Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

You Were Never Really Here Movie Review

When You Were Never Really Here ends, you may think you just witnessed a lot more gory violence than you actually did. That’s because the character of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in a universe drenched in depravity. Lynne Ramsay’s latest feature wallows in that world in the same way some of Paul Schrader’s directorial and written works do. Like Taxi Driver, we witness a Big Apple underground that is rotten to the core. Joe even has a nagging dental issue like Nick Nolte did in Affliction. This is not to suggest Ramsay is a knock off artist. Far from it. She’s a talent that saturates this with sadistic style, even if it ultimately lacks in substance. I couldn’t quite escape a feeling that this is Taken for the art house crowd, but it’s well done.

Joe is a former solider who served in Iraq and in the FBI. Quick flashbacks reveal the horrors he’s seen not only there, but in a troubled childhood. He now works in the shadows as a blunt force for hire who rescues trafficked girls. When not on assignment, he cares for his sickly mother (Judith Richards). A state senator (Alex Manette) utilizes his services to track down his young teen daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov).

This latest job leads to some revelations about the individuals behind the abduction. However, the film’s plot is less of a focus than Joe’s mental state while keeping up with it. The traumas of what’s to come have to compete with his stress disorders of prior ones. In a career filled with fine performances, Phoenix impresses again. With his unkept beard and near Terminator like concentration on inflicting pain on some real bad guys, he’s hard to turn away from. That’s even when the cruelty (both seen and implied) is occurring.

The picture is lean (clocking in at an hour and a half) and filled with mean spirits. It’s a credit to the lead actor, Ramsey’s filmmaking abilities, and an ace score by Jonny Greenwood that we stay with it.

*** (out of four)

Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Oscar History: 2011

For the Academy Awards, 2011 will forever be known as the year when a French black and white silent film came out of nowhere to win three major categories, including Best Picture. That would be The Artist and it picked up momentum over its rivals, becoming one of the more unlikely recipients of the prize in some time.

During that year, the number of Picture nominees was nine and it beat out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. 

As for some others I may have considered, my favorite film of the year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Another personal favorite: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, the expanded list of nominees could have given the Academy a chance to nominate some of the better blockbusters that year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

The Artist‘s auteur Michel Hazanavicius would win Director over stellar competitors: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Again, Mr. Refn and Mr. Fincher would have made my cut.

The Artist love continued in Best Actor where Jean Dujardin took the prize over Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman in his first (??) nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

I may have found room for Ryan Gosling’s silent but strong work in Drive or perhaps even Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love – in which he showed off real dramatic acting chops coupled with his comedic abilities for the first time.

Awards darling Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (no relation) in The Iron Lady. Othern nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).

The Academy’s penchant for ignoring comedy was shown here as Kristin Wiig should have merited consideration for her megahit Bridesmaids.

Beloved veteran Christopher Plummer won Supporting Actor for Beginners over Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Two others I may have made room for: Albert Brooks in Drive and especially the brilliant motion capture work of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Octavia Spencer was victorious in Supporting Actress for The Help over her costar Jessica Chastain, as well as Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy in the rare nod for comedy in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

Two other comedic performances worthy of consideration: Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids and Jennifer Aniston’s scene stealing work in Horrible Bosses. I also would have found room for Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

And that’s your Oscar history for 2011, folks! I’ll have 2012 up in the near future.

A Walk in the Woods Box Office Prediction

A host of recognizable faces populate this Wednesday’s adventure comedy A Walk in the Woods, but that may not mean it will be granted box office success. Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman and Mary Steenburgen headline this pic based on a 1998 novel by travel writer Bill Bryson, whom Mr. Redford portrays. Ken Kwapis directs and he’s certainly had a fascinating career with titles like the Cyndi Lauper 1988 vehicle Vibes and Fran Drescher’s Beautician and the Beast to his credit.

Critics have not been impressed and the Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently at 45%. The marketing campaign has been subdued and there could be many moviegoers who simply aren’t aware of Woods existence. Its five day opening number is unlikely to reach double digits and I question whether even $5 million is feasible. I think it’ll just top that, which isn’t exactly an accomplishment.

A Walk in the Woods opening weekend prediction: $4.3 million (Friday to Sunday), $5.8 million (Wednesday to Monday)

For my The Transporter: Refueled prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/28/the-transporter-refueled-box-office-prediction/

Throwback Thursday Reviews: Cape Fear (1991)

Upon its release in 1991, Cape Fear had the unique and odd distinction of being both Martin Scorsese’s most conventional picture and his most experimental. Here the master filmmaker was working in the mainstream world of crafting an audience pleasing thriller. Yet Scorsese was most known for titles that weren’t developed for mass consumption and were made with a more personal touch. Some of them turned out to be masterpieces – Mean Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas.

