Why Bruce Dern (‘Nebraska’) can win Best Actor Oscar

Even after losing to Oscar rivals Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) at the Golden Globes and to Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“) at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Bruce Dern is still in the hunt for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “Nebraska.”

 He can win if Oscar voters see this as their chance to give him a veteran achievement award.

The 77-year-old has been acting for over fifty years. In his storied career, he has contended at the  Oscars just once, losing his 1978 Supporting Actor bid for “Coming Home” to Christopher Walken who featured in the Best Picture winner “The Deer Hunter.”

This year,  Dern has been all over the circuit, working press rooms, shaking hands and kissing babies. That he has worked with so many academy members over the years only adds to the amount of goodwill people have towards him.

While we usually think of Supporting Actor as the category in which the academy honors veteran performers, the Best Actor field has been known to give old-timers their due.

Back in 1969, John Wayne won the Best Actor prize for his performance as Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit.” He bested both Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman from the Best Picture champ “Midnight Cowboy,” Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days,” and Peter O’Toole for “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” While Voight went on to win an Oscar for “Coming Home” and Hoffman picked up two (“Kramer vs, Kramer,” 1979; “Rain Man,” 1988), Burton and O’Toole never won, despite seven and eight bids respectively. 

In 1974, five-time Emmy champ Art Carney (“The Honeymooners”) pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history by winning Best Actor for “Harry and Tonto.” The TV vet defeated frontrunners  Al Pacino in Best Picture winner “The Godfather: Part II” and Jack Nicholson for “Chinatown” as well as Dustin Hoffman in “Lenny” and Albert Finney for “Murder on the Orient Express.” Pacino would have to wait till bid number seven to win for “Scent of a Woman” in 1992 while Nicholson prevailed the following year for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He has since added two more to his crowded mantle — Supporting Actor in 1983 for “Terms of Endearment” and another Best Actor prize in 1997 for “As Good As It Gets.” 

In 1981, Henry Fonda won Best Actor for his final film performance in “On Golden Pond.” Like Dern, he had been acting for more than half a century but reaped just one previous bid: “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1940. Despite having received an honorary Oscar the year before, he prevailed over Warren Beatty for “Reds,” Burt Lancaster in “Atlantic City,” Dudley Moore in “Arthur,” and Paul Newman for “Absence of Malice.” Fonda passed away five months later. 

In 1986, it was Paul Newman who benefited from his veteran status. As with Fonda, he had been feted with an honorary Oscar the year before but he stil won for his performance in “The Color of Money.” Bob Hoskins had swept the critics prizes and won the Golden Globe for his performance in “Mona Lisa” but it was Newman who had the last laugh after six losses spanning 28 years. He also beat Dexter Gordon for “Round Midnight,” William Hurt for “Children of a Lesser God,” and James Woods for “Salvador.” Hurt had won in 1985 for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” 

In 2009, Jeff Bridges finally won an Oscar on his fifth try with “Crazy Heart,” a last-minute entry into the race. He won over Jeremy Renner in the Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” George Clooney for “Up in the Air,” Morgan Freeman for “Invictus,” and Colin Firth for “A Single Man.” Clooney and Freeman already had Supporting Actor Oscars for “Syriana” (2005) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) respectivley while Firth would win the following year for “The King’s Speech.” 

Of course, being the veteran in the race does not always mean victory. In 2006, Peter O’Toole reaped his eighth bid for “Venus.” However, he could not overcome the onslaught of awards for Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” who capped off Globe and SAG victories with an Oscar win. However, unlike Dern, O’Toole did very little campaigning. 

Will that make the difference for Dern? Who do you think is going to win Best Actor? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Come back and change your predictions as often as you like till Oscar night, March 2. 

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