Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Nathan Lane in The Birdcage

And now for a new category on this here blog where I’ll be covering performances and films that I feel merited some Oscar attention. I’m calling it “Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders” and I’ll start with a breakout comedic turn from the mid 90s.

Nathan Lane was mostly known as a stage performer in 1996. While he was featured in supporting turns in a few features, his best known cinematic work was as the voice of Timon in Disney’s 1994 animated blockbuster The Lion King. That all changed two years later when he was cast as Albert, life partner to Robin Williams in The Birdcage from director Mike Nichols. A remake of the 1978 French hit La Cage aux Folles, the pic pleased audiences and critics alike.

Even with the inclusion of high profile thespians like Williams, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest (all previous or eventual Oscar recipients), it was Lane’s performance that stole the show. The Hollywood Foreign Press took notice and nominated him for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (he lost to Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire).

My guess is that the Academy considered him in the supporting race, but he didn’t make the cut. Looking over the five nominees in 1996, I would easily take out James Woods (Ghosts of Mississippi) to make room for Lane. This is the first post in this new series, but I know it won’t be the last to hone in on a performance played mostly for laughs. The Academy is notorious for ignoring those roles. They shouldn’t have this time and you’ll see examples of others quite soon.

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