Robert De Niro: Awakenings
Gerard Depardieu: Cyrano de Bergerac
Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves
Richard Harris: The Field
Jeremy Irons: Reversal of Fortune (winner)
Based on nominations, 1990 feels like an odd year and perhaps a down one for Best Actor. That’s not the case, though, when you look at who could have been nominated. While Tremors isn’t the sort of film that seriously gets a nomination, I do love it, and I love both Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon in it. Sticking with movies that don’t tend to get nominated, we can look at Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder, a film that is so much better than it should be. Given that he didn’t do a lot more than lay in bed, I’m not shocked that James Caan was overlooked for Misery, but I’m not sure he should have been. There were a lot of good crime movies in 1990 as well. Ray Liotta could have swung a nomination for Goodfellas, and Christopher Walken could have gotten one for King of New York. I’d also consider Gabriel Byrne for Miller’s Crossing. The big miss for me, though, is John Cusack in what was in many ways his first adult role: The Grifters.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Dances with Wolves got so much love and attention come Oscar time that I’m a little surprised the Kevin Costner didn’t win. I’m happy he didn’t, ultimately. It’s not a bad performance in a lot of respects, but so much of the movie is just so self-indulgent. Dances with Wolves needed someone to edit it into something much shorter rather than the epic ego trip it ultimately turned out to be. This is what happens when a particular movie gets a lot of sudden attention—we get stuck with Costner nominated for this performance and Dances with Wolves as Best Picture.
4. And for a year that looks on the surface like it’s filled with performances that aren’t that memorably compared with those that weren’t nominated, I find myself wanting everything else to be ranked much higher than this. It’s not without some reservation that I put Robert De Niro fourth in anything, but in the case of Awakenings, his role feels more supporting than anything else. That said, I could have easily mentioned Robin Williams up top, too, and if Awakenings needed a nomination for Best Actor, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have gone with Williams.
3. Jeremy Irons is a fine actor who has made some really bad choices when it comes to roles in the past few years. In that sense, his winning the Oscar is a sort of validation that despite his diving head-first into things like the Dungeons & Dragons movie, the man has some real skill. The problem is that he won for the wrong movie. I think there is good evidence that this is one of those “we missed the right movie” awards. Irons wasn’t even nominated for his double performance in Dead Ringers, and in many ways, winning for Reversal of Fortune feels like a win from 1988.
2. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Richard Harris’s performance in The Field is that it feels like a natural progression from his performance 30+ years previous in This Sporting Life. While Harris is clearly older here, he seems no less vital and no less in charge of himself and his presence on the screen. There is a moment here where he drags around Tom Berenger and Sean Bean, and despite his being significantly older than both, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. It’s a performance that feels like it comes out of nowhere, and it’s pretty damn great.
1. I have to admit that I’d be tempted to put John Cusack in the top spot for The Grifters had he been nominated, but had he been, he’d have much more likely ended up in second. My top position is reserved for Gerard Depardieu and his turn in Cyrano de Bergerac. This is a very specific role that requires a very specific type of person, and Depardieu was exactly the right guy for it in 1990. He is brash and has swagger, he has the grand persona required, and also has an air of real tragedy. It’s near perfect casting, and it’s a film that is sadly forgotten and shouldn’t be.