William Hurt: Kiss of the Spider Woman (winner)
James Garner: Murphy’s Romance
Jack Nicholson: Prizzi’s Honor
Jon Voight: Runaway Train
Harrison Ford: Witness
So far, 1985 has not fared well in my estimation. In terms of actual awards that I’ve looked at for this year, it’s chosen wrong twice and nominated completely wrong once. I’m curious to see how it will fare in a fourth category—for a year where the Oscar winners feel so unmemorable, it was a hell of a good year for movies. Let’s start with Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, in many ways the defining role of his career. That’s notable when you consider just how long he played a sitcom character—a role he had before, during, and after this one. I’ll also toss out some recognition for Tatsuya Nakadai in Ran, Tsutomu Yamazaki in Tampopo, Aleksey Kravchenko in Idi i Smotri, and Bruno Lawrence’s bizarre and excellent turn in The Quiet Earth. I also love Jonathan Pryce in Brazil and think he deserved some credit. I like William Peterson in the all-but-forgotten To Live and Die in L.A., although this is just as much Willem Dafoe’s film. This is also the year of Ladyhawke, which contains my favorite Matthew Broderick performance. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (Fred Ward), Fletch (Chevy Chase), and Re-Animator (Jeffrey Combs) aren’t Oscar material…but they’re all great and worth seeing. Sadly, Clue is an ensemble film, so no performance really leads, although Tim Curry’s comes close. Like I said, it was a great year in movies.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I think James Garner is probably impossible to dislike, but I don’t see anything particularly special with Murphy’s Romance. It’s a fine little movie and a fine performance from him and a movie that I rather enjoyed, but it’s nothing really extraordinary or exceptional. Garner’s greatest asset was his immediate likability, and Murphy is certainly a likable character. Being a nice guy isn’t enough for recognition here, though, and while I don’t want to take away what would be Garner’s only Oscar nomination, faced with the onslaught of misses above, he really didn’t deserve to be here.
4. It looks like I’m going to devalue Harrison Ford’s only Oscar nomination as well, since I’m putting him fourth. I kind of like Witness although I don’t love it, but the film has a number of issues. That doesn’t necessarily affect Ford’s performance, but if I were to line up all of Harrison Ford’s performances, I don’t think this one would crack my top five for him. He’s done much better work and I’d be happy to argue that he should have been nominated for a number of other Ford performances than for this one.
2. I like Jack Nicholson’s performance in Prizzi’s Honor much more than I like Prizzi’s Honor. It’s evidence that Nicholson could do more than just play a version of himself on camera. Charley Partanna is dim and survives much more by a sort of animal cunning. This is atypical for a Nicholson character, who is often too smart for his own good. I actually like this nomination quite a bit and I think it’s one I’d argue to keep, but I don’t think I’d argue it for the win.
1: Of the nominations, I like Jon Voight’s the best. Like Nicholson’s, this is a very unusual leading performance since Voight’s character is almost an animal. I love the way Voight plays him and I love the character’s arc throughout the film. Given good material, Voight is capable of doing great work, and this is one of my favorites of his in a long career. There are some genuine problems with the film, but he’s not one of them. Limited to the nominations, he gets the win. I’m not limited to the nominations, though.
Not being limited to the nominations is the entire point of doing these every week. A lot of the suggestions I made at the top I think are a better choice than any of the five nominations. Jonathan Pryce would certainly be a contender, as would Michael J. Fox. Those two can fight it out for the top spot, but most times given all of the performances from 1985, one of them would take the win with the other coming in second.