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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 2003-2004)

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.

2003

Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog

Jude Law, Cold Mountain

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Sean Penn, Mystic River

Analysis:

SAG mathed 4/5. They had Peter Dinklage for The Station Agent instead of Jude Law.

BAFTA matched 4/5. They had Benicio del Toro for 21 Grams instead of Kingsley.

BFCA matched 4/5. They had Russell Crowe for Master and Commander instead of Jude Law.

The Globes matched 5/5 across both categories.

This one seems like it would have been pretty easy to guess.

Johnny Depp won SAG (which I remember happening and thinking was fucking awesome).

Billy Murray won BAFTA and the Globve for Comedy.

Penn won BFCA and the Globe for Drama.

This one was always Penn and Murray, and SAG kept things interesting until the end. Most people assumed Penn had it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. We all know this movie.

Johnny Depp plays Captain Jack Sparrow.

This is one of the most entertaining Best Actor nominations of all time. I fucking love what he did here.

House of Sand and Fog is a small drama about a house. That’s pretty much it.

Jennifer Connelly is a drug addicted woman who loses her house because of some miscommunication she thought was taken care of. The house is auctioned and purchased by Ben Kingsley, a former Iranian military man who brought his family over for the promise of a good future in America. He can’t get any sort of real work and has a menial job picking trash up along the highway. But he lies to his family and pretends like he does have a decent job. So he buys this house, and the rest of the film is he and Jennifer Connelly feuding over it, since she feels like it’s still hers.

Kingsley is fantastic here, and I’m surprised he made it through to a nomination. It’s the kind of performance that would so often go unnoticed. He’s good here, and most years would rate fourth or fifth. Though this being an uncommonly weak year, he rates as high as third, maybe even second on performance. Not something I’ll ever take, but I support the nomination.

Cold Mountain is a big, sprawling, southern epic that represents, to me, the Weinstein Oscar movie. Lot of famous people, lot of nominations, but not that great. But they campaigned like a motherfucker for it.

My favorite thing about this movie is how every other role is a super famous actor and how all the really famous people end up killing other famous people. You never have a random actor you’ve never heard of murdering a famous person. It’s always Natalie Portman murdering Cillian Murphy or some shit like that. It’s crazy how that works.

Anyway, the film is about — what the hell is this film about? Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. They’re a southern couple who have some kind of romance they never get to consumate, and then he goes off to war, and the entire film is about him trying to find his way back to her. Meanwhile she has to care for her farm after the death of her father, with a crazy Renée Zellweger playing half a dimensional character helping her out, and then dealing with some scavenger who takes control of the town because he can.

Jude Law is fine here. He anchors the movie pretty well. He gives a better performance than I gave him credit for originally. This definitely is good enough to merit a nomination. Though most years he’d be straight up fifth. Here, I rate him fourth. Never gonna take him, but I think this is not as bad a nomination as I used to think. Used to be, “came along with the film.” Now it’s “came along with the film, but solid in his own right.” So that’s good.

Lost in Translation is Bill Murray’s renaissance. And to think, this movie is just two years removed from Osmosis Jones.

Bill Murray plays a washed up actor in Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial. And the film is about his experiences in a strange land, mixed with him, a lost soul, meeting Scarlett Johansson, another lost and lonely soul, and the connection they forge. It’s a great movie.

Bill Murray is so wonderful here. There’s a wonderful melancholy to this performance. I can see why most people think he should have won. I will preface this by saying — I would never take him in another year. 2002, not a chance. 2004, not a chance. But here, he might legitimately be the best performance because the rest of the category is so weak. I get it.

Mystic River is Clint Eastwood’s return to the Oscar fold. Kind of randomly, too. This is a pretty mainstream kind of movie, and the fact that it got so many nominations still seems weird to me.

The film revolves around three boys. As children, men came by pretending to be cops and ordered them to get into a car. One of them did. He was abducted and abused. Cut to thirty years later. One is a cop, one is a criminal, and the boy who was abducted lives a quiet life as a construction worker. They are brought together once more after the disappearance and murder of the criminal’s daughter. Which sends the men on a downward spiral and uncovers secrets from years past.

Sean Penn plays the criminal. Everyone remembers the big “Is that my daughter in there?!!!” moment, which I think is ridiculously over the top. I think the entire performance is kind of ridiculous. He’s almost a cartoon character. But maybe that’s just me. I don’t even think this needed to be nominated, so the fact that it won is kind of ridiculous and feels like the kind of thing that they’d normally do in Best Actress, where they give the actress the award regardless of film. I don’t see how Penn is anything more than fifth in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: There’s just not that much here. I look at this and see two things: 1) I really wanna take Johnny Depp, even though I’m aware that this should not be a performance that wins Best Actor. And 2) Is there anyone that can beat Bill Murray? Law is good but not a choice. Penn is definitely not the choice, and Kingsley is solid, but I wouldn’t take him over Depp, let alone Murray. So I’m voting Bill Murray. Don’t love the performance or think it’s particularly groundbreaking, but I don’t see what other choice I have. I could take Johnny Depp because of how much fun he’s having, or I can take what I think is the best performance in this particular category in Bill Murray. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Bill Murray, Lost in Translation
  2. Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  3. Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog
  4. Jude Law, Cold Mountain
  5. Sean Penn, Mystic River

Rankings (films):

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  2. Lost in Translation
  3. Cold Mountain
  4. Mystic River
  5. House of Sand and Fog

My Vote: Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Recommendations:

We’ve all seen Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s not pretend here.

Lost in Translation is essential, and just about every film buff sees this movie before they walk through the door. So I don’t need to tell you how essential it is, because you already know.

