The Staged Press Photo of the Four Oscar Acting Winners: A Retrospective

As time-honored an Oscar tradition as any is the annual press photo of the four acting winners, gathered with their newly-minted trophies for an awkward post-ceremony picture. 

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As time-honored an Oscar tradition as any are the press photos of the four acting winners, gathered with their newly-minted trophies for an awkward picture right after the ceremony. More often than not, these four have little to do with each other outside of being that year’s winners, but it’s almost always an eclectic group who, at least for those five minutes, probably have some seriously fun banter I’d love to overhear.

If we can't be a fly on the wall, let's instead look back at some of the winners of the last 20 years. Taken year by year, the quartet of winners in the photo can reliably be broken into four broad categories: a giggling Jester who’s probably trying to do something silly with his statue; a steely Pro who’s either been to the big show before or worked in the biz so long as to be unfazed; a smiling Sweetheart who’s really just happy to be there; and a strained-looking Politician who knows every gesture they make and name they forget to mention could lead to a press backlash tomorrow morning.


We begin, of course, with last Sunday's crew, pictured above. Cackling Jared Leto is your jester, although he's clearly trying waaaay too hard to get everyone else going. The lovely Lupita Nyong'o is easily the sweetheart, having moved us all to tears just minutes before with her beautiful speech. Cate Blanchett is such a pro, she doesn't even need to show us her face--WE KNOW WHO SHE IS. That makes Matthew McConaughey your politician, with his rambling speech including the cheesy "alright, alright, alright" callback and a bunch of serious half-thoughts on God and parenthood. We think.


Well, I don't have to tell you who the politician of the 2012 winners was. That's Anne Hathaway, affecting a strained smile in the face of wave upon wave of internet hate. Your jester is Jennifer Lawrence, who pratfalled her way up the steps on her way to the trophy; Christoph Waltz, bowled over by his second win in four years, is the sweetheart, since Daniel Day-Lewis, collecting his third Oscar, is certainly the pro.


Okay, now things are a little trickier. The remarkable, foul-mouthed Melissa Leo is an easy jester, and Colin Firth just has to be the sweetheart. Almost by default, Natalie Portman is your pro, since she's been in this business since she was a kid, and Christian Bale is the politician, collecting his statue just a year after his infamous Terminator Salvation tirade leaked onto YouTube.


Daniel Day-Lewis is back! He's a pro from beginning to end, slightly loopy speech notwithstanding. In a weaker year, maybe he could have nudged into the jester category, but the incomparable Tilda Swinton has that locked down this year. Javier Bardem is a surprise sweetheart, melting our hearts with a soulful speech, while Marion Cotillard is a politician a little by default, but she was certainly the biggest unknown to the Oscar audience that year, and had a little calibrating to do as a result.


This is not the funniest bunch. Morgan Freeman, who had waited a long time for his Oscar, almost gets the sweetheart nod, but he's got a few more years on Cate Blanchett, so let's call him the pro and her the sweetie. Jamie Foxx, who started out as a stand-up comedian, has to be the jester, I suppose, since Hilary Swank is definitely the politician, winning two Lead Actress trophies just five years apart despite a spotty career resume.


Remember who Sean Penn beat for this trophy? That's right, Bill Murray, a win that looks a little questionable in retrospect. Combine that with his reputation as an activist and he's your politician. Charlize Theron is the most likable of the bunch here, so she gets to be the sweetheart, while Tim Robbins' Supporting Actor win reeked of a career hat-tip, so I suppose he can be the pro. Renee Zellweger's Supporting Actress triumph is so laughable in retrospect, I suppose she can count as a jester.


Adrien Brody was the shocking win of the year, earning delighted applause from the jaded Oscar crowd, but especially in retrospect he can't be the sweetheart because of that aggressive kiss he planted on Halle Berry's mouth. Let's grudingly call him the jester, and name the weepy, pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones the sweetheart. Nicole Kidman pretty much always looks pained, and is an easy politician, about as easy as calling Chris Cooper a real pro.


Julia "Forgot to thank Erin Brockovich" Roberts is your politician, easy. Marcia Gay Harden certainly earns a laugh with the unimpressed-sounding "what a thrill" that she opened her speech with, so she's the jester. Russell Crowe didn't have quite the notorious hothead reputation he does now, but his speech was very serious and thoughtful, so I suppose he's the pro, because I'll fight anyone who doesn't think Benicio Del Toro is a total sweetheart.


With her well-deserved and surprising win for Boys Don't CryHilary Swank was this year's sweetheart, while Kevin Spacey is certainly the pro, going two for two in wins within five years. Michael Caine, who has two Oscars (both for supporting performances) but still got mad about losing to Adrien Brody in 2002, is the prickly politician, while Angelina Jolie in the Billy Bob-datin', brother-kissin' first phase of her career is a total jester.


Boy, Roberto Benigni's just showing off clutching those two trophies, huh? Yeah, he's the jester, obviously, famed more for his giddy speech than his performance. James Coburn is the definition of a pro, collecting a "career Oscar" for a legitimately great performance, while Judi Dench is a total sweetheart, even if the role she won for was a bit of a throwaway. And considering she's never really lived down the backlash she got for her speech, 15 years later, Gwyneth Paltrow has to be the politician.


Susan Sarandon, long in the hunt for her first Oscar, was a deserving pro this year. Under-the-radar winner Kevin Spacey was a surprise sweetheart (his speech is really charming, even if he calls Bryan Singer Keyser Soze). Nicolas Cage gave a pretty sober (pun intended) speech, but he's still Nicolas Cage, he's the goddamn jester. Especially since politician Mira Sorvino falls into that "disappointing career post-Oscar" category and she looks really pained in all these press photos.


Okay, question one: whose funeral did all these poor souls attend after this picture? That's a lot of black you're wearing, fellas. Tom Hanks had won just the year before for Philadelphia, and back-to-back winners should always take the politician crown, because it's so tough to live up to that kind of achievement. Plus Jessica Lange, also winning her second Oscar, is the definition of a pro. Dianne Wiest was also a two-time winner here, but I'm just going to edge her for sweetheart (just watch her fish out glasses for her cute speech) and give jester to Martin Landau, who wins some genuine laughs out of me for his career-capping performance and win.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.