20 years of Best Actor nominees

Much like my earlier post featuring my ten favorite performances nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars since 1989, I bring you my top performances nominated for Best Actor. However, there was no way I could limit this list to ten, even paring it down to fifteen was pretty hard. So here goes nothing. If you’re interested in buying any of the films listed below, click here.

1. Jack Nicholson – As Good As It Gets (1997)

Jack in this movie is a revelation. He is such an asshole, yet somehow vulnerable. I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it in the theaters so many years ago. I think this is a timeless performance and definitely my favorite from Nicholson.

2. Tom Cruise – Jerry Maguire (1996)

I will always love this performance. Cameron Crowe wrote a perfect character and no one could play him the way Tom Cruise did. This is another film I saw in theaters when it first came out, which is almost 15 years ago now, and I’ve seen this movie a million time. I could watch it a million more times and not grow tired of this character.

3. Roberto Benigni – Life Is Beautiful (1998)

This is one of the  most heartbreaking and heartwarming performances of all time. Who doesn’t cry when Guido does a silly walk as he gets marched off to be executed so his son remains unscathed by the horrors of the Holocaust? If you don’t cry I’m not sure I want to know you. And when he won and climbed literally climbed over people to get to the stage will go down as one of the most memorable moments in Oscar history.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The English Patient (1996)

Ralph Fiennes breaks my heart. Like I said in my earlier post The English Patient is my favorite movie of all time. And Ralph Fiennes is perfection in the role of Almasy. At first he’s reserved and a bit arrogant, eventually he becomes impassioned and as the films comes to a close his desperation is harrowing. And that’s just Almasy in the past. This is almost a dual role, as half the film Fiennes is covered in make up to look as though his body is covered in fiery scars. There is such gentle and heartbreaking resignation in this version of Almasy, he breaks my heart all over again.

5. Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Give Johnny the Oscar already dammit! He would get his first nomination almost 20 years into his career for playing a pirate. I was so excited when he won the SAG award for this and I really thought Oscar would go his way too. I think this is one of the greatest constructed performances of all time. I try to ignore the sequels, because what we see in this film is all Johnny and what we see in the sequels is writers trying to write what he did and failing miserably. Regardless, I will always love this first film.

6. Russell Crowe – A Beautiful Mind (2001)

As much as I loved Russell Crowe in Gladiator (and his priceless face when he won), I wish he’d won for A Beautiful Mind. I’ve read the biography on which this film is based and I must say in the book John Nash comes off as giant asshole (as does Alicia and practically everyone else mentioned). But in this film, largely I think due to Crowe’s performance, Nash is relatable and as a viewer you really hope he can get ahold of his delusions and learn how to function in society and when he does you can’t help but cheer. This is a beautiful film and a beautiful performance that I find myself returning to again and again.

7. Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler (2008)

If ever I wanted the Academy to call it a tie, last year was that year. But if I had to choose, I would have chosen Mickey Rourke. As I told my mother after we watched Milk and she commented on how subtle Sean Penn’s performance was, I kept telling her wait til you see Mickey Rourke. “How could it be more subtle?,” she said. And then we watched The Wrestler and all she could say was “oh.” Even my brother was taken in by this groundbreaking performance, having come in for during the last 30 minutes only. Even though ultimately Rourke lost to Penn, this film really does mark the resurrection of a very talented actor and I cannot wait to see more wonderful performances from him in the future. 

8. Matt Damon – Good Will Hunting (1997)

Matt Damon, oh Matt Damon, you are too wonderful. Speaking a mile a minute, this is his breakthrough performance and a prefect introduction to an actor whose career has been, aside from a few dogs, stellar ever since.

9. Sean Penn – Milk (2008)

As I said earlier, last year I was really hoping for a tie and it really came down to the line with Rourke and Penn tied when it came to precursor awards. It was hard to tell how the Academy was going to go and I think, ultimately, it came down to politics. Not awards season, movie-making politics, but American politics. I think, regardless, Penn would have been nominated for his beautiful performance as the slain  Harvey Milk, but if Prop 8 hadn’t been on the ballot, let alone passed in California (and shame on you if you voted for it, shame on you) he would have lost the little golden statuette to Rourke.

10. Philip Seymour Hoffman  – Capote (2005)

Oh Philip Seymour Hoffman, you have been an amazing character actor ever since the days of Twister and The Big Lebowski, but in the last few years you have really shined and I am ever so glad the Academy has finally caught on. In a way, his performance as Capote was more of a character role rather than the tradition lead role, and perhaps that is why he shines so bright. 

11. Tom Hanks – Philadelphia (1993)

This movie. This fucking movie. You will bawl, there is no way you can watch it and not bawl. What is so wonderful about Tom Hanks’ performance is that he doesn’t play it asking for your pity. He plays it straight (no pun intended) and that is what makes it so powerful. 

12. Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood (2007)

Like I said about Marion Cotillard, if ever there were a time to use the phrase “tour de force performance” it would be to describe Day-Lewis in this film. How funny it was that both performances came in the same year. It made for a perfect caliber match at the Oscars in 2007. I can’t really write about this performance without mentioning the phrases “I’VE ABANDONED MY BOY” and “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE.” As ridiculous as that last line is, in lesser hands, it would have been a disaster. But with Day-Lewis it worked. This film wouldn’t have been half as powerful without him in the lead.

13. Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda (2004)

I’ve been a fan of Don Cheadle for about ten years now. In the late 90s and early 00s, Cheadle was fabulous in a ton of supporting roles. In 2004 he finally got a chance to shine in a lead role and the result was one the most harrowing performances I’ve ever seen. I firmly believed he was robbed at the Oscars that year.

14. Richard Dreyfuss – Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

This was another perfect pairing of player and part. I cannot imagine another actor playing the role of Mr. Holland. Dreyfuss creates a relatable and inspiring character and quite possibly one of the greatest fiction representations of a teacher in film history. Also, this movie/role touches my inner band geek (and you don’t even want to get me started on the topic of how music always gets the shaft when it comes to funding at schools).

15. Stephen Rea – The Crying Game (1992)

This movie is one of the most perfect representations of unconditional love I have ever seen. On the surface it’s about the IRA and terrorism, but when you get into it, it is about love. And Stephen Rea’s performance is subtle and quite and perhaps that is why it is often overlooked and forgotten. But I will always love him and I will always love this film and as amazing as Jaye Davidson was, it is Rea’s performance that will always stick with me.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on January 16, 2010, in the Academy Awards, Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I love reading your posts. This is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs. Your love of movies comes through in your writing.

    And on a personal note, that still of The English Patient has me in silent tears.

  2. Great selection of performances in their. Including two of my favorites in Mickey Rourke and Jack Nicholson.

  3. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian, iwspo.net

  4. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Christian,Earn Free Vouchers / Cash

  1. Pingback: Best Actor Performance?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: