Monday, June 24, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2004

The Contenders:

Leonardo DiCaprio: The Aviator
Johnny Depp: Finding Neverland
Don Cheadle: Hotel Rwanda
Clint Eastwood: Million Dollar Baby
Jamie Foxx: Ray (winner)

What’s Missing

There are a lot of male performances from 2004 I like quite a bit, and a couple of them even managed nominations. That’s notable since it seems not to happen sometimes. As usual, let’s talk about the ones that would never earn a nomination first, starting with Ron Perlman in Hellboy, a film where I unashamedly love all of the performances. I might possibly suggest Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2, except that Alfred Molina is the class of that movie by a long stride. Foreign language performances are often overlooked in categories like this one, which leaves out the couldn’t-be-nominated-because-it’s-Hitler performance of Bruna Ganz in Downfall and also ignores the won’t-be-nominated-because-it’s-Asian performance of Jae Hee in 3-Iron. It also leaves out Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries, who is certainly on someone’s list even if he probably wouldn’t make mine. Jim Carrey almost certainly didn’t get nominated for The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind because he’s Jim Carrey. Jamie Foxx already earned a nomination for Ray, which left his performance in Collateral ignored. I could make a strong case for him there, and a much stronger case for Tom Cruise in the same movie. The one I honestly cannot understand is a lack of nomination for Paul Giamatti in Sideways.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Given my relative indifference toward Million Dollar Baby in general, putting Clint Eastwood in last place should not come as much of a shock. It’s not a bad performance, and even a pretty good one in a lot of respects, but in a year this strong, the only reason Eastwood was nominated as an actor was the general upswelling of support for this movie across the board. Given the performances that weren’t nominated, he has no real reason to be here. That’s not a knock on Eastwood, who I tend to like as an actor. It’s just a statement of fact.

4. Johnny Depp is fine in Finding Neverland, but the hardest choice I had here was deciding who to put in last, and Depp came close. There’s nothing particularly egregious about the role or the performance, but not a great deal to recommend it, either. It’s reminiscent of his work in Edward Scissorhands, which may be what eventually earned him the nomination. The accent bothers me, though. Depp plays J.M. Barrie as if he were from Dublin rather than Kirriemuir, Scotland.

3. I don’t have any issue with Don Cheadle’s performance in Hotel Rwanda. In fact, in a lesser year, I might well stand up for him as someone who should win. It’s a good performance, if one demands a nomination thanks to the subject matter. I know there are people who dislike the term “Oscar Bait,” and yet here we are, with a film that screams from the top of its lungs that it damn well better be nominated. Well, it was, and probably deservedly so, but for all my love of Don Cheadle, in an open field, he’s right at the bottom for me.

2. So let’s talk about Leonardo DiCaprio. I like Leo as an actor; he’s a difficult actor to dislike, and The Aviator is one hell of a biopic. I’m perhaps predisposed to like the film a bit more than it deserves, but Leo is a big reason that the film works at all. In a lesser year, he gets his Oscar a good decade earlier and rather than campaigns from people to get him a win, we’ve got people doing the same thing for Amy Adams or Donald Sutherland, who still has never been nominated. He just falls a little short this year.

1. I’m not going to mince words here; I’m not a huge fan of Jamie Foxx. I think he’s a capable actor given good material, but I’m not going to go out of my way to watch him in a movie that often. Ray is an exception. Foxx had a hell of a good year in 2004, and while I can make a strong case for him here, his case is even better when you add in Collateral. I won’t say Foxx didn’t earn this, and of the five nominations, he’s my choice. But in an open field, I’ve got one person I’m putting ahead of him.

My Choice

That one is Paul Giamatti in Sideways. Giamatti has always played a certain character type well. He’s a perfect sad sack, a guy who’s never had a break and won’t ever get one. Sideways is the ne plus ultra of what Giamatti does with this role. There is no more heartbreaking moment in 2004 film than Giamatti’s moment in this film in a fast food restaurant. If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the pinnacle moment of the man’s career and of 2004 in general.

Final Analysis


  1. "He’s a perfect sad sack, a guy who’s never had a break and won’t ever get one." Agreed, and I would go just a bit further: Giamatti is perfect at playing guys who are great at making bad decisions to make sure they never get a break.

  2. You read my fucking mind. YES!!!!! The award for Best Actor should've gone to Paul Giamatti as he just won me over and I felt for his character. My runner-up would've been Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    For me, it would've been like this....

    1. Paul Giamatti
    2. Jim Carrey
    3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt-Mysterious Skin
    4. Bruno Ganz-Downfall
    5. Javier Bardem-The Sea Inside
    6. Gael Garcia Bernal-The Motorcycle Diaries/Bad Education
    7. Yuya Yagira-Nobody Knows
    8. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai-2046
    9. Mads Mikkelsen-Pusher II
    10. Will Ferrell-Anchorman

    1. Don't sell Jamie Foxx short here. I'll never be considered an apologist for the man, but he absolutely nails Ray Charles--down to the mannerisms and the speech pattern.

      That said, I cannot fathom why Paul Giamatti was not nominated. It's such a good performance in a career of them. He should have been nominated (and won) here, and he should have been nominated for American Splendor.

    2. I liked Jamie Foxx in Ray. It's just that I think he had a better performance in Collateral which also came out that same year. Foxx would've been my honorable mention at #11.

    3. He had a good 2004. I like Collateral more than I liked Ray, but a lot of that is that I'm a sucker for someone playing hard against type. Tom Cruise as a hitman? That's a lot of fun.

  3. Another Crime by the Academy leaving Giamatti off the list.

    1. As I frequently say, this is not a celebration of Oscar, but a reckoning.