Friday, January 20, 2006

Heath Ledger is a Baby

Heath Ledger is 26 years old. Younger than me and some of you reading. Older than other awards watchers. But in terms of Oscar? That, my friends, is a newborn. He's barely out of the womb.

I was already aware that were Heath to pull off the miraculous feat of winning this March (provided he receives his expected nomination on January 31st) he would become the youngest competitive Oscar winner in the lead category for men. The current record holder is Adrien Brody for The Pianist. Mr. Brody won the Oscar just a few weeks before turning 30. Richard Dreyfuss of The Goodbye Girl was the previous record holder who had turned 30 a few months prior to his nomination. What I wasn't aware of was how far back you would have to go to even find a nominee as young or younger than Heath Ledger. Oh, sure I knew about the anomaly: Jackie Cooper had a Best Actor nomination for Skippy in 1931 when he was all of nine. But apart from that fluke, how young is too young for Oscar?

Turns out that 26 year-olds just don't compete for Best Actor prizes. 27 years old? They'll let that slide. Tom Cruise (Born on the 4th of July) and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) were both 27 when they received their first Oscar nominations. To find someone of comparable age or younger you have to travel back in time to 1977. John Travolta was 23 when nominated for Saturday Night Fever and 24 by the time of the ceremony in '78. Prior to that we travel back to 1963 when Tom Jones himself Albert Finney was in the running at, you guessed it, 27 years of age. Guess who else? Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951) the same screen legend that Heath's performance in Brokeback Mountain has drawn comparisons to, also 27.

So, did I ever find someone younger than Heath [besides John Travolta's disco dancer in 1977 -thanks to an anonymous reader who pointed that one out]? Yes. But you have to go back 50 years to do so. All the way back to that legendary rebel without a cause in 1955.

James Dean was 24 years old when East of Eden was released in 1955. He died tragically that same year before the release of his other iconic screen performances in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. He was nominated twice posthumously for the Best Actor trophy first for East of Eden and then, again, the following year for Giant. Prior to Dean there are but three other exceptionally youthful nominated leads. Aside from the already mentioned Jackie Cooper, there's Mickey Rooney (Babes in Arms & The Human Comedy) twice nominated. Once at 19 and a second time at 23. Finally there is the famous case of Orson Welles who was Heath Ledger's age right now when he received four nominations, including Best Actor, for the legendaryCitizen Kane.

Brando, Finney, Welles, Cruise, Rooney --A mighty good company of men for Heath Ledger, our "Ennis Del Mar", to be in no matter how it all turns out on Oscar night in March of 2006. Don't you think?


adam k. said...

I actually just did a post on this very topic the other day over at my blog (were you spying!? or was it just a Garden State/Elizabethtown or Ray/Walk the Line situation where both teams began independently, but one beat the other to the punch?). But it turns out I was lazy in my research. Your post is like my post's more accurate, more comprehensive sequel, with pictures (actually, I guess then this would be like Ray/Walk the Line, you being WtL... I am ashamed).

I only went back as far as Dean. I figured there couldn't have been anyone else. Dean deserved that honor, and I also thought nothing before 1955 should count anyway, it was a totally different playing field, less competition. So I my handling of it was very shoddy, but I do hereby stake my claim on the topic, since I tackled it first! (even though you did it much better ; ))

Though I did make a very dirty joke about Heath being "sandwiched between 25-year-old Dean and 27-year-old Brando" of which I'm particularly proud.

Also, I would like to petition to have James Dean voted in as "sexiest man alive" despite his no longer being alive. He's THAT sexy. He is unbeatable.

Also, how sweet would it be if somehow Heath DID become the youngest winner? Because Ennis Del Mar is such a perfect role for that honor... being that it's such an iconic portrait of men on the whole... what they are and should and shouldn't be.


adam, i didn't spy on your blog. but great minds do think alike ;)

i'm so happy for Heath. And after doing this research I want him to be win more than I did before (if that's possible) though of course I am not at all expecting him to at this point.

John T said...

Interesting article-I certainly am hoping and praying that Heath pulls it off instead of the hammy Hoffman.

And, is it just me, or would it have been interesting to see Brando and Dean in their 1950's prime as the two leads in Brokeback Mountain (I can't decide which would be which, but it certainly would have been interesting). Not that the film could have been improved, but it certainly would have been intriguing.

Anonymous said...

You forgot John Travolta for Saturday night fever, who according to Academy sources was 24 years old when nominated.

Anonymous said...

I keep hoping that AMPAS will say Enough, already wtr to Hoffman, and decide to acknowledge Ledger with the Oscar for a performance that's going to go down in movie history as a classic. It's been a month since I saw Brokeback Mountain, and although Jake's performance is great and impacted me more at the moment, it's the images of Ennis in that final scene with his daughter that have hardwired themselves into my brain.

