Amy and the Academy
Although most movie fans now know her as a perennial Oscar nominee, Amy Adams’s first brush with awards season did little to foreshadow her future status as an Academy darling. After her film debut in the 1999 black comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous, Adams bounced around the industry—making guest appearances on various TV shows and taking small film roles—until she landed her first major role in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can as Brenda Strong. Catch Me If You Can was a critical and commercial success, landing two Oscar nominations, and Adams’s performance was critically praised. It should have marked the beginning of an auspicious career, but over the following three years, opportunities and roles would be few and far between. It wasn’t until she landed the role of Ashley, a wide-eyed, chatty and pregnant young woman in the 2005 film Junebug that she experienced the breakthrough success promised by Catch Me If You Can.
Junebug premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 to rave reviews. Adams in particular was singled out for praise; she received a special jury prize for her performance from Sundance, and went on to become a fixture of that year’s awards circuit. She won the Independent Spirit Award and multiple critics’ prizes for Best Supporting Actress that year, and received her first Academy Award nomination in the same category—losing to Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener. Still, her breakthrough performance put her on the map, and was a harbinger of greatness (and even more Oscar attention) to come.
Best Supporting Actress (2005)
Amy Adams, Junebug
Catherine Keener, Capote
Frances McDormand, North Country
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener (WINNER)
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
After Junebug, Adams’s star rose considerably. She took a supporting role alongside Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Adam McKay’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which was a major box office hit, and followed that up with another supporting part in the Aaron Sorkin/Mike Nichols drama Charlie Wilson’s War. Neither really made much use of her talents—but that would change in 2007 with Enchanted, Adams’s first starring role in a major studio film. Her winsome performance as Princess Giselle is a comedic revelation, a live-action cartoon character imbued with surprising depth and earnestness without any trace of judgment. Enchanted received three Oscar nominations, all in the Best Original Song category, and Adams received her first Golden Globe nomination as her career continued to climb. Although Adams was invited to perform at the ceremony, she still hadn’t hit the A-List. She got saddled with singing the lackluster “Happy Working Song” on an empty stage while Kristen Chenoweth, at the peak of her own post-Wicked stardom, got the lavish “That’s How You Know” production number instead. From that point on, though, Adams would become a perennial fixture at the Oscars.
Best Actress (2007)
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age Julie Christie, Away From Her Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (WINNER) Laura Linney, The Savages Ellen Page, Juno
Her next appearance would come the following year in 2008, when she earned her second Oscar nomination in John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. An adaptation of the Pulitzer and Tony-winning stage play starring Academy favorites Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt had huge Oscar buzz leading up to its release. Alongside luminaries Streep and Hoffman (not to mention stage veteran and future superstar Viola Davis), Adams more than holds her own, delivering a nuanced performance as a naive and innocent new nun who is both the audience surrogate and catalyst for the film’s main conflict. She was never a realistic contender for the win that year: eventual winner Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Kate Winslet (The Reader) traded supporting wins at SAG, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes, with both eventually taking home Oscars when the Academy bumped Winslet up to lead. Even absent those two, Adams was largely overshadowed in the awards conversation by co-star Davis, who went on to win this category in 2016. And given that she was up against another previous winner (Marisa Tomei) and a breakthrough performer in a Best Picture nominee (Taraji P. Henson), the nomination was the reward that year.
Best Supporting Actress (2008)
Amy Adams, Doubt Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (WINNER) Viola Davis, Doubt Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
After a few more years playing innocent ingenues, Adams seemed to be trapped in a rut, both commercially and with the Academy. But in 2010, she broke out of that type with her role as Charlene Fleming in The Fighter, demonstrating her range with sex appeal and a flinty, combative attitude. She got a third Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, again alongside a cast member from her same film—only this time, Melissa Leo went on to take the win. Two years later, Adams would reunite with her Doubt co-star Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, receiving her fourth Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for another against-type performance. She was never a real threat for the win that year, as she ran up against the buzzsaw that was Anne Hathaway’s Les Miserables juggernaut. But by 2012, Adams was averaging a nomination almost every two years—and cries of “overdue status” began in earnest.
