At the start of this year, I had three movies on my must-see list: The Post, The Darkest Hour and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. By yesterday I had realised that wish-list, and can highly recommend all three of them. But this is not a review article. Instead, between them, those films highlighted something very exciting: that the movie industry is increasingly recognising that there is a stellar place, in their pantheon of stars, for older and old actors, and not only males but also females.
And since I also knew, by now, that all three movies and their stars were Oscar nominees for the forthcoming 2018 Awards, I decided to trawl through the whole list of nominations, to see just how many of them involved oldstars (and yes – not a misprint: just a rather bad pun). The results are well worth reporting on, so here goes:
- Of the nine Best Picture nominees, seven (!) star and/or have substantial supporting roles for one or more older actors: three females and five males:
Two of the females star in their films: Meryl Streep (of course; and 68) in The Post, and Frances McDormond (even better in her movie, in the eyes of many who have seen both films; and 60), in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri; and Laurie Metcalf (62) has a major supporting role in Lady Bird.
The two starring males are Daniel Day-Lewis (of course; and 60) in Phantom Thread, and Gary Oldman (59) in Darkest Hour; and, in major supporting roles, Richard Jenkins (70) in The Shape of Water, and both Kenneth Branagh (57) and Mark Rylance (58) in Dunkirk.
- Two of the five Best Actress nominees in a leading role are older women: Meryl Streep and Frances McDormond, both in their Oscar-nominated movies.
- Three of the five Best Actor nominees in a leading role are older men: Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman (both in their Oscar-nominated movies), and Denzel Washington (63) in Roman J Israel, Esq..
- Three of the five Best Actress nominees in a supporting role are older women: Allison Janney (58) in I, Tonya, Leslie Manville (61) in Phantom Thread, and Laurie Metcalf (62) in the Oscar-nominated Lady Bird.
- Four of the five Best Actor nominees in a supporting role are older men: Willem Dafoe (62) in The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson (56) in the Oscar-nominated Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Richard Jenkins (70) in the Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water, and Christopher Plummer (88) in All the Money in the World.
The Oscars are often and variously and rightly criticised for being racist, sexist and ageist. And, slowly, slowly, moves are being made to address each of these inequities. As we can see from the list above, while ageism is being tackled, there is still a gender imbalance in great roles for older women. Nonetheless and happily, it also shows that they are no longer invisible on the silver screen. And each one of them who actually wins an Oscar will be a flag waver for positive ageing, seen around the world. As will be each winning older male actor.
Importantly, too, having seen several of the films noted above, and trailers for the others, I can vouch for a vital fact. All of those actors, female as well as male, are looking right for their roles. In other words, rather than hiding behind Botox or cosmetic surgery or flattering lighting, they are wearing their ages on their faces, and their bodies. And that is something to celebrate.
Last but not least, I do have to mention one of the nominees for Best Animated Feature Film. There are many delights in being a grandparent, and one of them is taking your grandchildren to lovely films that might prove a wee bit embarrassing to be seen at without a child. Like the current Oscar-nominated, animated movie Coco.
At the same time, however, I can assure you that this film is worth any such embarrassment. It is highly enjoyable on many levels, but in an era in which – advances notwithstanding – ageing is still getting a pasting, not the least of its qualities is the highlighting of intergenerational love and appreciation between the youngest and oldest members of a family. It doesn’t shy away from confronting dementia in a loved grandparent, and – somehow – manages to be a joyful film about death being just another stage in our continuing relationship with our beloved forebears. I defy anyone to see it without being awash by the end, moved by all the love amongst the generations the Mexican way, before and after death.
For me, it highlights a personal truth that I try to pass on to my grandchildren: that while life doesn’t last forever, love does. Or, at least as long as we, in our turn, live. I was lucky enough to have my father until I turned 50, and mother until 65. And they are both still so dear to me, and so loved. Even now, at 75 years of age, I see them in my dreams, and they are happy times for me. And so, I talk about them often, to my children and grandchildren, about how I still remember them, and keep them in my heart. As an old person, I value the message in Coco, that it is good to prepare our own beloved family for the fact that we will eventually die, but that our love for each other will live on in their hearts.