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
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.
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.