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Countdown to Oscars

Friday, December 28, 2012
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The 10 Most Serious Oscar Contenders Over The Age Of 55

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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Age is just a number, folks. When it comes to the film industry, especially this year, we’ve seen terrific work from actors, actresses and filmmakers, both young and old. Of course, seniority does bring respect, and there are a number of awards contenders who are on the older side. The business favors the young, though, but the good ones don’t vanish when they’re on the wrong side of 30 or 40.

There are a number of strong Oscar hopefuls this year who are over the age of 55, so the purpose of this week’s list is to highlight and honor them a bit. Not all of them will wind up with nominations, but at least some of them will hear their names called. Regardless, all have added at least one more terrific bit of work to their already stellar resumes.

Some of the people listed below appear as tandems, when appropriate, since it allowed me to cite more than just 10 people — I think the more the merrier! I did try to only do that at the beginning, though, so rest easy that it won’t be a whole list full of that sort of pseudo-cheating. And, for the record, this week’s list is not reflective of any particular order-of-likelihood-of-getting-nominated, but rather just a celebration of the phenomenon and the people.

These individuals aren’t the youngest in the business, but they’re among the best, so they deserve this moment in the sun.

11. The British Dames (Judi Dench and Maggie Smith)

These 78-year-old co-stars of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are both contenders for that film — Dench in lead and Smith in supporting — and each also gave another performance that could bring them acclaimed nominations in the opposite categories. Dench gave a great supporting perf as M in the hit new James Bond film Skyfall, while Smith was a solid lead in Dustin Hoffman‘s directorial debut Quartet.

10. The Hitchcocks (Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren)

The 75-year-old Anthony Hopkins and 67-year-old Helen Mirren were both initially thought of as huge Oscar players next year, but then Fox Searchlight made the decision to bump up their film Hitchcock to this year. The results have been  uneven, with Hopkins mostly ignored and Mirren nominated here and there as a near-afterthought.

Still, both are legends in the acting arena, and if the former hasn’t exactly lit up the screen in a while (though he’s a very good Alfred Hitchcock), the latter is an actress who’s more or less good for a nomination whenever she hits the screen. And whenever either of them has a project, you sit up and take notice of it.

9. The Amour couple (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Tritignant)

Though not necessarily known to many audience members in America, both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Tritignant are far more well known in Europe. The talented octogenarians (Riva is 85, and Tritignant is 82) give a pair of the year’s best performances in Amour, THE foreign contender of 2012.

While a crowded Best Actor race has pretty much eliminated Tritignant from things, Riva is locked in a very competitive fight for a Best Actress nod. Depending on whether the Academy embraces Amour or not, Riva could not only get a nomination, but she could also be a threat to pull off the upset.

8. The Lincoln team (Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Spielberg)

One of the most respected films of the year, Lincoln also has a quartet of the most respected people in the business behind it. The trio of Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Steven Spielberg are all 66 years of age, while Daniel Day-Lewis is the young pup of the group at merely 55 years old. Not only are they all likely nominees, but they could all wind up Oscar winners as well.

Day-Lewis is the clear frontrunner for Best Actor right now and is pretty much acknowledged as the finest thespian working today. Field, like Day-Lewis, doesn’t work all that often, but it’s usually a big deal when she does. Both could be in line for Academy Award number three if Oscar loves this biopic, with the latter a definite possibility for Supporting Actress.

One level down, Jones is involved in an insanely competitive Best Supporting Actor race that will at the very least see him nominated once more. Spielberg, on the other hand, probably won’t win his third Best Director statue, though he’s a very safe bet for a nomination. They’ve all done very strong work and continue to show why they’re so admired in the industry.

7. Robert De Niro

I’ve made mention of the somewhat checkered last decade that Robert De Niro has had in front of the camera. Despite that, the 69-year-old De Niro is undeniably one of the greats and has periodically been able to remind us of that even while being stuck in this rut. This year was a welcome return to form for him, though, as he was terrific in Silver Linings Playbook.

At this point in his career, I’m sure that De Niro barely thinks about awards, but one more nomination is looking likely for him at this point. It’d be folly to discount De Niro’s chances of winning Best Supporting Actor, too. Who knows what he’ll be up to next, but this performance has clearly reestablished him as a powerhouse of an actor.

