In 1999 Cate Blanchett received her first Academy Award nomination for her royal performance as Elizabeth, famed queen of England. This year she’s back in the running with her portrayal of that same woman in The Golden Age of her reign. In 2005 she was honored with an Oscar for the supporting transformation she took on as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, and as part of Todd Haynes’ unconventional Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There, she’s the odds-on favorite to take home the Supporting Actress trophy this year as well.
One might say the bottom line is: If you’re looking for Oscar glory, look no further than the larger-than-life tale of a legendary figure. Take a cue from Blanchett. Or Will Smith. The summer blockbuster king earned both of his nods by playing real-life characters Muhammed Ali and Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness). Even industry stalwarts like Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Jim Broadbent (Iris) have found themselves in a renaissance of awards fury when turning their sights to this biopic trend.
But more than any legendary figure, in recent years the Academy has seemed to further specify that actors are at least guaranteed a nomination for playing a music industry giant. As the fictional biopic star Dewey Cox might say, “All I need is my music and someday, I’ll make my masterpiece.” It took the Man in Black for people to see Joaquin Phoenix as Best Actor material (Walk the Line). While he lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s screen version of Truman Capote, Phoenix’s costar Reese Witherspoon gained Academy cred and a little gold man by playing June Carter Cash.
With all this evidence it might seem that factual stories are getting the last laugh year in and year out at the Academy ceremonies. Afterall, last year it was the story of Idi Amin that brought Forest Whitaker his trophy for Best Actor. In years previous nominations and a few trophies were handed out to Russell Crowe, Kate Winslet, Salma Hayek, Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio and Don Cheadle for their realistic portrayals. Yet aside from Blanchett and an outside possibility of Marion Cotillard for the Edith Piaf story La Vie en Rose, this year’s odds-on favorites favor the fictional. Daniel Day-Lewis as early oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, Javier Bardem as the merciless assassin Anton Chigurh and Julie Christie as an older woman gracefully succumbing to Alzheimer’s—all are characters imagined by their respective screenwriters and novelists. Are the tides slowly turning? Only time will tell.