Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #484: Joaquin Phoenix Revisited

Born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in Puerto Rico on October 28, 1974, the middle child of five of a New York Jewish mother and California father of mostly English heritage, his parents who were then members of the Children of God missionaries changed the family name to Phoenix. With older siblings named River and Rain and younger ones named Liberty and Summer, Joaquin felt out of place and chose Leaf as his new name. It was as Leaf Phoenix that he made his acting debut at the age of eight in an appearance on the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers TV show in which his 12-year-old brother River played the youngest of the brothers.

He appeared mostly in guest appearances on TV throughout his childhood, with occasional forays into big screen roles, but it wasn’t until 1989’s Parenthood that he made an enduring impression. Aside from a 1991 short film, however, he did not appear before the cameras again until after the tragic death of his brother. It was he who made the 911 call when River Phoenix died of a drug overdose at an L.A. nightclub on October 31, 1993. He returned to acting two years later to great acclaim as Joaquin Phoenix in 1995’s To Die For directed by Gus Van Sant who had directed his brother in what would be his last great role in 1993’s My Own Private Idaho.

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Oscar Profile #483: Renée Zellweger

Born April 25, 1969 in Katy, Texas, Renée Zellweger was a cheerleader, gymnast, speech team member and drama club member in Katy High School. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991. She received her Screen Actors Guild Card for doing a Coors Light commercial.

Zellweger made her screen debut in an uncredited role in 1993’s Dazed and Confused. Her first credited role was in 1994’s Reality Bites, followed by the same year’s 8 Seconds and Love and a .45. She starred opposite Matthew McConaughey in 1995’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and broke through opposite Tom Cruise in 1996’s Jerry Maguire for which she received a SAG nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1998, Zellweger won strong notices for playing Meryl Streep’s daughter in One True Thing for which Streep received an Oscar nomination. In 1999 she became engaged to Jim Carrey, with whom she co-starred in 2000’s Me, Myself & Irene, for a year. Her other 2000 film, Nurse Betty earned the actress her first Golden Globe for Best Actress.

2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary earned Zellweger her second Golden Globe and SAG nominations and first Oscar nomination. 2002’s Chicago earned the actress her second Golden Globe, her first SAG award and her second Oscar nomination. 2003’s Cold Mountain earned her a third Golden Globe, a second SAG award and an Oscar. That same year she had a brief relationship with Jack White.

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Oscar Profile #482: Scarlett Johansson

Born November 22, 1984 in New York, New York, Scarlett Johansson was one of four children of a Danish-born architect and his wife. She has a sister and two brothers, one of whom is her twin. The budding actress practiced singing and dancing as a child in front a mirror pretending to be Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. She made her stage debut in off-Broadway’s Sophistry at the age of 8 and her film debut as John Ritter’s daughter in North at the age of 9.

Johansson’s first starring role was in 1996’sManny & Lo which earned her a Spirit Award nomination for her portrayal of a runaway pregnant teenager. She achieved wider attention with her performance in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer opposite Robert Redford, and followed that with strong performances in 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There and Ghost World for which she received critical huzzahs for her performance opposite Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi.

Two 2003 films brought the actress considerable attention. She was nominated for Golden Globes for both Lost in Translation in comedy and Girl with a Pearl Earring in drama. She also received dual BAFTA nominations for both, winning for Lost in Translation. Although widely expected to earn an Oscar nomination for one or the other, she failed to be nominated for either.

Johannson’s films for the remainder of the first decade of the century included A Love Song for Bobby Long opposite John Travolta, A Good Woman opposite Helen Hunt, In Good Company opposite Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace, Match Point opposite Jonathan Rhys Myers, Scoop opposite Woody Allen and Hugh Jackman, The Black Dahlia opposite Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank, The Prestige opposite Jackman and Christian Bale, The Other Boleyn Girl opposite Natalie Portman and Eric Bana and Vicky Cristina Barcelona opposite Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall. She married actor Ryan Reynolds in 2008 and divorced him in 2011.

