Monday, April 1, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2000

The Contenders:

Javier Bardem: Before Night Falls
Tom Hanks: Cast Away
Russell Crowe: Gladiator (winner)
Ed Harris: Pollock
Geoffrey Rush: Quills

What’s Missing

In the final year of the millennium, the nominations for Best Actor were interesting, and naturally could stand some improvement. I’d love to suggest someone from Traffic, but it’s one of those movies where pretty much everyone is a supporting player. Beyond that, as usual, I’ll start with the roles that would never get nominations because of the predilections of the Academy. These include Christian Bale’s amazing turn in American Psycho (because of the topic of the movie) and Jason Statham in Snatch (because Jason Statham). Jared Leto could have possibly swung a nomination for Requiem for a Dream, but might be more supporting. I would have loved to have seen a nomination for Sam Neill for the underknown and underloved The Dish. The two biggest surprises for me are George Clooney for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Guy Pearce in Memento.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I didn’t like Quills at all, and that’s going to affect my opinion of Geoffrey Rush. This is such a reprehensible movie in so many ways. I suppose if I’m going to be entirely objective that it’s a good performance. Rush manages to inject a little bit of nuance into a role that doesn’t really lend itself to any sort of nuance. But I dislike the movie so damn much that it’s difficult for me to get beyond that. I want to respect the performance more than I do. I just can’t because of how vile the movie is.

4. I have the opposite problem with Before Night Falls. This is a movie that is more or less genetically programmed to force people to like it, since the main character is both gay and fighting an oppressive government. Not wanting to appear homophobic or in favor of tyranny, you have to say you like the movie. Because of that, it feels like Javier Bardem was nominated because of the role and not because of his performance. Bardem is a damn fine actor and he’s earned a bunch of nominations. I’m just not convinced he earned this one.

3. Russell Crowe’s “Are you not entertained?!” would have become a meme had it happened in a movie ten years later. It remains one of the most memorable moments in a film that seemed destined to win a whole bunch of awards. In truth, this is one of Crowe’s better performances in a career that has a couple of good ones. I want to like the movie more than I do, but the truth is that whenever I think about it, I tend to think more of Joaquin Phoenix than I do Russell Crowe, and that’s not a good sign.

2. Ed Harris is one of those actors who probably should have an Oscar by this point, and he’s struck out on all four of his nominations. Pollock is probably his lowest profile nomination. It’s a good performance, and if I were going to come up with my own list of nominations, I might (might, mind you) nominate Harris for this performance, but he’d be at the bottom. It’s another case of a good actor giving a fine performance of an awful and ugly person, which makes it hard to judge (unless it’s exceptional in some way).

1. I don’t really like Cast Away that much as a movie, but I’m hard-pressed to think of someone in this list of nominations who went more all-in for the role. Tom Hanks has to carry a huge amount of the running time of this movie entirely on his own, assisted only by a painted face on a volleyball. The truth is that Hanks alone on the island isn’t the entire running time of the film, but it’s the only part anyone remembers. Hanks by himself is better than Hanks with other people in this movie, and that says everything. He’s not my ultimate winner, but he is my winner from these nominations.

My Choice

There are two possible winners here, and in a way, I’m happy that I don’t actually have to choose between them. The first is Guy Pearce, who is absolutely magnetic in Memento. Pearce is often very good, but this is his best work. The second is Christian Bale for American Psycho, who I think would win six or seven times out of ten from me. He’s just so good.

Final Analysis


  1. This is a tough one for me to pick, even though my ultimate winner isn't among the nominees, because three of the performances are very fine indeed.

    The two that don't factor for me-Ed Harris & Geoffrey Rush-aren't bad, both men do their customarily accomplished work but neither blew me away. And in Harris's case Jackson Pollock was such a repellent ass I barely made it through the film.

    Hanks really did go all in for Castaway and he makes something that could have been ridiculous compelling.

    Russell Crowe is a great actor, having discovered him almost a decade before this in the Aussie drama Proof and then watching him systemically move forward until becoming the man of the moment when he won was both cool and gratifying. However as good as he is in Gladiator I think he won this in a combination of being the current It boy and as a makeup for both losing the previous year for his brilliant turn in The Insider and being slighted for L.A. Confidential.

    But I'd probably go with Javier Bardem's intense performance in Before Night Falls. It's a very tough watch but he made it worthwhile.

    However in an open field while Bardem and Crowe would make my list the other three wouldn't. I agree about Guy Pearce, Memento is his best work that I've seen. My other two slots would go to Colin Farrell's breakthrough work in Tigerland and Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys. I can't believe he wasn't nominated, it was his best work in years and perhaps my favorite performance of his ever. He'd be my easy winner.

    I have never been able to make myself watch American Psycho despite the acclaim that Bale's performance usually receives. It looks so disturbing and I'm not a big enough fan of his for his presence to compensate for that.

    1. Seems like we disagree far more than we agree for this year, which is always interesting. Michael Douglas never touched my radar for Wonder Boys, in no small part because I disliked the movie a great deal. It's hard to overcome that.

      I get the take on American Psycho. Bale isn't always my cup of tea, but when he gets a role right, he really gets it, and this is probably his best work in front of a camera.

    2. I realize Wonder Boys isn't for everyone. My sister and I saw it in the theatre together when it came out, I loved it and she most definitely did not. Be that as it may I still think it's some of Douglas's best work, relaxed and lived in without that slick edge that sometimes creeps into his performances.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Clooney in O' Brother. One of my favorite performances ever. Love him in that movie.