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The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1987

1987 is one of the more forgotten years of the Academy. Just because — while The Last Emperor is a great film and I can see why it won Best Picture and Best Director for Bernardo Bertolucci (talked about here), it’s just not a very interesting film. A film like this is a film like Gandhi — sure it’s good and all, but, Academy-wise, it’s just not an interesting choice. Broadcast News or Hope and Glory — those would have been interesting choices (more so the latter). This — just standard business. Which is why most people forget about it.

As for the rest of the year, both Cher and Olympia Dukakis win Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for Moonstruck (Best Actress was talked about here), which, I consider weak decisions. I think there were better decisions to be made in both categories. Then, Sean Connery wins Best Supporting Actor for The Untouchables, which, I don’t think anyone can really disagree with that. Even if they don’t like the film and don’t like the performance — which, how many people does that leave? — I don’t think anyone can really call giving Sean Connery a career Oscar a bad thing (regardless of how great Morgan Freeman was in Street Smart). That’s the Chicago way.

And then there’s this category. No one can call this a bad decision. No one. First — it’s Gordon fucking Gekko. Right there — done. But even if you don’t think the performance was that great — look at the rest of the category. Who the hell else was gonna win? This was a great decision, through and through.

BEST ACTOR – 1987

And the nominees were…

Michael Douglas, Wall Street

William Hurt, Broadcast News

Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes

Jack Nicholson, Ironweed

Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam

Douglas — What a staple film of the 80s this is. Oliver Stone had one of the best runs of any filmmaker between 1986 and 1995. That’s one amazing decade. Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Heaven & Earth and Nixon. I think only Heaven & Earth (and maybe Salvador) is the only film people have never heard of. Still, at least six of those films are widely known films, and at least three of them (and I’m lowballing it) are classic movies. That’s just incredible.

Then you have this film. This film basically predicted the financial state of the country twenty years in advance. So much so that it necessitated a sequel. But, this film is classic in so many ways — good and bad. If you’ve seen the movie Boiler Room, you pretty much know that a lot of the dickhead executives today that are swindling everyone’s money are probably doing so because of this movie. So, you know — shit happens. But this film is great.

It’s about Charlie Sheen as a young stockbroker who wants very badly to work with Michael Douglas. So much so that he worms his way in to meeting with him by using a stock tip gotten by his father (played by Martin Sheen. Get it?) who works at the company. So he tells Douglas, who knows everything that’s happening, something he doesn’t know, and helps him make a lot of money. And then he takes him on as his protege, of sorts. He shows him money, and houses, and women who will fuck him at the drop of a hat. And he also shows him all the illegal shit that happens as well, which really disillusions Sheen. And eventually, Sheen ends up turning Douglas in for insider trading. It’s a fantastic movie. Totally engrossing from start to finish.

My only gripe with the performance — which was fucking incredible, by the way — is that it’s kind of a supporting role. Kind of. Sheen is the star of the movie, and Douglas is the supporting role that shows up and sucks in all the energy from the film. He’s like Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success. In fact, the film is almost exactly like Sweet Smell of Success except for a few minor differences. Sheen isn’t totally a dick and ends up having a conscience. But, still, very similar. But, Gekko is like Hunsecker in that, he’s in a fair amount of the film, but, he’s really not on screen for all that much. However, for someone who voted for Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, I don’t think that really matters that much. Gekko is such a strong character, and there’s really no one else to vote for here anyway, that it doesn’t matter. Douglas is definitely the only one that should have won here.

Hurt — If William Hurt hadn’t already won an Oscar — actually, forget that. It’s a pointless exercise. I was gonna say, if he didn’t win for his amazing performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman, and then for his, I feel, better performance in Children of a Lesser God, I totally would have voted for him here. Which, there’s no way, if he didn’t win for Spider Woman, he wouldn’t have won for Children. None. So, I’m glad he won, so that way I don’t really need to consider voting for him here.

