The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 1987-1988)
The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.
I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.
This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.
Michael Douglas, Wall Street
William Hurt, Broadcast News
Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes
Jack Nicholson, Ironweed
Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam
Wall Street is a movie that feels like the 80s to me. When I think 80s America, I think Wall Street.
Charlie Sheen is an ambitious broker on (insert title here), who wants to get out of his entry level position. He takes an insider tip to Gordon Gekko, the biggest shark on the block, and helps him make a nice sum of money. Gekko then takes him under his wing and introduces him to the world of insider trading.
Michael Douglas plays Gordon Gekko, and it’s one of the most iconic characters of all time. His performance is awesome. The knocks against it — could be considered supporting. And also, performance wise — does he really have to do a lot? Not really. But look at what the rest of this category is. It’s hard not to see him walking away with it regardless.
Broadcast News is one of the great comedies of the 80s. Or romances. Or whatever it is.
It’s about people who work in the news. Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt. And a love triangle of sorts.
Hurt plays a charismatic anchor who is adored by all the women. He’s not a journalist, and didn’t break his bones in a newsroom. He looks great on camera and is great at being an anchor, and man, is he sure charming. And he has depth to him too. Which is the beauty of this film. The choice between Brooks and Hurt is a legitimate choice. And I like that.
Hurt is really good and charming, but this isn’t as hefty a role as the previous two nominations. I wouldn’t take him, ultimately, but this feels like a decent enough nominee.
Dark Eyes is a career nomination for Marcello Mastroianni. That’s how I’ve always looked at it.
Mastroianni plays an old man who recounts his life story, which involves him meeting this Russian woman, with whom he shares a brief but passionate affair. And then she leaves, and he becomes obsessed with her, and follows her to Russia.
I didn’t much care for the film and didn’t particularly notice the performance as anything I loved. I wouldn’t take him over Douglas, which is all that really matters, though I guess one could consider him strongly. This feels like a forgettable performance in a weak category. Not something I’d take.
Ironweed is to me, Jack Nicholson’s weakest nomination. I mean, after something like 12, one of them had to be, right?
He and Meryl Streep play homeless people. He’s homeless because he came home drunk one night and accidentally dropped his infant son, which killed him. And he freaked out and ran away, and now he’s homeless and a drunk and he suffers from horrible nightmares stemming from the incident. And the film is pretty much him dealing with homeless problems and starting a relationship with Meryl Streep.
This is a performance that I bet was really great at the time, but the film isn’t particularly remembered, and Nicholson is just good here, not overly great. I think he gives a solid performance, but it’s just not for me to take.
Good Morning, Vietnam is one of those iconic films. Everyone knows it.
Robin Williams plays an army DJ. The rest of the army is serious, and he’s not. He decides to try to liven up the men’s spirits by injecting his radio shows with humor and rock records and uplifting stuff. While the superiors don’t like that. And the film is about him bucking against authority and falling for a Vietnamese girl, etc.
Robin Williams is basically doing his Robin Williams schtick. At the time, I get why this was such a great performance. But now, with all of us having grown up on Williams (or having seen him for twenty five years since this performance), this is basically what he does in his stand up. So it’s awesome, but it’s not like it’s real acting. In this category, he rates highly purely because he’s so energetic in what feels like a completely lifeless set of nominees. But I wouldn’t vote for him. I just like the performance a lot.
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The Reconsideration: Michael Douglas runs away with this. There’s no reason to even think of anyone else here. I wouldn’t take Mastroianni or Nicholson, and I like Williams but wouldn’t take him. And William Hurt does rate solidly with an underrated performance that’s better than you’d initially give it credit for, but none of them hold a candle to what Michael Douglas achieves. This is a no-brainer.
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- Michael Douglas, Wall Street
- William Hurt, Broadcast News
- Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam
- Jack Nicholson, Ironweed
- Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes
- Broadcast News
- Wall Street
- Good Morning, Vietnam
- Dark Eyes
My Vote: Michael Douglas, Wall Street
Wall Street is essential for Oscar buffs, essential for the 80s as a decade, essential as an Oliver Stone film, and probably just essential all around. So you should probably just see it.
Broadcast News is essential. Everyone who loves movies needs to see this, and that’s all I need to say there.
Good Morning, Vietnam is essential because of its title and Robin Williams’ performance. Maybe not full stop essential, but highly recommended and worth seeing. It’s a lot of fun and is just one of those movies you should see as a film buff.
Ironweed is not essential but it is Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. So yeah. Not great, but no one really is gonna watch it for the story, are they? Moderate recommend and really only worth seeing for the actors and not a whole lot else.
Dark Eyes is not a film I recommend. Not for me. This is one you should look at and decide if it’s something you want to see. Not essential, and not something I really liked all that much.
The Last Word: Based on the category, this is one of the best decisions of all time. In terms of performance, this is a solid winner, but I think it’s like 60-40 solid. It’s really good and pretty iconic, but I’m not sure it rates in the top 15 or 20 of all the Best Actor winners. Not that that matters all that much. Here, it’s a great decision, and really that’s the only thing that counts.
