Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,

Girls gotta flash, and Boys gotta cry


What in tarnation?  O.K., so I bastardized Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyric from Show Boat’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” to make a point:  when it comes to getting an Academy Award nomination – and even winning the Oscar – actresses  who take off their clothes can enhance their chances and actors that cry on screen can improve their odds.  Both of these ‘acts’ demonstrate an actor’s “commitment to the role” and they can get rewarded for taking such a risk.  Think I’m being cynical, read on:

Obviously nudity wasn’t even a possibility during the years that the production code was in place and being enforced, and it took some time before the conservative voting bloc of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences would even consider nominating an actress that dared to bare a breast or take off her clothes, but times changed. While others might find another demarcation point for mainstream Hollywood’s shift to presenting more (previously deemed) ‘taboo’ aspects on film AND A.M.P.A.S.’s acceptance of it, I’ll choose 1997.  There were two films that year which began this newest ‘edgier’ trend, and it didn’t hurt that one of them shattered box office records and held the title of the highest grossing film of all-time for more than a decade:

James Cameron’s Titantic (1997) featured Kate Winslet’s daring pose for Leonardo DeCaprio’s sketch of her naked torso, an act which played out during their character’s forbidden romance on the fated cruise ship.  Ms. Winslet earned the first of her four Best Actress Academy Award nominations for her role and, in going several steps further – nudity-wise – she finally won the Oscar for her part in The Reader (2008).

The other trendsetter of 1997 was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), which explored the world of pornographic filmmaking in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Not only did the film earn veteran Burt Reynolds his only Academy recognition – he played an adult film director – but, by taking significant risks playing a porn star, it earned Julianne Moore her first Oscar nomination.

Since this metaphorical dam break, edgy subject matters and actresses’ nudity have been accepted in mainstream films; the Academy has since recognized movies and female performances that, previously, might have been ignored, or perhaps even shunned:  from American Beauty (1999), which won several Oscars including Best Picture, Hilary Swank’s win for Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Halle Berry’s Monster Ball (2001), Charlize Theron’s Monster (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005) and so forth.  More recently, it would be easy to argue that the sexual content in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Black Swan (2010) contributed to Penélope Cruz’s (Supporting Actress) and Natalie Portman’s (Best Actress) wins.

For some reason I feel compelled to mention Julie Andrews’s spoof of her squeaky clean – Mary Poppins and (Sound of Music) Maria – onscreen persona in her director-husband Blake Edwards’s comedy bomb S.O.B. (1981) – she flashed!  While this didn’t earn Ms. Andrews any recognition from the Academy, she did receive her third and last (to date) Best Actress Oscar nomination for her next film, in the title role of Victor Victoria (1982).

If actresses can get the Academy’s attention by flashing some nudity, something that was traditionally ‘taboo’ for top-flight actresses in mainstream movies, then the equivalent for their male counterparts – to show how committed they are to their roles – is to ignore another common parental admonishment, that “boys don’t cry”.  One film that illustrates both is The Wrestler (2008), for which a naked Marisa Tomei earned a Supporting Actress nomination and a crying Mickey Rourke earned a Best Actor nod.

The history of men crying on film to acclaim may have started with Jackie Cooper in Skippy (1931), who received a Best Actor nomination for his tearful performance – a friend’s mutt was put down by the dog catcher – in the title role.  In case you’re wondering, Freddie Bartholomew wasn’t nominated for his similar performance when Spencer Tracy’s Manuel died (though Tracy did win for Best Actor) in Captains Courageous (1937).  Tough guy James Cagney’s ‘cowardly’ crying at the end of Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) surely helped to earn him a Best Actor nomination, and his tears at his onscreen father’s (Walter Huston, a Supporting Actor nominee) deathbed in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) may have contributed to his win several years later.  Frequent leading man Van Heflin received his only Academy recognition that same year for his crying scene in Johnny Eager (1942); he won the Best Supporting Actor award. When tough guy Humphrey Bogart showed a sensitive side in Casablanca (1942), he earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.  Claude Rains tears up in his title (though supporting) role performance as Mr. Skeffington (1944), and was nominated for the third of his four times (without a win; a travesty).

