Monday, May 13, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2002

The Contenders:

Jack Nicholson: About Schmidt
Nicolas Cage: Adaptation
Daniel Day-Lewis: Gangs of New York
Adrien Brody: The Pianist (winner)
Michael Caine: The Quiet American

What’s Missing

2002 is a darn fine year for movies, which is easy to forget (for me) when I remember that Chicago won Best Picture. I don’t dislike, in general, the nominations for Best Actor for this year, but I’ve got a number of potential suggestions. I realize that Bruce Campbell is probably never going to get an Oscar nomination, but if he were, it should have been for Bubba Ho-tep. This is also the year of Minority Report, and it’s one of Tom Cruise’s best roles. In another case of “wrong genre,” we have Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later. Dennis Quaid was likely overlooked based on the powerhouse performance of Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven. Relatively unknown Alexandre Rodrigues undoubtedly didn’t stir a lot of interest no matter how good City of God is. Sam Rockwell’s performance in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is far better than the movie deserves. Big misses were Al Pacino in Insomnia, a movie that always surprises me with how good it is. Tom Hanks also had a monster year with Road to Perdition and Catch Me if You Can. Admittedly, he’s more supporting in that one, and the real nomination could have gone to Leonardo DiCaprio, who also could have been nominated for Gangs of New York.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. God knows I love Michael Caine and, even when the movie is terrible, Caine is often entirely watchable. In the case of The Quiet American, Caine is more than watchable and this is much better than a terrible movie. My problem is that in this role, Caine is almost a cipher. It’s Brendan Fraser who is the most interesting person on the screen in scene after scene, and Fraser who is the most memorable. Fraser doesn’t get a lot of love, yet he’s been in a lot of roles like this one that demonstrate his chops. Caine is good, but he’s not the best part of the film.

4. Who has been nominated more than any other male actor for Oscars? Jack Nicholson, and his nomination for About Schmidt is one of his 12(!). I like the performance, and it turns out I like the film more than I expected to. Part of it is that Nicholson was playing against type. Instead of being the rebel and outsider, he was playing a man who never once even attempted to stray outside of the narrow confines of his life. It’s a damn good performance. The only issue, and the only reason it wound up in this spot is that this is a year with a lot of damn fine performances.

3. Evidence that what I’ve said about Nicholson is true is the fact that I’m putting Nicolas Cage in third place for his double performance in Adaptation Cage, of course, has had the sort of career where he will evidently play anything because of his financial difficulties. Adaptation is a reminder that, while he’s prone to The Wicker Man, he’s also capable of performances that are transcendently good. This wins in a lot of years, but in 2002, it doesn’t get above the middle of the pack.

2. If you had talked to me 16 years ago, I think there’s a very good chance that I hand this statue to Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs of New York. It’s such a towering performance, one that is immediately recognizable and identifiable and yet isn’t at all a farce or exaggerated. Bill the Butcher is the sort of character that has entered into that rarified world of characters who are immediately recognizable and iconic, something that Day-Lewis has done multiple times in his career. And yet, despite the strength of this performance, he’s still only in second place.

My Choice

1. I don’t know that there really was another choice than Adrian Brody in The Pianist. this is a unique mix of the ilm being the sort that Oscar loves combined with a career performance and topped with the odd physical reality that Brody looks like someone who is downtrodden and constantly victimized. You can say that The Pianist is Oscar bait, and you’re not wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that Brody is letter-perfect in a terribly difficult role. He was the right choice in 2002 and he still is.

Final Analysis


  1. "Bubba Ho-tep"! Love that movie.

    1. Impossible not to, and Campbell did a commentary track as Elvis, which is fantastic.

  2. Ya it has to be Brody, he's just ideally cast and up to the challenge.

    Those are good alternate suggestions to which I'd add Hugh Grant in About a Boy, Kieran Culkin in Igby Goes Down and Campbell Scott in Roger Dodger. But no matter the lineup Brody would come out on top.

    1. Hugh Grant is a good addition, and one that I should have included at the top. But I agree, for as strong a year as this is, Brody is the clear choice.