The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1995
1995, a good year, mostly because they made the best choice. Other than that, I’m not sure how great a year it was. Braveheart is a good film, but is it a Best Picture winner? In a year with better nominees, probably not. Or maybe even still. I don’t know. I only work with what I’m dealt. As it stands, the film was the best choice among the nominees. I love Apollo 13, but I don’t know if I’d give that Best Picture. And as much as I love Babe, it was never going to win.
Mel Gibson deserved to win Best Director. The reason for this is, Ron Howard, who won the DGA award for Apollo 13, wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. Which made Mel a by default best decision there. And then Best Actress this year was Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking, a decision I do not like at all. Not even a little bit. I like that she has an Oscar, but, she beat better performances. Best Supporting Actor this year was Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects, which is such a good decision it doesn’t even matter whether he was lead or supporting. And Best Supporting Actress was Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite, which was a fucking fantastic decision. So, in all, it’s a good year for choices, but, I don’t know, I still can’t decide what I think about the year as a whole.
BEST ACTOR – 1995
And the nominees were…
Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas
Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland’s Opus
Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking
Massimo Troisi, Il Postino
Cage — Leaving Las Vegas. God, I love this film. This is a film I saw three separate times, each almost independently of one another. Let me explain —
I saw this film for the first time when I was like 15 or so. Maybe younger. I stumbled on it very accidentally. And I remember liking it a lot. But, when it’s a film you see as a kid, before you really know about movies, you tend to have false recollections of it. That is, anything you liked as a kid, when you get older, you go through that period where you want to disown everything you liked because it’s embarrassing to you. And then anything you saw during that time period is tainted because of it. I’d also seen it fairly recently before starting this Quest. And by recently, I mean, within five years. I’d seen it because I knew it was widely regarded and that Cage had won for it, and wanted to see how good he was. And I remember seeing it and mentally noting, “Yeah, I can see why he won,” but, I really never remembered anything about it past a few select shots that stuck in my brain. And when the Quest started, I crossed off this film as one I’d seen, because, I had seen it. Problem was, I saw it so long before I started the Quest, I didn’t remember enough about it to actually write about it.
That happened a lot at the beginning. It was never meant to be what it is now. It was originally just, if I saw it, then it’s off the list. So I took off a lot of films I barely recalled seeing. But when the blog started up, I had to double back and write down which ones I needed to rewatch. I still have a bunch I need to rewatch, some of which I saw during this Quest. But, anyway, I saw the film, but didn’t really remember it. But then the third time was the charm. I watched it not too long ago, probably around March or April, because it was expiring on Netflix Instant, so I wanted to get it in while I had it at my fingertips. And I watched it, and was once again reminded of how wonderful the film is. Fortunately, though, this time I wasn’t going to forget how great it is.
The film is about Nicolas Cage, who I believe was a screenwriter before the film starts (it’s something to do with Hollywood), and he’s an alcoholic, and it’s clear it’s affecting his ability to work. So he’s fired, right in the opening scene or two. And then we see him try to appeal to friends of his who try to set him up for a meeting, but, that doesn’t go well. So what he does is, he uses all the money he has, his severance pay, and decides to go to Las Vegas, and drink himself to death. And that’s what he does. There’s a glorious scene where he’s in the liquor store, just filling up a shopping cart with all these different bottles of booze. And that’s what he does. He just drinks. Day in, day out. And simultaneously, there’s Elisabeth Shue, who is a hooker, an we see her with an abusive pimp. But then he’s killed and she’s kind of on her own. And she meets Cage one day, and he becomes interested in her. So the next day he hires her to just sit with him. He doesn’t pay her for sex, he just pays her to talk to him. And eventually they work out an agreement, where, they’ll be together, but she can’t ask him to stop drinking, and he can’t ask her to stop hooking. And they have this interesting doomed romance, where he continues to drink himself to death. And, after a while, it becomes interesting because, she actually looks around and sees, the two of them fix each other’s problems. She thinks that maybe, if both give up their ways, maybe they can be happy. But, she never actually does ask him to stop drinking. So she just sort of lives with it, and watches him die. And he slowly drinks himself to death. And the whole film is just incredible, from beginning to end.
Cage and Shue give amazing performances, and both deserved to win Oscars. Really. They were that good. The film should also have been nominated for Best Picture, but, that’s another story. The performances and the film are really great, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Dreyfuss — Oh, Mr. Holland’s Opus. I’m so glad this got nominated here. Now I get to talk about how great it is.
This is a film I saw a lot in middle school and high school. In middle school they made us take that bullshit music appreciation class if we weren’t in the band. And, having quit the band in seventh grade (I played trumpet), having stopped giving a shit, and only having done it for three years because that’s just what the honors kids did (and it was a free period to sit around and get out of other shit), they put me in the class. But since the class was mostly filled of the less than smarter kids, it was meaningless, especially to me. And they basically spent a lot of time showing us movies anyway. And this film I swear I must have seen this film a dozen times in separate classes between grade school, middle school and high school. I don’t think I’ve seen it since, and yet I can probably recount everything that happens in this film.
