The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1997

1997 is like having a stupid relative. You can’t do anything about it no matter how much you want to. Because there’s no way Titanic wasn’t winning Best Picture this year. Or Best Director for James Cameron (talked about here). It was inevitable. No matter how much we all think L.A. Confidential should have won instead.

Then Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting, talked about here, and Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress for L.A. Confidential, talked about here. I didn’t vote for either decision, but I am okay with both of them. Read the articles to find out why.

Then Best Actress was Helen Hunt for As Good as It Gets (talked about here). I mention her last because there’s an interesting piece of trivia in regards to that. Every time Jack Nicholson has won an Oscar — three times. First for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, second for Terms of Endearment in 1983 (Supporting), and then here — his leading lady in the film won Best Actress for the film. Not Supporting — Best Actress. That’s crazy, right? Here’s a dude that not only delivers the goods, but helps you deliver the goods.


And the nominees were…

Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting

Robert Duvall, The Apostle

Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold

Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog

Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

Damon — How have you made it this far as a person without seeing Good Will Hunting?

You don’t get a synopsis. How do you like them apples?

Damon is fine here, but it’s clear he hadn’t matured yet as an actor. He shows the flashes of what he’d become, but he’s not there yet. This is a take notice nomination, and he won for Screenplay. He didn’t need this at all. He’ll get his one day.

Duvall — The Apostle is a an interesting little independent movie, one that almost no one would care about if not for a bravura (don’t you love it when someone drops that word? Yeah, me neither) performance from Robert Duvall.

Duvall plays a charismatic preacher who constantly sleeps around. And his wife gets upset, starts sleeping with someone else, and gets the church to — whatever it is when they’re no longer an official preacher. No defrocked, because he wasn’t that kind of priest. He touches farmers’ daughters, not little boys.

So he goes out and starts his own church. And he goes out and starts a church. And gets followers. And he keeps preaching, converting some people and such, and eventually delivers this big sermon and is arrested at the end of it because he’s preaching without a license or something like that. And the film ends with him preaching on a chain gang to the other prisoners. It’s a pretty good film. Duvall is terrific in it. Watch the end sermon to see what I mean.

The thing is, though, while Duvall certainly was good enough to win — I wouldn’t vote for him. I’d have no problem at all if he won, but — it’s the religious nature of the performance I can’t deal with. I’m for the separation of church and Oscar. At least, with Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry, he was an immoral man from the start, so it never felt religious. I don’t know — I just can’t vote for this. I’d be perfectly cool with him winning, though.

Fonda — Ulee’s Gold is a film I heard a lot about from even before I started watching Oscar films. Right when I started getting interested in the Oscars for real (which was around 2005. I watched in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, but was never really invested past voting for what I liked the best. Being interested for real meant knowing enough to practically know who’d win almost every category going in), I remember reading this article that listed the biggest Oscar snubs of all time. And they had bullshit on it like, “Robert De Niro for Taxi Driver” or “Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment” — really obvious stuff. “Edward Norton for American History X” — something any dumb schmuck with a computer can find and start quoting. I hate that. You see that shit on the bottom of the IMDB links almost daily. “Top 8 cult films!” And it’s like the same eight everyone says. That’s not interesting. You want a cult film? Don’t tell me Rocky Horror or Fight Club — tell me fucking Zardoz. That’s a cult film, motherfucker.

Anyway, on the article, it listed that Peter Fonda should have won the Oscar here. And then I read more Oscar lists over the years, and I saw that there was quite the vocal minority out there who thought Fonda should have won this award. So naturally I went into the film wondering what all the fuss was about.

And I’m still wondering.

I don’t get it. What was so great about this performance?

The film is about a beekeeper who is raising grandkids because his son is in jail and his daughter-in-law is a drug addict who has disappeared. And his son begs him to find the daughter-in-law and bring her back. So he does this, and they bring her back, try to help her detox, and then him dealing with his son’s criminal associates who want some sort of hidden money their son has.

I was watching this going, “Yeah, I get the Odyssey references, and I get that it’s low-key,” but I never actually saw where Fonda was better than Robert Duvall or Jack Nicholson here. I mean, I get why you’d want him to win an Oscar because he’s Peter Fonda, but I didn’t see where in this performance he was good enough to win. It’s like Julianne Moore. Every year it’s, “Oh my god, Julianne Moore was in another movie! Let’s nominate her for an Oscar! Why hasn’t she won yet?!” And everyone quickly anoints her performances as Oscar-worthy, and I’m like, “I don’t get it. She wasn’t that good.” (Note: Yes, she should have won in 2002. I’m talking about all the recent things she does. The Kids are All Right? Are you fucking kidding me?)

