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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 1993-1994)

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.

1993

Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

Laurence Fishburne, What’s Love Got to Do With It

Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day

Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List

Analysis:

In the Name of the Father is another great Jim Sheridan film.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an Irish hoodlum who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is thrown in prison in relation to an IRA pub bombing that killed three people. To makematters worse, they convict his father too, despite knowing both are innocent. So a lot of the film is about him and his father learning to deal with life in prison, mixed with Emma Thompson (as a crusading lawyer)’s attempts to set them free. It’s really good.

Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific here, and is typically committed in the role. This isn’t as great as the My Left Foot performance, but he’s well worthy of the nomination, especially next to his really impressive work in The Age of Innocence, which some people might have preferred seeing here, as they’d be more apt to vote for that performance over this one. Both those performances put him in a really great position in this category, even though I’m not sure he goes higher than third for either of them.

Philadelphia is a film that’s more about the issue than anything. It’s sentimental, and will make you cry, and it works despite being very 90s.

Tom Hanks is a lawyer who contracts AIDS. His firm finds out about it and fires him, claiming incompetance, even though it’s well known he’s the best lawyer in the firm. He tries to go around and find a lawyer who will help him sue for wrongful termination — as they clearly fired him because he is a gay man with AIDS — but no one will take the case. Until he meets Denzel, a pure ambulance chaser who is pretty openly homophobic. And of course the men work together and become friends and they sue the firm together.

Hanks gets to play a man with AIDS, and gets a lot of scenes where he is sick and dying. It’s not his best performance, but it will make you cry, which is half the battle. I don’t think this performance is particularly great, despite its effectiveness in the film, and probably have him straight up fourth in the category. It’s one of the weirder winners, and despite seeming like a strong winner, probably ends up middle of the pack, if not lower than that, for all time.

What’s Love Got to Do With It is a biopic of Tina Turner and her volatile relationship with Ike Turner.

Laurence Fishburne plays Ike Turner. And he’s awesome here. The movie is very 90s and does not age well, but man, is his performance strong. Ultimately he doesn’t contend for a vote because so many of his scenes play the same progression — he’s nice and charming, even if a little bullying, and then something happens and he turns on a dime and starts abusing her. The weakness is in the film around him and not the performance. That said, though, he ends up a fifth choice here on performance, even though I may try push him up to fourth. Which still won’t be enough.

The Remains of the Day is the only Merchant Ivory film I really like. I feel like that’s a badge of honor.

It’s based on the Ishiguro novel (which is great), and about a butler who is born into a family of butlers, and prides himself on working for the same house all his life. He is very reserved and great at his job. And his life ends up turned upside down with the arrival to the house of Emma Thompson, a spirited maid, who is the opposite of him, emotionally, and who is able to pierce through his walls, so to speak.

Hopkins is terrific in the part. The role is one that for sure would be nominated if portrayed well by the right actor. I think Hopkins gets as much out of the role as one can, even though I don’t think it quite fully comes together to make me want to vote for it. Maybe because it’s Merchant Ivory. But I would maybe vote for him third, and put the performance fourth. He’s great, but he just won, and I don’t love this enough to turn around and vote for him again here. There are other performances I like better.

Schindler’s List is another one of Steven Spielberg’s masterpieces.

I shouldn’t have to tell you what this is about.

That’s Liam Neeson’s big scene. He’s not the most rangy of actors, but he accomplishes enough with this performance to be considered the choice. I think he holds the film together well, and while he doesn’t get a whole lot to really do, he conveys the man’s complexities well. He’s never reduced to a simple hero. He doesn’t start as one thing and end as another. There are shades in between all throughout. Which is nice. This is a tough category because I’m not sure any of these are a #1 choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t love this category. But it looks strong and feels strong. But having to choose is not as easy as you’d think.

No matter how many ways I slice this category, I wouldn’t take Fishburne. I love him, but this performance just doesn’t do enough for me to want to take it. Hanks — sentimentally, I could push him up to second, but I wouldn’t want to take the performance and honestly, I don’t think he’s any better than fourth on pure performance. And then Hopkins, I love him, like the film a lot, love the character, but I just wouldn’t take it. There’s no love there for me. Just a lot of respect.

So I’m left with Daniel Day-Lewis, who gives two really good performances in In the Name of the Father and The Age of Innocence, and Liam Neeson who deftly anchors a brilliant film with a surehanded performance.

The Day-Lewis performances are probably better, but I keep wanting to vote for Neeson, so I think I’m just gonna do that and be done with it. I can’t really explain why I prefer this performance, but I do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father
  3. Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day
  4. Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
  5. Laurence Fishburne, What’s Love Got to Do With It

Rankings (films):

  • Schindler’s List
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Philadelphia
  • The Remains of the Day
  • What’s Love Got to Do With It

My Vote: Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List

Recommendations:

Schindler’s List is one of the 50 most essential movies ever made.

