Oscar Bridesmaids: Who is Due?

Oscar Bridesmaid Thelma Ritter made losing something to celebrate
“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Some Oscar nominees are like Lady Edith when it comes to weddings: they walk down the aisle, but they never get to say, “I do.” Even worse, though, is when they actually make it to the altar, but are jilted at the final moment. (Edith again.) Some nominees take it in stride as the Lady Marys of the award circuit add oodles of hardware to their trophy case.

Thelma Ritter, for example, offers a kindred spirit for Lady Edith. A perennial Oscar loser despite being widely admired by industry peers and fans, Ritter literally made a bash out of her poor track record and threw a “Come Over and Watch Me Lose” party to celebrate her fifth Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1959’s Pillow Talk. Ritter capped off the decade in style, as she began the 1950s with four consecutive losses, for All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), and Pickup on South Street (1953). Strangely enough, Oscar gave her the cold shoulder the next year for Rear Window (pictured), which ranks among the most popular Ritter films/performances today. Ritter proved herself a true awards guru in 1959, as she lost again. It seemed like Ritter might finally get her due when she was nominated for 1962’s The Birdman of Alcatraz, but naturally, she lost.

Other Oscar hopefuls prove more successful than Ritter in turning fate around. Take Shelley Winters, who beat Thelma Ritter in the year of that fateful party. Winters reportedly sobbed “I’ve waited fifteen years for this,” before offering her acceptance speech for The Diary of Anne Frank. Winters had been nominated once before for A Place in the Sun, although the award rightfully went to Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire.

No matter what one thinks of the merit of Winters’ effort, which remains a popular performance, her win and her winning remark reveal symptoms of the familiar “deferred-Oscar syndrome” that breaks out during award season. The diagnosis is quite subjective, but the syndrome typically falls on a contender that has been passed over before, often repeatedly, and reminders of previous losses help build support for his or her current work. The King of Oscar Losers is sound mixer Kevin O’Connell, who boast a whopping twenty nominations and zero wins. That’s even worse than Susan Lucci’s notorious track record at the Emmys, since she finally won Best Actress for All My Children on her nineteenth nomination in the category. O’Connell isn’t nominated this year, so he gets to hold the title for at least one more year.

The best example of a contender finally getting his due is Martin Scorsese’s well-deserved Best Director win for 2006’s The Departed. Having failed to ever win an Oscar even though he made some of the most influential films of all time (see: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas), Scorsese rode high on reminders that he was long overdue. Support for Scorsese was arguably built on two additional recent losses, for Gangs of New York (2002) and The Aviator (2004). Scorsese even referenced the legacy of his lack of recognition from the Academy when he acknowledged all the people he met throughout his career who asked, “When are you finally going to win an Oscar?”

A combination of momentum and merit brought another long overdue contender to the podium last year. It brought her back to the podium, actually, since fans of Meryl Streep had been waiting years to see her win again, which she did for The Iron Lady. The Streep Army came out in full force last year since it had been nearly three decades since the cinema’s best actress had received a corresponding plaudit from Oscar. The Weinstein Company even built Streep’s serial losing into their Best Actress campaign by citing an impassioned review from Yahoo’s Thelma Adams in one of their TV spots (see below). Like the win for Scorsese, Streep deserved the award regardless of her track record. The desire to see her win, however, gave her an added boost over a field of strong contenders.

Streep might have three Oscars to her name, but she racked up a dozen losses between The Iron Lady and Sophie’s Choice. Like Streep, or perhaps even Thelma Ritter, some of this year’s nominees have clapped for others long enough. There seems to be a disproportionate number of Oscar winners and Oscar losers competing in Oscars 2013. Best Supporting Actor, for example, boasts a record of five previous winners, so it almost seems cruel that frequent snubee Leonardo DiCaprio was passed over once again. The snubs will hopefully add some extra love to next year’s campaigns for DiCaprio’s work in The Great Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street.