This film is amazing. Not my favorite Jim Brooks film (third, behind As Good as It Gets and Terms of Endearment), but still a great film. It’s about news people. Specifically Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt. And Hunter is the neurotic and high-strung producer who is totally dedicated to her job, to the point where she is incapable of social interaction. Then there’s Brooks, who is a field reporter who is also very good at his job, and is also in love with Hunter. She, however, is not in love with him. She treats him like her gay best friend. And then there’s Hurt. He’s a pretty boy who is dumb as a post. It’s not his fault — he wants to be able to understand things, but just can’t. And he’s the anchor who comes in and is just smooth and great at his job. He’s able to do the news with Holly Hunter feeding him lines in his ears while also reading from a teleprompter live, on the air. It’s actually a great scene he has. And he’s really great at that, but he has no idea about any of the stuff the news is about. He wants to, but just can’t. And the film is basically a love triangle between the three. Kind of. It’s weird. There’s no plot, and yet, it feels like a full film.

Hurt is actually really good here. He nails the character and everything about it. Like I said, if he hadn’t won, I’d totally consider voting for him here. But, it’s kind of a comic performance, and also just not of the caliber of the other two. So, while I won’t vote for him, he is fucking fantastic in this movie — as are all the leads, as evidenced by the fact that they were all nominated — and it’s a fantastic film. So me not voting for him has no bearing on that fact. And that’s awesome.

Mastroianni — Dark Eyes is apparently based on a Chekhov short story. I mention this because, I actually read that story. And by read, I mean, it was assigned to me in this writing class I took, and I read like, the first three pages in the ten minutes before class started, and then just sort of picked up on the rest as everyone talked about it. But, when I watched the film and simultaneously read the Wikipedia article on it (which I do when I’m watching a film that I’m just not interested in and don’t care if I ruin it by reading about what happens while I watch it. I imagine a lot of people do this for most films nowadays), I was like, “Oh yeah! The woman and the dog and that shit!” So, you know, that’s something, right?

The film is about Marcello Mastroianni, who is an old man on a boat, and basically starts talking to this younger dude, and basically keeps the dude hostage as he tells him his life story, as old people tend to do (especially ones in the movies). And he tells him this story, which unfolds on screen, which is basically about him and a bunch of other rich people at some sort of spa thing — the kind where they have heated mud baths and shit, I don’t know, it’s weird. And he meets this woman, and romances her. But she’s married. But then he manages to sleep with her. And then she freaks out and leaves. But then they end up together. I don’t know. I didn’t really like it. Not my kind of thing.

Mastroianni was nominated here (as he seems to be every decade that isn’t the 60s) simply because he’s Marcello Mastroianni. And because this year was weak as shit. I haven’t backed that up with proof (i.e., by looking at all the films that came out this year), but based on the nominees from this year in the acting categories, I can surmise as much. And still, that’s cool. He’s a well-known actor. Plus, I always need a #5, and look at that, here it is. It works out for everybody. Except Marcello Mastroianni. But hey, I bet that dude got more ass than a Mexican donkey farm. It’s all good.

Nicholson — For anyone under the age of 30, have you heard of this film? Are you someone who seeks out Oscar nominated movies? Did you stumble upon it randomly? If so you actually know anything about it past the fact that Jack Nicholson and/or Meryl Streep are in it? Okay. Right there I just explained to you why Jack Nicholson didn’t win this award and why I’m not voting for him.

The film is about hobos. Which, is actually pretty awesome. Having Jack and Meryl play alcoholic hobos. That Tom Waits also plays a hobo is just a bonus the universe threw in to sweeten the pot. So, Nicholson is an alcoholic hobo who goes around, getting money for booze. It’s olden days. Like, the 30s and shit. Nicholson could never play a hobo nowadays. And he’s a hobo who became a hobo because he was an alcoholic and accidentally dropped and killed his infant son. And he was so distraught, he left his wife and became a hobo, as one does. And Meryl is his drinking buddy. She shows up like thirty minutes in, with another one of her accents, talks a bit, then sings a song. She’s not important here, really. So Nicholson is a hobo, and he has all these hallucinations about striking workers and unions and driving a bus, and hitting a dude in the head with a rock and killing him — basically he’s haunted by all this shit he did. And basically the whole movie is leading to him dying. It’s based on a bestselling book, in case you’re wondering why anyone would ever tell this story. It had to be based on a book. The only movies that are about slow and inevitable death are based on books, people’s lives, or are Pixar movies.

Anyway, Nicholson is fine here. I don’t care about the nomination. But, when someone of Jack’s stature is nominated, you look at it this way: as of this point, he’s won two Oscars, for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms of Endearment. One lead, one supporting. Winning that third one takes a kind of memorable performance (see: As Good as It Gets). So that’s one. Also, he didn’t win for these films, despite being nominated: Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, Chinatown (and later, A Few Good Men and About Schmidt). Do you really think this is a performance I’m gonna vote for to give Jack an Oscar?

