Monday, December 20, 2010

Charting Oscar's Age Preferences.

Please Note: The Film Experience has moved to a brand new home.

As an addendum to last week's popular Tribeca Film article on the limited age range of Oscar's taste in Best Actresses and a footnote to the is this Hailee Steinfeld thing really happening (?) gripe,  I thought a few charts were in order to better illustrate the Academy's distinct age biases from category to category. Let's get this totally out of the way so that we can move on to fresher topics. It's like when a song is stuck in your head. The best way to remove it is to just sing it, right?

(These charts would be more interesting with 82 years of nominee statistics as well but I don't have a free month for that much research. That'd be well over 700 birthdays to look up.)

So let's take the male acting winners first, since they were only alluded to in the article.

There is no "most common" single age to win Best Actor but the years between 37 and 45 are especially rich.  46  is the most common age to win Supporting Actor though anytime in your 40s is your best bet.

In that chart you can see that honoring actors near the beginning of their career is anathema to them. They're completely happy to start passing out the gongs once actors have demonstrated their ability for several years and especially in the forty-something years, they are ready to honor the men. More men win during their forties than in any other decade of life (in both categories) and it's easier for senior citizen men to win than anyone under 30. (Adrien Brody is the only male actor to win for lead while in his 20s.)

It's an entirely different story with the women...

29 is the most common age to win Best Actress. It's most common to win Supporting Actress at either 33 or 45 years of age.

With actresses, as aforementioned, it's next to impossible to win the leading statue once you've exited your forties (for various reasons). On rare occassions they will honor a senior diva but no fifty-something ladies, please! (Shirley Booth is the only 50something woman to ever win in the lead category.) They're more forgiving of actresses of any age (yes even prepubescent) in the supporting category, though whether in leading or supporting, more women win during their 30s than in any other decade of life. But after 49 there's not much hope.

And here are the charts combined for comparisons sake.

Does any of it surprise you?

Or maybe this seem completely instinctual as to the kinds of roles and amount of media coverage actors get at the various stages of their career. Either way the gender disparity of Hollywood honors is obvious and disturbing; younger is always better for actresses, while middle age is best for actors though older is still golden.

What does all this mean for this year's Oscars? If you isolate the "age factor" for argument's sake -- one should never isolate any factor other than for argument's sake since all factors work together --  that means the following people are closest to the "right" age to win among the suspected contenders.

Something that you can't see on the charts (since the charts cover ten year spans) further accentuates this. Percentage of wins in all acting categories for people 35 and under:
  • female: 55%
  • male: 14%

Isn't that crazy?
Older is better for men is true even as old as death: Five male actors have been honored posthumously with nominations (2 of them won) and only one woman has been so honored (Jeanne Eagels nominated for The Letter from 1929).

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Robert Hamer said...

Collectively we're no better. As I said in an earlier thread, the vituperations against Annette Bening for providing even an ounce of competition to Natalie Portman for the Oscar, compared to the joyous reaction to Jeff Bridges' obvious "veteran career honor" last year is revealing to the sexism that infects moviegoers in general; not just AMPAS.

/3rtfu11 said...

1930 – Norma Shearer – Age 28
1940 – Ginger Rogers – Age 29
1950 – Judy Holiday – Age 29
1960 – Elizabeth Taylor – Age 29
1970 – Glenda Jackson – Age 37
1980 – Sissy Spacek – Age 31
1990 – Kathy Bates – Age 42
2000 – Julia Roberts – Age 33
2010 - ?

Paul Outlaw said...
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Paul Outlaw said...

Wow, Bale is (three years) younger than Renner...and Wahlberg...

Paul Outlaw said...
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Runs Like A Gay said...

Rather than being a diagnosis is this perceived ageism/misogyny mix from the Academy is purely a symptom of the overriding casting issues in Hollywood.

There are fewer men fighting for more parts and as a result their careers often last longer than women, who are traditionally cast against men older than themselves. Women also find that once they hit a certain age the roles dry up. (More female actresses fighting for fewer roles)

The knock on effect is bound to be women awarded at younger ages than their male counterparts. I suspect the graphs for nominations would show a similar pattern, as too would the graph of all performances. (If anyone should want to plot the ages of the actors in all of the eligible movies in consideration).

Julia said...

@Runs Like A Gay I couldn't have put it better myself.

On a lighter, and superfluous, note, I was wondering from where is the picture with HBC and Colin Firth. I love it.

Clover said...

Good analysis, I have nothing to add here, just that Amy Adams and especially Jeremy Renner look a lot younger than they actually are.


@runs like a gay
-- obviously casting has something to do with it but saying that that's all it is is excusing the Academy and media from their own biases.

like @robert says, the mood and the feelings about stars of both genders is very telling.

as is the fact that despite plentiful GREAT performances by male actors in their 20s, only one of them has ever won. (and then one could argue he only won because his two veteran competitors had already won and one of them was actually promoting him for the win.) they have not "paid their dues" so why is it that the women are never expected to?

