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Friday, December 14, 2012
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10 Possible Oscar Nominees That Previously Would Have Been Unexpected

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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Sometimes, when watching a movie or a television program, you stumble upon an actor or an actress whom you just feel is going places. Maybe they’re new on the scene or a veteran who’s never really been given a chance, but you get the sense that big things are ahead for them. You can almost envision them at the Oscar ceremony, smiling and waiting to hear if their names are called.

Just as often, though, you see people who don’t impress you one bit or happen to be involved in projects that don’t point to an especially bright future. It may not be their fault due to the material, or they may not have come into their own yet, but nothing at that point suggests an Oscar nominee in the making.

Each year, there are numerous potential nominees who have come from rather humble beginnings, as it were. The following is a list of the 10 most likely Oscar nominees this year who, at one point in their careers, you’d never have believed they had it in them. They’re hardly the only ones who fit this criteria for 2012, but they’re certainly some of the most interesting ones.

10. Jack Black (Bernie) circa School of Rock

This early pairing with Richard Linklater was certainly a lot of fun, but did it in any way suggest that the two could potentially collaborate one day on an awards contender? Linklater made those types of movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, not with Jack Black. Of course, this year brought the wonderful Bernie and changed that all, but until now Black had hardly been thought of as an Oscar contender in any real way.

He may have stolen scenes in High Fidelity, but too often Black mostly annoyed in broad comedies. He did try to make a play for respectability with Margot at the Wedding, but that wasn’t to be for him or the film.

Almost a decade after first teaming with Linklater, Black is closer to an Oscar nod than ever before. He may be a long shot, but he’s definitely in play.

9. Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) circa In Living Color

The ’90s certainly showed Jamie Foxx to be a talented comedian, but in no way did his work on In Living Color ever suggest that he’d be a double nominee in 2004 for Collateral and Ray, winning the Oscar for his performance in the latter. The sketch comedy show helped launch Foxx’s career, but it didn’t launch the career of an Oscar winner — at least at that point.

Foxx first really tried serious dramatic acting with Any Given Sunday, but it wasn’t until his supporting turn in Ali and then the aforementioned two roles in 2004 that any real notice was paid to him.

Foxx now seeks his third nomination for Django Unchained, a role that you’d have never expected to see him in while he was playing various roles on that sketch comedy program. He may wind up on the outside looking in, but he’s clearly now a threat in a way that few would have expected earlier in his career.

8. Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson) circa Caddyshack

After a successful run on Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray moved to features with the hilarious Caddyshack, a film that featured him in an inspired supporting role. He then began a nearly two-decade run of playing assorted comedic leads, but Murray never really was doing the type of work that Oscar noticed. Of course, then came 2003 and Lost in Translation, the first drama/dramedy to use him perfectly. Suddenly, Murray was an Oscar nominee.

Though Murray sadly lost on Oscar night, it marked a transition in his career, one that’s led him to try more dramatically heavy material. This move inspired a whole new level of respect for the comedy legend, even if it’s yet to result in another citation by the Academy.

Voters have a chance this year to honor Murray for playing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. His chances were better a few months ago than they are now, but he is hardly out of the running.

7. Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike) circa … pretty much in everything until this year

If ever there were an actor who’s made a quantum leap in terms of respectability, it’s Matthew McConaughey. Even if he made a strong impression with a small role in Dazed and Confused, McConaughey decided to, with very few exceptions, spend the better portion of his career skating by on a lazy charisma and his good looks. Suddenly, though, he’s clicked it into gear this year.

Things pointed up for him last year with The Lincoln Lawyer, but this year has seen McConaughey captivate in Killer Joe and steal the show in Magic Mike, not to mention participating in The Paperboy and Mud, the latter of which played the 2012 festival circuit and is coming out next year. Not bad for someone who once seemed content to pretty much make only mediocre romantic comedies.

This year McConaughey managed to use this image of himself to craft a wonderful character in Magic Mike, which has resulted in the best reviews of his career. He’s actually in play for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, which probably surprises even him. He’s certainly come a long way from Edtv.

6. John Goodman (Argo, Flight) circa Roseanne

Despite participating in a number of Coen Brothers films, John Goodman will likely always be known for his role on Roseanne. It defined him for a long time and ultimately sort of boxed him in. No one doubted that he was good on the show, but could he really ever do much more than that? More pressingly, would anyone ever give him the chance?

Last year Goodman really blew me away in Kevin Smith’s criminally underrated satire Red State, and since then he’s only managed to turn in some of his career-best work. He’s a contender this year for his supporting turns in both Argo and Flight.

Goodman has long been underrated by many, but more than anything else he’s never been in projects that really allowed him to soar. That happened in 2012, though, so perhaps he’s about to get the reward from Oscar that many thought would forever elude him.