It’s about Richard Dreyfuss, who is a composer, who takes a job as a music teacher to make money so he can keep writing music and — you know, live. And at first he doesn’t want to teach music at all, it’s just a job. Then he gets married, has a kid, and shit keeps coming up that prevents him from quitting his job. And he teaches driver’s ed, and basically the job starts to become his life. And he starts becoming the music teacher of the school. He puts on band concerts, musicals, stuff like that. And he fights for music not to be cut, and inspires a lot of students over the years. There’s a subplot about him almost having an affair, but, that doesn’t happen. And then there’s also him having to deal with his son being deaf (note the irony) and having to struggle with that. And the film takes place between the 50s and the 90s, and the whole thing is a really great ode to the teachers. The last scene of the film is a really great scene. He’s about to leave on his last day (as they cut the music program of the school after forty years), and goes down to the auditorium, where all of his former students are sitting there, ready to perform the one big symphony he’d been trying to write for the past forty years. It’s a fucking wonderful moment, and actually has me tearing up just thinking about it right now. But, this is a wonderful, wonderful film. It’s very 90s, and has its flaws, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a brilliant film.
Richard Dreyfuss is amazing in the film, as he usually is. But, it’s not the kind of performance I’d vote for, unless there weren’t any better choices. I loved the performance, but, there are two much better ones worth voting for, and he won one already. So I don’t need to vote for him. This performance doesn’t need the win. It needs the nomination, because now, so many more people will continue to see this film and how great it is.
Hopkins — Oh, man. What a fucking film this is. I watched the Director’s Cut of this movie, which meant it was even longer than the actual print. And it did not matter at all. This film, and this performance, was fucking spellbinding. Hopkins may look or sound nothing like Nixon, but he sure plays a hell of a Nixon. For my money this is the best Nixon that has ever, and will ever, be put to film. It’s so fucking good.
I can’t even really explain the film. It’s nonlinear, and travels between Nixon’s life before he was president, some scenes of him as a child, but mostly during his time as president, especially at the end when everything is crumbling. And it’s just a portrait on the man. That’s all. And really, Anthony Hopkins gives the best performance of this year, hands down. It is incredible. It’s probably in the top five of the decade as well. That’s how good it is. Definitely shortlisted for a vote, but — well you’ll see what happens with that later on. But know, this film is incredible and the performance is one of the best you’ll ever see in a movie. Bar none.
Penn — Dead Man Walking. I head such great things about this film, and then, when I saw it — I wondered why that was.
The film is about a man on death row for raping and killing a young girl and her boyfriend (he just raped her), along with a friend of his. He contacts a nun, and gets her to come talk to him. At first he goes through the motions, like, “I’m innocent, you have to get me out of here,” but it becomes pretty clear that he did it and is unrepentant for it. And mostly he’s just sort of talking to her to help ease his time. And eventually she grows to feel compassionate for him, in that, he is a killer, but he’s also human. And she sort of tries to get his sentence committed to life instead, but it’s clear that’s not gonna happen. And they talk, and we see his family and stuff, and mostly the film is just them talking. And eventually he apologizes to the family of the victims while he’s about to be executed, and that’s it, really.
The reason I don’t see why this film is so great is because nothing happens. He killed the people, he talks to a nun. Okay, fine. It’s marginally interesting as a film. But, what changes? Nothing. Neither has a character to change. He’s a killer who won’t repent, she’s a nun. Neither really changes over the course of the film. Neither really does anything. That’s why I don’t get this at all.
Penn is fine in the role. He’s even good. The thing is, I just don’t see what everyone else saw here who said he should have won for it. Honestly, the only Penn performances I saw that he was nominated for that he should have won for were Milk and I Am Sam. So, I’m definitely not on the Penn bandwagon for this performance, and can’t vote for him.
Troisi — Il Postino is a very charming film, but, I’m not sure why it was nominated for all it was nominated for. I get the posthumous acting nomination. But, Best Picture? Really?
The film is about a poor Italian mailman, who wants to woo a girl in his town. The poet Pablo Neruda is at a beach house in town, exiled from Chile for political reasons, and the man strikes up a friendship with him. Neruda teaches him about poetry and helps him woo the girl. Then they get married. Neruda goes back once he finds out there’s no longer a warrant out for him. The man tries to contact him, but is never responded to. Then years later Neruda comes back to find out the man was killed reading a poem at a political gathering and was beaten to death by police.
I have to say, I just don’t get this film enough to love it. I mean, the part where he’s trying to woo the girl is charming, but, otherwise, I don’t see the great appeal here. Troisi is, as I said, charming, but, he was never gonna win here, and I think this is more as a tribute to his work here, because, while he was filming, he was told he needed heart surgery, but he pressed on filming, planning to do it after the film ended. And he ended up dying of a heart attack literally the day after filming was completed. Which is a real shame. But, as for strictly the performance, I didn’t really see anything worth voting for. Especially in this category.
My Thoughts: This category comes down to Cage and Anthony Hopkins. I know people say Sean Penn, but, no. It’s Cage and Hopkins. They were the best. And, honestly, Tony Hopkins gives the best overall performance on this list. It’s very definitively the best. But, he won already. Which means I can vote Cage here and not feel guilty. Cage was a close second, and he hadn’t won one yet, so, this makes it even. And then we have both men with Oscars and Nixon having a wonderful performance that will always stand the test of time. So, win/win, really.
My Vote: Cage
Should Have Won: Cage, Hopkins
Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Best decision they could have made. Hopkins would have been a good choice too, but, he won one. He didn’t need this like Cage did. Cage absolutely deserved this statue, and, for my money, Elisabeth Shue should have won Best Actress along with him.
Performances I suggest you see: