What do “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Joker,” “Judy,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Rocketman,” “Marriage Story,” “Pain and Glory” and “Bombshell” have in common? That is, beyond their makers wanting to hear their movie’s title when the Academy Awards are announced February 9?
The answer? They all reflect various aspects of the world of show business. This is not a new development. The first-ever winner of a Best Picture Oscar was the 1927 World War I action drama “Wings.” But the second was 1929’s “The Broadway Melody,” a soap-operatic backstage look at a theatrical revue in progress. Thus began the Academy Awards love affair with movies and performances that reflect the voter’s own preoccupation with the performing arts.
Other notable Best Picture winners whose themes spotlight the entertainment industry include 1936’s “The Great Ziegfeld,” 1950’s “All About Eve,” 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” 1977’s “Annie Hall,” 1984’s “Amadeus,” 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” 2002’s “Chicago,” 2011’s “The Artist,” 2012’s “Argo,” 2014’s “Birdman” and 2018’s “Green Book.”
However, given the uptick of showbiz biopics as well as musicals that have competed for Oscars in the past two decades , there has been a surge in actors winning for portraying an entertainer. They follow in the footsteps of Luise Rainer, who was the first actress to win a statuette for channeling a real-life stage performer — in this case, Anna Held — in “The Great Ziegfeld.” James Cagney was the first actor to take the trophy for such casting when he played song-and-dance man George M. Cohan in 1942’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
But since the dawn of the 21st century, the number of acting winners whose character either sang, danced or appeared on a stage, a TV screen or in front of a movie camera has risen. Among Best Actress winners, there have been Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in 2005’s “Walk the Line,” Marion Cotillard as singer Edith Piaf in 2007’s “La Vie en Rose,” Natalie Portman as a twisted ballerina in 2010’s “Black Swan” and Emma Stone as a budding film actress in 2016’s “La La Land.” As for lead actor winners, they include Adrien Brody as keyboardist Wladyslaw Szpilman rin 2002’s “The Pianist,” Jamie Foxx in as soul singer Ray Charles in 2004’s “Ray,” Jeff Bridges in as a country legend in 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” Jean Dujardin as a silent screen actor in 2011’s “The Artist” and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Among for the Best Supporting Actress winners since 2000, check off Catherine Zeta-Jones as a murderous chorine in 2002’s “Chicago,” Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in 2004’s “The Aviator” and Jennifer Hudson in 2006’s “Dreamgirls.” Among the winning supporting actors, there is J.K. Simmons in 2014’s “Whiplash” and Mahershala Ali in “Green Book.”
This looking-in-the mirror trend continues with the 2020 Oscar line-up of just-announced contenders. Among the lead actress candidates whose characters are involved in the entertainment industry, there are Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland in “Judy,” Scarlett Johansson as an actress in “Marriage Story” and Charlize Theron as Fox News personality Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell.”
Among the lead actor hopefuls, four of the contenders are performers of sorts: Joaquin Phoenix as a failed stand-up comic in “Joker,” Adam Driver as a theater director in “Marriage Story,” Leonardo DiCaprio as an aging TV Western star in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Antonio Banderas as an aging film director in “Pain and Glory.”
Among the pool of supporting actors, Brad Pitt, who plays a movie stuntman and body double in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” didn’t budge from the top of Gold Derby’s combined prediction odds since August. In “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Tom Hanks plays children’s TV host Fred Rogers.
Yes, it is stacking up to be quite a year for actors playing characters defined by their showbiz ambitions. Don’t be surprised if all four acting winners end up taking the prize for playing performers.
Be sure to make your Oscar predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before winners are announced on February 9. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.