Annette Bening: Playing real-life actress in ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ could be key to Oscar win

Annette Bening has lost her previous four Oscar bids but could be on track to finally take home the Academy Award for her work in Paul McGuigan‘s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” The secret to her success could be that she is portraying a real-life actress, Oscar-winner Gloria Grahame, in this heartbreaking drama adapted from Peter Turner‘s eponymous 1987 memoir. The film focuses on the relationship between young actor Turner (Jamie Bell) and Hollywood legend Grahame, former lovers reunited toward the end of Grahame’s unsuccessful battle with stomach cancer.

This Sony Pictures Classics release, due out Dec. 8, premiered at Telluride on Sept. 1 and the warm reception for Bening could well make her the 10th performer to reap an Oscar nomination for portraying a real-life actress. And, in a sign of synchronicity, her fifth bid might make her the fifth woman to win for such a role.

The first actress to score a nomination for portraying a real-life actress was Luise Rainer, who was Broadway legend Anna Held in director Robert Z. Leonard‘s Best Picture “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936). Despite limited screen time, Rainer’s heartbreaking performance won her the first of her two consecutive Best Actress Oscars (she prevailed again the next year for “The Good Earth.”)

More than a decade later, Susan Hayward garnered not one but two Oscar nominations for portraying real-life actresses. First, there was her turn as singer Jane Froman in  Walter Lang‘s “With a Song in My Heart” (1952). Another Best Actress bid followed for her portrayal of Broadway star Lillian Roth in Daniel Mann‘s “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” (1955). While Hayward won a Golden Globe for the Lang film and the Best Actress prize at Cannes for the Mann picture, she was not successful on Oscar night on either occasion. Shirley Booth (“Come Back, Little Sheba”) emerged triumphant in 1952, while Anna Magnani (“The Rose Tattoo”) achieved Oscar glory in 1956.

In 1968, Barbra Streisand catapulted onto on the Hollywood A-list with her Oscar-winning turn as stage, screen and radio star Fanny Brice in William Wyler’s “Funny Girl.” Streisand tied for the Best  Actress prize with Katharine Hepburn, scoring her third career Oscar for “The Lion in Winter.”

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The 1980s saw two women recognized for turns as real-life actresses. Elizabeth McGovern‘s portrayal of model turned Broadway star Evelyn Nesbit in Milos Forman‘s “Ragtime” (1981) scored her a Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Jessica Lange‘s riveting portrayal of the tragic silver screen star Frances Farmer in Graeme Clifford‘s “Frances” (1982) earned her a Best Actress bid. Neither performance would claim victory, as McGovern lost to Maureen Stapleton (“Reds”) and Lange fell short to Meryl Streep (“Sophie’s Choice”).

In 2004, Cate Blanchett scored her first Oscar, plus a BAFTA Award and Screen Actors Guild Award, for her scene-stealing portrayal of four-time Oscar-winner Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese‘s “The Aviator.” Three years later, Marion Cotillard took home the Best Actress Oscar, plus a BAFTA Award and Golden Globe, for her heartbreaking performanc of French chanteuse Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan‘s “La Vie en rose” (2007).

Most recently, Michelle Williams garnered her third Oscar nomination for her sensitive portrayal of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis‘ “My Week with Marilyn” (2011). Williams won a Golden Globe for her performance but fell short at the Oscars to Meryl Streep, picking up her third prize for “The Iron Lady.”

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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