DiCaprio might not have made the cut this year, but plenty of Oscar bridesmaids did. Here’s a look at some of this year’s hopefuls who might finally get their due:

Kathleen Kennedy (back row, centre) with the Lincoln team.
Kathleen Kennedy – 8th nomination (Nominee for Best Picture, Lincoln)
The biggest hurdle for Lincoln to overcome on Oscar night might not be the widespread love for Argo, but the ample love that Team Lincoln has already received. Prior to the nominations for this year’s awards, the nominees for Team Lincoln had a collective total of 130 nominations and 29 competitive wins. That’s an impressive number. Contributing seven of those nominations is producer Kathleen Kennedy, although she is one of the few Lincoln nominees without an Oscar on her mantel. Lincoln marks her eighth nomination, and many folks in the industry have noted that she is overdue. It might be hard for some voters to throw another Oscar to, say, John Williams (even though he was by all regards robbed for his work in 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha) since he has 5 trophies and a booming 48 nominations. Kennedy, however, has been nominated for producing some of Spielberg’s best films, such as E.T. and The Color Purple, which are also some of the best films ever made. Will such a legacy give her an edge over the freshness of Ben Affleck?

Roger Deakins (right) on the set of Skyfall with director Sam Mendes
Roger Deakins – 10th nomination (Nominee for Best Cinematography, Skyfall)
Perhaps the most surprising Oscar Bridesmaid is DP Roger Deakins. Deakins has amassed ten nominations during his career, and he enjoys a popularity and profile among film buffs that is usually reserved for directors. He’s an auteur, really, since his compositions and camerawork have a unique recognisability for how masterfully that play with light and shadow. Deakins probably came closest to winning for 2007 when he was nominated for both The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men. A double-nominee, Deakins presumably split the vote and lost to There Will Be Blood’s Robert Elswitt. (It’s hard to argue with that choice though.) Deakins seemed like a favourite again when he was nominated for 2010’s True Grit, but he lost again even though his overdue status built considerable momentum in the race. With three wins from the American Society of Cinematographers prior to this year’s race (he won for The Shawshank Redemption, The Man who Wasn’t There, and for Lifetime Achievement the same year he was nominated for True Grit), plus an additional win this year for Skyfall, Deakins might finally add an Oscar to his collection. His work on Skyfall is without a doubt one of the best showcases of his work ever, since he took a genre film and transformed it into art. Skyfall has some of the best compositions Deakins has ever done and he might join Adele in breaking Bond’s Oscar Bridesmaid status.

Thomas Newman: 11th nomination (Nominee for Best Music – Score, Skyfall)
The second of Skyfall’s Bridesmaids is composer Thomas Newman. Like Deakins, Newman has produced some of the most iconic and familiar work in the cinema. Remember that theme from American Beauty or those scores for Road to Perdition and The Shawshank Redemption? Newman is bound to win some day and he certainly will. He might not have as good of odds as his fellow Skyfall-nominee Deakins does, though, since Life of Pi’s Mychael Danna won the Golden Globe and is favoured to win. (Newman did succeed at the BAFTAs though.) Danna could be considered an Oscar Bridesmaid himself because his two nominations for Life of Pi (Best Score and Best Song – “Pi’s Lullaby”) are his first shout-outs from the Academy in spite of a long and fruitful career. Danna has been awarded five times from the Canadian Academy (including a Genie for The Sweet Hereafter, which is actually my ring tone), so it’s nice that one of Canada’s most successful composers is finally receiving due credit from Hollywood. Canada might be a dark horse in the Best Foreign Language Film category, but Danna’s work on Life of Pi suggests that at least one Canadian won’t be going home empty handed.

