, with his much-anticipated film adaptation of the classic “Dick Tracy” comic strip. The lavishly designed production marked a massive box office success for Beatty, topping $100 million domestically, and the picture fared splendidly at the Oscars too, scoring seven nominations, including one for Al Pacino in Best Supporting Actor. On awards night, “Dick Tracy” went home with three Oscars: Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert and Rick Simpson), Best Makeup (John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler) and Best Original Song (Stephen Sondheim‘s dazzling “Sooner or Later”).
The following year, Beatty headlined Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson‘s “Bugsy,” a sumptuously crafted film about the life of mobster Bugsy Siegel. It was then that Beatty met the love of his life, leading lady Annette Bening. Beatty secured two nominations on Oscar morning, for producing and acting in the picture. Of the film’s 10 Oscar nominations, “Bugsy” won two: Best Art Direction (Dennis Gassner and Nancy Haigh) and Best Costume Design (Albert Wolsky).
In the years since “Bugsy,” Beatty picked up another screenwriting nomination in 1998 for his uproariously funny political satire “Bulworth” (co-written by Jeremy Pikser) and the following year was named recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Beatty has also, of course, joined wife Bening at the Oscars when she contended.
This year, with Bening winning raves for her work in “20th Century Women” and Beatty back on the big screen (and in the director’s chair for the first time in nearly two decades), it seems exceedingly likely we’ll be seeing this couple grace the red carpet yet again on February 26.
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