Bradley Cooper was undoubtedly hoping for a Best Director nomination for his feature film debut “A Star Is Born” to go along with the ones he received for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. While the directing snub no doubt hurts, it is possible it could help his chances in other categories, especially Best Actor. Cooper’s situation has even prompted Sean Penn to write a special op-ed for Deadline encouraging people to recognize Cooper.m(See the film-by-film breakdown of 2019 Oscar nominations.)
In the film “California Suite,” written by Neil Simon based on his Broadway play, Maggie Smith portrays an acclaimed British stage actress who has flown to Los Angeles to attend the Oscars. Smith actually won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress of 1978 for the film while her character in the movie loses the Best Actress race. As she drinks, eats and argues with her husband (Michael Caine) before and after losing the Oscar she discusses what she and Neil Simon clearly thought was a big factor in winning an Oscar: the sympathy vote. Smith muses that she doesn’t stand a chance of winning since there is no reason to feel sorry for her.
Simon (via Smith) is clearly referring to Oscar wins in the immediate past where the wins were credited more to other factors than the actual performance. Elizabeth Taylor is largely considered to have won the 1960 Best Actress Oscar for “Butterfield 8” after having almost died shortly before the ceremony. Katharine Hepburn also was thought to have taken home the 1967 Best Actress award for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” based on her standing by her dying partner Spencer Tracy that year as his health declined.
With this week’s announcement, Cooper finally has that “sympathy factor” going for him. Granted, the man is still at the top of his field and pulled off an impressive first film with a novice as his leading lady (Lady Gaga) but the vibe seems to have changed a bit following the nominations. Most news outlets have expressed surprise and some even sorrow that Cooper didn’t make the final director’s cut. This kind of narrative helped Ben Affleck win a Best Picture Oscar for “Argo” when he was left off that director’s list. Cooper could be recognized there in Best Picture but he seems to stand a better chance in Best Actor.
With all the excitement over Lady Gaga making her film debut and having it turn out so well there has been a bit of a loss of publicity on Cooper’s much praised performance as Jackson Maine, a country music superstar dealing with addiction issues who finds and falls in love with a young talent. In Warner Bros’ “A Star Is Born,” the new young talent begins to overshadow the older more experienced one. That has happened with Cooper and his deeply felt and emotional work as a man at the end of his rope has been somewhat overlooked. This is really the first time that we have seen Cooper on screen in a transformative performance in which he alters his normal speaking voice and displays a powerful singing ability heretofore unheard.
His competition in Best Actor will be stiff with Christian Bale (“Vice”) and Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) in hot contention. But both of those front-runners show some vulnerability with Bale’s film being criticized for making light of Dick Cheney (a person many people intensely dislike) and Malek having to deal with the controversy his film had in production and a similar charge that it glossed over the dark portions of Freddie Mercury’s life, in particular his death from AIDS.
There have also been some negative comparisons to Cooper in that Malek is lip-synching while Cooper is actually singing. Plus, there are the factors that Bale has already won an Oscar while Cooper now has had seven nominations without a win. The other two nominees this year are Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”) and Willem Dafoe (“At Eternity’s Gate”).
It remains to be seen whether Maggie Smith and Neil Simon’s idea that a little sympathy can push you over the top will help Cooper, but this year’s acting races have some actually derbies going. Clear winners may not be predictable until the envelope is opened on Oscar night.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.