Best Supporting Actress (2010)
Amy Adams, The Fighter Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech Melissa Leo, The Fighter (WINNER) Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Best Supporting Actress (2012)
Amy Adams, The Master Sally Field, Lincoln Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables (WINNER) Helen Hunt, The Sessions Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Those cries grew louder the very next year, with her first Lead Actress nomination and an appearance in two Best Picture nominees. Reuniting with The Fighter director David O. Russell, American Hustle was another departure for Adams, a sultry, smooth talking con artist unlike any character she had played before. She won her first Golden Globe for American Hustle, earning her fifth nomination in less than ten years, while also giving a characteristically excellent supporting performance in Her. The 2013 Best Actress race was a strange one. As the only Oscar-less performer in a lineup against four former winners, it seemed like it might have finally been Amy’s year to take home the gold. But Cate Blanchett steamrolled the competition that entire awards season, sweeping the Critics Choice, Drama Golden Globe, and BAFTA Awards. By the time the Oscars rolled around, Blanchett’s eventual win seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Best Actress (2013)
Amy Adams, American Hustle Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine (WINNER) Sandra Bullock, Gravity Judi Dench, Philomena Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
After American Hustle, it seemed like Adams might never win that elusive little gold man. She tried going the biopic route as artist Margaret Keane in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, but despite a BAFTA nomination and a second consecutive Golden Globe win, the Academy didn’t bite. And then came Arrival. A huge commercial and critical hit, Arrival didn’t look like a typical Oscar player at first glance; after all, science fiction is hardly the Academy’s favorite genre. But helmed by Canadian auteur (and then-rising arthouse sensation) Denis Villeneuve, Arrival isn’t your typical sci-fi movie—it’s both austere and majestic, and it explores weighty themes of grief, time, and international cooperation. With a cast of Academy-anointed favorites anchored by a truly stellar lead performance by Adams, by the time nominations rolled around, Arrival was poised to make a strong showing. At the very least, Adams—who rolled in to nomination morning already having been feted by BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes, and the Critics Choice Awards—seemed like a sure thing. Arrival managed eight nominations, including Best Picture and Director, but when the Best Actress names were read, Adams inexplicably wasn’t among them.
Best Actress (2016)
Isabelle Huppert, Elle Ruth Negga, Loving Natalie Portman, Jackie Emma Stone, La La Land (WINNER) Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
It remains one of the most baffling omissions in recent memory. Only nine performers have received nominations from SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice since 2001 (the first year the Critics Choice Awards announced nominees) and not gone on to receive a corresponding Oscar nomination. Of those, only three were in contention for performances in films ultimately nominated for Best Picture: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, and Amy Adams in Arrival. DiCaprio was nominated for Blood Diamond that same year, and Academy rules prohibit multiple nominations for one performer in the same category in a given year, so that one is easy enough to explain. But Hanks and Adams are truly inexplicable snubs.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that Adams was knocked out of the lineup by Meryl Streep, who likely secured her nomination not with any particular scene in Florence Foster Jenkins, but with her barnburner of an acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at that year’s Golden Globes (which had some people clamoring for her to seek a different nomination altogether). There’s probably some truth to that, although we’ll never know quite what the voting tally was. It’s also possible that voters were experiencing some fatigue with Adams (5 nominations in 10 years is quite a lot of recognition, after all) or maybe enough of them just took her for granted and channeled their support instead towards equally deserving (and never before nominated) performers in lower-profile films, like Ruth Negga or the legendary Isabelle Huppert. Adams also faced competition from herself in Nocturnal Animals, which may have led to vote-splitting. In a competitive year with many strong Best Actress contenders (other non-nominees included Annette Bening in 20th Century Women, Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train, Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane, and Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures), any one of those factors could’ve been enough to keep Adams out of the final lineup.
Best Supporting Actress (2018)
Amy Adams, Vice Marina de Tavira, Roma Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (WINNER) Emma Stone, The Favourite Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
But it wouldn’t take long for Adams to return to the Oscars. Reteaming with Talladega Nights director Adam McKay and The Fighter co-star Christian Bale, Adams played former Second Lady Lynne Cheney in Vice, and received her sixth Oscar nomination (and amazingly, her first for playing a real person). When front-runner Regina King’s name was called early at the 91st Oscars ceremony, Adams seemed poised to tie an all-time record for most nominations for an actress without a win—until Olivia Colman’s shocking upset over seven-time nominee (and now, seven-time loser) Glenn Close at that same ceremony.
In the history of the Academy, 38 performers have received six or more acting nominations, and only six failed to take home a win: Peter O’Toole (8 nominations), Richard Burton (7), Glenn Close (7), Deborah Kerr (6), Thelma Ritter (6), and, of course, Amy Adams. Of those, only Adams and Close are still with us, and both remain in the hunt for Oscar. They’re slated to join forces in Ron Howard’s upcoming adaptation of the bestseller Hillbilly Elegy for Netflix. Adams is also set to appear in Joe Wright’s long-delayed The Woman in the Window, the black comedy adaptation Nightbitch, and the film version of Tony-winning musical sensation Dear Evan Hansen. So will Amy Adams ever find herself in the winners’ circle at the Oscars? Hopefully so, but if not, it won’t be for lack of trying.