Bradley Cooper’s Oscars Shot for ‘Licorice Pizza’ and ‘Nightmare Alley’

Bradley Cooper is an established awards magnet, with eight nominations in the past nine years. Four of those have been in the acting category — for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), “American Hustle” (2013), “American Sniper” (2014) and “A Star Is Born” (2018). This year he has an opportunity to land three more nominations.

The 46-year-old actor delivers two powerhouse performances, both worthy of recognition. His first comes as Jon Peters — the producer, hairdresser and ex-boyfriend of Barbra Streisand — in Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age comedy “Licorice Pizza” from MGM/United Artists Releasing.

His other turn comes as Stanton Carlisle, the ambitious and manipulative carny in Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir thriller “Nightmare Alley” from Searchlight Pictures, on which Cooper also is a producer.

Will this year finally give him a long-overdue Oscar?

It seems like ages ago that Cooper was just the jerk boyfriend in “Wedding Crashers” (2005) and the Wolfpack leader in “The Hangover” (2009). In “Licorice,” his role is brief, with about seven minutes of screen time. Only four actors have won with roles under 10 minutes — Gloria Grahame in “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), Ben Johnson in “The Last Picture Show” (1971), Beatrice Straight in “Network” (1976) and Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love” (1998). The Academy has shown resistance to giving big movie stars “supporting” trophies for roles that are actually leading men. Both Christian Bale (“The Fighter”) and Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood”) are notable exceptions, both of which carried their movies but weren’t submitted in the lead actor category. Prime examples include Tom Cruise in “Magnolia” (1999) losing to Michael Caine in “The Cider House Rules,” which is also the last time the megastar was nominated. Even Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for “Django Unchained” (2012), in favor of his co-star Christoph Waltz, arguably a lead performance, who picked up his second statuette.

This year the best actor category has significant names in the mix, with Will Smith’s turn as Venus and Serena Williams father in “King Richard” standing out as the early front-runner. Still, Cooper’s darkly executed portrayal of Stanton in “Nightmare Alley” is one of his best yet, building to a quintessential Oscar scene.

Cooper wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe or a Critics Choice Award for either of his performances. But the later release date of Searchlight Pictures’ “Nightmare Alley,” which came out last weekend, could mean voters still need time to see it, but the disappointing box office surely doesn’t help. A SAG nomination will be crucial as voting is underway.

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MGM/Everett Collection

But perhaps one film can help the other along in the race. In the supporting actor predictions update this week, Cooper is listed in the top five of the category, due to the momentum that Anderson’s film has been gaining, which looks like a possible frontrunner for original screenplay. Worth noting that Anderson also has eight previous nominations without a win to his name. Could they both finally pick up statuettes?

Few actors have won the affections of Academy voters without putting themselves out there and campaigning for attention, which Cooper has been known not to particularly enjoy. But in fairness, that didn’t hurt past winners such as Joaquin Phoenix for “Joker” (2019), Frances McDormand for “Nomadland” (2020) and Mo’Nique for “Precious” (2009).

Time can also play a factor. If the industry feels like an actor is “running out” of it, that can be a winning ticket. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Cooper. As with his “Nightmare” co-star Willem Dafoe (who has been up for four acting Oscars without a win), people tend to think it’s inevitable that they’ll one day be standing on the stage. The risk with that assumption comes with oft-nommed actors such as Glenn Close (eight nominations), Amy Adams (six), Ed Harris (four) and Mickey Rooney (four), as voters continually defer a win while waiting for their next big role.

For Cooper, he may have to wait a bit longer, but the season always has a couple of surprises.

The Oscars prediction pages have all been updated, and for the first-time, include the animated short, documentary short and live action short categories.

2022 Academy Awards Predictions

2021 Oscars predictions are here.