Cape Fear was a different animal. A remake of a 1962 B movie thriller that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. This would allow Scorsese to pay homage to it and Hitchcock’s catalog while modernizing it. Robert De Niro stars as Max Cady, a recently released convict with plans to exact revenge on his defense attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who hid evidence that could have exonerated him. Unlike the 1962 predecessor, Sam’s family is not near picture perfect. Far from it. His wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) is still scarred from her husband’s past infidelities. Danielle (Juliette Lewis) is their bored and sometimes rebellious teenage daughter. One of the things that makes the picture most interesting is that Max is not just going after Sam for vengeful purposes. He has designs to emotionally wound the family even more and he succeeds.

The film is filled with nods to genre pictures that Scorsese undoubtedly feasted on as a young man. Anyone who’s read about him knows he’s an encyclopedia of the trade he’s exceled in for nearly half a century. And Cape Fear‘s greatness is due to the infectious joy that we feel due to Scorsese’s joy in creating it.

Yes, it’s a mainstream thriller with all the conventions we’ve come to expect. A phone ringing unexpectedly during a tense moment. Cady disguising himself in a manner which I still recall had crowds understandably gasping in the theater. However, Cape Fear comes equipped with a brilliant director and first-rate actors participating. De Niro (Scorsese’s go to actor before DiCaprio) is often terrifying in the role of the Southern menace wreaking havoc on the Bowdens. The actor infuses his character with a demented religious fervor and a workout regiment that shows him in a way you’ve never seen him before or since. He received an Oscar nomination and deserved it.

Nolte’s work is worth lots of praise, too. He successfully strays away from making the character heroic and it’s a great twist to have the protagonist written and portrayed in that way. Lange is equally impressive as the frustrated wife and Lewis is a revelation as Danielle. The most famous sequence in the pic involves Max’s first encounter with her. It’s been noted that the scene is improvised and it isn’t your typical scary movie scene, but it might be the most chilling thing of all. For those who’ve yet to see it, I won’t spoil it. The subplot involving Sam’s law clerk (Ileanna Douglas) and her encounter with Max is unforgettable and horrific as well. Their pairing provides our first glimpse of what our main character is capable of.

In a nod to the ’62 original, its stars Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and Martin Balsam all appear in welcome cameos. Joe Don Baker (one of the terrific characters actors of our time) provides some fine and often humorous moments as a P.I. trying to help Sam out.

As you’d expect in a Scorsese pic, the technical aspects from music to cinematography and so forth are impeccable. Cape Fear may not get mentioned in the same conversations as the director’s beloved group of classics. That’s OK, but it’s a remarkable viewing experience in its own right. And on this Throwback Thursday – it’s one you need to seek out if you haven’t watched it. Or watch it again for that matter to see one of cinema’s best directors put his delicious spin on a well-worn genre.

**** (out of four)

This Day in Movie History: February 8

23 years ago Today in Movie History – February 8 – the domestic violence thriller Sleeping with the Enemy debuted in theaters. Fresh off the massive success of Pretty Woman the year prior, Julia Roberts would catapult the meagerly budgeted $19 million pic to big results at the box office. Enemy would end Home Alone‘s 11 week reign at the top spot with a $13.7M opening on its way to a $101M domestic run. Nowadays the film is best known for its use of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” in a montage sequence.

As for birthdays, today would’ve marked the 89th birthday for Jack Lemmon. He had one of the most impressive filmographies of any performer, winning Oscars for Supporting Actor in Mister Roberts in 1955 and Actor in 1973 for Save the Tiger. He received a total of eight nominations. There’s many other notable projects including his collaborations with Walter Matthau – among them The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple, and Grumpy Old Men. There’s also Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, Irma la Douce, The Out-of-Towners, The China Syndrome, Missing, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Lemmon passed away in 2001.

Nick Nolte is 73 today. He’s been nominated for three Oscars – twice for Actor in 1991’s The Prince of Tides and 1998’s Affliction and Supporting Actor in 2011 for Warrior. Among his many other notable roles: Who’ll Stop the Rain, North Dallas Forty, 48 Hrs., Under Fire, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Q&A, Cape Fear, The Thin Red Line, and Tropic Thunder.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the two gentlemen:

Jack Lemmon was in Missing with Sissy Spacek

Sissy Spacek was in Affliction with Nick Nolte

And that’s today – February 8 – in Movie History!