Monday, August 26, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1986

The Contenders:

William Hurt: Children of a Lesser God
Paul Newman: The Color of Money (winner)
Bob Hoskins: Mona Lisa
Dexter Gordon: ‘Round Midnight
James Woods: Salvador

What’s Missing

So let’s talk about just how weird 1986 is for actors. This to me has always been the year that Paul Newman won because he didn’t win for Cool Hand Luke, Hud, The Hustler, or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And yet I’m having trouble getting behind any of the nominations. When we turn to the other films of the year, though, I’m not sure where to go. I initially thought of Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters, but he won for that role as supporting. I thought of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, but he was nominated in a supporting role for Hoosiers. Gene Hackman could have been nominated for Hoosiers, and that’s one I’d support. But I’m not going to nominate Bryan Brown for F/X or Christopher Lambert for Highlander despite how much I enjoy those movies. But where should we go here? Tom Cruise for Top Gun? I can’t support that nomination, even as a goof. It would be fun to suggest Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, but how serious could that be? Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal in Running Scared? Rick Moranis would never get a nomination for Little Shop of Horrors, but that’s the fault of the short-sightedness of the Academy, not the role, the movie, or the performance. The same is probably true of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In retrospect, even though I don’t love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (and I know that means I probably have to turn in my Gen-X membership card), Matthew Broderick should have probably gotten some consideration. The same is true of both Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix in Stand by Me. William Petersen in Manhunter would have been an interesting choice, as would John Goodman in True Stories, a film I love more than anyone I know. I’ll also toss in Tom Waits in Down by Law, and both Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission. But really…what a weird year!

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m dumping William Hurt and Children of a Lesser God immediately. I dislike this movie intently and I dislike Hurt in this movie. I don’t like the story, I don’t like the role, and I don’t think is performance is that noteworthy. In fact, as has been pointed out to me in the past, the majority of Hurt’s performance appears to be speaking for Marlee Matlin, literally taking away her agency in a film that was designed to present her with that agency. Fuck this nomination, Hurt in this role, and this film in general.

4. ’Round Midnight was a fine movie and a very good platform to show the talents of Dexter Gordon as a musician. But this is another nomination that I don’t really understand at all. This is nothing against Gordon, who was absolutely a giant in the world of jazz and a legened on the saxophone, but he wasn’t an actor. It becomes clear in scene after scene that he’s just playing himself at best and playing a version of himself at worst. This feels like one of those “Look at how talented he is” things that wasn’t really earned. Nominate the man for a Grammy for the soundtrack. Give him an Oscar along with Herbie Hancock for the score (Hancock did win, after all). But this award? No.

3. What to say about James Woods? Woods is a capable actor and often gives everything to a performance, and his work on Salvador is some of his best. But, as has been the case with this blog for a couple of years, it becomes harder and harder to lay praise at the feet of someone who, by virtually all reports, is a monster. I try to keep the politics out of this blog, and if I thought Woods deserved to be ranked higher, I’d rank him higher. In this bizarre year, third place is as close as he’s getting to the top.

2. I complained at the top that this was the year Newman got his Oscar because he hadn’t gotten it before, but he’s still managed to creep up to second place. The reason for that is simple: the hype that this was a career Oscar in the guise of a competitive one isn’t entirely correct. Sure, it’s not anything like the best thing in Newman’s career, but it’s a very good performance in an interesting role. It’s worth noting just how good this year was for Tom Cruise—he’s just about able to match Newman scene for scene. But the role and the performance are better than the reputation…just not enough for the win.

1. What this means is that based on the nominations, I’m going with Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa. This was, amazingly, the only nomination in the career of Bob Hoskins, a man who certainly deserved a great deal more love from the Academy. Why was this the only time he had a chance? I think it’s because he’s the British version of Joe Pesci. He does the same role a lot because he’s really, really good at that role. Regardless, had I been given a vote for this year, Hoskins would have been my choice, but I’m not limited by the five nominations here.