I can't wait to see that Ledger does with his career from here on out. I hope that BBM wasn't just a fluke, and that we'll get some more amazing performances out of him before his time is through.

Anonymous said...

So what you're saying is Heath Ledger will lose.
Well, rightfully so. He was excellent, but not the best of the year.


anonymous. thanks on the travolta tip. Can't believe I missed that. The post has been altered to include him.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you comb the Academy Awards archives, Jackie Cooper was the youngest nominee for Best Actor-it was in 1931, and he was nominated for 'Skippy' at the tender age of 9. There wasn't even a supporting category...quite a strange nomination, but definitely interesting. Look it up if you don't believe me. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just read the article more carefully...glad you were aware. Anyway...

Anonymous said...

I really hope he wins, though I haven't been able to see Capote in the UK yet, so I'm unaware how good Hoffman is as the spoiler.

All I've seen of Capote so far is the trailer, and that just made me want to do comedy impressions of the Hoffman impersonation. Clearly I need to see it in the context of the whole movie, but until then all I can think of is that gem which I'll paraphrase (from Pauline Kael, I think?), "Every year someone gives a performance just bad enough to win an Academy Award".

Or was it "be nominated for"? I forget. But I really was shocked by how much the trailer made me open my mouth in unanticipated horror.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I should make clear that I hope he wins IF Viggo doesn't get nominated. If Viggo is in, THAT'S my winner.


adam k. said...

Didn't spy on my blog Nathaniel? Well, by all means do! It is a fledgling and needs help.

I can't believe I didn't think of John Travolta either. That kind of kills the whole James Dean thing. And John Travolta as the youngest lead actor nominee in modern academy history just seems... wrong.

And I too remember seeing the Capote trailer and cringing. I guess it was just a bad trailer, a la The Others.

I am still pissed about Heath losing the globe. I really really thought he had it. It would just be nice for him to win some major statue somewhere for this. I guess there's still a chance that he could pull a Halle Berry and defy all logic to win the SAG out of nowhere after the presumed frontrunner just ran out of steam, and then take the oscar. A combo of Hoffman fatigue and Brokeback momentum continuing to snowball into a steamroller could possibly do it for Heath. Actually, this is sort of a lot like that... Sissy was in a very Hoffmanesque position going into SAG. I totally thought she'd win, and then, BOOM! Halle went up on stage and started bawling. So there would be some precedent for Hoffman losing. But the globe was really Heath's ticket. And SAG likes Hoffman. So... yeah... whatever.

Joe R. said...

Sissy Spacek had already won her Oscar. That's a big difference.

adam k. said...

Oh... crap. You're right.

And now that I think of it, she also wasn't playing a real person.

Well, I tried.

The only cards Ledger has left to play are:
-lead in best pic winner
-truly great, iconic performance
-win would make history (could be a big plus)

You'd think that'd be enough. But... no. And the real kick in the head is that SAG really likes Hoffman... several ensemble nominations and one previous out-of-nowhere individual nod. His losing here of all places would be a shock, UNLESS the old populist bent works against Capote for wins. But... no. I give up. Hoffman's winning.

Glenn Dunks said...

*sigh* ...James Dean...

Go Heath!

Anonymous said...

Montgomery Clift was 27 when The Search was released too! Crazy.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's the Kevin Spacey-Denzel Washington scenario from 1999. Washington was the Globe winner and the frontrunner for most of the campaign, only to be overtaken by Spacey when the latter won the SAG (no doubt helped by American Beauty's frontrunner status in the Pic category).

I think Ledger's still got a shot, although it's going to be tough. Even if he loses the SAG, if Capote fails to get a Best Pic nom, Ledger could still ride the Brokeback momentum to the Best Actor Oscar.

Ironically, a loss for Ledger will probably boost his girlfriend's chances of winning. The Academy will likely give Brokeback at least one acting win, and Williams is a frontrunner for Supporting Actress (I just saw the film again tonight--her performance is truly Oscar worthy).

Anonymous said...

I think Weisz is getting supporting actress now. Williams and Weisz are both terrific, but Weisz has the bigger, meatier role, and I think they'd like to acknowledge Constant Gardener with a big award. And it ain't going to win any others, is it?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps, but I just can't see the Academy leaving BBM completely out in the cold in the acting categories. Remember The English Patient--they found a way to give it an acting award even though no one was predicting it (Juliet Binoche over Lauren Bacall in one of the biggest Oscar upsets ever). Plus, Williams is American--one advantage she has over Weisz.

There *are* people predicting a surprise win for Jake Gyllenhaal in Supporting Actor, which would be great--Jake's been overshadowed by all the attention Heath's been getting, so it would be nice to see him to get some recognition.

adam k. said...