6. Ang Lee

As filmmakers get older, they don’t often become more experimental with their work. Fifty-eight-year-old Ang Lee is a definite exception to that rule, as Life of Pi saw him working with 3D for the first time and pushing the format forward as few have been able to do before. Lee’s been a director who often looks to try new things, but this was a whole new ballgame for him. Despite my issues with the film, Lee’s direction was outstanding.

One of the remaining contenders for Best Director, Lee will most likely see his film nominated for Best Picture. Regardless of if he gets in or not, though, Lee’s got a lot to be proud of. Going forward, I sincerely hope that he uses the extra dimension again, as he’s certainly got a knack for it.

5. Richard Gere

In some ways, Richard Gere will always be thought of as a young man, but now at the age of 63 he might also be on the verge of a Best Actor nomination. What Gere wasn’t able to achiever previously he might finally be able to do this year with his impressive turn in Arbitrage.

Gere has never been one to really seek out Oscar bait for his next project, but Arbitrage just happened to represent a perfect marriage of actor and material. Gere may wind up snubbed yet again, but exactly one decade after being overlooked for Chicago, he’s back in the conversation. Frankly, that’s about all someone can ask for. Gere’s always been underrated, so perhaps that’s just how it’s meant to be.

4. Michael Haneke

Like his Amour actors, Michael Haneke is better known internationally than he is here in the United States, but he’s well respected as an auteur and occasional provocateur. At 70, Haneke hasn’t exactly quieted down, but Amour does represent the filmmaker doing something much more emotional than he’s ever previously attempted.

Amour doesn’t feature Haneke preaching about society but instead merely observing what love truly is for those who get up there in years. A contender for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, Haneke might be a more likely nominee in the latter category, but he’s in play for both. A lot will depend on how the film is received by Oscar voters (especially older ones, as I wrote about in a recent piece), but no matter the outcome Haneke will have a whole new group of admirers in his golden years.

3. Denzel Washington

I don’t know why, but I was shocked to discover that Denzel Washington was 58 years old. Maybe it’s partially due to his heroic ways on screen, but I think it’s mostly due to the strength of his acting. Washington rarely plays “old”, and his energy is infectious. He’s rarely been as good as he is this year in Flight, but it’s the type of role he probably couldn’t have done until now.

As Washington moves closer to his sixties, he might be moving away from action flicks and perhaps challenging himself more and more with dramas like Flight. His likely Best Actor nomination for the film will only be more fuel for that fire. Even when he’s in more popcorn-type movies, though, he’s one of the best actors in the business.

2. Ann Dowd

It was harder than I expected to find out Ann Dowd’s age. When I discovered that she was 56, I was mostly just a bit sad that it’s taken until this point in her life for proper recognition to be bestowed upon her. Dowd owns the screen in Compliance, and while she may be more of a lead to me, it’d be downright heartwarming to see her get a Best Supporting Actress nomination this year.

As is often the case with character actors, Dowd is only now getting her due as she enters the latter stages of her career. Her Supporting Actress chances have taken a hit as the precursor season moves on, but she’s still very much in play. Compliance is one of the smallest films looking for Oscar attention, but Dowd’s work is one of the giants of cinema in 2012.

1. Kathryn Bigelow

The films of Kathryn Bigelow don’t appear to be the work of a 61-year-old woman, but at the same time I can’t imagine anyone else doing what she does. Especially with her two most recent films, Bigelow has not only become one of the premiere action or female filmmakers in the business — she’s also just one of the best.

A very likely Best Director nominee for Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow has more than proven that her Oscar win for The Hurt Locker was no fluke. She’s already in virgin territory as a woman behind the camera, but if she wins again she’d be in a complete league of her own. The film is surging in the Best Picture race, and Bigelow could be, too. More so than anyone on this list, she’s only gotten better with age.

A decent amount of these ladies and gentlemen will score Oscar nominations shortly. They’re all terrific artists with a lot still to share with us. As I mentioned earlier, age is nothing but a number, and rarely do you see a better example of that than with this group.

While many consider retirement as they move from their fifties to their sixties and beyond, the aforementioned talent have instead upped their game and made lasting impressions on cinema in 2012. Film lovers owe a debt to them, and I sincerely hope that the best is yet to come for them all.

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