The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1994
These were my magic shoes. Mama said they’d take me anywhere.
1994 is a tough year. Because it’s one where, three major films were up for Best Picture: Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. And, say what you will about this year, but, they made the right decision. It’s an Academy decision. Because, no matter which way they went here, it would be criticized. At least, with this decision, it’s the most consistent with who they are. No matter what you say about Forrest Gump winning Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Zemeckis — it makes sense. And you can’t criticize that (too much).
Best Actress for this year was Jessica Lange for Blue Sky (talked about here), which was kind of a Kate Winslet Oscar in a weak category. Lange had one of these coming for a long time, and the category was such that she became the best choice (because they didn’t want to give Jodie Foster a third one, which, I understand). Best Supporting Actor was Martin Landau for Ed Wood, which you can’t really argue with, no matter how much you loved Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan or Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield. And Best Supporting Actress was Dianne Wiest in Bullets over Broadway (talked about here), which — I don’t like. But I understand. Given the weakness of the category.
Now, as for this one, I feel like this is a category where — while the performance isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the characterization is such that the character has become so iconic and memorable that you have to give it to Hanks here. I know I talk shit about the 1993 decision, but this is one where I actually agree. (Also, just to point out: Tom Hanks made history here. He became the second actor to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars, after Spencer Tracy, in 1937 & 1938. The kicker? Both actors did it at the same ages. Crazy, right?)
BEST ACTOR – 1994
And the nominees were…
Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George
Paul Newman, Nobody’s Fool
John Travolta, Pulp Fiction
Freeman — The Shawshank Redemption. Do I need to say anything? If I do, you better reevaluate what you’re doing here. That is, if you don’t know what this film is about and haven’t seen it, stop reading this blog.
Morgan Freeman plays Red — our narrator. AKA, the performance that made him the Morgan Freeman we know today. He’s fine in the film, but then again, so was Tim Robbins, and he wasn’t nominated here. Personally, I don’t see this as an Oscar-winning performance. Narration? Absolutely. This is some of the best narration I’ve ever heard. But as a performance — I’m not voting for this.
Hanks — Forrest Gump. Again, if you don’t know about this movie and need me to summarize it — you’re on the wrong blog.
Hanks is fantastic as Gump. Because — here’s a film and a performance that could very easily devolve into camp. (See: Radio.) It could be one of the worst, dumbest movies of all time. (Now, some people might say the film is a bit too simplistic and too “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with history, but the fact of the matter is — it could have been a lot worse.) But, the way Hanks manages to get such pathos out of this character, and make him so memorable — to me, that’s worth an Oscar. Especially in a category like this. In a category like the one before this or after this — maybe not. Here? Landslide.
Hawthorne — The Madness of King George is a self-explanatory movie. King George is crazy. He’s a tad fuckered in the head. And the film is basically a series of him acting batshit insane, doing all this crazy stuff — like running, naked, down the halls of his castle, and a series of them trying to cure him with the primitive methods they had back then before mental health was understood. That’s pretty much it. It’s not a terribly entertaining film. Standard costume drama. If you’re into those sort of things, you’ll enjoy it. If not, it’ll be insufferable. For me — it was about one notch below the latter. Not insufferable, but I won’t be watching this one again. It’s one of those “Get it, got it, good,” movies. Saw it, know the story, moving on.
Hawthorne is fine in the film. One of those — he’s old, he’s acting crazy, he gets to take it up to 11 — of course he’s gonna get nominated. Definitely not gonna win here, unless you’re a complete masochist and love the way they did things back in the 30s (Oscar-wise). Seriously, I’d vote for everyone else over him in this category, just because of the type of performance it was. Nowadays, you need to be really good in a costume drama to get a win, or really famous. He’s neither.
Newman — Nobody’s Fool is one of those Paul Newman specials. A film where, because he’s in it, it’s better. A film where, if anyone else was in it, you wouldn’t watch it. A film where he plays a dude who is kind of not a nice guy — a loser, even — but you understand him, and you empathize.
Newman’s a dude who walked out on his family years earlier and now lives in the next town over. He lives in a boarding house, run by Jessica Tandy, and works doing odd jobs. Construction jobs. And the film is mostly just about him. He’s got a comic feud with his boss — Bruce Willis — whose snowblower he keeps stealing, and there’s also this thing where he flirts with Willis’s wife — Melanie Griffith — and then he gets arrested for punching a policeman in the face (Philip Seymour Hoffman, back when he was playing those entitled douche characters). But then his son comes and start hanging out with him, and he meets his grandson — and the film is mostly about how he’s sort of given the chance to make up for his past by getting closer to his son and his grandson, but then the grandson runs away to be with him, and he takes him back, and realizes he can’t deal with this, then runs away again, and realizes he’s happy just where he is.
It’s interesting because — the character isn’t very likable. At least in terms of his actions. The film is about a dude who walks away from his family and ultimately realizes he made the right decision. But, it’s Newman, so the dude is likable. I like how that works. But — no way Newman was winning here. This is a shell of his former performances. Not to say it’s bad, it’s saying those early performances are so good. Newman could have won an Oscar for just about any performance he gave pre-Color of Money that was nominated for an Oscar (save Absence of Malice). Here — veteran nom. We’re cool with it, but we know the score.
Travolta — Pulp Fiction. I also don’t need to say anything here. (Which is great. Three films I know you know and don’t have to write up. This is awesome.)
You know the film, you know the characters. We all can quote this from beginning to end.
Now — Travolta — great? Yes. A nice nomination to resurrect a somewhat fading career? Yes. Win-worthy? No. If there’s any category Pulp Fiction didn’t deserve to win, it’s this one. Because it’s an ensemble film. It just is. Sure, Travolta is in the majority of the film, but — you can’t tell me he did all that much here. Come on, now. This is clearly Tom Hanks’s category. If you’re voting for this performance, I guarantee you that you’re voting for the film. There is no way you can objectively tell me this was a better performance than Tom Hanks’s (or even Morgan Freeman’s). No way. And if you can — you’re a liar.
My Thoughts: This is what happens when you fuck up. Tom Hanks wins an Oscar in 1993 when he shouldn’t have, then comes right back with a performance you have to vote for. That’s what you get, Academy, for rushing to give someone a statue. (And you did it again with Russell Crowe. But at least there, you swallowed your pride and finally gave Denzel his statue. (At least 60% of that is because of racism, I guarantee you.))
Anyway, there really is no one else to vote for here. I mean, maybe Morgan Freeman, but even so — Tom Hanks is really the only one here you can vote for.
My Vote: Hanks
Should Have Won: Hanks
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s Forrest fucking Gump. Case closed.
Performances I suggest you see: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption — if you haven’t seen any of these, you’re dead to me. (Not a joke. You actually are dead to me.)
That’s it, really. I mean, Nobody’s Fool — you get Newman, you get Willis, you get Tandy, you get Griffith. It’s not terribly great, but worth a watch if you’re interested in it. So there’s that. Otherwise, stick with the first three. This is a year where most people are qualified to levy an opinion, which is what makes it so difficult to deal with.