Don't be surprised if John Hawkes gets an Oscar nomination - and possibly a win - for his astonishing turn as The Sessions's real-life poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who after a childhood bout with polio lost the use of all his limbs. The Academy loves when able-bodied actors take on physical challenges. They've handed out awards to everyone from Cliff Robertson (Charly, 1968) and Jayne Wyman (Johnny Belinda, 1948) to Jon Voight (Coming Home, 1978). Here's a list of the best performances by actors who've captured gold for playing disabled onscreen.
Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot, 1989): Day Lewis won the first of his two Best Actor Oscars for his turn as the lusty Irish writer and painter who, because of cerebral palsy, could control only his left foot. Little-known fact: the actor had to be filmed with a mirror because his right foot is dominant.
Holly Hunter (The Piano, 1993): Hunter, who made her name in the late 80s playing spunky, plucky characters, has never found a better big screen role than that of Ada, the mute single mom sent to New Zealand to marry a settler. It's not entirely true that Hunter doesn't speak - she delivers the narration. And the biggest Oscar surprise wasn't her win, or that of her co-star Anna Paquin, but the fact that Michael Nyman's score - so key to the picture - didn't score a nomination.
Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker, 1962): Duke had been playing the role of the deaf, blind and mute Helen Keller on Broadway, but almost didn't get the part in the film because, at 16, she was much older than her seven-year-old character. Thank goodness common sense prevailed; both she and her Broadway co-star Anne Bancroft, as her teacher Annie Sullivan, won Oscars.
Al Pacino, The Scent Of A Woman (1992): Pacino had been nominated before for iconic roles in The Godfather I and II, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. So this win for his performance as a blind retired colonel being looked after by Chris O'Donnell's prep student was seen as a career Oscar, a symbolic "Oops, we goofed before." But it's a terrific, enjoyable performance, especially that famous tango scene he dances with Gabrielle Anwar. It's the movie itself that's lightweight.
Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man (1988): Did you know that Bill Murray was originally offered, and turned down, the role of the autistic savant Raymond? Or that Hoffman was offered the sleazy Tom Cruise part? Whatever you think about this picture, which is slick and sentimental, it's hard to imagine the film without Hoffman. The guy never pulls focus. Sure, he should have won several years earlier for Tootsie - a far more complex part - but he's affecting here, and along with the film helped educate the world about this condition.