Cold Mountain is a solid film. All star cast. Only worth it for the cast. Only a pretty good movie. Essential for Oscar buffs only and otherwise just an amusing movie that you’ll eventually find because of how many famous people are in it.

Mystic River is only essential for Oscar buffs and is just a solid recommend otherwise. Most people will get to it because of the cast, and rightly so. I don’t think it’s particularly great, but I do recommend it somewhat. I think you’ll do more about seeing this than I could do by saying anything, so I’ll leave it to you.

House of Sand and Fog is a solid film with solid performances. Not essential but worth seeing. One of those gems of the year that gets forgotten over the years but is worth going back to as a hidden gem.

The Last Word: This is, to me, one of the five worst decisions the Academy made in the Best Actor category. This is an awful decision. The performance is almost comic. What the hell were they thinking? Penn isn’t better than anyone else in this category. I know they want to get him an Oscar, but this looks awful. Sure, Kingsley wouldn’t have been remembered, Law wouldn’t have held up, Depp would have looked fun, but would have been a major departure that I don’t think would have been able to stand up to the scrutiny. Which leaves Bill Murray, someone I think would have held up great and something we would have all supported. So, I can’t see any reason why this was a good decision in any regard.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2004

Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda

Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator

Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Jamie Foxx, Ray

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5. They had Paul Giamatti for Sideways instead of Eastwood.

BAFTA matched 3/5. They had Gael Garcia Bernal for Motorcycle Diaries and Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine instead of Eastwood and Cheadle.

BFCA matched 4/5 out of six nominees. No Eastwood.

The Globes matched 4/5 across both categories. No Eastwood again.

Eastwood came completely out of nowhere. Most people assume Paul Giamatti would have had that fifth spot.

The win was never in doubt. Jamie Foxx swept every award. One of the most open and shut cases there’s ever been.

Hotel Rwanda is a movie that I had to let grow on me. I remember seeing it, thinking it was really good but not great, and then after everyone screamed about how it was getting robbed of Oscars, I became bitter and grew to hate it, as is the case with everyone of a certain age getting into the Oscars. And then even though I always liked it, I always had a sense of dislike toward it that took years to eliminate.

The film is about a man who runs a hotel in Rwanda (go figure) who has to deal with the genocide that is sweeping the country. All the Hutus are murdering the Tutsis, and he hides a bunch of Tustis in his hotel, putting himself and his family in great danger. It’s basically African Schindler’s List.

Don Cheadle is really strong here, and delivers a terrific performance. I put him a solid third in the category, even though some might have him second or even first. I think he’s in the wrong year, ultimately. I don’t think there’s actually enough to give him the vote this year, but I do really appreciate the work.

Finding Neverland is a biopic of J.M. Barrie and how he came to write Peter Pan, mainly dealing with his relationship with a young boy and his mother.

Johnny Depp plays Barrie, and I remember liking this performance when I saw it. I haven’t gone back to see this in years, but I always felt this nomination was more about Depp being in the Academy’s good graces than anything, and that it was a likable, solid performance, but not something that really contended at all for a vote. In this category, he’s at best fourth choice.

The Aviator is Martin Scorsese’s movie about Howard Hughes.

DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes, and, to this point in his adult career, this was his best performance. Every time I go back to it, I find myself more and more impressed with this. He’s still not gonna beat the eventual winner for me in this category, but he’s really good and strongly contends regardless.

Million Dollar Baby is one of the more contentious Best Picture winners of the 21st century.

Clint Eastwood is a grizzled boxing trainer who is coerced into training Hilary Swank, a 30 year old woman. He doesn’t train girls, let alone ones too old to really contend. But she’s strong willed, so he gives in. And he trains her up to be a championshp contender, until something pretty awful happens that I won’t get into if you haven’t seen the film.

Eastwood is quietly good here, even though he’s not the most versatile of actors. I think he is worthy of the nomination, as this is the most emotion he’s shown on screen. I’m not sure if I consider him fourth or fifth, but because I do appreciate the work, I’d probably put him fourth over Depp, even though if I went back to watch Depp, Eastwood might end up fifth. Either way, wouldn’t take him.

Ray is a biopic of Ray Charles.

Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles.

Hard to argue against this once you’ve seen it. It’s a strong category, but it’s real hard to argue against him. He accomplishes much more than a simple impersonation. He’s really fucking good here.

Not gonna lie, he is gonna be my vote, because no one else comes close to this performance.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Jamie Foxx. DiCaprio is a solid second, Cheadle is third, Eastwood is fourth and Depp is fifth. That’s what it is. Jamie Foxx gives the best performance and he earned this Oscar. This is a pretty big consensus decision.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jamie Foxx, Ray
  2. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
  4. Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
  5. Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

Rankings (films):

  1. The Aviator
  2. Million Dollar Baby
  3. Ray
  4. Hotel Rwanda
  5. Finding Neverland

My Vote: Jamie Foxx, Ray

Recommendations:

The Aviator is Martin Scorsese. His movies are essential all around.

Million Dollar Baby is essential because it won Best Picture. So you need to see it. It’s also really good. You might have issues with it, but most people will enjoy it as a film, and that’s all that matters.

Ray is essential for Oscar buffs and a high recommend for everyone else. Who doesn’t love a good musical biopic?

Hotel Rwanda is a high recommend. Not essential and hasn’t really particularly been remembered, through no fault of its own. Film buffs should definitely see this. It’s really worth it all around.

Finding Neverland is a solid recommend. Hasn’t held up well, but it’s definitely a good film to watch and will be liked by most people.

The Last Word: This is one of the better decisions of all time, and I don’t think anyone would argue that. There’s no a whole lot else to say here. This was a good one.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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