Perhaps it was just me crying for 1945’s two winners – lead Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) and supporting James Dunn (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) – but it’s also possible that they both did it themselves, onscreen in their roles, and 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives and It’s a Wonderful Life certainly evoked the tears of their audiences.  The decade closed with Richard Todd’s memorable and (his only) Best Actor nominated performance as a disagreeable Scot in The Hasty Heart (1949); his character’s tough demeanor is finally cracked by a gift from his fellow hospitalized soldiers.

Of course the 1950’s brought us Marlon Brando and his more passionate method of acting.  Shortly thereafter, displays of emotions by men on screen became more commonplace be they outbursts of rage, tears, or you name it.  Dustin Hoffman (followed by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) was among the more prominent that continued the trend.  Without detailing all of these actors and their performances, I do think that there is certain irony in the fact that Spencer Tracy, one of the oldest ‘guards’ left from the then defunct studio era, ended his career with perhaps his most sentimental scene at the close of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), for which he received his ninth Best Actor nomination, posthumously.  This begs the question:  did Clark Gable ever cry on screen?

Over the past 20 something years, here is a partial accounting of men crying on screen that have won (bold) or received Academy Award nominations for performance in which they shed tears:

Best Actors:

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman (1992)

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia (1993)

Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump (1994)

Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking (1995)

Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire (1996)

Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting (1997)

Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks, Cast Away (2000)

Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt (2002)

Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Sean Penn, Milk (2008) – haven’t seen it; I assume he cried

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Colin Firth, A Single Man (2009)

Supporting Actors:

Denzel Washington, Glory (1989)

Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire (1996)

Tom Cruise, Magnolia (1999)

Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile (1999)

Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense (1999)

Tim Robbins, Mystic River (2003)

Thomas Haden Church, Sideways (2004)

Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder (2008)

Christian Bale, The Fighter (2010)

Per the above list, Tom Hanks seems to have made a career of it!  Which is ironic, considering his A League of Their Own (1992) character’s famous line “There’s no crying in baseball!”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t48brs4QRjY]

For the passionate Pacino, it took eight (five leading, 3 supporting) Oscar nominations before his win for Scent of a Woman (1992).  Was it his tears that pushed him over the top?  On the other hand, Peter O’Toole, who effectively began his career by crying as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), has yet to win an Oscar for his eight (at the time of this article) lead actor nominations, though he did receive an honorary statuette in 2003, which preceded his last nom for Venus (2006).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFSlNGH3DIE]

Sex sells, it always has, but there is something especially titillating (pun intended) and potentially rewarding for a top-flight actress that is willing to bare all for her role.  Likewise, when an actor is willing to exhibit tears of sorrow on screen, something that (traditionally) men have been shunned for doing, he too may be able to reap the rewards of his profession.

24 Responses Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
Posted By Jenni : April 17, 2011 2:12 pm

Russell Crowe won the Oscar in 2000, playing Maximus the Gladiator, and he cried in that film. Shared your article with hubby, and he had an interesting take on it. He said Bette Davis probably enjoyed her long career because of the fact that she didn’t go nude in a film. Audiences wouldn’t have had an image of a young, beautiful Bette competing against an older, wrinkly Bette. Do the actresses of today have much staying power after going nude in a film? Halle Berry hasn’t done much of anything movie wise since she went nude in a film and won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball.

Posted By Jenni : April 17, 2011 2:12 pm

Russell Crowe won the Oscar in 2000, playing Maximus the Gladiator, and he cried in that film. Shared your article with hubby, and he had an interesting take on it. He said Bette Davis probably enjoyed her long career because of the fact that she didn’t go nude in a film. Audiences wouldn’t have had an image of a young, beautiful Bette competing against an older, wrinkly Bette. Do the actresses of today have much staying power after going nude in a film? Halle Berry hasn’t done much of anything movie wise since she went nude in a film and won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball.

Posted By Neville Ross : April 17, 2011 6:47 pm

Sorry, but I disagree; being nude is a part of life at any age, and there should be no shame in having to go nude for a scene when the needs of the script in question call for it; is should be celebrated and cherished on screen The fact that Bette David didn’t do so is testament to the Hays and Breen Office’s bullshit codes that were made by fundamentalist Christian morons more than anything else; I bet that if those codes didn’t exist, Davis would have bared all just like many actresses did before her pre-Hays and Breen Codes.

Also, ‘staying power’ means more than having a bullshit glamorous image that you have to live up to; it means being able to act at all ages of your life (Jessica Tandy can attest to this) and also be together enough to be able to still be an actor; Davis couldn’t do this well enough, according to her daughter B.D. Hyman. AS well, could Davis handle any of the action adventure roles for women that exist now (which Berry has done)? I doubt it.

As to the ‘did Clark Gable cry?’ meme; did you see him do so in Gone With The Wind? He did.

Posted By Neville Ross : April 17, 2011 6:47 pm

Sorry, but I disagree; being nude is a part of life at any age, and there should be no shame in having to go nude for a scene when the needs of the script in question call for it; is should be celebrated and cherished on screen The fact that Bette David didn’t do so is testament to the Hays and Breen Office’s bullshit codes that were made by fundamentalist Christian morons more than anything else; I bet that if those codes didn’t exist, Davis would have bared all just like many actresses did before her pre-Hays and Breen Codes.

Also, ‘staying power’ means more than having a bullshit glamorous image that you have to live up to; it means being able to act at all ages of your life (Jessica Tandy can attest to this) and also be together enough to be able to still be an actor; Davis couldn’t do this well enough, according to her daughter B.D. Hyman. AS well, could Davis handle any of the action adventure roles for women that exist now (which Berry has done)? I doubt it.

As to the ‘did Clark Gable cry?’ meme; did you see him do so in Gone With The Wind? He did.

Posted By MDR : April 18, 2011 7:34 am

Thanks for the addition of Mr. Crowe Jenni and, you’ve made a good point re: Ms. Davis’s longevity and Berry’s lack thereof.

Neville Ross – I think that some of your comment may have value, but it’s hard to tell because of the disagreeable way in which you’ve expressed it. I’ll have to take another look at GWTW to see if Gable cried.

Posted By MDR : April 18, 2011 7:34 am

Thanks for the addition of Mr. Crowe Jenni and, you’ve made a good point re: Ms. Davis’s longevity and Berry’s lack thereof.

Neville Ross – I think that some of your comment may have value, but it’s hard to tell because of the disagreeable way in which you’ve expressed it. I’ll have to take another look at GWTW to see if Gable cried.

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall : April 18, 2011 9:59 am

I was impressed with everything Jackie Cooper did in “Skippy” that didn’t involve crying. He was such a natural little man. I just don’t have the insights of the Academy members.

Backing up your theory: I have a friend who, when a character is going into a tearful scene, comments “Now we’ll see some ACTING!”

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall : April 18, 2011 9:59 am

I was impressed with everything Jackie Cooper did in “Skippy” that didn’t involve crying. He was such a natural little man. I just don’t have the insights of the Academy members.

Backing up your theory: I have a friend who, when a character is going into a tearful scene, comments “Now we’ll see some ACTING!”

Posted By missrhea : April 18, 2011 2:59 pm

Just wondering…Were you not including Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” for a particular reason? I know the tears are more a show of frustration rather than another overwhelming emotion but there were some shed?

Posted By missrhea : April 18, 2011 2:59 pm

Just wondering…Were you not including Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” for a particular reason? I know the tears are more a show of frustration rather than another overwhelming emotion but there were some shed?

Posted By MDR : April 19, 2011 6:26 am

missrhea – just an oversight on my part, thanks for the addition!

Posted By MDR : April 19, 2011 6:26 am

missrhea – just an oversight on my part, thanks for the addition!

Posted By Briznecko : April 21, 2011 4:57 pm

This comparison of female nudity and men’s “risk” in crying on screen reveals the problematic need to associate body and objectification.
I do want to preface this that I’m not slut-shaming the women who do expose their bodies on screen, they can celebrate their bodies and act in any way the see fit. The problem is that female success in the academy is usually dependent on their body, while with men it relates more to their acting. It still creates the problematic connection of female acting to the desirability of their bodies. Consider the line-up of women listed in this post, most are (or were at the time) white, conventionally beautiful and young. What about female actors who challenge stereotypical beauty norms? Or are older?
In the case of male actors, many of them listed are similarly young and handsome, but the association with crying and showing non-masculine emotion with academy success de-emphasizes their bodies and allows them to be older or more non-conventionally attractive.

