Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

My latest Shoulda Been Oscar Contender is an appropriate one for Mother’s Day. This particular mama went to great lengths to protect her son since, ya know, he was charged with saving the universe decades later from annihilation. She even got herself thrown in a mental hospital because of her heroic efforts.

I’m speaking of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Reprising her role from the 1984 classic, Hamilton stepped up her game in the 1991 sequel alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong as her future Earth saving teen.

Terminator 2 was a game changer itself when it came to special effects and action. It resulted in six Oscar nominations, including victories for Makeup, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and (of course) Visual Effects. Yet nods in the biggest categories were elusive. 1991 was a strong year in Best Actress with Jodie Foster winning for The Silence of the Lambs over the sturdy competition of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon for Thelma & Louise and Laura Dern in Rambling Rose. 

However, Hamilton’s strong (and not just her biceps) performance could have easily gotten the fifth slot over Bette Midler in For the Boys. MTV recognized her work and she won Best Actress at their ceremony. And while the Academy isn’t known to honor performances in action flicks, they had deservedly done so just five years earlier for Sigourney Weaver in another heralded genre sequel Aliens (also directed by Cameron).

They missed a good opportunity to do the same here. Lastly, while not every mother is charged with keeping their kid alive to avoid planetary destruction, the great ones sure make us all feel like they do. Happy Mother’s Day to all of them!

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross

James Foley’s 1992 adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross is an abundance of riches featuring some of the finest actors around. From Alec Baldwin’s now legendary speech to the assorted desperate salesmen to Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce showcasing their chops (and many creative uses for profanity), it is truly an actors showcase. Looking back, it’s surprising that it only received one Oscar nomination. I would argue they picked the wrong screen legend to honor in Supporting Actor. This brings us to our latest Shoulda Been Contender.

1992 was a huge year for Al Pacino. He had been nominated for six Oscars and had zero victories to show for it. That included amazing work in the first two Godfather epics and Dog Day Afternoon. Pacino was a double nominee in ’92 for lead in Scent of a Woman and in supporting here. The former would finally bring him his long awaited win. However, I would argue that Jack Lemmon should have filled the slot for the latter.

As the once thriving and now down on his luck Shelley “The Machine” Levene, it is Lemmon’s character that is the heart of the picture. By its year of release, Mr. Lemmon had already garnered 8 nods for his long body of work. This includes two wins – 1955’s Mister Roberts in supporting and 1973’s Save the Tiger in lead. His last nomination came in 1982 for Missing. No disrespect to Pacino, but this should have marked #9 and would have rightfully given Lemmon deserved mentions in five different decades.

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire

My Should Been Oscar Contenders series moves from a trio of supporting actors from 1993 to a deserving supporting actress hopeful the following year.

In 1993, Anna Paquin was a surprise victor in the category at age 11 for The Piano. In 1994, the Academy bypassed a 12-year-old thespian who gave an equally impressive performance. Alongside box office stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst stole the show in Neil Jordan’s blockbuster Interview with the Vampire.

As Claudia, Dunst’s character starts out as an innocent 10-year-old who is turned into a vampire. She is cursed by always appearing as an adolescent even as she lives several decades following that bite. Her role would be difficult for any actress to pull off and Dunst proved her chops early on.

The Golden Globes did honor her with a nod. The Academy should have followed suit.

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor

In recent interviews promoting Coming 2 America, Eddie Murphy spoke about how critics went gaga over his dramatic turn in 2006’s Dreamgirls. It earned him his first and only Oscar nomination. He was considered the frontrunner in Supporting Actor but lost in an upset to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine. Murphy’s remarks indicated that reviewers might have been somewhat misguided in recognizing his performance in Dreamgirls while ignoring his treasure trove of comedic excellence in numerous pictures.

Eddie is right and there’s no better example than his work ten years before his Academy nod in The Nutty Professor. The blockbuster remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis vehicle found Murphy playing multiple roles and doing it brilliantly. The kitchen table scenes in which he plays almost every member of the Klump clan are worthy of a nomination itself. He did manage to pick up a Golden Globe mention for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (ultimately losing to Tom Cruise for Jerry Maguire).

There are many example of roles played for laughs that the Academy unjustly ignored, but Murphy’s multifaceted turn here stands near the top.

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

My latest Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders post completes a trio of supporting actors that warranted attention in 1993. That was an already impressive year in that category with Tommy Lee Jones winning for The Fugitive. The other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List), John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire), and Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father). The other performers mentioned in previous write-ups were Val Kilmer for Tombstone and Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way. 

My final contestant is Denzel Washington in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. The AIDS drama, of course, gave Tom Hanks his first Best Actor win of two in a row (taking the prize the next year for Forrest Gump). There was little doubt at that time that Hanks would walk away with the gold and his acceptance speech remains an Oscar highlight.

That makes it even more confounding that his costar didn’t get more chatter. Washington was already a victor in supporting four years earlier for Glory. In 1992, he nabbed a Best Actor nod for Malcolm X. He would take Best Actor eight years later for Training Day and has been nominated three times since. However, the legendary actor’s role as Hanks’s reluctant attorney was critical to the success of the film and in many ways equaled the performance of the lead.

Keep an eye out for future posts of hopefuls that didn’t make the cut on the blog soon!

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way

Continuing with my new series covering performances that could have warranted some Oscar attention, I move to my second post in the Supporting Actor race of 1993. The first one centered on Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. As a reminder, the actual five nominees were a strong grouping with Tommy Lee Jones emerging victorious for The Fugitive. The other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List, John Malkovich for In the Line of Fire, and Pete Postlethwaite for In the Name of the Father. 

Another notable performance for that derby: Sean Penn in Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way. Almost unrecognizable as a sleazy coked up lawyer with an unforgettable hairdo, Penn managed to steal scenes from Al Pacino’s title character. Had his work been included here, it would have marked his first nod. Two years later, he achieved that with Dead Man Walking. Four more nominations (all in Best Actor) would follow with two victories in 2003’s Mystic River and 2008’s Milk as well as 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown and 2001’s I Am Sam. 

Yet his rare supporting turn alongside Pacino would have been fine with me for a sixth mention – even with the solid competition nearly three decades ago.

My Should Been Contenders posts will continue with another sturdy supporting turn from 1993…

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Val Kilmer in Tombstone

1993 was an exceptionally strong year in the Supporting Actor category with five worthy nominees in the mix: Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List, Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, John Malkovich for In the Line of Fire, and Pete Postlethwaite for In the Name of the Father. Jones would ultimately walk away with the prize.

However, there are three other performances that come to mind in that particular year and they will be showcased in my next Shoulda Been Contender posts. It starts with Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Nearly 30 years later, you may not remember that there were two competing Wyatt Earp pics happening. Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid was the 1994 summer release that was a potential Oscar contender and blockbuster. It turned out to be neither. Tombstone, released in December 1993, wasn’t so eagerly anticipated.

Yet audiences liked what they saw when it debuted. It was a rock solid action western with Kurt Russell in the commanding lead as Earp. It become a high earner and remains an enduring favorite with moviegoers. As good as the picture is, Kilmer’s work was great with endless quotable lines and character quirks. Having already made a name for himself in Top Gun, Willow, and his uncanny impression of Jim Morrison in The Doors, Kilmer’s Holliday may still stand as his most memorable role. And that deserves mention in a year full of notable supporting turns.

As mentioned, I’m not finished with this category in 1993. Stay tuned…

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.