While Best Actress Oscar winners are selected without much regard to screen time, it is a deciding factor in the Best Actor category. The most recent winner, Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), had an unusually high amount of screen time clocking in at one hour, 43 minutes, and 44 seconds. His is the fifth longest Best Actor-winning performance ever, and the third longest by percentage, with a total of over 85%.
Though the last five Best Actor-winning performances have had screen time totals of at least one hour and 22 minutes, most of their victories, including Phoenix’s, cannot be primarily attributed to screen time. Phoenix had the widest screen time margin over his competition in over 50 years, but that alone did not secure his win. Yes, he was seen as overdue for an acting award, and the quality of his acting in “Joker” was widely praised, But what may have helped him was his adherence to another recent trend.
Over the past several years, academy voters have shown clear favoritism toward leading male roles that are sole leading roles without a co-lead of either gender. Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”) did not fit that criterion and the sole lead statuses of both Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”) and DiCaprio was debatable.
This voting trend likely helped Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) win over Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”). It also boosted Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) over Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”). And it gave the edge to Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) over Denzel Washington (“Fences”) in a notoriously close race. Whether or not any of the losers’ co-stars were co-leads, each one’s case was argued, often extensively, and the eventual winners likely impressed many voters by appearing to carry their films alone.
Whereas screen time offers no guidance in determining Best Actress winners, there are informal rules regarding the Best Actor category. The likelihood of the shortest Best Actor nominee of the year being the winner dwindles annually; this has not happened since Forest Whitaker’s win for “The Last King of Scotland” in 2007. Whitaker’s performance, clocking in at 42 minutes and 34 seconds, was also one of the last to win in the category with less than one hour of screen time. The most recent was Jean Dujardin in “The Artist,” with a total of 58 minutes and 15 seconds. Voters are showing an increasing preference for longer, solidly leading male performances. Renee Zellweger’s win just might indicate a more gradual shift toward the same preference applying to female leads.
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