If this fall Oscar season tells us anything, it's that Hollywood loves its good old fashioned movie stars. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
In an essay today on Vulture, Nick Schager argues that the buzz around Robert Redford's performance in the new film All Is Lost reveals that Hollywood doesn't have much respect for its movie stars. You see, Redford—despite his storied career—has never won an Oscar for acting. (He has won for directing and for lifetime achievement.) "The reason Hollywood frequently finds itself in these remedial situations is that it takes its movie stars for granted," Schager writes. "Not in terms of box office, naturally — regardless of recent talk about a dawning post-movie-star age, there’s little the industry adores more than A-listers capable of carrying franchises both domestically and internationally. But in terms of the work and skill that goes into being a movie star, Hollywood too often sees little artistic merit."
But this entire season would seem to disprove that. It looks like banner year for movie stars, and we don't mean Daniel Day-Lewis type, respected thesps. We mean can-open-a-movie, respected-but-tabloid-stalked, America's-sweetheart-type movie stars. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock hold down Gravity, and Clooney's back later in the year with the self-directed Monuments Men. Tom Hanks stars in both Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. Julia Roberts is in August: Osage County. Redford carries All Is Lost all by himself. While all, undoubtedly, doing fine acting work, all of these performances are buoyed by the fact that these actors have the glittery, bombastic presence of movie stars. Their history cannot be ignored. What also cannot be ignored is that, save for Redford, all of these people have won Oscars and there's a good chance they might be nominated again.
That's not to say there isn't any truth Schager's argument. We often hear of instances of the Academy forgetting about an actor or actress until the end of his or her career. But that discrepancy may just have to do with the fact that the Oscars can be a fairly arbitrary measuring tool, and that for some reason it was never Redford's year, even though he made a plethora of well-respected "adult dramas," like the Clooneys and Robertses and Hankses of the world. Redford's career looks something like that of Leonardo DiCaprio, an actor who hasn't won, but may also be in the running for something this year if The Wolf of Wall Street comes out in time.
Of course, this might be a moot point in the future, as this week there's yet another piece declaring that we don't have a new generation of mega stars. In Variety, Ramin Setoodeh bemoans the lack of young male stars in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey casting crisis that erupted after Charlie Hunnam dropped out. (We should mention that no one is worried about the state of young female movie stars with Jennifer Lawrence holding down the fort, even though the actress category has a wealth of problems too.) "Hollywood is a now a town with angst-ridden actors jittery about their own fame," Setoodeh writes. "A big part of this change comes from the new reality of stardom, if such a thing even exists anymore. In the era of TMZ, celebrity is a bad word, and the instantaneous news cycle has led to high burnout." Now these, ultimately, are two very different things. No one who stars in Fifty Shades of Grey could take the lead away from, say, Redford or Hanks in their movies out this year. But Redford and Hanks were stars even when they were young. Redford, in his hunky hunky youth, could have maybe even been in line for the Christian Grey role.
If, anything, this year seems to prove that Hollywood is holding on tightly to its old generation movie stars, who may ultimately take awards and attention away from lauded (relative) newcomers. The business seems to love its tried and true heroes so much that it hasn't had time to develop new ones or shelter them from the cruel outside world of the gossip vultures. Or maybe we're just nostalgic.