As mentioned at the end of our preview of the Oscar lead actor race, a bunch of the names being mentioned in the category have something in common. Since part of what we have done for many years while predicting Oscars is to look at various trends in the nominations and winners, this was one we couldn’t ignore.
A good percentage of this year’s top contenders in the category play fathers with teen daughters and some of their strongest scenes in their respective movies involve them having heartfelt father-daughter discussions with their girls. It’s actually so common this year that one has to wonder if it’s a coincidence or something that filmmakers have discovered can help make their leading men feel more human.
That’s certainly true with Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane in Moneyball, whose time spent with his young estranged daughter has acted as the perfect way for non-baseball fans to get into the movie. Many critics have cited these scenes as some of their favorites, and it’s something that was embellished for the movie that’s not necessarily in James Lewis’ clinical non-fiction book.
That’s also the case with George Clooney in The Descendants and in that case, his daughter is an equally terrific performance by Shailene Woodley, a girl who has been getting into trouble but has to step up to help her father deal with the fact is dying wife was cheating on him. Woodley holds her own against Clooney, appearing in just about every scene with him as they try to track down the man sleeping with his comatose wife.
Woody Harrelson is a cop with problems in Oren Moverman’s Rampart, and he definitely has issues with the women in his life, being a bit of a womanizer. When he sits down to help his troubled teen daughter, played by Brie Larson, you suddenly feel empathy for him, and we see that he might not be such a bad guy after all. It’s a great scene, possibly one of the strongest dramatic moments in the movie, and boy, does it help Woody’s chances at getting another Oscar nomination.
Although Matt Damon isn’t being thought of as a contender for his performance in Steven Soderbergh’s thriller Contagion, his character in that movie has that exact same thing in common with his pals Brad and George. In We Bought a Zoo, he’s a father to a younger daughter, and a single father no less, which should immediately get the audience behind him. Yeah, it’s kind of weird to think of that young man from Saving Private Ryan and Good Will Hunting playing fathers just thirteen years after he first got attention, but hey, that’s the way things go.
Some might wonder why this trend, whether intentional or not, might have any sort of weight in the Oscar race and we can give you that answer. Having the main characters playing fathers humanizes these fairly big name stars and makes people who watch the movies feel some sort of kinship to their characters, and that’s the case with Oscar voters as well. This isn’t a new thing either as last year, Jeff Bridges got nominated for his performance in the Coens’ True Grit, which also had him interacting with a teen girl, played by fellow Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, and if we go back in time, we can see this being a fairly regular phenomenon.
Of course, if we see the same thing too much in any given year, it might cancel out the advantage it gives the respective actors, and in the case above, that might allow Jean Dujardin to pull out a win for The Artist, because the only ward he has to take care of is his adorable performing dog.