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Oscar Profile #481: Brad Pitt

Born December 18, 1963 in Shawnee, Oklahoma, William Bradley Pitt’s father was the owner of a trucking company and his mother was a school counselor. The family soon moved to Springfield, Missouri where he was raised along with his younger brother and sister. He attended the University of Missouri, majoring in journalism with a focus on advertising in the early 1980s, moving to Los Angeles just before graduation.

While taking acting lessons, Pitt had uncredited roles in four 1987 films, Hunk, No Way Out, No Man’s Land and Less Than Zero. He had his first billing and first starring role in 1988’s The Dark Side of the Sun, followed by minor roles in a couple of long forgotten films, after which he had another starring role in 1991’s Across the Tracks. It was, however, his supporting role in the same year’s Thelma & Louise that brought him world-wide attention.

Pitt’s rise was swift with starring roles in 1992’s A River Runs Through It, 1993’s Kalifornia and 1994’s Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall, the latter bringing him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. 1995’s Se7en was a huge success while year-end release Twelve Monkeys earned him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar nomination.

More hits followed, including 1997’s The Devil’s Own and Seven Years in Tibet, 1998’s Meet Joe Black and 1999’s Fight Club. In 2000, Pitt married TV actress Jennifer Aniston while continuing to star in such popular films as 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven and 2004’s Troy and Ocean’s Twelve. His affair with actress Angelina Jolie during the making of 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith led to his 2005 divorce from Aniston. The two had a natural child together in 2006 the same year Pitt adopted Jolie’s two previously adopted children. He would subsequently adopt three more children with Jolie prior to their 2014 marriage. Jolie filed for divorce in 2016 citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was granted in 2019.

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Oscar Profile #480: Antonio Banderas

Born August 10, 1960 in Malaga, Spain, the son of a Civil Guard police officer and a schoolteacher, José Antonio Dominguez Bandera, known professionally as Antonio Banderas, wanted to be a professional football (soccer) player until a broken foot at 14 drove him in a different direction.

The aspiring actor began his studies at the School of Dramatic Arts in Malaga and made his acting debut in a small theatre in that city. He moved to Madrid in 1979, and the age of 19, became the youngest member of the company of Spain’s National Theatre. His stage performances drew the attention of Pedro Almodovar who cast him in his first film, 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion. Ten films later, Almodovar cast him once again in 1985’s Matador for which he was nominated for a Goya Award, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor.

Banderas made headlines with Almodovar’s 1986 film, Law of Desire in which he played a gay man and had his first on-screen male-to-male kiss. The following year he married first wife Ana Leza. He gained world-wide recognition with his performance in Almodovar’s Oscar-nominated 1988 film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and increased his fame with the director’s 1990 film, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down.

The actor was introduced to America as the object of Madonna’s affections in the 1991 documentary, Madonna: Truth or Dare. He made his Hollywood film debut in 1992 with The Mambo Kings in which he and Armand Assante played the title roles.

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Oscar Profile #479: Jonathan Pryce

Born June 1, 1947 in Carmel, Wales, John Price was the third child and only son of a former coal miner who ran a small general grocery shop with his wife. His primary education was in Wales, but the brilliant student entered college in Lancashire, England at the age of 16. While studying to become a teacher, he received a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) where he changed his name to Jonathan Pryce when joining British Equity because there was already an actor with the name of John Price.

Pryce began his acting career at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. He made his TV debut in a minor role in a 1972 episode of the British sci-fi series, Doomwatch. He made his film debut in 1976’s Voyage of the Damned in which he was billed fifteenth and is now the thirteenth actor in the film to have received an Oscar nomination after Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner Lee Grant, Wendy Hiller, Julie Harris, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, James Mason, Katharine Ross, José Ferrer, Janet Suzman and Denholm Elliott.

A 1977 Tony award for Comedians, for a supporting role that he had previously played in London, and a 1980 Royal Court production of Hamlet for which he won an Olivier Award in the title role enhanced his career, but it was Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil, in which he had the lead role, that made him a star on film.

The actor added to his awards trophies with his 1991 Tony for Miss Saigon in which he recreated his London portrayal of the engineer in a modernized version of Madame Butterfly. He received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his supporting role in the 1993 TV movie, Barbarians at the Gate. Two years later he received numerous Best Actor nominations and awards for his performance in 1995’s Carrington.

