All Is Lost

Did the Academy Snub Robert Redford Because He’s So Damn Handsome?

Redford, O’Toole, Cary Grant, Clooney, and DiCaprio. In the last 86 years, on Oscar night the most beautiful dudes tend to lose—if they've even been nominated.


January 16, 2014, is a date which will live in infamy.

I’m referring, of course, to the 2014 Oscar nominations, which were announced Thursday morning at 5:38 am PT. That was the moment it became official.

Jonah Hill now has more Oscar nods for acting than Robert Redford.

I caught an early screening of All Is Lost in October. About 20 minutes in, a thought occurred to me: Redford could get nominated for this. By the time the movie was over, I was certain: Redford is going to win Best Actor for this. Finally. His minimalist performance was so haunting—and his Oscar track record so skimpy—that I figured he was a lock.

Prior to this year, the Academy had nominated Redford (the actor) exactly once, for The Sting in 1973—and systematically ignored him in everything else, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, The Candidate, All the President’s Men, and Out of Africa, among others. Nothing says “We’re Sorry” like awarding a living legend a belated Best Actor statuette for an immaculate late-career performance, or so I thought.

But no. I was wrong.

And so on this bleak midwinter morn, as I grapple with my shock and chagrin, I can’t help but ask: Why does the Academy keep snubbing Redford?

Some might say it’s because he doesn’t “campaign” aggressively enough. Others might argue it’s because he hasn’t selected the most Oscar-friendly roles.

Or maybe Redford keeps getting shut out because he’s so damn handsome.

A few caveats before I continue. As far as Academy Awards go, attractive women probably have it harder than attractive men; studies have shown people tend to consider good-looking ladies less competent and less talented than their homelier peers, which may partly explain why Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo, Catherine Deneuve, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, and Michelle Pfeiffer never won Oscar gold. Actresses over 40, meanwhile, have an even rougher time in Hollywood. And minorities? Forget about it. No contest.

But still. Look back over the last 86 years of Oscar results and a pattern begins to emerge: on the big night, the most beautiful dudes tend to lose—if they’ve even been nominated at all. Not always, of course. But more often than not.

Consider the evidence. Peter O‘Toole, whose gorgeousness-to-talent ratio was probably the lowest in Hollywood history, never won an Academy Award for his acting. Neither did Cary Grant, who was the greatest male movie star of all-time, and certainly one of the handsomest. (In fact, Grant was only nominated twice, for Penny Serenade in 1941 and None but the Lonely Heart in 1944; all of his immortal work with Alfred Hitchcock was overlooked.) James Dean never won an Oscar. Neither did Rock Hudson. Or Errol Flynn. Or Montgomery Clift. Or Robert Mitchum. Or Warren Beatty. That lineup could pretty much double as a list of the Best-Looking Actors Ever. Even nine-time nominee Paul Newman died with only a single statuette on his mantle.

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The trend has continued in recent years as well. To see what I mean, click on this list of Best Actor results. Scroll down to 1980 or so. Choose each year’s comeliest nominee. And see how often he wins. 1980: O‘Toole loses. 1981: Beatty and Newman lose. 1982: Newman and O‘Toole lose. 1985: Harrison Ford loses. (He still hasn’t won.) 1987: Marcello Mastroianni loses. (He never won, either.) 1989: Tom Cruise loses. 1990: Kevin Costner loses. 1991: Beatty loses again. 1994: Newman loses again. 1996: Cruise loses again. 1997: Matt Damon loses. 2003: Johnny Depp and Jude Law lose. (Neither has ever won.) 2004: Depp and DiCaprio both lose. (DiCaprio has never won). 2005: Heath Ledger loses. 2006: DiCaprio and O‘Toole lose. 2007: Depp and George Clooney lose. 2008: Brad Pitt loses. (Pitt has never won.) 2009: Clooney loses again. 2010: James Franco loses. 2011: Pitt loses again.

In fact, sometimes it seems like the only way a pretty actor can win an Oscar is if he moves behind the camera to direct. Redford won for Ordinary People. Costner won for Dances with Wolves. Mel Gibson won for Braveheart. And Beatty won for Reds. None of them have won for anything else. Actors who look like mere mortals are allowed to act and be rewarded for it, but it’s almost as if the best-looking stars are required to do something more “substantial” to prove they’re worthy of an Oscar.

Coincidence? I’m not sure. It could be that the handsomest nominees almost always deliver inferior performances. Or perhaps, in the same way that studies have shown that people tend to “doubt” beautiful women, “assuming that their success is a function of schmoozing—or worse”—the Academy does, in fact, have a subtle bias against men whose good looks are particularly pronounced.

Either way, the 2014 Academy Awards should be an interesting experiment. Redford may not have been ancient and crinkled enough to overcome the “curse” of his iconic golden-boy image, but this year we’re fortunate to have another blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Oscarless hunk to test our theory on: Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s up for Best Actor for his work in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

Sure, DiCaprio has been nominated four times in total. But for the most part the Academy has neglected his finest performances: The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Django Unchained. He’s at the top of his game in Wolf, and he just took home the Golden Globe. If he loses on March 2, I say the curse is real. And if he wins… well, maybe life isn’t so bad for incredibly good-looking male movie stars after all.