5. Ann Dowd (Compliance) circa Freaks and Geeks

An actress you recognize from her small parts in nearly everything, Ann Dowd first caught people’s attention with a tiny role in Philadelphia and on the short-lived series Freaks and Geeks. She’s made a good living playing mothers and middle-aged women that don’t stay on camera too long, so it’s forgivable that few actually looked at her as someone to watch out for.

Never really given a lead role before (despite what the Oscar campaign would lead you to believe), Compliance is an absolute revelation. You just have to stand in awe of Dowd’s talent. She owns the screen and makes you wonder how many more amazing turns she could have given if only someone would have cast her in the lead. Look no further than her warm little role in Garden State for proof that she’s had it in her the whole time.

This year she’s the hero of working actors everywhere as she campaigns for a Supporting Actress nomination for Compliance. What once was a real long shot has seemingly gotten more likely by the day. She’d be a bit of a surprise nominee, but I’m not alone in expecting to hear her name announced on nomination morning.

4. Helen Mirren (Hitchcock) circa Caligula

Nowadays, you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who thinks that Helen Mirren is one of the greatest actresses of her era. After all, she’s a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner for Best Actress. Had you thrown the same rock back in 1979 around the release of Caligula, however, you might have had more people wonder if she were a porn actress than future acting royalty.

It took a while, but eventually Mirren transcended that inauspicious role in the legendary pseudo-porn flick, slowly growing into someone whom the Academy deemed worthy of a Best Actress Oscar. Now, she’s a threat for a nomination every single time she goes before cameras.

This year is no exception, as she’s in play for her role in Hitchcock. The film may not be nearly the contender I expected it to be, but if anyone from that movie is going to wind up with a nod, it’s her. The Golden Globe citation has only moved Mirren closer to being a safe bet for the nom. What a long way she’s come from that embarrassment early in her career.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) circa The Bill Engvall Show

Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is pretty much the biggest young actress on the planet right now, but not long ago she was a forgettable daughter on a forgettable sitcom. The Bill Engvall Show is really only notable for somehow not getting immediately canceled, but the saving grace is, of course, that Lawrence has swiftly transitioned into an amazingly talented young actress.

She blew people away and scored her first Oscar nomination for Winters Bone a few years back, but 2012 has really been the year where Lawrence has become an A-lister. Anchoring The Hunger Games and capturing hearts in Silver Linings Playbook, she’s showed the world that she can do it all.

This year she’s not only a very likely Best Actress nominee for Silver Linings Playbook, but for many she’s also the frontrunner. Time will tell there, but Bill Engvall’s former fake daughter has come a long way from cable television, that’s for sure.

2. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) circa The Hangover

You never want to go from being a struggling actor to a successful yet ridiculed one, but that’s just what happened to Bradley Cooper when The Hangover was a hit. He was looked at by many as another lazy pretty boy who never wanted to challenge himself.

This year has been a real coming out party for Cooper, as he’s wiped away those harsh words and replaced them with the sentiment that he’s about to become an Oscar nominee. Turning in work as good as he did in Silver Linings Playbook will do that for a fella.

It’s looking very likely that Cooper will receive a Best Actor nomination from the Academy for Silver Linings Playbook, and he certainly deserves it. He’s well on his way to a long and respected career, provided he doesn’t keep making sequels to The Hangover his whole life, of course.

1. Sally Field (Lincoln) circa Gidget

A pair of Oscar wins later, Sally Field is hardly looked at as someone you’re surprised had it in her. That being said, when she was first on television in Gidget and then The Flying Nun, nothing suggested that she’d ever be an Oscar nominee — let alone a repeat winner.

From those humble beginnings, Field rose through the ranks and now is one of Hollywood’s most honored actresses. She a perfect two-for-two with Oscar, winning Lead Actress prizes for Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. Moreover, how many people are shocked she wasn’t even nominated for Forrest Gump?

This year Field is a lock to receive her third nomination (a first in Best Supporting Actress) for Lincoln. Going by the precursors, she could even be a solid bet to win her third trophy. Who thought that little Gidget had it in her?

At least three or four of the aforementioned performers will score Oscar nominations this year, and we could even see up to six or seven from the list make it. It just goes to show how far some people can come. Half of the actors and actresses on the list are previous nominees, and three of them already own Oscar statues.

Even though we’re all victims of this from time to time, it really is silly to judge an actor or actress by their early career. I, for one, hardly missed an opportunity to make fun of Channing Tatum until midway through this year when he showed a new side of himself.

These contenders prove that nearly everyone in Hollywood is capable of impressing with the right material. It doesn’t always happen for everyone, but when it does, it’s a thing of beauty.

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