After being delayed a year due to the pandemic, Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated musical remake of the best picture winner “West Side Story” had its first screenings this week before critics, journalists and varying awards and guild voters. The social media reaction has been loud and palpable throughout the Oscar chamber, which could bring about a late December entry run for the best picture prize, which would be the first since Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (2017) and Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).
There’s incredible history to be made if the buzz is replicated and embraced throughout the awards season. Rita Moreno became the first, and still, only Latina to ever win an acting Oscar for the 1961 original version as Anita, and she could be welcomed back into the fold, now as the newly created character Valentina, with the remake.
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A nomination for Moreno would not just be groundbreaking, but record-shattering. If nominated on Feb. 8, Moreno will be 90 years old (her birthday is Dec. 11), which would make her the oldest nominee, of any competitive Oscar in history, surpassing documentary feature nominee Agnès Varda, who was 89 when she was nominated for “Faces Places” (2017). If she manages to win, she’ll surpass screenwriter James Ivory, who coincidentally won adapted screenplay for “Call Me by Your Name” the same year as Varda’s nom. Moreno would also be the first actor to win for a new role within a remake of a film that she previously won an award. She would also be the first Latina actress to be nominated twice.
Lastly, and most importantly, Katharine Hepburn also holds the record for the longest time span between first and last Oscar nominations, at 48 years apart. Moreno would destroy the stat at 60 years. She’d also break Henry Fonda’s record of 41 years between acting noms.
Spielberg entering the best director could mirror the 1993 race between him and Jane Campion, when he won for “Schindler’s List” over “The Piano.” Campion’s film won three Oscars, for actress (Holly Hunter), supporting actress (Anna Paquin) and original screenplay. Both directors are back in the fray, with Campion helming “The Power of the Dog” from Netflix, one of the Oscar frontrunners. Could they repeat the same outcome or will the Academy go for someone entirely different, like Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”) or Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”)? Going for his third statuette, Spielberg would join just Frank Capra and William Wyler as three-time winners for best director. Wyler also holds the record for the most films nominated for best picture at 13. If “West Side Story” is nominated for best picture, Spielberg would still hold the second spot at 12.
Fun fact, that same awards season is the last time a Puerto Rican actress was nominated for acting with Rosie Perez for “Fearless.”
“West Side Story” opens in theaters on Dec. 10.
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