5 Oscar-Nominated Roles of 2011 and Their Oscar-Winning Forebears

The Oscars mean nothing without their celebrated past, and this year, five Oscar-nominated performances stood out to me as the descendants of five previous winners. Can you name the Academy-loved role that almost perfectly mirrors Nicole Kidman's in Rabbit Hole? The consecutive Oscar-winning Best Actors who laid the track for Mark Zuckerberg? What about the histrionic mother who predated Melissa Leo's character in The Fighter. Join us for a trip into the Oscar vault. For the hell of it, we're picking which performances were better, too.

Nominee: Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole

Classic Winner: Grace Kelly in The Country Girl

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman plays the emotionally bereft Becca Corbett, who loses her young child in a car accident. Fifty-six years ago, an odds-beating Grace Kelly scooped up the Oscar for her role as The Country Girl's Georgie Elgin, the stalwart wife of a downtrodden actor whose child is also killed in a car accident. Both Becca and Georgie reveal their fortitude and strength as the movie progresses, and it's easy to mistake both as chilly blowhards early on. Both of these films are also based on Tony-winning plays.

Better Performance?: Nicole Kidman. Grace Kelly displayed an unexpected stoicism in The Country Girl, but Nicole Kidman goes from jaded to devastated to unsympathetic to functional to stable in a stunning progression.

Nominee: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Classic Winner: Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon

The comparison between youngster nominees Hailee Steinfeld (who's 14) and Tatum O'Neal (who was ten when she picked up her Oscar in early 1974) seems to write itself, but look further: As Mattie Ross, the scrappy Steinfeld insists on accompanying Rooster Cogburn on his bounty hunt (with a charming western accent). As Addie Loggins, O'Neal insists on aiding Moses Pray in his sketchy sales trips. Both characters exhibit self-awareness and the ability to gauge their worth during rugged grownup affairs -- and both deserved nominations for Best Actress, not Supporting.

Better Performance?: Tatum O'Neal. Ms. Steinfeld makes a fine troubadour, but Tatum O'Neal's meticulously directed debut is funnier, more surprising, and (somehow) grittier.

Nominee: Melissa Leo in The Fighter

Classic Winner: Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue

You'll note that beleaguered mother figures are mainstays in Oscar history, but a specific strand of defensiveness links these two powerhouses: As Alice Ward, Melissa Leo is histrionically protective of her son Micky, who's been wooed away from his overly tight-knit family unit by forces like legitimate career opportunities and a girlfriend with a backbone. In A Patch of Blue, Shelley Winters is an ecstatically racist mother whose blind, uneducated daughter is being wooed away by a caring man who -- gasp -- happens to be black. Leo's caws and Winters' hollers echo through their films like coarse bird calls.

Better Performance?: Shelley Winters. I'm partial to Amy Adams over Melissa Leo anyway, but Shelley Winter's harrumphing command is a cinematic treat for the ages.

Nominee: Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

Classic winner: (Tie) Michael Douglas in Wall Street and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

In order to link Eisenberg's role as the brilliant and bastardly -- according to the movie -- Mark Zuckerberg to Oscar's past, I was forced to recall two consecutive champs: Gordon Gekko and Charlie Babbitt. (Technically, I could've chosen The Graduate's Ben Braddock and Shine's David Helfgott, too.) Zuckerberg's plainspoken ambitions and smarts match Gordon Gekko's -- even if the two characters' versions of morality are much different -- and Zuckerberg's tics do smack of Charlie Babbitt's more theatrical qualities.

Better Performance?: Michael Douglas and Dustin Hoffman. I believed in Douglas' savvy and Hoffman's humanity, but I had a hard time believing the "antisocial savant" portion of Eisenberg's character. How about his wound-up style of walking and quipping? In those moments, he acted more like a Simpsons character than someone on the Aspergian spectrum -- which I assume was David Fincher's intention.

Nominee: Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

Classic Winner: Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady

Though Geoffrey Rush is technically a supporting actor and Rex Harrison won for a lead performance, it cannot be denied that the existence of two Oscar-nominated characters who teach articulation to budding high-profile aristocrats is a little weird.

Better Performance?: You hate to compare these two fabulous performances, but for sheer joie de vivre, I pick Harrison.

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