Friday, January 28, 2011

The Class of 2010: Older and Wiser

One of my favorite parts of Oscar season is to take a look at the selection of all the acting nominees as a giant "class" of sorts--what is the makeup of the group? Who are the most popular? Who are the punks who cause trouble? Who just sneaked in?

The Class of 2010: Older, More Experienced, More Best Picture-y
This year, we have a suspiciously large amount of former nominees, if not a great number of former winners. Jennifer Lawrence, James Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Hailee Steinfeld, Jacki Weaver, John Hawkes and Mark Ruffalo are the only freshly-nominated in the group, compared to last year, when most were first-time nominees. Three of those seven (Weaver, Hawkes and Ruffalo) are older, while the other four are the youngsters of the group.

We also have several former winners here: Geoffrey Rush (a winner in 1996), Javier Bardem (a winner in 2007), Nicole Kidman (a winner in 2002), and Jeff Bridges (a winner last year). Along with Bridges, repeating nominees from last year are Jeremy Renner (going down to Supporting Actor from his Lead Actor placement last year) and Colin Firth, favored to win after he lost to Bridges last year. (Truly, his win should have come last year for his vastly superior performance in A Single Man.) For Renner, two nominations in two years for an actor who was previously unknown was tremendous--I think we're looking at one of the great character actors on the rise (he and Winona Ryder, probably).

Overall, the group is also very much older than the usual crop of nominees. The average age of all nominees this year is 41.05--interestingly enough, the oldest and youngest are both nominees from the Supporting Actress category: Weaver and Steinfeld, at 63 and 14 respectively. Take the two of them out, and the average age only rises about half a year.

The female nominees are, on average, 5.2 years younger than the male nominees. Lead Actress is the youngest category thanks to Portman, Lawrence and Blue Valentine star Michelle Williams. (If Steinfeld's category fraud had been corrected, displacing likely fifth-placer Williams, the average age would have dropped to 33!)

Lead Actor, notorious for being the category for grizzled older men, is actually rather young this year thanks to Eisenberg and Franco, registering at only .8 years older than Supporting Actress. (Again, if you took away Steinfeld in favor of likely sixth-placer Mila Kunis, you would raise the average age in Supporting Actress to 44--older than Actor and almost as old as Supporting Actor.)

The Supporting categories' nominees are, on average, 4.4 years older than those in Lead. But if you removed the assumed fifth-placers from both Supporting races (Hawkes and Weaver) to replace them with the "snubbed" candidates (Garfield and Kunis), the Supporting Actor race would drop 6.4 years, and the Supporting Actress race a jaw-dropping 7.2 years. Since the two nominees are so much older than their snubbed counterparts as to create an average 6.8-year drop in their categories, we can say that, this year at least, the conventional wisdom that the Academy vastly prefers younger actors is false.

Here's an interesting question: which nominees have worked with other nominees in previous projects? For example, Williams and Bale both appeared in the Todd Haynes-helmed I'm Not There, the movie best known for Cate Blanchett's gender-bending performance as a shade of Bob Dylan. Portman and Kidman worked together on Cold Mountain in 2003. Do you know if any other nominees have worked together? Do you love any films starring two of this year's nominees?

Finally, it's interesting how much this year's class also appeared in Best Picture nominees this year. Kidman, Williams, Bardem, Weaver and Renner are the only nominees in non-Best Picture hopefuls. Strangely enough, each of them also has the distinction of being the sole nominated aspect of their films. Obviously, this year, the Academy looked towards likely Best Picture nominees for its acting nominees, only going outside of those when there was an underdog film's performance making major noise.

What else interests you about this year's nominated actors? Do you see a through line that I don't? What interests you about the ages of this year's nominees? Take your thoughts to the comments!

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