Oscar nominations that made me cheer

Posted by · 3:37 pm · November 16th, 2008

Over the years I have been watching and studying the Oscars in earnest, since about 1974 (age 13).  It has always been a nice surprise when an unexpected actor, director or film made the cut to the final five.  It’s a special kind of high.

I remember reacting with surprise and genuine happiness when Giancarlo Giannini was nominated for Best Actor for his performance in “Seven Beauties,” but even better was the inclusion of Lina Wertmuller, the film’s director (becoming the first woman ever to receive a designation in the directing category — nd for a foreign language film, no less).  I loved the film, so this put me over the moon, even though Giannini’s nod likely cost John Wayne his nomination for “The Shootist.”

In 1997 it was Atom Egoyan, nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Sweet Hereafter,” a brilliant study of grief in small town Canada; the L.A. Times named it the best film of the year but up here in Canada, we never expected Oscar attention for Atom and his film.

I was equally thrilled when Martin Scorsese was rewarded with a nomination for his direction of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” a bold, passionate film made from the heart by one of our greatest directors.

When veteran character actor Bruce Dern was criminally snubbed for his terrorist in “Black Sunday” I wondered what the man had to do to get a nomination. My answer came the following year when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “Coming Home.”  That same year Gary Busey (before he was a nut) gave a wonderful performance in the title role of “The Buddy Holly Story” and found himself a nominee for lead actor, a pleasant shock to both Busey and audiences who admired his work in the film.

Peter O’Toole gave a career-defining performance as Eli Cross in “The Stunt Man,” a brilliant little movie that did so-so business but was obviously seen by enough to land the great actor a nomination. Another small film, “Testament,” landed the wonderful Jane Alexander a nomination for Best Actress against incredible odds.

When “Salvador” was released, strong reviews came for James Woods, but no one really thought he would be an Oscar nominee the following February.  We hoped, but did not think it possible. Yet there he was among the five Best Actor nominees for his manic performance in Oliver Sone’s powerful work. That same year I remember cheering the nomination of David Lynch for “Blue Velvet” and, to a lesser degree, Dennis Hopper in “Hoosiers” (though I think everyone in the business knew Hopper’s nod was just as much for Lynch’s film).

Though Kevin Costner’s film “Dances with Wolves” was expected to earn a slew of Oscar nominations, I was very pleased that the Academy took note of the superb performance of Canadian native actor Graham Greene for Best Supporting Actor

Also, was it not downright incredible that the Academy discovered “The Shawshank Redemption?” Seriously, the film premiered here in Toronto, died a quick death at the box office despite strong reviews, only to be re-discovered on video and celebrated for the work of art it truly was. And then to everyone’s shock, seven nominations.  Man did they get that right.

Though not a box office hit nor a critical hit, “American History X” saw Edward Norton nominated for his searing work as a neo-Nazi in the film, one of the great performances of the decade, but one I did not expect to be recognized. Laura Linney’s nod for “You Can Count on Me” made me very happy, as did Halle Berry’s nomination and subsequent win for “Monsters Ball.” There was no possible way the Academy could ignore Cate Blanchett in ‘I’m Not There,” and thankfully they chose not to do so.

More? The nods that went to “City of God” — most deserved.  The attention that went to “Road to Perdition” (though not enough).  On and on.  But this is where you come in.  Which nominations came out of left field for you but were a pleasant surprise?

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25 responses so far

  • 1 11-16-2008 at 3:58 pm

    Adam G. said...

    William Hurt- A History of Violence.

    In a fantastic year for movies, William Hurt gave the biggest small performance of the year- appearing in only ten minutes in the movie’s penultimate scene, his character is, by turns, hilarious, tender, menacing, reflective, cold-blooded, and violent. What William Hurt did with the character in the space of his short scene was take the entire arc for a character over the length of a feature, and condense it in a way that never seemed forced or schizophrenic. It’s only too bad his represented fully half of that movie’s nominations.

