Age is just a number and it’s a sign that we’re all getting very, very old because we might actually get our first male acting Oscar winner who was born in the 1990s this year.
No man who entered this world in the ’90s has won an Oscar in either acting category yet. There are three currently in the running, two in Best Actor — Austin Butler (“Elvis”), who was born in 1991, and Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”), who was born in 1996 — and one in Best Supporting Actor, Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), who was born in 1992. But it’s Butler who has the best shot to take home the gold as he’s locked in a three-man battle with Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) and Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) for the prize. Butler, who’s already bagged the Best Drama Actor Golden Globe for his turn as Elvis Presley, sits in second place in the odds in between 54-year-old Fraser and 46-year-old Farrell. “Living’s” Bill Nighy, 73, is in fourth, and lone nominee Mescal is in fifth. (Keoghan is in third in the supporting actor odds, trailing frontrunner Ke Huy Quan from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and his own co-star Brendan Gleeson.)
Butler and Mescal are only the second and third men born in the 1990s to earn Best Actor nominations. The first was Timothee Chalamet, who was 22 when he was shortlisted for 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name.” There have been five in Best Supporting Actor, including Keoghan. It should not shock you to hear that there have been more 1990s-born women — 12 — who’ve been nominated across both actress categories. Like in the industry itself, actresses tend to find Oscar success early in their careers, while men often snare their meatiest roles — and Oscar — around middle age. The 10 youngest Best Actress winners were all in their 20s — the youngest being then-21-year-old Marlee Matlin (1986’s “Children of a Lesser God”) — and the youngest Best Actor champ was Adrien Brody (2002’s “The Pianist”), who was three weeks shy of his 30th birthday when he pulled off that upset. (Timothy Hutton, of course, is the youngest male acting champ overall, winning Best Supporting Actor for 1980’s “Ordinary People” when he was 20.)
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While Chalamet was a full-grown adult when he cracked the glass ceiling for 1990s men with his Best Actor bid, the first ’90s kid to receive a nomination was a female under 18. “Whale Rider” (2004) Best Actress nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes was 13 and held the record as the category’s youngest nominee until 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis (2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) broke it (Wallis is the first and still the only person born in the 2000s to earn an acting bid). Abigail Breslin (10) and Saoirse Ronan (13) soon followed with Best Supporting Actress bids for “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) and “Atonement” (2007), respectively. Ronan is one of three ’90s ladies to have received multiple nominations — something no ’90s man has achieved yet. She and Jennifer Lawrence are four-time nominees, while Margot Robbie has two nominations under her belt. Lawrence was the first ’90s-born performer to win an Oscar, taking Best Actress for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) when she was 22, becoming the category’s second youngest champ. Last year, nearly a decade later, Ariana DeBose became the second when, at 31, she nabbed Best Supporting Actress honors for “West Side Story.”
Will Butler make it two in a row for ’90s kids and a first for ’90s men? While he has a lot of factors working in his favor — transformative role, playing an icon, headlining a popular eight-time and Best Picture nominee that made money — one of the arguments against him all season long has been that he’s too young and the Oscars don’t like young men. Except Butler is not even the youngest Best Actor nominee now, thanks to Mescal, who turned 27 on Feb. 2. Perhaps people think Butler, who’ll be 32 on Aug. 17, is younger than he is (not that 31 is old at all), but the 30s are not a barrier in Best Actor like the 20s are. The other nine people in the youngest Best Actor champs top 10 were younger than 35 when they triumphed, including Marlon Brando (30, 1954’s “On the Waterfront”), Nicolas Cage (32, 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”), Daniel Day-Lewis (32, 1989’s “My Left Foot”) and Eddie Redmayne (33, 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”). Butler would be the fifth youngest winner, knocking back Cage.
Even if Butler doesn’t pull it off next month, it’s just a matter of time before JLaw and DeBose have more company in the winners circle from men and women as ’90s babies enter their 30s and age into an Oscar sweet spot. And then we’ll wither into dust as we try to figure out who’ll be the first ’00s baby to win.
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