Friday, January 8, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1994

The Contenders:

Tom Hanks: Forrest Gump (winner)
Nigel Hawthorne: The Madness of King George
Paul Newman: Nobody’s Fool
John Travolta: Pulp Fiction
Morgan Freeman: The Shawshank Redemption

What’s Missing

It’s a solid group of five actors for this year, but let’s see if we can make the competition even tougher. We don’t have to go any further than the films listed to find Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, who certainly deserved some love here. I think Woody Harrelson’s work in Natural Born Killers is worthy of consideration as well. In a different world. Terence Stamp and Hugo Weaving might gain consideration for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, although that’s probably not serious enough for most Oscar voters. The same may be true of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. If documentaries were typical nominees in this category, I’d stump for Nanni Moretti in Caro Diario. And how about Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show? Or Johnny Depp in Ed Wood? And then, of course, there’s Jean Reno in Leon. Damn fine year.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I like Tom Hanks, and I appreciate just how rare it is that he won two Oscars in a row, but I really, really dislike Forrest Gump a lot. It was very much the flavor of the month in 1994, though, and Hanks benefitted from it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Hanks’s performance, save that this ends up being another case of someone winning an Oscar for playing a character that is either mentally or physically handicapped. I’m probably punishing the movie more than Hanks here, but that’s the way it’s going to be.

4: I love Paul Newman and he’s the single best reason to watch Nobody’s Fool. As good as he is, though, it’s hard for me to recommend him for a nomination. A great deal of Nobody’s Fool feels like Newman is really just playing himself. As good as that performance may be, I’m not sure a guy just having fun with what seems like his own lovable rogue reputation deserves a nod. Given the chance, I’d still enjoy this movie, but I wouldn’t have nominated Newman.

3: There’s nothing specifically wrong with Nigel Hawthorne’s performance in The Madness of King George, but it’s still one I’d like to replace here. There were so many good actor performances in 1994 (actress, too—we’re not there yet), though. This one is right on the edge of my wanting to keep it or trade it in for one of those listed above. Hawthorne inhabits the role beautifully, and I think that ultimately I’d probably keep him, but I wouldn’t put him in the top position.

2: John Travolta’s turn in Pulp Fiction revitalized his career and made him a sudden force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. That didn’t happen just because Travolta was in one of the most highly acclaimed and popular films of the year. No, a great deal of this came from Travolta himself, and it’s a damn fine nomination. Travolta was cool in the 1970s, and with this performance, he reclaimed that former glory. It was easy to forget that Travolta had talent, at least until Pulp Fiction came out, and then it was impossible to forget.

My Choice

1: Given our five nominees, I’d have awarded Morgan Freeman. The character of Red is one of Freeman’s most memorable roles in a career filled with memorable roles. Red is a convicted murderer and a hard man, and yet we like him immediately. Freeman’s greatest strength as an actor is that he comes across as natural, as a guy it would interesting to know. Ultimately, I think I’d have liked to have seen Tim Robbins nominated as well, and depending on the day, Freeman and Robbins would be first and second in some order. But it was Freeman who was nominated, so it’s Freeman I give the award to.

Final Analysis


  1. I award Newman here precisely for the fact that he's so naturally 'in this'. It's not an Oscary role and yet he just oozes this honesty that never feels put on. He's just a man, a real man, and it works. Unlike someone like Clooney who real feels like they are just playing variations of themselves, there is a real character here and Newman feels so authentic.

    But it is a very light role, and so I can understand your feelings towards the nomination, even if I would heartily hand him the win.

    This whole lineup, sans the winner, is pretty great, though. It's a shame that Oscar didn't just get it wrong, the got it SO WRONG. They could have awarded any of the other four nominees and it would have felt honorable at least, but Hanks isn't even the worst of Forrest Gump's many problems as a film.

    1. That is really what sets me against Newman here, despite how good I think he is in the role. It feels too ephemeral to really have the weight of an Oscar nod behind it, especially when Tim Robbins, Ralph Fiennes, and Johnny Depp all went without one for better than solid work.

      I've never liked Forrest Gump and I've given it multiple chances. I'm convinced Hanks was nominated because of the popularity of the movie. That's no knock on Hanks--I like a lot of his films and like a lot of his nominations for Oscars. Just not this one.

  2. While I don't necessarily agree with all the other placements I could not agree more with putting Tom Hanks dead last for the odious Forrest Gump. I like Hanks very much and he's given many fine and worthwhile performances but this one isn't award worthy and I detest the film and many of the choices he makes with the character.

    Of the other actual nominees Hawthorne would be my winner with Freeman a close second. But it was a year heavy with worthy work, beside those you mentioned, love the hat tip to Jean Reno in Leon, I'd add Linus Roache in Priest, Gary Oldman in Romeo is Bleeding, Russell Crowe in The Sum of Us (though he sort of skirts the line with supporting) and my choice for winner Jack Thompson who plays Crowe's father in The Sum of Us. It's a tight choice though between he and Terence Stamp who is just amazing in Priscilla.

    1. Thanks for mentioning Terence Stamp. I felt like that was a mention I might catch some grief for (or at least a little scoffing), but he's so good in Priscilla that I can only think the nature of the role was what kept him from getting a nomination.

      I don't know Romeo is Bleeding, but I'd have been happy to nominate Oldman for Supporting in Leon, even if it's over the top and a bit goofy.

    2. I think if Adventures of Priscilla came out now Stamp would be a natural for a nomination but 20 years ago the film and subject matter were just too outré for the performers to gain traction. Outside of its costumes, which did rightfully win, it was overlooked unfortunately.

    3. The flip-flop dress was worthy of the award if nothing else was. But yes--exactly. With the benefit of hindsight and a couple of decades, I think Stamp earns a nomination.

  3. When I saw the category, and Hanks as the winner for Forrest Gump, I thought to myself, "This should be entertaining." I was right. And not just your post, but the replies of some of the commenters, too.

    I'd have Hawthorne at the bottom, mostly because his performance didn't do anything for me. And while I think Travolta did a good job I've never understood why everyone focused on him, right from the time the film came out. When I watched it I was much more impressed with Samuel L. Jackson's performance. Yes, he was nominated in the Supporting role, but the entire movie was comprised of supporting roles; it was an ensemble piece. But because I feel he wasn't even the best actor in his own film I can't pick Travolta.

    As for the remaining three, I'd be happy with any of them winning. I think they all did fine jobs, as did some of the ones you mentioned that got left out. This is a fantastic year for movies, and with that comes fantastic performances in them.

    1. Pulp Fiction was a lot of supporting roles, but Travolta is the most central character. I think he's the only one who is in every story, even if he's only trivially in the Bruce Willis piece.

      I freely admit that I might well be punishing Tom Hanks for the many sins of Forrest Gump.

  4. Nice work. It would definitely come down to Freeman or Travolta for me as well. Travolta would win out in the end, but I can't argue against Freeman.

    1. Honestly, I had a hard time arguing against Travolta. Ultimately, it may just be that I like Shawshank more than I like Pulp.