There’s been substantial debate amongst my peers and I, as to whether or not Jean Dujardin could actually win the Best Actor Oscar. As we await this years nominations it’s safe to say he’s going to be up against it. If the Golden globes are anything to go by he’s likely to be up against five of the biggest names in the business. Whilst Dujardin should walk the Globes only ‘Comedy Musical category’ when the Academy inevitably make their selection from the Globes’ ten, the Frenchman is going to have to userp one of either Clooney, Pitt, DiCaprio, Gosling or Fassbender in order to make the final five. It’s a tough ask but it made me curious about just how often international performances are recognised by the academy. What follows is the fruits of my diligent labour which I have collated for your statistical pleasure.
Many of you will be aware that this February sees the 84th Academy Awards, and the French star of The Artist could be the 30th nominee from international waters. Let me clarify, we all know how much the Academy love a good old bit of Brit costume drama so for the purpose of this article I have focused strictly on those performers born outside of the English speaking community.
Interestingly enough the first man to receive the award for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ was a German named Emil Jannings. Given the award in 1927 Jannings won for his performance in two pictures, The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. Unfortunately Jannings went on to star in numerous Nazi Propaganda films and became buddy buddy with some of the higher ranking Nazis.
Since Jannings’ inaugural victory only six other International actors have won in the Lead category, the most recent being nearly fifteen years ago. The 1930s was a good decade for the Europeans in particular, Paul Muni who picked up a total of five nominations (29, 32, 35, 36 and 37). Winning at the third attempt, Muni became the second International actor to win the gold. Despite being of Austro-Hungarian origin Muni won for his portrayal of French Microbiologist Louis Pasteur. Here’s some trivia for all you geeks out there; Both Muni and Al Pacino have played Tony in Scarface and both have been nominated for five Lead Actor Oscars but only emerged victorious on one occasion.
Like the thirties, there was only one International winner in the forties with Hungarian, Paul Lucas taking home the award in 1943 for Watch On the Rhine for which he also won the first ever Golden Globe.
Things picked up a little in the fifties with José Ferrer, better known to George Clooney as Uncle Jose, picking up the award in 1950. He went on to receive another nomination the following year before Yul Brynner famously won in 1956 for The King and I.
The Sixties brought only another three nominations although Maximilian Schell did win in 1961 for his performance in Judgement in Nuremberg.
Like his fellow sixties nominee Marcelo Mastroianni (nominated in 1962), Schell collected another nomination in the 1970s. In 1971 Chaim Topol was nominated for Fiddler on the Roof followed by Schell in ’75, Giancarlo Giannini in 76 (Seven Beauties) and Mastroianni again in ’77. Despite the nominations the decade was entirely dominated by Americans with legends like Hoffman, Nicholson and Brando all emerging victorious.
The Eighties continued to be barren for the Internationals only picking up another two nominations. In 1987 Mastroianni picked up a third nomination, in a third decade but was once again beaten by an American. (He was beaten by Gregory Peck, Richard Dreyfus and Michael Douglas respectively). The following year Legendary Sweed, Max Von Sydow picked up his only Oscar nomination but was pipped to the post by Dustin Hoffman’s second win in under ten years.
Things picked up slightly in the Nineties with three nominations. Unlike José Ferrer 34 years earlier Gérard Depardieu failed to take home the gong for the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac and it wasn’t until 1998 when the thirty seven year wait for another international winner ended. Writer/director/actor Roberto Benigni pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Oscar history when he defeated Academy favourite Tom Hanks, British Thesp Sir Ian McKellen and bright young thing Ed Norton to the statue for his heart grinding role in La Vita é Bella.
Since Benigni’s historic win, only Javier Bardem has picked up any nominations. Despite nominations in the lead category in both 2001 and 2010 Bardem has only tasted success in the Best Supporting category where he took home the gold for his terrifying role in No Country For Old Men.
It’s undoubtedly going to be tough for Jean Dujardin to break this years ‘A-list’ strangle hold however, if come February, the Frenchman is in the mix it would bode well for his chances. To find himself amongst such esteemed company is achievement enough but should he be nominated would imply some weighty support amongst Academy voters. Though it would be thoroughly deserved should he win, it’ll still be a shock to rival Benigni’s thirteen years ago. Unfortunately, as nice as it would be to see another international victor, my money’s on Clooney.