What's really curious about "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is that most Oscar pundits give the lead star of the film with the most nominations virtually no hope of winning best actor. Among the five contenders in that category, Brad Pitt is usually ranked fourth or fifth by prognosticators. Why?
Most likely it's punishment for his good looks. Look at other top male stars who haven't won Oscars despite working in Hollywood for years: Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Gere. They're all heartthrobs — just like previous matinee stars who got snubbed in years past: James Dean, Steve McQueen, Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor.
Now consider the parade of young lovelies who dominated the actress awards in recent years. Best-actress champs over the last decade, for example, include Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon. Read more about that phenomenon in Gold Derby's separate blog piece about the Babe Factor.
The male counterpart to that female factor is the Slap the Stud Syndrome. While a few handsome male stars have managed to win now and then in the past, most have been denied. There's a clear pattern of it.
Consider the case of Tom Cruise, who lost the 1989 best actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis. Both men played wheelchair-bound real-life heroes in "Born on the Fourth of July" and "My Left Foot," respectively. Cruise had won the Golden Globe while Day-Lewis had taken most of the critics prizes. When the British born Day-Lewis prevailed over the all-American Cruise many Oscarologists attributed this to another instance of the Slap the Stud Syndrome.
The theory goes that many of the academy voters are geezer guys who love the younger fillies but resent the handsome bucks. Their message to these Hollywood heartthrobs: "You already have it all –- fame, fortune and females aplenty. So, sorry pal, no Oscar for you, just yet."
However, just like the pretty women who de-glamorize themselves (Charlize Theron, "Monster"; Nicole Kidman, "The Hours") to win an Oscar so too can the handsome hunks who pack on a few pounds, a la George Clooney in 2005's "Syriana." Last year, Javier Bardem was the hunk du jour whose unflattering Buster Brown bowl cut in "No Country for Old Men" won him the supporting actor Oscar.
And speaking of Clooney, as he was back to his usual movie-star-handsome-self last year in "Michael Clayton," the Slap the Stud Syndrome helped put Day-Lewis back in the winner's circle for "There Will Be Blood." That win also came at the expense of two-time loser Johnny Depp. He and Pitt, both 45, should take comfort in the fact that other studs won a best-actor Oscar later in their career when they were less of a threat to get the babes that the older academy guys can't.
While Tom Cruise lost his 1996 best actor bid for "Jerry Maguire" to respected stage star Geoffrey Rush ("Shine"), he lost the 1999 supporting actor race when nomm'd for "Magnolia" to one-time stud Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules"). Caine did not win his first three best actor races and only won his first supporting Oscar ("Hannah and Her Sisters," 1986) when he was on other side of 50.
Al Pacino was 52 when nomination No. 7 for "Scent of a Woman" turned out to be the lucky one in 1992. However, by the time Oscar voters finally rewarded Paul Newman, he didn't care anymore. Even though he was widely favored to win best actor for the 1986 film, "The Color of Money," the 62-year-old actor skipped the ceremony. At that point he'd lost seven times and was tied with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole as Oscar's biggest loser. Disgusted by the whole game, Newman told the Associated Press that his pursuit of the statuette had been "like chasing a beautiful woman for 80 years. Finally, she relents and you say, 'I am terribly sorry. I'm tired.' "
And while there are the usual exceptions to the rule — both Clark Gable ("It Happened One Night," 1934) and Marlon Brando ("On the Waterfront," 1954) won Oscars at the height of their careers — many more leading men have been slapped through the years, never winning Oscars for acting:
Warren Beatty (four lead nominations)
Charles Boyer (four lead nominations)
Montgomery Clift (three lead and one supporting nominations)
James Dean (two lead nominations)
Leonardo DiCaprio (two lead and one supporting nominations)
Kirk Douglas (three lead nominations)
Clint Eastwood (two lead nominations)
Albert Finney (four lead and one supporting nominations)
Peter Fonda (one lead nomination)
Harrison Ford (one lead nomination)
Cary Grant (two lead nominations)
Rock Hudson (one lead nomination)
Jude Law (two lead nominations)
Marcello Mastroianni (three lead nominations)
Steve McQueen (one lead nomination)
Robert Mitchum (one supporting nomination)
Nick Nolte (two lead nominations)
Robert Redford (one lead nomination)
Burt Reynolds (one supporting nomination)
Will Smith (two lead nominations); and
John Travolta (two lead nominations).
Photos: Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO Pictures