Of course the academy and film industry is a highly problematic institution, however I wanted to suggest going a bit deeper than the observations discussed in the post. (Great post by the way!)

Posted By Briznecko : April 21, 2011 4:57 pm

This comparison of female nudity and men’s “risk” in crying on screen reveals the problematic need to associate body and objectification.
I do want to preface this that I’m not slut-shaming the women who do expose their bodies on screen, they can celebrate their bodies and act in any way the see fit. The problem is that female success in the academy is usually dependent on their body, while with men it relates more to their acting. It still creates the problematic connection of female acting to the desirability of their bodies. Consider the line-up of women listed in this post, most are (or were at the time) white, conventionally beautiful and young. What about female actors who challenge stereotypical beauty norms? Or are older?
In the case of male actors, many of them listed are similarly young and handsome, but the association with crying and showing non-masculine emotion with academy success de-emphasizes their bodies and allows them to be older or more non-conventionally attractive.

Of course the academy and film industry is a highly problematic institution, however I wanted to suggest going a bit deeper than the observations discussed in the post. (Great post by the way!)

Posted By MDR : April 22, 2011 9:48 am

Thanks for your insights Briznecko! Several years ago, I wrote about the objectification of women on film in a different way – prostitution roles – that has been rewarded by the Academy over the years:

http://moviemorlocks.com/2007/02/21/these-streets-are-paved-with-gold/

Later, I wrote about another form of exploitation that has been similarly celebrated by the institution:

http://moviemorlocks.com/2009/01/22/oscars-favorite-parts/

I’ve also considered writing about how “getting ugly” for a role, from Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) through Ms. Theron in Monster (2003), has been rewarding for women, which is yet a third demonstration of the Academy’s obsession with actresses’ appearance in movies.

Posted By MDR : April 22, 2011 9:48 am

Thanks for your insights Briznecko! Several years ago, I wrote about the objectification of women on film in a different way – prostitution roles – that has been rewarded by the Academy over the years:

http://moviemorlocks.com/2007/02/21/these-streets-are-paved-with-gold/

Later, I wrote about another form of exploitation that has been similarly celebrated by the institution:

http://moviemorlocks.com/2009/01/22/oscars-favorite-parts/

I’ve also considered writing about how “getting ugly” for a role, from Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) through Ms. Theron in Monster (2003), has been rewarding for women, which is yet a third demonstration of the Academy’s obsession with actresses’ appearance in movies.

Posted By Briznecko : April 22, 2011 3:31 pm

Thanks for the links, I’m still a tad new to this blog and haven’t had a chance to excavate its archives. I’ll be sure to check those out.

I’ve also been mulling over the “getting ugly” tradition in the academy, at least in the context of earlier films. For me, the actress who is celebrated the most for “getting ugly” is Bette Davis. The problem again is it all ties into appearance and that these women have to be conventionally beautiful to begin with in order to contrast against the ugly treatment.

I think another side of the coin is the treatment of un-conventional beauty in films, mainly that ugly (typically) equals bad. This is especially true with the casting for the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 Wizard of Oz when Mervyn Leroy wanted to play on the slinky and seductive villainess seen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and cast Gale Sondergaard. The vehement and push-back he received from the executives if anything points out how ingrained looks and desirable bodies are. Even their ultimate choice of Margaret Hamilton, while not a Hollywood beauty, is still conventionally thin and white.

Posted By Briznecko : April 22, 2011 3:31 pm

Thanks for the links, I’m still a tad new to this blog and haven’t had a chance to excavate its archives. I’ll be sure to check those out.

I’ve also been mulling over the “getting ugly” tradition in the academy, at least in the context of earlier films. For me, the actress who is celebrated the most for “getting ugly” is Bette Davis. The problem again is it all ties into appearance and that these women have to be conventionally beautiful to begin with in order to contrast against the ugly treatment.

