For Oscar purposes, 1995 gave us the opportunity to say something we certainly haven’t said much recently: it was a great year for Mel Gibson.
Mad Max directed and starred in Braveheart and the historical epic was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five. Those wins included Best Picture and Director.
In the Picture category, it was a relatively weak field in my judgment. Braveheart beat out Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, Chris Noonan’s childrens film Babe, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, and Michael Radford’s critically acclaimed Italian film Il Postino.
I will confess that I’ve never seen Postino, but the other four nominees are all what I would describe as very good movies… none of them great. I’m certainly aware Braveheart has fans who would disagree. Sorry. My personal favorite picture of 1995 is probably Michael Mann’s heist drama Heat with its at the time historic pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It was no surprise that it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but its exclusion in the cinematography and editing categories is inexcusable. Competing with Heat for favorite film honors of the year is certainly David Fincher’s Seven and it sadly received only one nomination, for Editing. And if the Academy wanted to include a kids film, I would have left Babe off and put in Pixar’s wonderful inaugural feature, Toy Story.
Three out of the five Picture nominees saw their directors nominated – Gibson, Noonan, and Radford. A little surprising that Ron Howard and Ang Lee were the ones left out. They were replaced by Mike Figgis for his work in Leaving Las Vegas and Tim Robbins for Dead Man Walking.
For Best Actor, Nicolas Cage was honored for his work in Leaving Las Vegas as a suicidal alcoholic. It certainly is one of his finest performances (he mixes in good acting every once in a while to join a host of over-the-top and silly performances). His main competition was Sean Penn as a death row inmate in Dead Man Walking. Penn would get his due not once, but twice in later years. Other nominees were Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus, Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, and Massimo Troisi in Il Postino. Italian actor Troisi joined the small list of posthumous nominees. He passed away of a heart attack the day after Il Postino completed principal photography. Other performances that might have made my list: John Travolta’s terrific work in Get Shorty and Jack Nicholson in The Crossing Guard.
While Penn didn’t win the gold for Dead Man Walking, his co-star Susan Sarandon took the Best Actress award for that film as a nun counseling Penn. Her competition: Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas, Sharon Stone in Casino, Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, and Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility. Amazingly, this was Thompson’s fourth nomination in three years. She won the Actress category in 1992 for Howards End and was nominated for Actress in 1993 for The Remains of the Day and Supporting Actress for In the Name of the Father. 1995 was actually quite a year for leading female roles. In addition to the five nominees, there were many other deserving performances: Nicole Kidman in To Die For, Kathy Bates in Dolores Claiborne, Julianne Moore in Safe, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia, and Heather Matarazzo in Welcome to the Dollhouse. Popular choices could have included Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds or Julia Roberts in Something To Talk About.
In the Supporting Actor category, the favorite to win was Ed Harris in Apollo 13 or possibly Brad Pitt for 12 Monkeys. The winner is an example of the Academy getting it right, when they recognized Kevin Spacey for his breakout role in The Usual Suspects. The other nominees: James Cromwell in Babe and Tim Roth in Rob Roy. Pretty solid field, though I might have found room for Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress or a second nomination for Spacey in Seven.
For Supporting Actress, the winner was a performer in a Woody Allen film for the second year in a row. In 1994, Dianne Wiest took the honor for Bullets Over Broadway. Here, it’s Mira Sorvino for her first-rate comic performance in Mighty Aphrodite. She beat out Joan Allen in Nixon, Kathleen Quinlan in Apollo 13, Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility, and Mare Winningham in Georgia.
Again, my list probably would have looked a lot different in the Picture field, with consideration given to Heat, Seven, Toy Story and possibly 12 Monkeys or The Usual Suspects or Oliver Stone’s Nixon. However, it was Mr. Mel Gibson’s year.