Ben Stiller has been one of the most dependable comedic stars of the past two decades. Yet he’s made nothing that garnered the Academy’s attention (with the exception of a Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder). That could change this year with his directorial effort The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in which he also stars.
The film is a remake of a 1947 Danny Kaye picture. Stiller plays a normal everyday Joe who decides to live out his adventurous fantasies across the world. The actor has had good luck with projects he’s chosen to direct, especially with his last two comedic efforts Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. Based on the trailer, this seems like the type of picture that may resonate with audiences if done well and also connect with Oscar voters. Actors known primarily for comedy have a checkered history (at best) with the Academy when they played more dramatic parts . Many thought Jim Carrey would receive a Best Actor nomination for 1998’s The Truman Show. It didn’t happen. That same year, Steve Martin was being mentioned as a potential Supporting Actor candidate for David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner. Once again it never materialized. Over the past ten years, however, we’ve seen examples that include a Best Actor nomination in 2003 for Bill Murray in Lost in Translation and Eddie Murphy for Supporting Actor in 2006 for Dreamgirls.
Critical reaction will be key and it’ll be awhile before the word is out on Walter Mitty. At press time, though, this looks like Stiller’s best opportunity so far for his film and his acting to receive awards attention. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which costars Kristin Wiig, and Sean Penn, is out Christmas Day.