Margot Robbie a first for sports movies at the Oscars
The Academy Awards always have been skeptical of sports films, only three of which have won Best Picture – “Rocky” (1976), “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).
But at least the Oscars have recognized the occasional actor playing an athlete, with Best Actor nods that include Wallace Beery in “The Champ” (1931) and Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull” (1980).
Cuba Gooding Jr. won the 1996 Best Supporting Actor award for playing a fictional wide receiver in “Jerry McGuire.” Christian Bale won the 2010 Best Supporting Actor statuette for “The Fighter.”
Many other actors have been nominated through the decades.
Key word: actors.
When it comes to actresses, sports has not led to many nominees, let alone winners on Oscar night, which this year is set for Sunday night on ABC.
Yes, Hilary Swank won for her role as an ill-fated boxer in “Million Dollar Baby.” But she was playing a fictional character.
And Sandra Bullock did win in a sports movie, “The Blind Side” (2009), but not for playing an athlete.
That makes Margot Robbie, who portrays Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” the first person ever nominated as Best Actress for playing a real-life female athlete.
At the Golden Globes, Robbie had company in Emma Stone, who was nominated for playing Billie Jean King in “Battle of the Sexes.” But Stone is not among the Academy Award nominees in that category.
So Robbie it is, even if her colleague, Allison Janney, is much more likely to win in the Best Supporting Actress category for portraying Harding’s mother.
Robbie is Australian, but she is an avid Rangers fan. She did much of her own skating in the film, although not advanced jumps. One of her co-stars, Paul Walter Hauser, said in a recent interview with Newsday that she could handle herself on the ice.
“She was a very good skater and she put so much time into her prep work,” Hauser said. “She was doing body work with a body movement coach, taking skating lessons for hours a day every day and also working with an acting coach and a dialect coach. She had voices and facial expressions and body movements for every time period of Tonya.”
The Oscars have opened up a bit in recent years in giving nominations to sports movies, and just last year the event honored a sports documentary, ESPN’s epic “O.J.: Made America,” as best feature length documentary.
If “I, Tonya” comes up empty on Sunday, there is another sports nominee considered among the favorites in the Best Animated Short category.
That would be Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball,” based on a 2015 poem he wrote as a farewell to basketball, animated by Glen Keane, scored by John Williams and narrated by Bryant.
When the nominations were announced, he tweeted, “What?? This is beyond the realm of imagination.”