The trend of elderly actors finally winning can usually be seen in the supporting race, where Jack Palance ("City Slickers"), James Coburn ("Affliction"), Alan Arkin ("Little Miss Sunshine"), and Christopher Plummer ("Beginners") have succeeded, but every once in a while it happens in the lead race too. John Wayne triumphed on his third and final nomination for "True Grit" in 1969 and, after four unsuccessful bids, Jeff Bridges finally received his kudos for "Crazy Heart" in 2009.
But Oscar voters have two options in the Best Actor race this year. Redford is getting his best reviews in years as a sailor lost at sea in "All is Lost," and he also just won the Best Actor trophy from the New York Film Critics Circle. Dern's role as a small-town man in search of sweepstakes winnings in "Nebraska" has brought the character actor to the forefront.
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Redford has never won an acting Oscar, though it may be a bit of a stretch to call him overdue given his 1980 Oscar for directing "Ordinary People" and an honorary Oscar for his body of work more than a decade ago (2001). Maybe voters will want to see the legend honored for his work in front of the camera, but maybe they won't think he needs it.
Dern has no previous wins in any category, and just one nomination in his career – for his supporting role in "Coming Home" 35 years ago – so he may have greater claim to the mantle of overdue veteran.
Then again, Oscar isn't always sentimental about its elder statesmen. Just ask some of the men who never won competitive prizes, like poor Richard Burton (seven nominations), Albert Finney (five nominations), and Peter O'Toole (eight nominations).