I think another side of the coin is the treatment of un-conventional beauty in films, mainly that ugly (typically) equals bad. This is especially true with the casting for the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 Wizard of Oz when Mervyn Leroy wanted to play on the slinky and seductive villainess seen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and cast Gale Sondergaard. The vehement and push-back he received from the executives if anything points out how ingrained looks and desirable bodies are. Even their ultimate choice of Margaret Hamilton, while not a Hollywood beauty, is still conventionally thin and white.

Posted By JLewis : April 25, 2011 8:34 am

Great little discussion. Yes, like some have suggested, this is a mighty big topic that could stretch book length. Yes, you are destined to leave stuff out. In addition, 1997 is hardly a good starting point… in the spring of 1971, Glenda Jackson won for baring her breasts. Was she the first? Not certain. The previous year, Jon Voight was nominated and he showed his bare rump… in addition to singing “get along little doggie” in the shower while dropping his soap. Didn’t cry though… Dustin Hoffman did all of that. Then again, the period from 1969 (post Oliver!) to 1974 (pre Sting!) was a brief period of experimention with the Academy, like the years “circa” 1993-98… when BOTH sexes were doing full frontals and crying up a storm with their method acting. It all swung back to more “traditional” tastes mid-decade. The 1980s were, without a doubt, the most boring decade for the Oscars: you could easily predict who would win each year since the Academy was basically sleepwalking through their ballots. Then in 1993, right after Clinton entered the White House and the political climate swung the other direction, at least one film THE CRYING GAME (perfect title for your blog) got a nomination for a “he” disrobing after appearing as a “she”. The ’90s did see a couple years of Oscar experimenting once again… until about 1997-98 and everything was once again put into cookie cutter mode: strictly girls disrobing and dudes tearing up. We could probably “date” this experimental period between THE CRYING GAME and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, with Gwyneth winning for disrobing (but not completely) to reveal herself as a “she” after posing as a “he”. It was the quirky frame of mind Oscar voters were in the nineties… they really dug all of those gender-bendering roles.

Posted By JLewis : April 25, 2011 8:34 am

Great little discussion. Yes, like some have suggested, this is a mighty big topic that could stretch book length. Yes, you are destined to leave stuff out. In addition, 1997 is hardly a good starting point… in the spring of 1971, Glenda Jackson won for baring her breasts. Was she the first? Not certain. The previous year, Jon Voight was nominated and he showed his bare rump… in addition to singing “get along little doggie” in the shower while dropping his soap. Didn’t cry though… Dustin Hoffman did all of that. Then again, the period from 1969 (post Oliver!) to 1974 (pre Sting!) was a brief period of experimention with the Academy, like the years “circa” 1993-98… when BOTH sexes were doing full frontals and crying up a storm with their method acting. It all swung back to more “traditional” tastes mid-decade. The 1980s were, without a doubt, the most boring decade for the Oscars: you could easily predict who would win each year since the Academy was basically sleepwalking through their ballots. Then in 1993, right after Clinton entered the White House and the political climate swung the other direction, at least one film THE CRYING GAME (perfect title for your blog) got a nomination for a “he” disrobing after appearing as a “she”. The ’90s did see a couple years of Oscar experimenting once again… until about 1997-98 and everything was once again put into cookie cutter mode: strictly girls disrobing and dudes tearing up. We could probably “date” this experimental period between THE CRYING GAME and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, with Gwyneth winning for disrobing (but not completely) to reveal herself as a “she” after posing as a “he”. It was the quirky frame of mind Oscar voters were in the nineties… they really dug all of those gender-bendering roles.

Posted By JLewis : April 25, 2011 8:36 am

Oops… left out BOYS DON’T CRY, despite it already being discussed.

Posted By JLewis : April 25, 2011 8:36 am

Oops… left out BOYS DON’T CRY, despite it already being discussed.

Posted By MDR : April 26, 2011 8:35 am

JLewis, thanks for your comments and additions to this discussion.

Posted By MDR : April 26, 2011 8:35 am

JLewis, thanks for your comments and additions to this discussion.

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