So, I didn’t particularly care for this movie past — it was there. Some people like it. I don’t need to see it again — and I don’t think Fonda should have won here at all. I’d actually give it to Matt Damon over him. The only person I’d vote for him over is Dustin Hoffman, just because that win would cause way more problems than it’s worth.

Hoffman — I watched this movie again recently. I hadn’t seen it in a while, and the fact that it’s a comedy makes me think less of it the less I think about it. I have a bunch of comedies that I just label “comedy” and think, “Oh, that’s stuff I liked when I was younger.” But this one — I forget how fucking good it is when I don’t see it for a while. This is a fucking great movie. Like, one of the best movies of 1997. It was never gonna get major Oscar consideration, but here’s a movie that’s smart, dark, funny, and thoroughly entertaining and hilarious. David Mamet wrote it, you get De Niro and Hoffman — Woody Harrelson — it’s perfect.

The film is about a Bill Clinton-esque President (the film was released before the Lewinsky thing) who, two weeks before reelection day, he was alone in the oval office with a dancer, who claims the president harassed her. So the White House calls in Conrad Breen — Robert De Niro. He’s a fixer. He can fix anything, he doesn’t tell anyone, and he makes problems go away. He shows up in order to distract the public from the scandal long enough for the president to get reelected. So what he does is — he concocts a phony war with Albania. “Albania — why not Albania?”, he says. Instead of answering questions about the incident, he has the press secretary vehemently deny that there is no situation in Albania, even though nobody said anything about Albania. And then it becomes this whole thing, and he calls in Dustin Hoffman, a movie producer (so based on Robert Evans you can practically see the tan dripping off of him), to help him shoot a phony Albanian conflict. And they stage fake war videos, write fake “We are the World” songs, start trends — a whole big fake war has been started because of this.

It’s — seriously a perfect movie. Everyone who sees this will enjoy it. It’s hilarious.

Hoffman is really great as Stanley Motss. Really hilarious. But I think we all understand that he wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have won here. It’s just not a performance you vote for. It is, however, a performance you get really happy about because it was nominated. So let’s all do that.


Nicholson — As Good as It Gets. Has anyone not seen this one? Will they admit to it?

I’m assuming the answer to both of those is no.

Nicholson, misanthropic author who becomes a better person with the help of Helen Hunt and his gay painter neighbor Greg Kinnear. Just see it. Nicholson is amazing in it. Absolutely wonderful.

To me, Jack is the vote. I get why you’d go with Duvall, but for me, it’s Jack. It’s just how it is with me.

My Thoughts: I say it’s Jack all the way here. Damon will get his Oscar for a better performance, Duvall had one, Hoffman had two, and Fonda honestly wasn’t really good enough to win, for my money. I’ll take Jack any day over him.

My Vote: Nicholson

Should Have Won: Nicholson. Why not?

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Like the decision a lot. Read reasons why up there in My Thoughts.

Performances I suggest you see: Not that they’re essential or anything, but if you haven’t seen Wag the Dog, As Good as It Gets or Good Will Hunting — we can’t be friends.

Especially — no, all of them. You need to see all of them, or I don’t take you seriously.

The Apostle is worth it only for the Duvall performance, and Ulee’s Gold is okay, but I don’t particularly love it. Both are probably worth a vote, but not as much as those other three.


5) Fonda

4) Duvall

3) Damon

2) Hoffman

1) Nicholson


5 responses

  1. Was Nicholson in Girl, Interrupted? Because I can’t seem to figure out how Angelina got an oscar for that ass nugget.

    December 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  2. BlueFox94

    Awesome for Nicholson. I just wish Ian Holm got nominated and won for “THE SWEET HEREAFTER”.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm

  3. j

    At any rate it seems many people wish they hadn’t seen As Good as It Gets.

    I remember a few years ago on was a poll on the worst Best Actor winners; Nicholson did quite well, just ahead of Cliff Robertson for Charly
    “Jack, return this one now, and we’ll give you another lead for anything you did from 1970-1974.”

    December 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm

  4. My rankings:
    1. Matt Damon
    2. Jack Nicholson
    3. Dustin Hoffman
    4. Robert Duvall
    5. Peter Fonda

    August 25, 2013 at 12:51 pm

  5. Keith Kotay

    “Wag the Dog” is a fantastic film–easily one of my films of the decade. Yes, it was done as a black comedy, which affects its Oscar potential. But it’s like the “Network” of politics. Okay, “Network” was 20 years ahead of it’s time, and “Wag the Dog” wasn’t that far ahead, but underneath the comedy it’s a scathing commentary on our modern political system and mass communication. Also, it’s amazing that it *did* come out before the Lewinsky scandal…

    September 2, 2015 at 12:24 am

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