Male movie stars across the decades like Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, ... whatever... they DO NOT WIN WHEN THEY'RE YOUNG. And you know with the careers they had that if they had vaginas they would have.


Obviously Natalie Portman is not a great example of this age bias thouhg, because, though she's technically young, she IS a veteran who has paid her dues.

which is kind of a unique situation.

@Julia unfortunately i can't recall. but aren't they adorb?

Gary C. said...

I said this before, but what about the people that weren't all that pleased with Jeff Bridges's win last year, and are nonplussed about Annette Bening this year? My money was always on Colin Firth then, but I knew it wasn't the kind of performance that was going to inspire mad devotion with people, and it was his first nod versus Bridges's fifth. But in the Annette/Natalie situation, I don't think that Bening is notable enough to deserve that "career" Oscar for "The Kids Are All Right," not with Portman in the picture. I don't think that's ageist or sexist on my part. I'll fully root for Bening in a year when I think she deserves to be rooted for to win.

Ryan T. said...

I'm with Gary C. Didn't really cheer for Jeff Bridges and I'm not banging the gong for Annette Bening either. This year, it just happened to worked out that the better (again all IMO) actress is younger i.e. Natalie Portman. Heck, possibly even Michelle Williams as well.

Last year, I was anti-Bullock and pro-Streep. Many people were. Then again Streep (like Portman) are kind of not the best examples, no?

BTW that adorable picture of Firth/HBC is from the BFI London Film Festival.


Gary & Ryan -- the reason i point this out is not really because of the Bening vs. Portman thing (though that started it) but because it's a very obvious pattern.

it's fine for people to say "well in this year it just works out that..." and sometimes that's totally the case.

but isn't it TOO OFTEN the case to be coincidence?

I mean Jodie Foster over Glenn Close in 1988? i think not. There are a ton of example of the youngest girl winning when the older actresses were better.

/3rtfu11 said...

I mean Jodie Foster over Glenn Close in 1988? i think not. There are a ton of example of the youngest girl winning when the older actresses were better.

Politics – Sigourney Weaver losing to the deaf girl, all the women in (’88) losing to the rape victim – if the Academy can have a conscious angle they’ll take it – especially with actresses.

Cluster Funk said...

Were that AMPAS not so myopic in many Oscar contests. (The '88 actress prizes still burn. Foster over Close? Davis over Weaver?!)

I realize it's difficult to gauge future performance-based awardage opps., but Foster was as sure to return to the Oscar line-up as any. Why deny Close who should've won the *previous* year, too?

I have the same beef with AMPAS in '03 (Bill Murray > Sean Penn).

Anonymous said...

I hate how we've become stuck in this never-ending chain of apology Oscars and awards for "Most Likely to Give You a Boner." It's actually surprising how right they've gotten Supp. Actress these past few years (oddly enough, you could make an argument for the last 3 Supp. Actors being co-leads).

I wonder what the very first domino was, the year that started it all. There must be a special place in Hell for that group of voters.


Cluster -- the "they'll have other chances" thing has killed many an oscar dream, yes. Careers almost never play out the way anyone expects them too. which is why it's important to reward people when they're deserving and not wait.

(which is as true for the men as it is for the women but they always make the men wait and -- generally speaking* -- those careers are long enough for them to win with later in life. DiCaprio for example... i don't think he's in danger of going his whole life without a win. But he might have to wait until his 50s or 60s.

if they make the women wait, they just don't win. Geraldine Page being just about the only exception (Tandy had never been nominated before, Hepburn had already won)

*in the 80s it was a common perception that Tom Cruise would eventually win one but he's the exception to the rule. I don't think anyone expects him to win now. But he's an exception for crazy-person reasons... not the general rule. I think Brad Pitt and Leo will both win when they're old for sure.

Paul Outlaw said...

Best Actress 1954 (age on Oscar night):
Grace Kelly (24) - The Country Girl
Dorothy Dandridge (31) - Carmen Jones
Judy Garland (31) - A Star Is Born
Audrey Hepburn (24) - Sabrina
Jane Wyman (37) - Magnificent Obsession

Even though Kelly (deglammed it-girl) and Garland (beloved veteran comeback) were the frontrunners, I'll bet Hepburn would have won if Kelly hadn't.

Aaron said...

Ok, it's obvious that the Academy is ageist/sexist in regards to the Best Actress award...but I don't really think it's particularly relevant for this season (in my complete subjective opinion)...yes, Natalie is HOT and SEXY and YOUNG and a bonafide MOVIE STAR, but she also has given the best performance by an actress this year...I love Annette but her performance pales in comparison to her (the whole movie in general just didn't click for me, in my opinion).

There have been recent travesties in the best actress category where the older actress was blatantly rob....Halle Berry's win over Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom still stings to this day (that decision was racially motivated too, in my opinion). Hilary Swank's win in '04 (over Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake), and Marion Cotillard over Julie Christie (although I for one believe that Cotillard deserved that hands down...others strongly disagree)...when Natalie wins over Annette this year, however, she will be completely deserving...

