"Slumdog Millionaire." "Dog Day Afternoon." "Children of a Lesser Dog." Over the years, more than a couple of films with “dog” in the title (OK, maybe not that last one) have emerged as Oscar heavyweights, but none, alas, has actually featured pooches in prominent roles. For shame! 2011 was a bit different for cinematic canines, however, as a handful of (non-dog-titled) films in the running for different awards including Best Picture do indeed co-star adorable and talented four-legged thesps. And as you’ve probably heard, there’s been a campaign for one of these fine performers, Uggie the Jack Russell terrier, to receive an honorary statuette on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ big night on Feb. 26. Just a hunch but unless Björk or Cher circa 1986 show up, we think we know who’s going to garner all the attention on the red carpet.
Scroll down to learn more about the top dogs appearing in three of 2011’s most celebrated films: “The Artist,” “Beginners” and “Hugo.” And below that, we’ve included a list of memorable pooches that have appeared in past Oscar-winning and nominated films. Sure, Higgins (“Benji”) and Pal (“Lassie Come Home”) may not have been officially honored for their work, but at least the films that they appeared in were nominated for Best Song and Best Cinematography, right?
Uggie the Jack Russell terrier as The Dog in 'The Artist'
Perhaps the hottest kibble-eating thespian since Rin Tin Tin, Uggie’s adorably hammy performance in top Oscar contender “The Artist” has his legions of fans crying foul after being snubbed in the Best Actor category (he can thank Rin Tin Tin for this technicality) and excluded by those dastardly dogists at the British Academy of Film and Television (“Regretfully, we must advise that as he is not a human being and as his unique motivation as an actor was sausages, Uggie is not qualified to compete for the BAFTA in this category.”) Outrage!
Still, this hasn’t stopped the charismatic Jack Russell terrier from working the red carpet at the Golden Globes, appearing at numerous press events, TV appearances and premieres, and snagging a Palm Dog Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival as well as two nominations (he also appeared in “Like Water for Elephants”) in the first Golden Collar Awards. With Uggie lovers still pushing for an honorary Oscar nod, we doubt the hoopla around this skilled scenery chewer will be dying down anytime soon even though, as recently announced by his trainer/owner Omar Von Muller, the 10-year-old virtuoso will be retiring from feature films at the conclusion of the Hollywood awards season. While we fully support all the accolades Uggie has received, he does have one distinct advantage over his canine contemporaries that can’t be overlooked: Given that “The Artist” is a silent film, Uggie’s handlers were able to shout out commands as needed while the film was still rolling.
Cosmo the Jack Russell terrier as Arthur in 'Beginners'
Although rescue dog-turned-seasoned film vet Cosmo (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Hotel for Dogs”) hasn’t received the same level of praise as fellow Jack Russell Uggie, he does have an ardent supporter in the form of his Oscar-nominated “Beginners” co-star Christopher Plummer. The 82-year-old actor snubbed “The Artist” scene-stealer during a Golden Globes photo-op, telling the New York Times: “I didn’t pose with Uggie. Of course not. I’m jealous. I wanted Cosmo to be up there too.” Plummer continues: “Well you see, I think our dog was much more human, and actually much more professional, than Uggie. Uggie was such a circus dog. You never got to know him inside. The true Uggie never came out. Cosmo yeah, heart on sleeve.” And consider this: not only did Cosmo, unlike Uggie, appear in a non-silent film, he also had speaking lines (well, kind of) and underwent cosmetic enhancements for his role as Arthur — so that he more closely resembled Bowser, the real life dog that writer/director Mike Mills inherited after his fresh-out-of-the-closet father died from lung cancer, Cosmo’s coat was colored with nontoxic vegetable dyes.
And Plummer isn’t the only “Beginners” star that Cosmo had a lasting effect on. Ewan McGregor, who spent a majority of his time on screen alongside the pooch, fell in love with Cosmo — so much so that he dreaded the day when their time together would come to an end. As a result, he adopted his own pooch. McGregor tells The Los Angeles Times: “I was looking for a replacement for Cosmo because I couldn’t stand the idea of not having him around. I found my dog on the last day of the shoot. He is gorgeous and my little Cosmo replacement.”
Blackie the Doberman pinscher as Maximilian in 'Hugo'
Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t the only one guilty of scenery chewing in Martin Scorsese’s fantastical, Oscar-nominated kiddie flick “Hugo.” Two males named Enzo and Borsalino filled in as Maximilian, the menacing Doberman employed by the orphan-hunting Station Inspector played by Baron Cohen. However, it was a brainy 3-year-old female named Blackie who was called in for the film’s more complicated scenes. So no, your 3-D glasses-wearing eyes weren’t deceiving you — Maximilian’s magically mutating gender throughout the film was due to the fact that a lady Doberman was the more skilled on-screen performer.
And although she was initially shut out of The Golden Collar Awards by not being nominated in the Best Dog in a Theatrical Film category (a displeased and prejudice-detecting Scorsese managed to change this), it was Blackie, not Enzo or Borsalino, who had the honor of appearing in a Hollywood Reporter photo shoot alongside Cosmo, Uggie and Hummer the Pomeranian (“Young Adult”). Says Scorsese of Blackie’s work in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: “I'm proud of Blackie, who laid it on the line and dared to risk the sympathy of her audience. Let's just say that on the set, she had a fitting nickname: Citizen Canine. The bath scene alone is a masterpiece of underplaying, with Blackie's wonderfully aquiline face accentuated by the 3-D.” It’s also worth mentioning that Blackie’s on-set handler was none other than Mathilde de Cagny, who, in addition to being dog momma/trainer to both Cosmo and the late Moose (AKA “Eddie Spaghetti Crane”) from “Frasier,” has worked on some seriously dog-heavy, non-Oscar nominated fare including “Marley & Me,” “My Dog Skip,” “Lassie” (2005) and “Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco.”
- Tori as Dash (Cavalier King Charles spaniel) — “The Young Victoria” (2009)
- Scooby (pit bull) — “No Country for Old Men” (2007)
- Jill the Dog as Verdell (Brussels Griffon) — “As Good As It Gets” (1997)
- Darla as Precious (Bichon Frise) — “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
- Butkus Stallone as Butkus Balboa (bullmastiff) — “Rocky” (1976)
- Higgins as Benji (mixed breed) — “Benji” (1974)
- Unknown performer as Sounder (coon dog) — “Sounder” (1972)
- Pal as Lassie (rough collie) — “Lassie Come Home” (1943)
- Terry as Toto (Cairn terrier) — “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
- Skippy as Asta (Wire haired fox terrier) — “The Thin Man" (1934) and as Mr. Smith in “The Awful Truth” (1937)
Photo of Uggie: Agence France-Presse; Photo of Cosmo: Focus Features; Blackie: Jaap Buitendjik/GK Films