My Choice

And yet, I’m not sure who I would want to reward. I only know that I am very dissatisfied with the slate that I’ve been given. There’s a part of me that would love to give it to Rick Moranis and just thumb my nose at the rest of the Academy. Or to go completely off script (even from the list above) and give it to David Bowie for Labyrinth. But ultimately? I’m probably going to go with De Niro.

Final Analysis


  1. You know something, you're right. I would've totally gone with Bob Hoskins for Mona Lisa as I think it is a performance for the ages as it's one of great humility and sensitivity but also for someone who is also tough. It is a career-defining performance.

    Nothing against Paul Newman for The Color of Money as I loved what he did but Hoskins did a better job. I would've had James Woods as my runner-up as I did love what he did in Salvador but like Jon Voight, he's become a fucking moron that drank too many milkshakes at McDonald's (have you tried them? I only had them once and I had the shits after that).

    Oh, there's so many great performances that year that should've been nominated... Denis Lavant for Mauvais Sang, Kyle Maclachlan for Blue Velvet, Gene Hackman for Hoosiers (a favorite film of my dad's), Jeff Goldblum for The Fly, Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons for The Mission, Erland Josephson for The Sacrifice, Matthew Broderick for Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Gary Oldman for Sid & Nancy, Marcello Mastroianni for Ginger & Fred, Rodney Dangerfield for Back to School (yeah that's right, I love Rodney Dangerfield and anyone who doesn't like him can go fuck themselves), and of course, Bowie for Labyrinth (and for supporting in Absolute Beginners) as he steals the film from everyone).

    1. To start, I'll just say that I've got no problem with Rodney Dangerfield.

      This is such a strange year in terms of the nominations and in terms of the films and performances. In a completely open field, Hoskins might be the only nomination I'd keep.

      Also, I haven't had a McDonald's milkshake in years. I'm not really that into ice cream or sweets in general, so it's not my thing. Woods's problem seems to be more drinking a certain brand or flavor of Kool-Aid, though.

  2. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who thought this was a weak lineup.

    I'm as happy as anyone that Paul Newman received an Oscar, and you're right his performance isn't bad the way Al Pacino's is in Scent of a Woman, but I wish he had gotten it for one of his truly outstanding performances. Heaven knows there were enough of them!

    Of the five Hoskins is definitely the best of the bunch in Mona Lisa, a movie I didn't like at all. He'd be the only one I would have been happy to see win even if I wouldn't have nominated him.

    That's quite a breath of alternate choices you listed. I know some are for fun but I'd include Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, River Phoenix in Stand by Me (though all those boys were phenomenal) and Michael Rooker in Henry...(now that's a film I REALLY hated but I can't deny that Rooker gave it his all) in my list for sure. After them I'd be torn between Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller and Gary Oldman in Sid & Nancy. But my winner would be Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast even though once again I didn't care for the film. Liking it or not it's probably Ford's most accomplished, and least likable, role he's fearless in showing the slow loss of Fox's grip on reality.

    There's also Tom Hanks in Nothing in Common, he's very good in it but he'd probably be my number six.

    1. As much as it's nice that Newman won a competitive Oscar, and as decent as this performance is, the fact that he didn't win for those towering performances mentioned above will always make this feel like it was presented with a wink and a nod.

      Sid & Nancy is one I really need to see. Ironically, I almost checked out The Mosquito Coast a couple of days ago since that's another one on my to-watch list.

    2. Perhaps the reason this lineup is so thin is because it seems to be the year of excellent work by actors in unlikable films/roles. More than half of the actors I'd consider worthy were in films I didn't like (I also didn't like Sid & Nancy though I went into pretty sure I wouldn't knowing the story of waste and violence it was telling but I'd heard so much about Oldman & Chloe Webb's work I was curious-both excellent but Ugh!) Even the eminently likable Tom Hanks plays a major tool for most of Nothing in Common. I suppose the Academy wasn't having it.

    3. Maybe. It certainly seems appropriate for the middle of the Reagan-Bush years.

      I mean, even Ferris Bueller falls into that group. I know lots of people love that movie and him, but seriously, Ferris is the ur-example of a douchebag.