Austin Butler may not want to think that his chances of winning a best actor Oscar for playing Elvis Presley could be boosted by the sudden Jan. 12 death of the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s only daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. But that’s the hard reality of the Oscars race: Tragedy sometimes leads to awards.
Heath Ledger and Peter Finch won posthumous acting Oscars in 2009 and 1977 for “The Dark Knight” and “Network,” respectively, though many would say they turned in iconic performances that deserved to be honored.
More questionably, Elizabeth Taylor won her first Academy Award in 1961, for the critically maligned “Butterfield 8” — after she almost died of pneumonia. On the other hand, the deaths of James Dean and Chadwick Boseman didn’t lead to posthumous awards; pretty much everyone expected the “Black Panther” star to win in 2021 for his final performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
With Butler, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed he at least deserves a nomination for his performance in the biopic “Elvis.” On Tuesday, “Elvis” was nominated for eight total awards, including best actor and best picture.
As of Monday, the awards prediction site Gold Derby still had Butler in third place, behind Brendan Fraser for “The Whale” and Colin Farrell for “The Banshees of Inisherin.” That placement could change. Oscars watchers say that winning a little gold man isn’t just about doing the best work, it’s also about Academy or external “politics,” public sentiment and the sometimes hard-to-define concept of timing.
Right now, timing and sentiment seem to be on Butler’s side. His name was thrust to the forefront of pop culture conversation when he emotionally paid tribute to Lisa Marie Presley and her mother, Priscilla, while accepting the Golden Globe for best actor on Jan. 10. He spoke directly to a tearful Lisa Marie Presley in the audience — two days before her sudden and shocking death of cardiac arrest at age 54.
Following her death, Butler said his heart was “completely shattered.” He also also appeared somber when attending Presley’s public memorial service at Graceland, her father’s Memphis, Tennessee, estate, on Sunday.
— Entertainment Tonight (@etnow) January 11, 2023
Film critics Joe Reid and Chris Feil, awards seasons prognosticators with the “This Had Oscar Buzz” podcast, said they think Butler is now on track to win.
“Austin Butler is really winning the best actor Oscar,” Reid said on their podcast last week. “100%,” Feil agreed.
Reid explained how a stirring Golden Globes speech can help actors or directors “preview their case” for why they should win an Oscar and why voters should “want to have a moment like that” at their ceremony.
Reid said he had been up in the air about whether Butler could overtake Fraser or Farrell as frontrunner. But that was before Golden Globes and Presley’s death. Talk about Butler’s chances inevitably takes “us into sad news, current events territory,” he said.
In Butler’s Golden Globes speech, he praised the Presley family for “opening up” their hearts as he was making the movie. “Elvis” follows the Mississippi-born legend’s spectacular rise to musical stardom in the 1950s, then his premature death of cardiac arrest in 1977 at age 42. Lisa Marie Presley was 9 when her father died.
Austin Butler thanking Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley two days ago is extra powerful now …RIP Lisa Marie 🙏
— Wu-Tang is for the Children (@WUTangKids) January 13, 2023
“Lisa Marie, Priscilla, I love you forever,” Butler said, as the two women patted their hearts in gratitude. Lisa Marie Presley had given Butler her enthusiastic endorsement. On the red carpet earlier that night, she said his performance “was so incredible and so spot on and just so authentic that, yeah, I can’t even describe what it meant.”
On Twitter, Lisa Marie Presley furthermore said that Butler “channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully.” She called his performance “unprecedented,” then joked, “If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I will eat my own foot, haha.”
GoldDerby writer Ray Richmond said Lisa Marie Presley’s spirit could “continue to boost the film and Butler’s SAG, Oscar and BAFTA candidacy over the next few months.” Richmond also lists 13 non-actors who received posthumous Oscars in various categories over the decade. But aside from Presley’s endorsement, there are other reasons Oscar voters will pay attention to him, Richmond and others say.
GoldDerby writer Nick Bisa said it helps that Butler is playing a cultural icon, which, for practical purposes, means it will make it easy for Academy voters to remember him and recognize his work. Bisa said the Academy also likes it when actors play famous real-life people: Seven of the best actor Oscars in the past 10 years went to men playing figures in history or culture, such as Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”), Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”), Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman, “The Darkest Hour”) and Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
Butler’s chances also are boosted by the fact that “Elvis” was a box-office hit, earning $150 million domestically, Bisa said. Even if critics didn’t love the movie, most singled out Butler for praise. Another factor in Butler’s favor, according to Bisa: He stars in a movie that has wide support in the Academy, given its seven other nominations for picture, editing, cinematography, sound, production design, costume and makeup and hairstyling.
“That passion for ‘Elvis’ greatens Butler’s winning chances in best actor,” Bisa said.
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