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Oscar Profile #478: Ann Harding

Born August 7, 1902 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Dorothy Gatley, known professionally as Ann Harding, was the daughter of a prominent Army officer and his wife who spent her formative years traveling with her West Point educated father to wherever he was sent.

Having graduated from New Jersey’s East Orange High School, the future actress attended Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She adopted her stage name because of her father’s violent opposition to her profession.

Harding made her Broadway debut in 1921 in Like a King, alternating between Broadway and Pennsylvania theatre, marrying actor Harry Bannister in 1926, moving to Hollywood to pursue acting in movies at the dawn of the talkies. She made her film debut starring opposite Fredric March in 1929’s Paris Bound, followed by the same year’s Her Private Affair opposite Bannister and Condemned opposite Ronald Colman. Her fourth film, 1930’s Holiday, brought her first and only Oscar nomination at the 1930/31 awards. 1931’s East Lynne, in which she starred opposite Clive Brook, was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture the same year.

Harding’s 1932 Reno, Nevada divorce from Bannister made headlines. She claimed she still loved her husband, but according to court documents only through dissolution of their marriage could Bannister escape from being overshadowed by Harding’s rise to stardom.

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Oscar Profile #477: Peter Yates

Born July 24, 1929 in Hampshire, England, Peter Yates was the son of an army officer. He attended Charterhouse School as a boy, graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked for some years as an actor, director and stage manager. He directed plays in London and New York. He also spent two years as racing manager for drivers Stirling Moss and Peter Collins.

Yates started in the film industry doing odd jobs such as dubbing foreign films and editing documentaries, eventually becoming a leading assistant director.

He was an assistant director to Mark Robson on 1958’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Jack Cardiff on 1960’s Sons and Lovers, Tony Richardson on 1960’s The Entertainer and 1961’s A Taste of Honey, J. Lee Thompson on 1961’s The Guns of Navarone and José Quintero on 1961’s The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, among others. Through the influence of Richardson, he directed Albee’s An American Dream and The Death of Bessie Smith at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Yates’ first film as director was 1963’s Summer Holiday starring Cliff Richards. After several years of directing episodes of TV’s The Saint starring Roger Moore and Secret Agent starring Patrick McGoohan, he moved to Hollywood where he got his big break with 1968’s Bullitt starring Steve McQueen for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Director. His next two films, 1969’s John and Mary starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow and 1971’s Murphy’s War starring Peter O’Toole were disappointments, but his following two, 1972’s The Hot Rock starring Robert Redford George Segal and 1973’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle starring Robert Mitchum were well received.

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Oscar Profile #476: Sophia Loren

Born September 20, 1934 in Rome, Italy, Sophia Scicolone and her younger sister, Maria, were raised by their maternal grandmother in the slums of Pozzuoli, their construction engineer father having refused to divorce his wife and marry the girls’ piano teacher mother.

Encouraged to enter a beauty contest at 14, the young would-be actress was discovered by producer Carlo Ponti who became her mentor and started putting her in films in small roles at the age of 16 where she was alternately billed as Sophia Lazzaro and Scicolone. In 1953, Ponti changed her name to Sophia Loren to broaden her appeal. Loren and Ponti were married by proxy in Mexico in 1957 with lawyers standing in for them as Ponti was not legally divorced from his first wife. The marriage was annulled in 1962 to avoid bigamy charges in Italy. They were remarried in France in 1966 after Ponti obtained a divorce there. They had two sons, Carlo Jr., born in 1968, and Edoardo, born in 1973.

International stardom came for Loren in 1957 with the release of three Hollywood films, Boy on a Dolphin opposite Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb, The Pride and the Passion opposite Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, and Legend of the Lost opposite John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi. In 1958, she starred opposite Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives in Desire Under the Elms, William Holden and Trevor Howard in The Key, Cary Grant in Houseboat and Anthony Quinn in The Black Orchid.