In the Name of the Father is essential for film buffs. It just is. It’s lower end essential, but still essential.

Philadelphia is essential for film buffs. Also because it just is. Oscar buffs need to see it, and film buffs just should. It’s not a masterpiece, but it needs to be seen.

The Remains of the Day is a high recommend. Not something you need to see, but something you should, because it’s really great and the novel it’s based on is a masterpiece.

What’s Love Got to Do With It is a flawed and dated film with two really strong lead performances. I give it a solid recommend on film quality and a high recommend on performances. If you like musical biopics, you should definitely see this one.

The Last Word: I guess Hanks holds up? I can’t say Neeson would have been so much better. And with Day-Lewis (rightly) having three total for three incredible performances, I don’t think I need to see him get this one too. And the other two are just okay. So, all things considered, while the performance isn’t totally up to snuff as a winner, this isn’t the worst decision they could have made. I think Neeson would have been better, but I’m okay with Hanks here.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1994

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

Analysis:

So now we’re at the era of the guilds. I always feel like this is the one that lines up the most with the guilds, because it’s generally obvious which way they’re gonna go. Let’s see if I’m right.

SAG matched 4/5 this year. They had Robbins on with Freeman and no Hawthorne (who just looks like a clear BAFTA vote).

BAFTA had four nominees. Hanks and Travolta matched. Hawthorne won this the year after (1995). So they’re not helpful for the next little bit.

The Globes had the same 4/5 as SAG did, all in drama.

Hanks won the two categories that meant anything, and was gonna be an easy winner here all throughout.

The Shawshank Redemption.

I love 1994. I don’t have to say shit about 60% of the category.

Morgan Freeman plays Red, the man in Shawshank who can get you anything you want, from a rock hammer to Rita Hayworth.

Freeman does a great job with the role, and since we all love the film we all recognize how good he is. But would you vote for him? He feels like a two-hander with Robbins, who wasn’t even nominated. But he is wonderfully subtle here, and that lets him have some really great moments, albeit aided with the voiceover. But still, strong stuff. He’d be a third most years who could be second for me here.

Forrest Gump.

Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump, and the more I see this performance, the more I love it. I think he was a slam dunk winner this year who wins ten times out of ten. He’s my choice here, despite me not being totally on board with the win the year before this. This is the best performance in the category, in my mind, and I take it every time.

The Madness of King George is about (insert title here). Well that was easy.

Nigel Hawthorne plays King George. So he gets to play a crazy king. And he’s good here. It’s very similar to those 60s costume drama performances. Somewhat theatrical, still very good. I wouldn’t take him, just because it’s both somewhat over the top and also just not a performance I love. Probably third on performance and fourth on vote. Not my favorite, but solid.

Nobody’s Fool is a completely forgotten film, but one of Newman’s better efforts of his later career, and directed by Robert Benton.

Newman is a construction guy working in a small town. He’s constantly fucked over by Bruce Willis, a big time contractor who keeps stealing his jobs. To get back at him, he keeps stealing Willis’ snowblower and flirting with his wife. And it’s about him reconnecting with his son and meeting his grandson and finally, just maybe, having his streak of bad luck turn around.

Newman is very good here, but this isn’t one of his all time great performances. I take him fifth in the category. Love the veteran nomination, but not something I vote for.

Pulp Fiction.

John Travolta plays Vincent Vega. It’s a nice return to Travolta into the Oscar fold, and the character is really awesome and memorable, but I can’t say he really needed the win here. The one person who should have won is Samuel L. Jackson, not Travolta. Travolta is just a nice presence who came along with his film. Looks fine, not someone who should have won.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Hanks for me. No one else comes close. Freeman gets a look at second, but I like Hanks way more. Wouldn’t take Hawthorne, Travolta doesn’t measure up against the top two, and Newman is nice, but I don’t like the film or the performance enough to truly consider it. This is an easy win for Hanks.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
  2. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
  3. Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George
  4. John Travolta, Pulp Fiction
  5. Paul Newman, Nobody’s Fool

Rankings (films):

  1. Forrest Gump
  2. Pulp Fiction
  3. The Shawshank Redemption
  4. Nobody’s Fool
  5. The Madness of King George

My Vote: Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

Recommendations:

Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction are three of the 50 most essential films ever made. I’d be shocked if you were reading this without having already seen all three of them.

Nobody’s Fool is a solid indie that you don’t need to see, but it’s good enough to see, if that makes sense. Don’t openly seek it out, but it’s worth a watch if you ever get the opportunity.

The Madness of King George is fine, but not for me. Moderate recommend, but it’s mostly a costume drama. Same as those from the 60s. The 90s ones don’t work as well as the 60s ones do, but it’s basically in that same vein. So if those are for you, see it, if not, I don’t think you need to go out and waste your time with it.

The Last Word: Hanks holds up. No one else would have been nearly as good a winner. This is one of the most iconic films and characters of all time. Easy choice and it holds up as one of the solid winners of all time.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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