The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1989

1989 is pretty self-explanatory. Driving Miss Daisy wins Best Picture. One final “fuck you” from the Academy to end the 80s. When ranking the 80s Best Pictures, Miss Daisy is not the worst of the bunch. In probably like 6th or 7th. But in the category it was in — a terrible decision.

It beat — for those who haven’t memorized it like I have — Field of Dreams, Born on the Fourth of July, My Left Foot and Dead Poet’s Society. Just one, “oh god” after another, isn’t it? Four clearly superior films. Or three and a, “I’d probably take that one over it too.” Still — not good. Jessica Tandy won Best Actress for Miss Daisy, which was a good choice. A veteran win was fine, since there wasn’t really another choice. Also, Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born on the Fourth of July, which I was against here. Brenda Fricker won Best Supporting Actress for My Left Foot, which I liked a lot here. And Denzel Washington wins Best Supporting Actor for Glory, which I’m very okay with.

And of course, we all know about this category. Clearly one of the best decision ever made. Which means, aside from the awful Best Picture choice and poor Best Director choice, this was actually a really good year. Damn shame what they did to that dog.

BEST ACTOR – 1989

And the nominees were…

Kenneth Branagh, Henry V

Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July

Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot

Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy

Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society

Branagh — Oh, Kenneth Branagh, how badly you want to be Laurence Olivier. Seriously — Branagh’s boner for Olivier is hysterical to watch. Henry V was Olivier’s first film he directed, and his first Shakespeare film that he did. It was also Branagh’s first Shakespeare film, and the first he directed. Branagh also made Hamlet, and Othello. Though fortunately he had enough sense to play Iago instead of Othello. Don’t want to fuck with the blackface. His love for Olivier is so widely known (or is so strong) that he’s playing Olivier in a movie now! In My Week with Marilyn, which is about Monroe’s days shooting The Prince and the Showgirl with Olivier, Branagh is playing Olivier! Jesus Christ!

Anyway, this film. I hate Shakespeare movies save for a handful. The original 1936 Midsummer Night’s Dream was really great. The Olivier Hamlet is good but — I can’t watch it too much. The Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet is amazing, as is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. And then this film I like as well. That’s really about it. Other than this, I don’t really like any Shakespeare films. There might be one or two I’m forgetting, but by and large, I avoid these things like the plague.

This one, though, I thought was well made. It was well directed. It made the early acts go by quickly enough and the battle scenes were shot really well. A lot of slow motion scenes of Branagh running through the mud. If there’s one thing Branagh loves more than Olivier it may be himself. He gives himself so many fucking closeups in this movie. It’s seriously like watching a man write a love letter to himself. It’s great.

Anyway, the film is pretty good, and Branagh does a good job with it. He’s good in the role. Not gonna vote for him, but he’s earned third on this list. He was probably my fourth favorite performance, but I give him third because — I’m not voting for him anyway and because he utters the most ridiculous line at the end of this film.

You see — the film includes bits of Henry IV Parts I and II. Branagh just took bits of whole other plays and used them in here. And at the end of the film, he has Henry and, whoever the fuck she is, some french woman, queen or something, played by Emma Thompson, who was either married to Branagh or was fucking Branagh at the time (seriously, man, be more subtle), and they have an awkward courtship of sorts. And Branagh kisses her and says what might be the most ridiculous line I have ever heard in a motion picture. He says, “There’s witchcraft on your lips.” Seriously, it’s the most out of place line, and if I were in a theater, that would be the point where, in a silent theater, you’d hear me just laugh uncontrollably really loudly in the theater. That’s why he’s third for me. That line.

Cruise — Born on the Fourth of July is a great film, except, I can’t help but point out that I’ve seen this film before. It’s kind of like Coming Home meets Platoon. But still a good movie. Not my favorite Oliver Stone movie (but, I mean, how many great films has the man made?), but a great film.

It’s about Tom Cruise, an all American kid who is raring to join the army. He’s very excited and crazy into it, even though, if he doesn’t enlist, he can very easily stay and marry his childhood sweetheart and have a good life. But he doesn’t. This is based on a real guy, by the way. And he goes, and gets paralyzed from the waist down. And then the middle of the film is him in the military hospital, getting used to his paralysis and all. Then he goes home, readjusts to life at home, and realizes how the government is shitting on its Vietnam veterans and then goes out and starts protesting against the war he was once for.

Cruise is great in the film and the film itself is really good. I just think Oliver Stone shouldn’t have won Best Director for it. But we’re talking about Cruise. Cruise is so good in this movie, if it weren’t for Daniel Day-Lewis, he’d have won this, hands down. Hands. Down. Seriously, that’s how good he is. I just can’t vote for him, because — have you seen My Left Foot?

Day-Lewis — Well here’s a natural continuance. Have you seen My Left Foot? I mean, what a perfect film. It’s so fucking good. Jim Sheridan should have won Best Director for it. (My personal opinion, but, I stick by it.) I guarantee you that there is no one who has seen this film who will disagree that Daniel Day-Lewis delivers one of the best performances ever put to film. Bar none. Him and the kid that plays Christy as a kid.

The film is about Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy. He only has control over his left foot, hence the title. The family cares for him and is occasionally burdened by him, but, do love him. And the first part of the film is a completely honest look of what a family in this situation goes through. And it’s brilliant. And there’s the scene — which I’m gonna talk about every time I talk about this film, so get used to it — where Christy is trying to get everyone’s attention, but they think he’s just acting out the way a child does, and most of them think he’s not very intelligent because he’s handicapped, and he crawls down the stairs, takes a piece of chalk, and writes the word “Mother” on the ground. And it’s a brilliant moment. Then we see him growing up, going to a place where he’s educated, and eventually becomes a successful painter. And it’s a biopic of his life, in a way. Really, it’s fucking brilliant all around.

I’m not even gonna talk about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance. If you’ve seen it, you know. If not, watch this movie. This is something that you must see to believe. It’s just — astounding. With this performance, no other nominee comes close. He wins this one by a fucking mile. (Kinda like he did in 2007.)

Freeman — Driving Miss Daisy, despite all the shit it catches, is actually a very enjoyable film. It’s just not a Best Picture winner. That’s the problem. But the film is actually very delightful.

It’s about a chauffeur and a rich woman who gradually become friends over the course of his thirty years working for her. Dan Aykroyd is a well-to-do southern businessman, and he wants to hire somebody to drive his elderly mother around. She’s getting older and isn’t the best driver, and has her license revoked. And Aykroyd hired Morgan Freeman, because he meets him one day and likes him. So Freeman goes to work for Tandy, who is from the old southern generation, who has very definite race understandings. And Freeman drives her around, and she treats him as a chauffeur, but eventually, over the years, sees him as a friend. Her only friend, in fact. And that’s the film, the two of them becoming friends and her learning about things because of him. It’s a wonderful film. Just not a Best Picture winner.

Freeman does a really good job in his role, but — come on, he was not winning for this. He plays a man who acts like a servant at first (and for the most part) who can’t read, and is taught how to read by a rich white lady. You have to hand it to the Academy — they do love their racism. I mean, it is a strong part, it’s not that stereotypical. But it also kind of is. I wouldn’t vote for this. Some people might, I wouldn’t. Plus, would you really give Morgan Freeman this over Daniel Day-Lewis? So it doesn’t matter then, does it?

Williams — And Robin Williams. It always surprises people when they find out that he was a dramatic actor besides all the crazy comedic shit he does. But I’m pretty sure everyone knows about this film. This is one of those films people were always like, “What a great film this is,” before I saw it. And I saw it. It is, in fact, great. But the people who talked it up to me also said it should have won Best Picture. That is a sentiment I do not share. But it’s still a great film.

Robin Williams plays a renegade English teacher who takes a job at a stuffy boys prep school and starts teaching the boys about poetry and shit not in the textbook. He even has them rip out the first page to prove his point. And at first they don’t understand his methods, but grow to respect him and really love his class. You know the story, come on. And we follow the boys as they find out about him when he went to the school, and how he started a “Dead Poet’s Society,” where they got together and read poems to one another. And the boys do it, and their lives are enriched, and all that. And then “O Captain! My Captain!” You know the drill. Now get the fuck off those desks.

The film is great, Williams is good, but, he shouldn’t have won for this. This isn’t an Academy Award-winning performance. It’s just not. It’s actually a #5 for me here. But that’s because Morgan Freeman is here. Stature alone puts him ahead of Williams at this point. Who’d have thought Williams would actually win one before Freeman did? Anyway, no, not voting for Williams. His performance is not what makes this film great.

My Thoughts: There’s no one to vote for but Daniel Day-Lewis here. Maybe Cruise gets a little consideration, but this isn’t even a competition. Day-Lewis was just too good.

My Vote: Day-Lewis

Should Have Won: Day-Lewis

Is the result acceptable?: Have you seen the performance? Ain’t no one disagreeing with this one.

Performances I suggest you see: My Left Foot should be an essential film, just because the performance is so fucking good. I’m also about 90% certain that no one who sees this film will dislike it. It’s almost impossible to dislike. Seriously. Try. It’s wonderful. Born on the Fourth of July is also a really great movie and comes highly recommended (not as highly as the other Oliver Stone films, but, I mean, how highly can one recommend?). Really well done and one of the top ten Vietnam films ever made. Dead Poet’s Society is a great and highly entertaining film. Probably my fourth favorite on this list, but I know a lot of people with a very similar taste in movies as mine that have it as their number one or two film on this list. Driving Miss Daisy is a highly entertaining film and a very good film. I suggest you see it for three reasons. One, because it’s good, two because it won (and so you can see whether or not you think it should have), and three so you can really know the film you’re shitting on. I think you’re actually going to enjoy it if you see it. Sure, you’ll probably still think it shouldn’t have won, but you will at least have some respect for it. Because it is a good film that’s worth respect. And Henry V, if you do Shakespeare, you’ll like the film. Otherwise I give it a lukewarm recommendation by saying it’s one of the few Shakespeare films I can stomach, the battle scenes are really well-done, and because it’s funny watching Branagh write a love letter to Oliver and to himself, and utter one of the most hysterical lines in film history.

Rankings:

5) Williams

4) Freeman

3) Branagh

2) Cruise

1) Day-Lewis

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