Williams — And, Robin Williams. I’m actually really surprised he got nominated here. Not upset about it, I think it’s great. Though we’re all pretty clear that he shouldn’t have won, right? Right? Otherwise this is gonna be a long blog entry for you.

The film is about Williams as an Air Force radio DJ who comes to Vietnam to do radio. He’s given very strict guidelines as to what to say and play on the radio. He decides — these fucking men are going to die, let’s entertain them, take their minds off of it. He plays rock and roll music, he tells jokes, even when reading the death reports — he’s a breath of fresh air. The higher ups hate this, but everyone else loves it. And you know — it’s Robin Williams — so you know what kind of humor he utilizes on the radio. You can see why he got nominated. At this point, no one got sick of the Robin Williams thing (not that I am now, but I know a lot of people don’t like the way he tells jokes), so him coming on and acting like this was actually pretty awesome. It wasn’t until after Aladdin and The Fisher King in 1991 that he stopped getting nominated for Oscars for it. It was only when he went totally dramatic (Good Will Hunting) that he got Oscar nominations.

Anyway, Williams does his DJ thing, and teaches Vietnamese people English, and dates a Vietnamese girl, and starts drinking because they give him a hard time and shut him down a bunch. Then he realizes his purpose is to entertain men about to die and continues doing so until it’s revealed the girl he’s dating’s brother is a Viet Cong. So he gets fired and sent home. But then, Forest Whitaker, his friend, takes over and does his thing on the radio. So it all works out.

Anyway, Williams is good here. I’m very glad he was nominated. Because it’s a great film and a great performance. But there’s no way he should have won here. I put him at a solid #3, though maybe a #2 for a vote, since Hurt had one already. Still, shouldn’t have won. Great movie, though.

My Thoughts: The decision is practically made for me here. Nicholson had two already and should not have gotten his third for this film (plus I knew he would get it), Mastroianni — it was a romance, and I just can’t ever bring myself to vote for a romantic role (post-1960). Williams — comedic role. Not one that was gonna win. He got closer to a win with Dead Poet’s Society than he did with this one, and even closer with The Fisher King. But not this one. And Hurt — great in the role, but, he’d just won one two years earlier. Not gonna vote for him unless I had to. Which really only leaves Michael Douglas. So, from process of elimination, he becomes the only one that could have won. From a voting perspective — it’s Gordon fucking Gekko. Of course I’m gonna vote for him.

My Vote: Douglas

Should Have Won: Douglas

Is the result acceptable?: Perfect decision. Seriously. Based on this specific category, this is a perfect decision. Based on the entire Best Actor category as a whole, this is probably about average. It doesn’t stand out as a “great” decision, but that’s because that category has people like Brando and performances like that. Still, it’s a very good decision.

Performances I suggest you see: Wall Street. You need to see it. If you’re my age or younger (i.e. younger than this movie), you might find it “too 80s,” but fuck you, you need to see it, I assume if you’re my age and haven’t seen this movie, you’re probably someone who either knows they need to get on it, or is someone whose taste in movies is for shit. Either way, see this. You need to.

Broadcast News is an amazing film. If you liked As Good as It Gets or Terms of Endearment, you’ll love this one. It’s great. Tonally, it’s actually dead in the center of both of those films. But it’s an amazing film, and highly, highly recommended.

Good Morning, Vietnam is a great, great film. Robin Williams’s first real leading role. He’s great in it and the film is just so fun. Definitely one of the great Vietnam films that kind of gets swept under the rug a little bit, especially since Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July came out right around the same time. Still, definitely worth checking out. Might almost be essential too. I don’t think it is, but, it’s very well known. It might be just for that alone. Though I feel most people will claim to have seen this one, because it’s so big, even though only a small percentage have. So, see it, if only so you can be that much better than those poor sons of bitches who lie about seeing it.

Ironweed is interesting for no reason other than you get to see Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Tom Waits play alcoholic hobos. That’s interesting, right? The film’s kind of meh, but the hobos thing is just too good to pass up.

Rankings: 

5) Mastroianni

4) Nicholson

3) Williams

2) Hurt

1) Douglas

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