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Oscar Profile #475: Christmas Movies Updated

With lame cable TV channels now cornering the market on Christmas movies, it’s again worth examining what a treasure occasional big screen movies have been. It’s nice to remember that there once was a time when not every Christmas movie was filmed in Canada in the summer with fake snow and was about the same thing – a young man or woman, usually a woman, returning to his or her roots in small town America after having become a success in the big town, usually New York or Chicago, and finding someone or something in that town that makes him or her wonder why they ever left. None of these films would be considered worthy candidates for Oscars, even if they were released theatrically and therefore considered eligible. It’s worth considering, though, that once upon a time there were Christmas movies that were considered Oscar worthy.

While no film with Christmas as its main theme has ever won a Best Picture Oscar, one film in which the holiday is prominently featured did win the big prize. That was 1960’s bittersweet comedy, The Apartment, which takes place primarily from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Jack Kruschen were nominated for their performances and the film won five of the ten it was nominated for including Best Picture, Director (Billy Wilder) and Original Screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond).

Last year’s winner, Green Book, does feature a climax built around getting homefor Christmas, but is not specifically built around the holiday.

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Oscar Profile #474: Edward Lachman

Born March 31, 1948 in Morristown, New Jersey, Edward (Ed) Lachman is the son of Rosabel and Edward Lachman, a movie theatre distributer and owner. He attended Harvard University and studied in France at the University of Tours before pursuing a BFA in painting at Ohio University.

Mentored in cinematography by such masters as Robby Muller (Paris, Texas), Sven Nykvist (Fanny & Alexander) and Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now), he learned how to sculp low light from Muller, study natural light from Nykvist and manufacture chiaroscuro light from Storaro.

Lachman’s first screen credit was as associate producer for the 1970 short, Shut Up…I’m Crying. His second was as assistant cameraman on the 1972 documentary, America First. His first credit as a cinematographer was on 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush.

For the next decade, Lachman was the credited cinematographer on a number of documentaries and short subjects, but also worked as an assistant cinematographer and cameraman on such major films as Stroszek, An American Friend, King of the Gypsies, Last Embrace, They All Laughed and Insignificance.

Lachman’s notable works as a cinematographer from the mid-1980s through the end of the 20th Century included Desperately Seeking Susan, Less Than Zero, Mississippi Masala, Light Sleeper, Selena, The Limey and The Virgin Suicides. He achieved even greater fame with 2000’s Erin Brockovich.

Working with director Todd Haynes for the first time on 2002’s Far from Heaven, Lachman received numerous awards include one from the New York Film Critics as well as his first Oscar nomination. In 2006, he was the cinematographer on Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. In 2007, he reunited with Haynes for I’m Not There. He then worked as cinematographer for Todd Solondz on 2009’s Life During Wartime and Ron Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman on 2010’s Howl.

Lachman was director of cinematography on all five episodes of Todd Haynes’ epic 2011 miniseries, Mildred Pierce, receiving and Emmy nomination for his work on the last episode.

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Oscar Profile #473: Celia Johnson

Born December 18, 1908, Celia “Betty” Johnson was the second child of John Robert and Ethel Collins, who made her first public appearance at the age of 8 in a charity performance of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid to raise funds for returning World War I soldiers.

The young actress attended St. Paul’s Girl School from 1919-1926 during which she performed in several school productions. She later spent time in Paris studying with Pierre Fresnay and the Comédie Francaise.

Johnson made her stage debut in a 1928 production of Major Barbara and went to London the following year to replace Angela Baddeley in A Hundred Years Old. In 1930 she appeared in Cynara with Gerald DuMaurier and Gladys Cooper and the following year made her first trip to the U.S. where she played Ophelia opposite Raymond Massey in a Broadway production of Hamlet.

The actress returned to London in 1933 where she starred in a two-year run of The Wind and the Rain. In 1939, she married journalist Peter Fleming, the older brother of James Bond author Eric Fleming, giving birth to the first of her three children in 1940. Her career flourished with her starring roles in Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca on the London stage, but she had to curtail her stage work during the remainder of World War II during which time she lived with her widowed sister and sister-in-law helping to care for their combined seven children while being heavily involved in charity work.