JayJ said...

Can someone please tell me how Natalie Portman has "paid her dues"? In fact how does anyone pay their dues? Does simply making films mean one has paid their dues? Does being a previous nominee mean one has paid their dues?

/3rtfu11 said...

Halle Berry's win over Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom still stings to this day (that decision was racially motivated too, in my opinion).

It was racially motivated. They had an opportunity to make history and they did. All Oscars are political so it doesn’t matter if it’s conservative Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain or liberal giving Halle Berry the Best Actress prize.

Anonymous said...

@JayJ -- I suppose it all comes down to A) how long you've been in the business & B) whether or not you've been nominated before. Clearly, both of this year's front-runners fit the bill.

Keep in mind, however, that "paying your dues" and being "overdue" are entirely different things: namely, one puts you in the running while the other pushes you to the top.

Je said...

Halle Berry earned her Oscar fair and square. It was fully earned.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but that performance just wasn't good. I could tell she was acting. In fact, that's probably Berry's biggest flaw. Have you seen those Frankie & Alice clips?

I'll give her points for trying but that's it.


badmofo -- exactly (on paying your dues) and where that comes on is time put in and (to a lesser extent) doing some important films or giving some important performance.

overdue is all of the important stuff adding up but people especially start saying it if the person has ever been the perceived runner up to a prize. which some would argue that Annette Bening has been every time she's been nominated.

in truth i do not have a clear favorite with the Bening vs. Portman thing this year. I'm only discussing this age topic because it interests me in the overall patterns.

BUT it really puzzles me when some people say Annette Bening is not overdue. I mean... have people not seen her films? This is a major actress.

1989 -VALMONT -fascinating take on character that just nearly won the oscar the year before ;)
1990 - POSTCARDS... - stole an entire scene right out from under Meryl Streep
1990 -THE GRIFTERS (awesomeness, both film and performances)
1991 - BUGSY (one assumes she was near the best actress list and it was a tremendously confident old school hollywood glamour drama performance)
1995 -AMERICAN PRESIDENT (some awards recognition, proved she could do a lot more than "bitchy" and very popular film)
1999 - AMERICAN BEAUTY (nuff said)
2004 -BEING JULIA (another example of her primo way with old hollywood styled "star" performances.)
2006 - RUNNING WITH SCISSORS - great performance buried in incredibly messy film.
2010 - a double accaimed thing this year.

the only argument against her NOT being overdue is that she doesn't make a lot of movies But M-A-N-Y Oscars have been won for careers far lesser than this one.

Trey said...

Well I'm "sorry" too. I thought that Halle Berry was excellent in "Monster's Ball," and saying that she only won b/c she's black is very offensive and narrow-minded. Gosh, maybe voters just liked her the best. Terrifying thought, I know, but it happens sometimes. NBR and SAG agreed with that assessment as well. I think Berry's win was very earned too.

Anonymous said...

If that's all the case with her overall career of dueness, then give Bening a honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. If it's only for the performance cited in "The Kids Are All Right" (like it should be), then I have no problems passing her over for Natalie Portman.

Sara said...

I'm just not comfortable with the makeup Oscar, or the "let's give her one because she's always been good" thing because that cuts both ways, you know? Yeah, you think Annette is owed because she's always worked hard and been great and did the popular thing one year but didn't you report on this site that you overheard some Academy voter basically say those exact same reasons were why he was voting for Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side?

Oh well. I'm still hoping for a Bening win over Portman even though Portman did it better. That way the Bening fans will Shut Up already and Bening can take all of the completely made-up Best Actress slump slack freeing up Portman to keep moseying on with her career. History will always say this was Portman's year, she'll officially join the Is Owed group, and crap will continue on as in previous decades.

But I'm also hoping this plays out like in '04: Oscar to older actress who is owed, Globe to Portman.


sara & anon -- i agree that Oscar should be about the performance in the year it's given.

but i do not agree that it always just coincidentally -ohlookatthat- happens to be the younger actress that's giving the best performance in any given year (which the academy keeps claiming. Hence the ageist claim.;)

i ABSOLUTELY agree that the way to deal with fantastic careers which just never happened to yield an Oscar is an honorary prizes. But those aren't easy to get. No women were deemed worthy of one this year. 4 men were though.

Sara said...

Oh I'm not disagreeing on the ageism thing. I haven't, and won't, touch on the age situation because I have no opinion other than: fucked up.

I do, however, like how into the Best Actress lineup everyone is; it's been nice to see people so supportive of actresses these past few years. I feel like there's more genuine support right now than in 2000-2004.

Thomas said...

The fact that only one actress has won lead in their 50s is very depressing.. It's not looking good for my poor Julianne entering this decade of her life! If she wins anywhere I'm guessing it'll probably be supporting (likely for a lead role demoted - ala the Hours). Sadface.

Anonymous said...

At this point I'd just be happy to see Julianne win.