Skyfall is a wedding party of Oscar Bridesmaids
Greg P. Russell: 16th nomination (Nominee for Best Sound Mixing, Skyfall)
Skyfall actually boasts a trio of Oscar losers and the one with the highest tally is sound mixer Greg P. Russell. Russell collected many of these nominations with perennial Bridesmaid Kevin O’Connell. Russell brought his tally to a sweet sixteen with Skyfall – the film seems like a wedding party of Oscar snubees. Russell might have a better chance of walking all the way to the podium this year, since his co-nominee Scott Milan has an impressive four wins. The most recent win for Milan, actually, was for 2007 when he won for The Bourne Ultimatum and Russell and O’Connell lost again on their nominations for Transformers.

Wylie Stateman: 6th nomination (Nominee for Best Sound Editing, Django Unchained)
Sound work seems like an all-or-nothing field. Either one loses year after year like Russell and O’Connell, or one wins repeatedly like seven-time winner Gary Rydstrom, who is nominated again for Lincoln. Among the hopefuls looking to make his first win is sound editor Wylie Stateman, who earns his sixth nomination for Django Unchained. Stateman has a diverse portfolio of nominations, as they range from Born on the Fourth of July to Memoirs of a Geisha. His work on Django, however, is award-calibre stuff: how many people have made gunfire and blood-spatter such toe-tapping fun? Will this Bridesmaid celebrate with white cake on Oscar night?

Alexandre Desplat: 5th nomination (Nominee for Best Music - Score, Argo)
Alexandre Desplat’s history with the Academy is curious. Desplat is arguably the most prolific person working in film today and his output consistently exceeds itself. He scored nine films in 2012 and nine in 2011, and his scores are often ambitious overtures that resemble grand classical music. They sometimes play upon classic work, too, and use canonical tunes to create unique themes. Desplat’s work in last year’s Moonrise Kingdom is an excellent example of his skill, as the bombastically playful kettle drums of the score use Benjamin Britton to evoke a tribute to childhood. I thought Desplat would be the winner for Moonrise, but the Academy unfortunately has rules about the use of pre-existing music, so Desplat’s work for the film was deemed ineligible. The same thing happened the year before with The Tree of Life. Some of his better scores have been nominated, with Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earning well-deserved citations. One of his best scores, The Painted Veil, didn’t make the cut for Oscar even though it won the Golden Globe, but Desplat was nominated instead for his good, but unremarkable score for The Queen. Such is the case this year with Argo, as Desplat’s score is good, but not especially noticeable during the film. The hidden Classical Hollywood Style seems to be one of Argo’s selling points, however, so Desplat could be among the crew that helps this old-school caper be the big winner of the night.

Jacqueline Durran's iconic green dress in Atonement
Jacqueline Durran: 3rd nomination (Nominee for Best Costumes, Anna Karenina)
Jacqueline Durran offers a strong example of a contender who should/could win on merit alone this year, but she has the added insurance of memorable work that went unrewarded. Durran was nominated last for her work on Joe Wright’s Atonement and she produced for that film one of the most iconic costumes in contemporary cinema. The green dress sported by Keira Knightley in the opening act of Atonement remains one of the most praised and buzzed about threads in recent memory. How many films create a talking point around a single outfit? Annie Hall? Durran lost on Oscar night to Alexandra Byrne, who won for her extravagantly excellent period work on Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but she seems to be the front-runner for Anna Karenina, since, like The Golden Age, the costumes are universally praised even if the film itself is not. Arguably the best feat among the strong arts and crafts work in Anna Karenina, Miss Durran’s costumes ensure that the best film of the year will be acknowledged on Oscar night.

Riva, a first time nominee at 85, could be a first time winner at 86.
Emmanuelle Riva: 1st nomination (Nominee for Best Actress, Amour)
The only acting nominee who sounds to be overdue, in fact, has never been celebrated by the Academy before. Amour brings Emmanuelle Riva her first nomination in a long and distinguished career. Some film buffs grumble that her performance in Hiroshima, Mon Amour deserved recognition and since this film premiered in the same year that Thelma Ritter threw her “Oscar loser” party, an award for Riva is long in the making. Riva, at 85, is the oldest Best Actress nominee ever. She’ll increase this record even more if she wins on Oscar night, as February 24th is her birthday. That would be quite the birthday present!