Friday, October 16, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1987

The Contenders:

William Hurt: Broadcast News
Marcello Mastroianni: Dark Eyes
Robin Williams: Good Morning, Vietnam
Jack Nicholson: Ironweed
Michael Douglas: Wall Street (winner)

What’s Missing

1987 has some performances I like, some I don’t, and naturally, a few that I would like to insert into the actual nominations. In a world where I can nominate anyone I like, I’d be happy to talk about the tremendous physical performance of Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II even if he’d never come close to a nomination. Oscar’s mistrust of comedy likely left Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona off the docket. The same mistrust of comedy and fantasy certain got Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride ignored, too. 1987 might have been a touch too early for Kevin Costner, but The Untouchables might rate some thought here. I’d love to have had a chance to consider Matthew Modine in Full Metal Jacket as well. On the foreign front, we have Bruno Ganz in Wings of Desire. We could also easily talk about Paul McGann and especially Richard E. Grant in Withnail & I. Finally, it seems ridiculous to me that the star of what won Best Picture—John Lone in The Last Emperor--was so completely snubbed here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The five nominations are actually pretty good for 1987. While I don’t love all of these movies, it’s hard to find a lot of fault with the nominations themselves. I may be penalizing William Hurt in Broadcast News for the fact that I genuinely dislike this movie a great deal, and I specifically dislike Hurt’s character a lot. Hurt has this misfortune with me. Hurt is often fine or acceptable in movies that I really dislike. The best thing going for Broadcast News is that it isn’t The Accidental Tourist. I don’t hate the nomination, but I don’t love it.

4. Marcello Mastroianni is the only reason to watch Dark Eyes, and even he isn’t a good enough reason to watch it a second time. It’s not often that you can find someone who is truly capable of pulling off being a romantic lead in his 60s, but Mastroianni was that guy. That he is the best thing in this movie, sadly, doesn’t say a great deal. Dark Eyes is far too long and concerns characters who don’t really deserve any sympathy, or really much of our time. Sure, Marcello is good in the role, but to what purpose?

3. Every now and then, it’s good to be reminded that Jack Nicholson could do a great deal more than just be a variation of himself on the screen. Ironweed is one of those cases. It’s also a case, though, where at least part of the role is taken over by another actor; Frank Whaley handles the role in frequent flashbacks. It’s also one where one of the most notable moments in the film is someone else’s, and in this case, that someone else is Meryl Streep. Nicholson is great and could win in other years, but not this one.

2. I could probably be argued to give this to Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. It’s a classic Williams performance, one where almost certainly there exists hours of footage of him ad-libbing the radio bits and taking them in completely different, ridiculous directions. Given some structure, Williams could be brilliant, especially when he had something to bite into, as he did here. Williams is insane on the air and human in the rest of the film—it’s exactly what is needed for this, and he genuinely delivers.

My Choice

1. A lot of Oscars are handed out for memorable moments, and then 1980s had few more defining cinematic moments than the “Greed is good” speech in Wall Street. Michael Douglas was the perfect, perhaps only person who could deliver that as it needed to be done. It’s a great performance all the way through, one that not only defines the movie, but in many ways defines the entire era. It’s a rare case where Oscar showed a little bit of prescience. The Reagan years were always going to be defined by financial excess and greed, and Michael Douglas gave us that defining moment. If for no other reason, he was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. It's hard to disagree with Michael Douglas' performance in that film as he definitely deserved it. Yet, the fact that Bruno Ganz, John Lone, Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant, Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Campbell, and Cary Elwes not being nominated could've made the race a lot more interesting. I would add Boguslaw Linda for Blind Chance, Mickey Rourke for Angel Heart, Christian Bale for Empire of the Sun, and Arnold Schwarzenegger for either The Running Man or Predator to the equation. That was a great year for actors.

    The less said about the sequel to Wall Street the better. Oliver Stone needs to retire and fuck off.

    1. I haven't bothered with the sequel to Wall Street and likely won't. I haven't heard much about it that's good.

      I'm not a fan of The Running Man because it seriously takes a shit on the source material. Mickey Rourke is a good call and a miss on my part.

      I really should get around to Empire of the Sun. It feels like such a miss for me since I'm a huge fan of J.G. Ballard, and that is essentially the autobiography of his early life.

  2. I agree that these performances by and large are good ones, though I too don't like several of the pictures. I do like Broadcast News a great deal more than you but you would have to pull me kicking and screaming to ever sit through Ironweed again. Good Morning, Vietnam played at my theatre so long on its initial run that every one of my workers could recite the film chapter and verse and by the time it finally left we all swore we would never watch it again!

    But having said that I'd drop the entire slate for other performances. I don't begrudge Michael Douglas his Oscar, I just wish he had won for Wonder Boys.

    Williams would come closest of these five of receiving a nod and would have been in my lineup until I saw Wings of Desire and then he was replaced by Bruno Ganz.

    My five would be:

    Christian Bale-Empire of the Sun
    Bruno Ganz-Wings of Desire
    Anthony Hopkins-84 Charing Cross Road
    Gary Oldman-Prick Up Your Ears
    James Wilby-Maurice

    Wilby would be my winner with Bale a close second.

    1. We're going to disagree on Douglas, because we disagree on Wonder Boys about as much as possible. I hated that movie so damn much. Then again, I've never been a fan of Michael Chabon's writing, so I didn't expect to like it much.

  3. Douglas is amazing in Wall Street. No arguments from me. That said, my great shame is that I've never seen Good Morning, Vietnam. I know, I know, I should. Nicolas Cage, Bruce Campbell and Matthew Modine are good calls. I'm a fan of Lou Diamond Phillips in La Bamba, but I get that he's not the best part of his own movie.

    1. La Bamba is one I've only seen parts of.

      I'm ultimately not shocked on the lack of love for Matthew Modine. If R. Lee Ermey didn't get a nomination, no one from that film was going to.