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Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning
Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man
Tom Hanks, Big
Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver
Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror
Misssissippi Burning is a pretty awesome film, even if the politics of it all are pretty black and white (pun ridiculously intended).
Three civil rights activists go missing in the deep south, and two FBI agents are sent down to investigate. It’s pretty clear they were all murdered by the Klan, but they have to go down and uncover who did it so justice can be had.
Gene Hackman plays one of the two agents, the other being Willem Dafoe. Hackman is the one who grew up in the south and understands how these people work. He’s good here, but I can’t say this is a particularly great or memorable performance. It’s just really good in the context of the film. There are three iconic performances in this category, and at best I can only put him third. There’s no way you take him over these next two performances.
Rain Man is one of those great films that’s both great and hokey at the same time. It’s easily loved and easily disliked. It’s almost become its own cliche.
Tom Cruise is a wheeler dealer type salesman. He finds out his father died, which he doesn’t particularly care about. But then he finds out his father’s money isn’t going to him, but a brother he never knew he had. This is Dustin Hoffman, an autistic man living in a care facility across the country. He tries to find a way to get the money, which involves kidnapping his brother from the facility in order to try to get custody of him and by extension, the money.
Hoffman is very memorable here. It’s hard to say he isn’t. The issue with these types of performances is that so often, they look like a stunt. Which I get. But in a year like this, it’s hard not to give yourself over to the most affecting, rousing performance in the category. Which admittedly for some might not even be this performance. But I, while I’m not mature enough to understand the limitations of this performance and how it’s not quite as good as I’d have thought last time, don’t see a whole lot of other options I like better than this one. In a different year, sure, maybe not this. But I don’t see how I have much of an option with this category.
Big is such an awesome film. Everyone should know this.
A boy goes to a carnival and a wishing machine and asks to be “big.” He then wakes up as Tom Hanks. Hanks plays the boy, in the body of a man. And it’s awesome.
Hanks is wonderful here, and while it doesn’t require much heavy lifting, acting-wise, it’s a really entertaining and heartfelt performance. A lot of people would take this on sentiment, and I could not disagree. I just don’t love it enough to take it over Hoffman, as much as I’d want to.
Stand and Deliver is one of those famous “teacher” films, up there with Goodbye, Mr. Chips, To Sir with Love and Blackboard Jungle. Or, to those my age… Dangerous Minds. They’re all the same.
The film is about Jaime Escalante, who teaches inner city kids calculus.
Olmos plays Escalante, and he’s awesome here. Definitely not something that wins, nor is it something I take, but he’s awesome enough to have earned this nomination. You can’t help but love this performance.
Pelle the Conqueror is one of the least well known Best Actor nominated films in the category. I’d feel pretty confident saying that.
Max von Sydow plays a man who immigrates to a new country with his son. He’s too old to get work, while his son is too young. Eventually they get work on a farm. And the film is about their lives moving forward. von Sydow starts a relationship with a woman whose husband disappeared, the managers of the farm treat them horribly, the kid is bullied at school, etc.
von Sydow is really good here, but he’s not really the lead of the film. It’s the kid. But he’s good. He’s probably worth a fourth choice here, but he’s fifth for the vote for me, just because I like the other performances better. This isn’t something I’d want to take, and it only serves to round out a pretty mediocre category without much fanfare.
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The Reconsideration: I don’t love the category, and even though I wouldn’t want to have to take Hoffman automatically, I kind of have to take Hoffman automatically. Wouldn’t take von Sydow, Olmos or Hackman and I like Hoffman’s performance better than Hanks. So there we are. I’m not gonna talk it up as a great decision, but it’s one I have to make because it’s the one I feel best about.
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Rankings (category and films):
- Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man
- Tom Hanks, Big
- Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning
- Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver
- Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror
My Vote: Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man
Rain Man is an essential film. Best Picture winner, classic, great performances by great actors, and rampantly quoted and referenced everywhere. You’d be crazy not to see this as a film buff.
Big is absolutely essential, and perhaps even more essential than Rain Man. This is the kind of movie most people just see as human beings. It’s so entertaining, so classic, and so iconic. I mean, this image alone should show you how essential it is:
Stand and Deliver is a classic and iconic teacher film. High recommend for all film buffs, but it’s only really essential if you’re looking at the 80s as a decade or the genre of “teacher” films. Outside of that, you should just see it because of how iconic and entertaining it is.
Mississippi Burning is an awesome thriller. Well made, entertaining, and a great watch. Not essential, but a high recommend. Throw it in the queue and get to it when you get to it. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Pelle the Conqueror is not essential and gets a moderate recommend at best. Not something I love and not something most people ever really need to see unless they’re really into films like this.
The Last Word: Hoffman holds up. I can’t see how anyone else would have been a better choice than he’s been, or held up better on a film/performance level, so I’ll call it a good choice that’s not a particularly great choice all-time but fine, and something that looks okay. That’s about it. The best of a so-so category.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)