Statistics show us time and again that Oscar likes his ladies young. In fact 29 is the most common age that leading ladies win Oscars (for comparison's sake only one man under 30 has ever won Best Actor). And yet, as we speed towards the Oscar nominations, barring an extreme long-shot fresh-faced spoiler like an Adèle (20) or a Brie (26), this year's Best Actress Lineup will likely skew incredibly 'vintage'. If the expected five make an historic "all winners lineup" it's going to be the oldest lineup ever. Now, there is some degree of unusual feeling (I share it) that Meryl Streep (64) is vulnerable to a shut-out for her work in August: Osage County -- something that seemed unthinkable even a few months ago -- but even if she doesn't make the shortlist, there's no guarantee it'll be someone at the beginning of their career. Amy Adams (39) and Julia Louis Dreyfus (52) might still triumph over Brie or Adèle for that hotly contested fifth slot.
So let's look at...
The Top Ten Most Mature Best Actress Shortlists
This top ten is actually only nine years long. I'm reserving a spot for 2013. Barring a major upheaval, the 2013 lineup will be our oldest on average ever. Unless Adèle makes it... and even then it'll come close to being the very oldest. A funny thing occurred while researching this: the years I thought of as elderly weren't. I immediately thought of 1950, for example, with those grande dame performances by All About Eve's Bette Davis and Sunset Boulevard's Gloria Swanson (two of the best performances to lose the Oscar) but both of those women were barely 50 (Grande Dame used to start young!) and the rest of the category was young, younger and youngest. I was also wrong about these years which average a touch or a lot younger than I remembered or was expecting: 1960, 1962, 1974, 1990 and 1992.
Runners Up [3-way Tie] With an Average Age of 41.2 years
1997 As Good as It Get's Helen Hunt, the winner, was the median age of 34.
1996 Fargo's Frances McDormand, another median age winner, was 37.
1952 Come Back Little Sheba's Shirley Booth, pictured left and recently discussed, was the oldest at 52 and the winner. (She's still the only woman to win Best Actress during her fifties. Isn't that insane?) Can you guess which years made the list before you click to proceed? Try it silently for fun...
average age 43
- Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory (26)
- May Robson, Lady for a Day (75)
- Diana Wynyard, Cavalcade (28)
Robson yanked the average age way up. In fact, up until Riva surfaced last year she was one of the three oldest Oscar nominees ever in this category. The youngest nominee, Katharine Hepburn, won. Even Hepburn disciples today don't think Morning Glory is among her finest hours but such is the excitement of the new girls with Oscar.
average age 43.4
- Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God (54)
- Whoopi Goldberg, Color Purple (30)
- Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams (36)
- Geraldine Page, Trip to Bountiful (61)
- Meryl Streep, Out of Africa (36)
If it hadn't been for the obscenely overdue status of Geraldine Page, a living legend who died just a year after the ceremony, another kind of history might have been made here with a win for Whoopi. But who knows? Perhaps Meryl was running second since Out of Africa was a humongous hit with both general audiences and AMPAS that year.
average age 43.4
- Allen, The Contender (44)
- Binoche, Chocolat (36)
- Burstyn, Requiem (68)
- Linney, You Can (36)
- Roberts, Brockovich (33)
Another year when the youngest star won. Despite a very vocal minority rooting for Burstyn, Roberts was never going to lose this at the peak of her stardom.
average age 44
- Halle Berry, Monster's Ball (35)
- Judi Dench, Iris (67)
- Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge! (34)
- Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom (52)
- Renée Zelwegger, Bridget Jones's Diary (32)
Interesting that two years in a row with Oscar in this category the major battle was between a peaking beauty /star playing a struggling poor woman versus a legendary Oscar winner in a very dark drama. In both cases of course the former won. Question: is ageism less of a problem now or is it mere coincidence because of the unusual golden girl box office pull of Mirren, Dench, and Streep skewing the sample?
average age 46.3
- Marie Dressler, Min & Bill (63)
- Lynn Fontane, The Guardsman (44)
- Helen Hayes, The Sin of Madelon Claudet (32)
If you've never seen Marie Dressler in Min & Bill, boy are you missing out. It's one of the most atypical Best Actress wins ever but she's utterly fab in a high energy surprising movie. It seems impossible to imagine it but she was a box office giant in her sixties way back at the dawn of the talkies.
average age 46.8
- Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel (34)
- Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine (49)
- Jessica Lange, Musix Box (40)
- Michelle Pfeiffer, Fabulous Baker Boys (31)
- Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy (80)
1989...sigh... Also known as "The Year That Scarred Young Nathaniel Forever". In a somewhat atypical move, Oscar decided to go with the old lady -- Jessica Tandy was the most senior acting winner of all time until Christopher Plummer's Beginners stole that trivia answer -- when they could've had a young superstar goddess during her ascension at the peak of her beauty. A look through Oscar history will show you that this almost never happens but 1989 was a weird year with Oscar having a very reactionary conservative moment, and bristling against or trying to resist any of the sizzling contemporary stuff (see also the shunning of Do The Right Thing and that year's indie sensation sex, lies and videotape) and La Pfeiff was sizzling contemporary stuff.
average age 47.6
- Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata (63)
- Ellen Burstyn, Same Time Next Year (46)
- Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman (34)
- Jane Fonda, Coming Home (41)
- Geraldine Page, Interiors (54)
I don't have much to say about this year other than "isn't it fab?" Not only is it full of sensational actresses but it's also very womanly in its thematic concerns. Geraldine Page as "Ivy" in Interiors is everything and though I wouldn't have given Jane Fonda her second win this year, she's pretty damn terrific at charting her sexual entanglement with a disabled vet.
average age 48.2
- Anne Bancroft, The Graduate (36)
- Faye Dunaway, Bonnie & Clyde (27)
- Edith Evans, The Whisperers (80)
- Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark (38)
- Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (60)
It's funny to think of Anne Bancroft as the original "cougar" if you will since she was only 36 when The Graduate premiered, just six years older than the "young" man she was seducing, and the second youngest of these nomines. I will never be okay with Katharine Hepburn's win this year -- by far the least of this otherwise awesome box set -- but what can you do?
average age 50.6
- Penelope Cruz, Volver (32)
- Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal (72)
- Helen Mirren, The Queen (61)
- Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada (57)
- Kate Winslet, Little Children (31)
AKA "The Year when Dame Helen Mirren Inexplicably Steamrolled and No One Raised a Fuss About It Even Though She'd Been Better Before and Most Of Her CoStars Were Doing Their (Arguable) Best Work Ever." Whew. I know that's an unwieldly title for any Best Actress year but this is a fun annual to talk about. We do it often.
Ready. Set. Go...