Friday, November 15, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1995

The Contenders:

Sean Penn: Dead Man Walking
Nicolas Cage: Leaving Las Vegas (winner)
Richard Dreyfus: Mr. Holland’s Opus
Anthony Hopkins: Nixon
Massimo Troisi: Il Postino

What’s Missing

This is a strange year and a very strange collection of nominations given the year we have. It’s the year of Waterworld among other things, and also the year where we got a movie named after a Warren Zevon song (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead), which has a title better than the actual movie. While I don’t love Braveheart, I’m honestly surprised at no nomination for Mel Gibson given the other success of that film. It was a very good year for Robert De Niro, since he was in both Casino and Heat, for which we could also discuss Al Pacino. But those are the safe choices. Tom Hanks for Apollo 13 is a safe choice as well, but a surprising miss. Johnny Depp in Dead Man feels like a miss as well. So let’s think outside the box and talk about John Travolta in Get Shorty, one of his most entertaining roles. Let’s talk about Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise. Or, let’s get really crazy and discuss the possibilities of Ralph Fiennes in Strange Days and especially Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The nomination for Richard Dreyfus for Mr. Holland’s Opus seems like a sentimental choice. Dreyfus has had a number of good roles, but the role of Mr. Holland is, in my opinion, not one of them. The movie itself is maudlin and has the sort of plot points that only happen when the movie is written by someone from the Charles Dickens School of Coincidence. We’re supposed to think that Holland is a wonderful, caring teacher. I am a teacher. Holland is an asshole who ignores his son and pisses off his wife, who is played by the incomparable Glenne Headley. He doesn’t belong here.

4. I like Anthony Hopkins, and he was an interesting choice to play Nixon in, well, Nixon. But I have trouble saying I love the film in general. Oliver Stone is hit or miss with me in general, and Nixon is more of a miss than a hit. It’s far too long, and suffers far too much from Oliver Stone-itis. The performance from Hopkins is fine, even very good, but with the number of interesting and worthy snubs, it’s not one I would nominate. There are plenty listed above who deserve it more.

My Choices

3. The final three nominations are very difficult for me to distinguish between. I like all three a great deal and could happily understand a vote for any of them. I have no issues with Massimo Troisi in Il Postino, but I think it’s a case where the story of the film is better and more tragic than the movie itself. Troisi, if you didn’t know, finished filming the movie and died less than 24 hours later, mainly because he postponed treatment until the movie was done. It’s a sweet movie, and Troisi’s nomination is a good one.

2. The most upsetting and depressing thing about Leaving Las Vegas is the state of Nicolas Cage’s career in the years that have followed it. Cage goes for everything he can in this performance and hits virtually all of the marks he has been asked to. I fully understand exactly why he won the Oscar, and while Cage is ultimately not my choice, I also fully understand why he would be someone else’s. If nothing else, it is a reminder of exactly what Cage is capable of when he has good material like this.

1. I’m going with Sean Penn for Dead Man Walking. In terms overall quality, Penn is on a par with Cage and Troisi for this role. The decider for me is just how terrible of a person Penn is playing and how compelling that person becomes in the course of the film. This is the best work Susan Sarandon has ever done, and Penn’s work is better. I’m entirely satisfied that any of my picks here are worthy, but Penn is the most worthy of the group. Even in an open field, I’m picking him (or one of the other two)

Final Analysis


  1. I still haven't seen "Leaving Las Vegas," but I agree that, as an actor, Sean Penn is a force to be reckoned with. "Dead Man Walking" still sticks with me.

    1. It's a hell of a film, and Penn is the best part of it.

  2. Personally, I think Johnny Depp should've gotten a serious nomination for Dead Man as that was one of his best performances while I would've been fine with Sean Penn for Dead Man Walking. Nic Cage was great in Leaving Las Vegas as I'm now more excited for his newest film project where he plays... himself...

    Yes to both Ralph Fiennes for Strange Days and Bruce Willis for Twelve Monkeys. What about Denzel Washington for Devil with the Blue Dress?

    1. As tends to be the case, I haven't seen the one you mention that I didn't mention above.

      I'd have liked to have seen Depp nominated for this, but I'm of the opinion that the Academy doesn't love Jarmusch that much.

  3. I found both their films hard to get through but both Penn and Cage really dig deep into their characters and I can't say either was unworthy of a win. Il Postino is one I haven't caught up with yet.

    The other two would be ones I'd drop as well to be supplanted by some mix of Ian McKellan in Richard III, Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Se7en and most definitely Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. He might be the safe choice as you say but Tom Hanks really has to work through so many emotional levels in rapid succession, plus I love the film so much, that he'd be my choice though I can't squawk about Cage taking it. What he's done with his career since is sad but he seems like such a clueless jackass he's his own worst enemy.

    1. Hanks really is good in Apollo 13, and he'd be on my list of nominees along with the three I listed as potential winners and probably Depp in Dead Man, although he'd probably be fifth and might be supplanted by Willis in 12 Monkeys. It's a really, really good year for tihs category when I can legitimately think of more than five people I wouldn't argue against winning.