If Glenn Close wins at Sunday’s Oscars for her performance in The Wife, the seven-time nominee will end her reign as the most nominated living actor without any wins. (The late Peter O’Toole holds the all-time record with eight nominations.) Amy Adams, also competing this year in the supporting category—as Lynne Cheney in Vice—would assume the record with a sixth winless nomination.
A Best Actress win would be a justified, admirable conclusion to The Academy’s embarrassing habit of overlooking the stalwart actress. But it shouldn’t have taken this long. While Close carries the perfunctory film with deep, quiet strength, it’s certainly not her best performance, or even the year’s best. Her fellow nominee Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? as well as the non-nominated Toni Collette in Hereditary and Regina Hall in Support the Girls would top the year’s list with singular, career-redefining performances—their version of Close’s Fatal Attraction.
The phenomenon of the “Career Oscar”—winning for career excellence rather than for the year’s best performance—is another wrench in the Academy’s ongoing overhaul. Along with the debate over popular films, running times and non-broadcast categories, comes a central question: Is the Oscars honoring the best of the year, or the most beloved of the moment?
If the Oscars are there to highlight the best of the year, then Brokeback Mountain would have beaten Crash in 2006 and The Social Network would wear The King’s Speech’s crown. Classics like The Big Lebowski, Daughters of the Dust, and The Shining all deserved at least one nomination in their respective years. Fortunately for these films, the notorious snubs often transform into career fodder, offering the actors and directors as much reverence as any win. It should give this year’s overlooked crew Eighth Grade, Burning and First Reformed some relief.
Close and Adams, beloved couple Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and—it appears once again—Bradley Cooper lead the acting sect of cinematic martyrdom. They’re lauded for continuously weathering the award season storm without a win, yes, but also without compromising their integrity.
Accusations of wanting too badly to win have been leveled at many of their peers: Kate Winslet for The Reader, Julianne Moore for Still Alice and Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant all won with strong performances in forgettable films. Anne Hathaway notoriously faced unprecedented backlash for actively pursuing her Oscar. Sure, she deserved to win for Rachel Getting Married, but her powerful turn as Fantine in Les Misérables should never have led to her short-term blacklisting. Unfortunately, she now counts among a different group: unparalleled actors whose legacies come with a condescending caveat.
These perceptions of who wins and loses are a bit simplistic. Winning an Oscar largely has little to do with talent or groundswell support and instead largely rests on appearing at every industry dinner, offering quippy soundbites for news outlets and, until recently, avoiding one of Harvey Weinstein’s notorious Oscar smear campaigns.
That’s not to say there aren’t worthwhile winners. Mo’Nique in Precious, Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose and any one of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performances all deserve their acclaim. But too often fellow actors are sidelined in their best performances to honor someone previously forgotten. Al Pacino lost for The Godfather Part II so veteran actor Art Carney could win for Harry and Tonto. Pacino finally received his Best Actor trophy in 1993 for Scent of a Woman but in doing so usurped Denzel Washington’s untouchable turn as Malcolm X. Then there’s Martin Landau with one of the most surprising wins of all time for 1994’s Ed Wood, beating out Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction—to date somehow his first and only nomination.
Among the many changes the Academy needs to make, in addition to attracting younger audiences and maintaining their esteem, is honoring actors at their peak, not in their golden years. It was a joy to see Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave or Octavia Spencer in The Help win for masterful turns early their Oscar timelines. If Spencer was forced to wait for future nominations, her fellow 2016 nominee Viola Davis might have had tougher competition for her Best Actress win and competitor Allison Janney might still be gunning for her first Oscar, which she won last year.
An anonymous Oscar voter told The Hollywood Reporter this week they’re voting for Close. Not because they adored her performance in The Wife, but because they found her “wonderful” in Dangerous Liaisons, a film she was nominated for 30 years ago. “Sometimes you do vote for an accumulation of work, and she’s of a certain age, and I think it’s just time,” they said.
Perhaps it’s time to stop waiting for the work to accumulate.