A beloved, veteran actor considered sorely overdue for an Oscar win on their eighth career nomination.
It’s an apt description of Glenn Close, this year contending in Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing turn as formidable grandma Bonnie “Mamaw” Vance in Hillbilly Elegy. It’s an illustration that can also be applied to a trio of other actors who found themselves in this same daunting position.
Upon their Oscar bids in 1985, 1992 and 2006, respectively, big screen legends Geraldine Page, Al Pacino and Peter O’Toole sported 0-for-8 track records in wins on competitive nominations. (Note that Peter O’Toole was the recipient of an honorary prize in 2002.) Two of these contenders, Page and Pacino, would emerge triumphant, while O’Toole yet again fell short, ultimately setting a new record as the biggest Oscar loser among actors.
What were the factors that resulted in long-overdue victories for Page and Pacino – and O’Toole’s record-setting loss? And how do their races compare to the showdown Close finds herself in? Let’s hop in a time machine and travel back to the 1980s.
By her Best Actress bid for The Trip to Bountiful (1985), Page had another three Best Actress nominations (for Summer and Smoke in 1961, Sweet Bird of Youth in 1962 and Interiors in 1978) and four Best Supporting Actress nominations (for Hondo in 1953, You’re a Big Boy Now in 1966, Pete ‘n’ Tillie in 1972 and The Pope of Greenwich Village in 1984) under her belt. Among actresses, her streak of losses quickly eclipsed Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter, the prior record-holders with 0-for-6 runs.
Page faced three Oscar winners – Anne Bancroft (Agnes of God), Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams) and Meryl Streep (Out of Africa) – and one newcomer in Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple). The Bancroft and Lange films saw lukewarm receptions, both critically and commercially, and having recently won not one but two Oscars, there was scant urgency to so quickly award Streep a third, even if her film itself was destined for a robust Oscar night.
With a Golden Globe win and National Board of Review honors under her belt, Goldberg had all the makings of a front-runner. That her film led the 1985 Oscar nominations (tied with Out of Africa at 11) made Goldberg look all the more formidable and yet, in the end, The Color Purple would fall short on all 11 of those bids. The film’s drubbing, coupled with The Trip to Bountiful’s warm notices and its leading lady’s overdue narrative, created the path Page needed to finally prevail.
Seven years later, in 1992, it was Pacino’s turn at bat as he contended for seven and eighth Oscar bids with Scent of a Woman in Best Actor and Glengarry Glen Ross in Best Supporting Actor. He too had previously been up for a mix of Lead – for Serpico (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), …and Justice for All (1979) – and Supporting, for The Godfather (1972) and Dick Tracy (1990), prizes.
With Gene Hackman (Unforgiven) an overwhelming favorite in the latter category, all eyes turned to Pacino in Best Actor. He faced one Oscar winner, Denzel Washington (Malcolm X), and three actors – Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin), Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) – on their first Oscar bids.
While The Crying Game and Unforgiven proved formidable overall forces that awards season, neither Eastwood nor Rea were considered threats for the Best Actor win. And though Downey, Jr. would go on to win at BAFTA, Chaplin was neither a critical nor commercial success. If there was a threat to Pacino, it was Washington, the closest thing to a critical darling in the race. Alas, Malcolm X was not otherwise embraced by the Academy, with only its leading man and Ruth E. Carter (in Best Costume Design) earning nominations. Scent of a Woman scored four nominations, all in major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay). The affection for his film, coupled with the overdue narrative, made Pacino a more overwhelming favorite than Page.
Decidedly not a front-runner on his eighth career Oscar bid was Venus nominee O’Toole, facing four fellow Oscar-less actors – Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) and, the ultimate winner, Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). Whitaker left his competition in the dust that awards season, steamrolling nearly every precursor in sight.
All eight of O’Toole’s Oscar nominations came in Lead: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1982) and, finally, Venus.
Perhaps hindering an overdue narrative was O’Toole’s honorary Oscar win just four years earlier, though it should be noted an honorary prize hardly hurt Paul Newman when, after scoring an honorary trophy in 1985, he finally triumphed just one year later, on a seventh Best Actor bid, for The Color of Money. With Venus earning a decidedly modest reception both critically and commercially, however, it is unlikely O’Toole would have emerged triumphant, even without the recent honorary statue.
With all that said, how does Close’s current standing compare to that of Page, Pacino and O’Toole on their eighth bids?
In terms of critical reception, the overwhelmingly panned Hillbilly Elegy sorely pales in comparison to the likes of The Trip to Bountiful, Scent of a Woman and Venus, none of which exactly earned across-the-board raves. Yet commercially, Close’s film, at one point the most-watched program on Netflix, has certainly been more seen than the obscure Page and O’Toole pictures – and, for what it’s worth, The Wife and Albert Nobbs, her last two nominated turns.
In terms of competition, Close is not facing a Whitaker-level front-runner but nor does she sport anything close to the strength Pacino flexed in his 1992 bid. Instead, her standing most mirrors that of Page, who too didn’t win much in the way of precursors but, given the overdue sentiment, was still viewed as a formidable contender. Like Hillbilly Elegy, a Best Makeup and Hairstyling nominee, The Trip to Bountiful scored one other nomination, albeit a more significant one, in Best Adapted Screenplay. Both Page and Close’s eighth career nominations arrived roughly three decades following their first.
The parallels are there, yet Close’s climb, albeit a bit more feasible than O’Toole’s, remains uphill. If Olivia Colman (The Father) and Amanda Seyfried (Mank) mirror Bancroft and Lange as the category also-rans, precursor leaders Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), who triumphed with Critics Choice, and Youn Yuh-jung (Minari), who just scored a key SAG victory, are in more robust positions than the likes of Goldberg and Streep in 1985.
Without a nomination at BAFTA, Close goes into Oscar night with negligible momentum and not a single major precursor under her belt. The odds of her ultimately tying O’Toole’s record as all-time Oscar loser among actors seem higher by the day. Even so, it’s tough to say with great confidence that Close is completely down and out. This awards season has produced one jaw-dropper after another; Page pulled it off without precursor strength; and neither Bakalova nor Youn are leaving their competitors in the dust. It’s a dizzyingly unsettled race that may not be finished surprising us.