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Oscar Profile #472: Thanksgiving Revisited

If this seems familiar, it’s because it’s basically a reprint of last year’s Thanksgiving article.

Holidays have been celebrated in films since their inception. There have been films about virtually all of them. 1942’s Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire is in fact a celebration of all of the U.S. holidays.

We have had films that celebrate those we honor on their birthdays – George Washington (1942’s George Washington Slept Here with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan) and Abraham Lincoln (1940’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois with Raymond Massey and Ruth Gordon) in the days when those two presidents’ birthdays were separate holidays and more recently, Martin Luther King (2014’s Selma with David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo). Who hasn’t spent at least one 4th of July watching 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney and Joan Leslie and/or 1972’s 1776 with William Daniels and Ken Howard?

We’ve had films about Passover (1956’s The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner), films about Easter, both secular (1948’s Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire) and religious (1961’s King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter and Robert Ryan), films about Election Day (1958’s The Last Hurrah with Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien), films about Halloween (1978’s Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance) and films for Memorial Day (1962’s The Longest Day with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum) and Veteran’s Day (2017’s Last Flag Standing with Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne).

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Oscar Profile #471: Richard Widmark

Born December 26, 1914 in Sunrise Township, Minnesota, growing up mostly in Illinois but moving frequently due to his father’s job as a traveling salesman. He attended Lake Forest College where he originally studied law but switched to acting after starring a school production of Counsellor-at-Law which he taught after graduating with a degree in speech in 1936.

Widmark made his radio debut in 1938 in Aunt Jenny’s Real-Life Stories and continued as a radio actor well into the 1940s. He married screenwriter Jean Hazelwood in 1942, a marriage that lasted 55 years until her death in 1997. He made his Broadway debut in 1943’s Kiss and Tell and appeared in four more Broadway plays through 1946.

Making his screen debut as a sociopathic killer in 1947’s Kiss of Death, Widmark was an immediate sensation, stealing the film from star Victor Mature, earning a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer – Male and an Oscar nomination for his performance.

After further villainous roles in The Street with No Name, Road House and Yellow Sky, Widmark was finally given a heroic lead role in 1949’s Down to the Sea in Ships. Now a major star, the actor had major successes with such 1950s films as Night and the City, Panic in the Streets, No Way Out (as another loathsome character), Halls of Montezuma, Don’t Bother to Knock, Pickup on South Street, Hell and High Water, Garden of Evil, Broken Lance, Time Limit, The Law and Jake Wade, Tunnel of Love and Warlock.

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Oscar Profile #470: Haley Joel Osment

Born April 10, 1988 in Los Angeles, California, Haley Joel Osment is the son of teacher Theresa and actor Eugene Osment. He was signed with a talent agent at the age of four. At an audition, he was asked to describe the biggest thing he had ever seen; his description of an IMAX theater screen led to his winning a part in a Pizza Hut TV commercial from which his career took off.
Osment’s first on-screen appearance was in the 1994 TV movie, Lies of the Heart: The Story of Laurie Kellogg followed by his big screen portrayal of Tom Hanks’ son in Forrest Gump for which he received world-wide notice. After several minor roles, he had regular roles in the TV series Thunder Alley (1994-1995), The Jeff Foxworthy Show (1995-1997) and Murphy Brown (1997-1998). His performance as the boy who could see dead people in the 1998 megahit The Sixth Sense co-starring Bruce Willis and Toni Collette made him one of the most popular child actors of his day earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Cast in numerous films following his Oscar nomination, he was seen in major roles in numerous other films including 2000’s Pay It Forward with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt for which he won a Blockbuster award, 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence with Jude Law and Frances O’Connor for which he won a Saturn award, 2001’s Edges of the Lord with Willem Dafoe and Liam Hess and 2003’s Secondhand Lions with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall for which he won a Critics’ Choice award.

Osment provided voiceovers for numerous videos including Chip in 1997’s Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Zephyr in 2002’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame II for which he was nominated for a Young Artists award and Mowgli in 2003’s The Jungle Book 2 for which he was again nominated for a Young Artists award.

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