Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas is one of the greatest motion pictures of all time (it’s in my top ten) and the Academy recognized that with six Oscar nominations in 1990. It won Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco received a Supporting Actress mention for Supporting Actress as the wife of Henry Hill. That’s in addition to the superb acting from Robert De Niro and Paul Sorvino and others. The Best Picture and Director nods should’ve been victories over Dances with Wolves.
Furthermore, we ought’ve seen at least a seventh nomination for Best Actor with Ray Liotta as the main character. Henry Hill’s onscreen journey from a naive kid learning the ropes of Mob life to that riveting, unforgettable and coke addled last half hour of paranoia complete with black helicopters is cinema at its most addictive. And it’s Liotta’s performance that fuels it. Through the course of Scorsese’s mastery, we witness its lead shift from tender to menacing with total believability. It’s a star making role for a man who turned out to be an ace character actor.
I should’ve written this post a while ago. It’s unfathomable that the film’s central performance went unrecognized. Liotta had just achieved his biggest exposure a year earlier as Shoeless Joe Jackson in the beloved Field of Dreams. GoodFellas announced him as a leading man and he would continue on with more memorable roles with above the title credits and supporting parts. For those seeking out worthy titles, check out Something Wild and Unlawful Entry. Watch his descent into madness in Cop Land or his acclaimed role in Narc. There’s his recent turn in the Oscar nominated Marriage Story as a divorce lawyer (his costar Laura Dern won a gold statue).
Sadly – I write this post today as we learn of Ray Liotta’s passing at the age of 67. He was on location shooting his latest effort with at least 2 pictures in the can. For GoodFellas alone, he will forever be a part of the history of this medium we love. Yes, he should’ve been a contender for it. Ray Liotta, through decades of impressive performances, won us over time and again.
Five years ago, the Best Actress race at the Oscars came down to Emma Stone (La La Land) and Natalie Portman (Jackie) with the former taking the gold. That was no surprise but the category featured one of the more shocking omissions in recent Academy history.
Denis Villeneuve’s deservedly acclaimed sci-fi pic Arrival scored 8 nominations, including Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay. It won a sole award in Sound Editing. That was a nice haul, but the glue that held the whole film together somehow went unnoticed.
By 2016, Amy Adams had already received five nods – one in lead for 2013’s American Hustle and four supporting bids with 2005’s Junebug, 2008’s Doubt, 2010’s The Fighter, and 2012’s The Master. She had gone 0 for 5 but surely her extraordinary work in Arrival would mark a sixth attempt.
It didn’t happen. That’s despite being nominated at the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards. Besides Stone and Portman, the other three nominees were Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Ruth Negga (Loving), and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins). This one is simple. Take out Streep. Put in Adams.
What’s even more remarkable is that after Arrival‘s ingenious twist ending, the performance of Adams becomes even more impressive and emotionally resonant on the rewatch. The actress would get her sixth nod three years later in supporting for Vice and I’d argue she didn’t deserve to make that final five. It should have arrived with Arrival and it stands as a massive snub.
2014 was an admittedly sturdy year in the Best Actor category with Eddie Redmayne winning the prize for The Theory of Everything. The other nominees were Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), and Michael Keaton (Birdman). However, one could argue that Carell could have fit into the Supporting Actor derby (and he probably would have been nominated over his costar Mark Ruffalo).
So while all five contenders above turned in fine performances, I still cannot fathom how Jake Gyllenhaal’s work in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was left out. As a demented Los Angeles photojournalist, the actor (whose only Academy nod is for supporting in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain) turned in a career best performance. In fact, Nightcrawler itself is my favorite movie of its year and should’ve certainly been a Best Picture nominee too.
This was the second year in a row where I feel an obviously worthy turn was ignored. In 2013, it was Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips. Gyllenhaal’s exclusion is just as baffling and that’s especially true because he was nominated at the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG Awards.
As SNL just wrapped its 46th season last night, today seemed like a good opportunity to showcase an alumni deserving of awards consideration from a decade ago. In the summer of 2011, Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids became the comedy smash of the season. It was noticed by the Academy. Melissa McCarthy landed a nod in Supporting Actress while Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo were nominated for their Original Screenplay.
I would contend that Wiig should have been a double nominee in lead actress, especially considering that 2011 was a rather weak year in that race. Meryl Streep took the gold for The Iron Lady in what’s widely thought of as one of her least impressive victories. She triumphed over Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).
Bridesmaids is perhaps the most impressive SNL cast member starring debut in history (an argument could also be made for Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs.). Wiig’s drunken scene on an airplane headed to Vegas alone is worthy of awards attention and her work would have marked a fine occasion for the Academy to throw a rare bone to the comedic genre.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…