FiveThirtyEight

It’s December 2002, and Oscar season is getting underway. On Dec. 9, Martin Scorsese’s Civil War period piece, “Gangs of New York,” premieres in New York. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, with John C. Reilly in a supporting role.

A day later, Rob Marshall’s musical about fame and crime in the roaring 1920s, “Chicago,” premieres in Los Angeles. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere headline, with John C. Reilly in a supporting role.

And five days after that, on Dec. 15, Stephen Daldry’s era-spanning film about the effect of the novel “Mrs. Dalloway” on three generations of women, “The Hours,” premieres in New York. It stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, with (naturally) John C. Reilly in a supporting role.

Less than two months later, on Feb. 11, 2003, all three of those films were nominated for a best picture Academy Award. And so, the same actor who would go on to appear in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” gave life to one of the most prestigious honors in Hollywood history: the “John. C Reilly Award,” figuratively bestowed on the actor who appears in the most best picture nominees in a single year, with a minimum of three required for consideration. (Actually, the “John C. Reilly Award” was coined by Griffin Newman — star of “The Tick” and co-host of the Blank Check Podcast — about six weeks ago. Alas technicalities.)

Someone hit the John C. Reilly trifecta this year — Michael Stuhlbarg appeared in best picture nominees “The Shape of Water,” “The Post” and “Call Me by Your Name.” But most years, the John C. Reilly Award stays on the shelf collecting dust. In fact, before Stuhlbarg, the last person to appear in three best picture nominees was … John C. Reilly. And before Reilly, no one had accomplished this hat trick since the 1940s.

And the John C. Reilly Award for most acting goes to …

Actors and actresses who appeared in three different films nominated for best picture in a single year

Sources: IMDb, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences database

Looking at credited roles, there have been only 13 people who were in three best picture nominees in a single year. Of those 13, 11 came during the Golden Age of Hollywood — and in those years, between 10 and 12 films were nominated for best picture each year. Only two of the 13 people, Claudette Colbert and Jessie Ralph, were women — more on this in a moment.

This, if anything, underscores how truly outstanding John C. Reilly’s performance in 2003 was — and, to a lesser extent, Stuhlbarg’s in 2017. In 2003, when Reilly scored his trifecta, there were only five best picture nominees. But the academy again expanded the potential pool of nominees in that category to as many as 10 in 2009; Stuhlbarg appeared in three of nine this year.

Just how prestigious is the John C. Reilly Award? For comparison, more people (23) have won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony — the Triple Crown of Acting. Twelve people have EGOT-ed (won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).

Of course, the John C. Reilly Award honors a single year of excellence, but what if we expand our time horizon? Let’s look at the “Lifetime John C. Reilly Award” — who’s appeared in the most best picture nominees over the course of their entire career?

Jack Nicholson remains the undisputed champion here with 10 appearances. But there are people not far behind Nicholson who could still add to their total: Tom Hanks, Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert De Niro. Day-Lewis is allegedly retiring from acting, and De Niro no longer makes good movies, so Nicholson’s eventual usurper might be Hanks.

Looking at the 24 people who have appeared in eight or more best picture nominees, you may have noticed that 22 have something in common: They’re men. There’s ample anecdotal evidence that movies that get nominated for best picture on the whole don’t tend to be the kind of movies with substantive parts for women. Author and entertainment journalist Mark Harris noted that with “The Post,” this year is the first since 1985 that Meryl Streep was nominated for best actress for a part in a best picture nominee.

“What you found does not surprise me,” Harris told me. “It confirms my sense of what the underlying issue is in the Oscars and in the industry.

“It’s a circular system in which movies that center men are much more likely to be rewarded, and the message that sends to the industry is that in order to win awards, that’s the type of movie it should make.”

Seeing this imbalance, I wanted to compare a given individual’s best picture resume with the number of times that person was nominated for an acting Oscar. Given that composer John Williams has the most Oscar nominations of any living person and John C. Reilly inspired this study, I’m calling this metric “Williams Above Reilly,” or WAR, which will never be confused with any other existing advanced metric.

A high WAR means an actor was recognized for individual performances far more often than the films that actor was in. A low WAR means an actor has been in a lot of highly regarded films but hasn’t received much individual credit. And a WAR near 0 means those two things are balanced.

Williams Above Reilly scores

Lifetime John C. Reilly tally vs. acting nominations for actors who appeared in at least five best picture nominees or received at least five solo acting Oscar nominations, or both

Williams Above Reilly (WAR) is found by subtracting the number of an actor’s best picture appearances from the number of acting nominations, then dividing that by the total of both categories.

Sources: IMDb, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences database

Interesting people with high WAR values include Denzel Washington, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts and Streep. Some standouts with low WARs include John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Hugo Weaving, Brad Pitt and our man Stuhlbarg. The middle area — the balanced performers — is eclectic but interesting, with character actors like Robert Duvall, Kathy Bates, Woody Harrelson, Octavia Spencer, Cate Blanchett and Marlon Brando popping out.

And there’s John C. Reilly, with one of the lowest WARs in the bunch — half of it derived from three films that all premiered in one seven-day span in 2002.

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