If your a man up for the Academy Award for Best Actor, is this situation different.
You bet. It seems that unless you are the hot actor destined to win the prize (perhaps like this year's Jeff Bridges who's been sweeping the precursor's for his role in Crazy Heart), then the race is really an award to be won by an Actor who appears in one of the films nominated for best picture, or even expected to win.
31 of the past 40 winners (77.5%) of the winning actors over the past 40 years have been in films that were nominated for best picture (represented by the two shades of gold in the graph above).
No only that, but 30% of the winners (12 of the 40) have not only been in a nominated film, but also the winning film. This is a huge shift from the numbers we see in the actress category where far fewer Oscar winning actresses come from the winning film (7, as opposed to 12).
I would assume this is representive of male-lead films and so when the Academy loves Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Patton, American Beauty, or Gladiator) they love both the lead and the lead actor. Not quiet the same situation we see in the Actress category.
This isn't a statistic to scoff at since it is very common in this category that many of the nominees in the Best Actor category are not riding on the coat-tails of their nominated film, and yet this would seem to indicate that it's a tough road to a win without this accompanying nomination of the best picture.
For example, the last time an actor won the Best Actor prize without an accompanying picture nomination with Forrest Whitacre for the Last King of Scotland. In that category that year, not a single one of the lead actor nominees were nominated for their role in a best picture nominated films.
In fact over the past ten years of Oscar nominees, only 21 of the 50 Best Actor nominees have their films as a best picture nominees (42%). So for these actors who come into the award season with a nominated film, their odds increase dramatically.
As already discussed, this year Jeff Bridges is considered the front-runner, and his film is not a best picture nominee. Only two actors are in nominated films this year, George Clooney (Up in the Air) and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). I would say it's a fair bet that these two are close behind in the voting while the other two contenders (Colin Firth for A Single Man, and Morgan Freeman for Invictus) don't stand a chance at an upset.
It's interesting to crunch the numbers and see what trends show, although there is clearly room for exceptions.