Ralph Fiennes: The English Patient
Tom Cruise: Jerry Maguire
Woody Harrelson: The People vs. Larry Flynt
Geoffrey Rush: Shine (winner)
Billy Bob Thornton: Sling Blade
Oscar didn’t nominate terribly this year, but could have done a great deal better. There are some clear potential choices here that Oscar would never pick, of course. The frontrunner of these is Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners. I’m not sure I would pick Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet, but I think a lot of people would. The same could be said of Daniel Day-Lewis in The Crucible. I’d love to talk about Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do, but he’s almost certainly supporting. Chris Cooper should have gotten some love in the virtually unknown Lone Star, and I would have loved to have seen either Robin Williams and/or Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, but neither of them would give half of that performance without the other person. Finally, how was it possible that Kenneth Branagh was not nominated for Hamlet?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. There’s a part of me that thinks every time I put the winner in last I feel like I’m going to be accused of pandering or just being some sort of edgelord. Rush gives an interesting performance here, even a good to great one, but in the service of what? Shine feels so much like a BOSUD—a biography of someone undeserving. I even like Rush relatively well as an actor, and I don’t hate him having an Oscar. I just don’t know that, given the competition here and the performances that aren’t here, that he should even be nominated.
4. Big, overblown romances are not really my thing, which is almost certainly not a shock unless you are new here. The English Patient has its good points, and I don’t dislike Ralph Fiennes in it, honestly. My problem here is that this is a big ol’ gooey romance and the romance that we’re supposed to be getting all squishy over is a dud. I called it a wet match in my review and I stand by that. Sure, part of that comes from the screenplay, but part of it has to come from Fiennes as well. He’s a talented guy and I hope he wins an Oscar someday, but not for this.
3. Tom Cruise has terrible luck when it comes to Oscar. Every time he gets nominated--Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July have happened when someone else has had a career performance. I’m not a gigantic fan of Jerry Maguire, though. I actually like Cruise as an actor; he makes a lot of good movies. He’s fine in this movie as well. I don’t love the movie, though. I find it difficult to think of this movie without simultaneously thinking of the Patton Oswalt clip about his brother in the theater watching it.
2. There’s a part of me that would love to see Woody Harrelson win an Oscar. When he started on Cheers, he seemed like the most unlikely serious actor in history, and yet over and over he demonstrates just how good he can be. In The People vs. Larry Flynt, he established himself as someone capable of moving very far outside of his comfort zone and taking on anything. This is a brilliant performance that almost certainly opened up a great deal of what Harrelson has done since. In a lesser year, he’s an easy choice.
1. Billy Bob Thornton is my choice. His work in Sling Blade is one of the best and most inspired performances of its decade. This is a complete transformation of Thornton into this character, and he’s entirely believable. Karl may be a work of fiction, but he has a true depth of character; we know him by the end of the film, and he’s much more than a collection of quirks. Much of this comes from Thornton’s Oscar-winning screenplay, of course, but so much of it comes from this standing-on-his-head performance. This was an easy choice.