Friday, December 20, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1999

The Contenders:

Kevin Spacey: American Beauty (winner)
Denzel Washington: The Hurricane
Russell Crowe: The Insider
Richard Farnsworth: The Straight Story
Sean Penn: Sweet and Lowdown

What’s Missing

1999 was quite a fine year for actors. Of course, when it comes to Oscar nominations, a lot of those performances are going to be in the sort of movies that Oscar tends to either overlook or actively avoid, depending on your point of view. Horror, comedy, science fiction, and action movies rarely twigs anything when it comes to Oscar, but it was a good year for these categories. In fact, I could probably come up with two full sets of nominees just in those categories. We can start with perhaps Tim Allen and definitely Alan Rickman in the criminally underseen Galaxy Quest. eXistenZ didn’t get great critical acclaim, but I like what Jude Law does in it. I don’t know that Keanu Reeves really deserves an Oscar nomination for The Matrix, but it might be the closest he’s come. Laurence Fishburne very well might (as might Hugo Weaving), although both are likely supporting. Nominating both Ron Livingston for Office Space and Robert Carlyle for Ravenous aren’t truly serious suggestions, but I like both movies a great deal. The same is true of Forest Whitaker and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, although there is a part of me that thinks that nomination could be argued. I like the idea of Johnny Depp in The Ninth Gate, although if I can only nominate one person for that film, I’m give the nom to Frank Langella (in a supporting role). Bruce Willis could be easily argued for The Sixth Sense, but in all ways I prefer Kevin Bacon in Stir of Echoes. I’d also call out Brendan Fraser for a purely entertaining performance in The Mummy. So, let’s talk movies that Oscar might like. Jim Carrey, because he’s Jim Carrey, was skipped for Man on the Moon. Fight Club being what it is probably got both Edward Norton and Brad Pitt overlooked. I’m not sure why John Cusack was ignored for Being John Malkovich, something I’m happy to say despite really disliking that movie. I could see Matt Damon nominated for The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the same for Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules. But really, how did Tom Hanks get ignored for The Green Mile?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Taken subjectively, Russell Crowe’s performance in The Insider is not my least favorite of the five nominees. So why would I put him fifth? Because this nomination breaks a cardinal rule for me when it comes to an acting nomination: he’s not the most compelling actor on the screen when he’s on the screen. Gun to my head, I’d rather see a nomination here for Al Pacino, who is measured in the sort of role that could have been his sort of over-the-top screaming fest but isn’t. Crowe is good, but both Pacino and Supporting Actor snub Christopher Plummer always pull the focus.

4. Sean Penn’s performance in Sweet and Lowdown is one that I am going to be admittedly biased against because I dislike the character so intensely. Penn is rarely less than good, and in this movie he might well be better than simply good, but that’s so hard to determine since the character is so unpleasant in so many ways. It takes a great deal for me to overcome that. Penn simply can’t get over the hump of my not wanting to be in the same room with the character to put him higher than fourth place.

3. I like Denzel Washington a lot more often than I don’t. When he’s given good material, he is a very compelling actor no matter the story. With The Hurricane, it’s hard to dislike Washington in the role, but it’s easy for me to find a lot of fault with the movie itself. Historically, The Hurricane is an absolute train wreck, but since it’s a movie about racism, that’s very easy to lose. It’s also not Washington’s fault. He’s good in this, but in a lot of ways, we’ve seen him do this role or similar before.

2. I have avoided this award for a couple of years because I wasn’t sure I wanted to address Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. I like the performance a great deal because of how angry it is and because of just how much contempt Spacey can fit into a line delivery. That’s always been what he did best, and American Beauty is one of his better roles. Objectively, this is a worthy nomination and an understandable win, even if it’s not the way I would have taken this award. That said, there is a part of me that wonders how I would be voting of not for the past several years of revelations about him.

My Choice

1. The main reason I’m tapping Richard Farnsworth for The Straight Story is that the vast majority of the movie is Farnsworth. He carries 90% of the story on his back and he never falters with it. It’s such an odd tale made all the odder because it’s based on a real story. Farnsworth’s main job is to take this extraordinary piece of reality and make it not just believable (which he does) but also human (which he does perfectly). A less compelling performance would have sold it, but Farnsworth gives this everything he has in every frame. Different nominations would make a different race, but he’s still my guy.

Final Analysis


  1. I too would've gone with Richard Farnsworth as I just love his performance in that film. Jim Carrey for Man on the Moon would've been my runner up followed by Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, Terence Stamp for The Limey, Ryo Ishibashi for Audition, Billy Crudup for Jesus' Son, Matthew Broderick for Election, Forest Whitaker for Ghost Dog, and Jude Law for eXistenZ.

    1. I'm a huge fan of Carrey's performance in Man on the Moon and he'd by my clear second place as well.