I don't really think it'll win any acting categories. It wouldn't be that big a slap, really, if it wins 5 or 6 other trophies. But I could see several scenarios where it could win one. The most likely is that Williams will win. Unless Weisz takes the SAG, this category is totally up in the air, and even if she does, Williams winning would not be a shock. Also, Jake might be a bigger force than we think in supporting actor if he's nominated. He wasn't nommed at the globes, so who knows, he may well win the SAG award and then it's a totally different race for him. The least likely scenario is if Heath upsets Hoffman (though the 1999 thing could happen theoretically I guess). I could even see maybe both Jake and Michelle winning together without Heath maybe. But I can't see Heath and Michelle without Jake, I guess cause Jake's role is so huge, it would be weird to leave him out.

I dunno, really any combo could still happen depending on just how much of a steamroller BBM turns out to be, but I still think the most likely thing is no acting wins (especially since they're all so young... their noms could be seen as their reward). Probably pic, director, screenplay, score, and maybe editing/cinematography.

Anonymous said...

It would be a shame if Brokeback didn't win any acting Oscars. It's much more of an actors' film than, say, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King or Schindler's List (both Best Pic winners w/out acting wins).

Glenn Dunks said...

Ya I reckon it's gonna win at least one acting award - and all signs are pointing to Williams. She has all the trademarks. Supportive wife, tv-star turned movie actress, big dramatic yelling scene, true definitive "supporting" role, got with the leading man AND had his baby.

I can totally see Heath Ledger winning as well, because it'd be "rewarding gay" but he's got a gf and a baby so he's seen as definitely straight.

I have a feeling that Jake could miss out on a nomination altogether. But I think that category is up in the air right now with Clooney having the advantage. Clooney really did suffer for his art. But will AMPAS want to reward Clooney for his only non-GN&GL nomination?

Anonymous said...

Hay que recordar tambien que en otro caso sucedido hace 6 años, solo que en l caso de las mujeres. Annette Bening era la gran favorita para llevarse el Oscar por "American beauty", y que al igual que Hoffman se habia llevado considerables premios. Sin embargo, pisandole los talones estaba la actriz de filmes mediocres de 25 años, Hilary Swank, cuya interpretacion de un personaje gay en "Boys don't cry" le hizo llevarse el Oscar. Ahora en el mismo caso, solo que en hombres se puede dar lo mismo entre Ledger y Hoffman.
Curiosamente Ledger y Swank tienen como puntos de referencia haber estado en filmes mediocres y sin importancia radical, mas sin embargo sobresalieron con 2 esplendidas interpretaciones de personajes gays; en el caso de Swank fue Teena Brandon y en el de Ledger fue Ennis Del Mar; y ambos lograron competir con 2 a priori ganadores del Oscar. Swank vencio a Benning y Ledger podra vencer a Hoffman

Anonymous said...

Otro punto a favor para que Ledger pueda llevarse a casa el Oscar es que este año no hay mucha competencia, ya que con la excepción de Hoffman, ninguno de los otros ha obtenido premios de la critica. Phoenix solo consiguio un globo de oro, a diferencia de su antecesor Jamie Foxx o su co-estrella Whiterspoon; Strathairn llamo la atención en Venecia pero no ha logrado conseguir el mismo impetu en Estados Unidos, Mortensen es magnifico en "A history of violence", sin embargo además de que sus compañeros han llamado mas la atención, Mortensen solo recibiría la nominacion por haber trabajado el la trilogía del Señor de los Anillos. Fiennes y Crowe se encuentran en el mismo dilema, son actores anteriormente nominados, y su nominacion solo sera para llenar el hueco, aunque no significa que sus actuaciones sean buenas (Personalmente me encantó más Fiennes) y Bana, quien a pesar de su estoica actuación en "Munich" no ha llamado la atención y esta siendo olvidado.
Por ultimo, Howard, quien como Keisha o Catalina ha recibido premios "debut", su actuación no cuadraría dentro de lo establecido por la academia y lo peor es que tambien sera descartado como Keira Knightley.
Sin duda la pelea sera encarnizada entre Ledger y Hoffman, aunque tomando en cuenta otros factores como protagonismo e influencia, Ledger arrebatara el Oscar

Sarita Dutta said...

Post SAG View:

I really do not think Brokeback will win any Acting Awards:

1)With both Her SAG and Globe, Weisz almost has the Supp Actress Oscar in her bag. And with a role that is bigger, better and more Oscar type, its nearly impossible for Williams to oust her. Also, she completely deserves the Oscar!

2)Heath Ledger CANNOT outweigh Huffman, next to impossible.

3)With Clooney and Giamatti as frontrunners for Supp Actor, a win for Jake is so unlikely. But if Clooney wins for screenplay and the AMPAS decide to snub Giamatti.......... But that doesnt sound too likely either.

So Ang Lee is sure to get his Oscar, Brokeback will probably get a Best Picture too, but an acting win???......... I doubt!