  • 2 11-16-2008 at 4:02 pm

    Vagrant said...

    Paul Greengrass for United 93. That film deserved so much more attention than it got, and no one but Paul could have done it.

  • 3 11-16-2008 at 4:05 pm

    Chris said...

    O’Toole looks like a leaner Hugh Jackman in that photo.

  • 4 11-16-2008 at 4:12 pm

    Casey said...

    Paul Newman – Road to Perdition
    Johnny Depp – Pirates
    Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
    Scorsese’s win – The Departed
    Jason Reitman – Juno

  • 5 11-16-2008 at 4:16 pm

    JAB said...

    Both of the Supporting actress nominations for Babel in two years ago. That film blew me away on first viewing, but after a few more times i realized it wasn’t really a fantastic film overall, but Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi really delivered tremendous performances that could have been overlooked in a somewhat busy year for the category.

  • 6 11-16-2008 at 4:27 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Pedro Almodovar’s Best Director nomination for “Hable Con Ella” in 2002 is probably my favourite surprise of the decade so far. (All the more gratifying to me as he booted Peter Jackson off the list — though I know everyone will disagree with me there.)

    I remember being stunned by the five nominations for “Il Postino” in 1995. I didn’t follow the inner workings of the Oscar race as closely back then, so I didn’t know about Harvey Weinstein’s shrewd campaign tactics, but I still think it was a great moment.

    In the past couple of years, however, very few nominations have taken me completely by surprise… either they need to take more risks, or I just follow the race too closely!

  • 7 11-16-2008 at 4:52 pm

    Gustavo said...

    >Best score, THE VILLAGE.
    >All the nods THE SIXTH SENSE received.
    >Marcia Gay Harden for POLLOCK (even if I saw the film after she won the Oscar, but she was a darkhorse and not a shoo-in for a nod)
    >Peter Weir and his MASTER & COMMANDER
    >Ed Harris, THE HOURS

    And the one that made me cheer the most:
    >Spielberg and MUNICH

  • 8 11-16-2008 at 4:56 pm

    marco volpe said...

    Though Julie Christie’s nom for Away from Her was absolutely expected, not so was Sarah Polley’s one for the adapted screenplay of the same movie, and I loved the choice.
    And what about the much deserved nomination for Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah?
    Same for Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan being nommed for Before Sunset.

  • 9 11-16-2008 at 5:02 pm

    Patrick said...

    Geraldine Page in “Pope of Greenwich Village.” I saw the film during the summer of 1984. When she was nominated the following winter I was amazed. She didn’t win (Peggy Ashcroft deservedly won) on her 7th nomination. She finally did win the very next year for “Trip to Bountiful” on her 8th nod.

  • 10 11-16-2008 at 6:37 pm

    Peter M. said...

    Leonardo DiCaprio- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
    Kate Winslet- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!!

  • 11 11-16-2008 at 7:11 pm

    Jack said...

    Everything for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”…they weren’t very hard to predict, but it deserved every single thing it got and much, much more.

  • 12 11-16-2008 at 7:11 pm

    Seany P said...

    Paul Giamatti for Cinderella Man, after a borderline criminal snub from Sideways.

    Jake Gyllenhal for Brokeback Mountain. All the attention was going to Heath (which was much much deserved) but I felt he matched him extremely well with his performance.

    Good Night and Good Luck for all of them. An amazing performance from a virtually unknown lead. An amazing film that not many saw (More people use the catchphrase then have seen the movie.) Fantastic direction. Fantastic film. Shows that even the little guys can still be recognized!

    All of the supporting actor nominations for 2007.

    Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men- Chilled me to the core and gave me a nightmare that night. No over the top emotion just subtleties to delivered at a perfect quantity to make such an unrealistic character completely believeable

    Phillip Seymour Hoffman from Charlie Wilson’s War- It’s easy to be a good actor when you are given lines written by Aaron Sorkin but Hoffman found a way to make the sharp dialgoue his own, giving the character it’s own rich appeal.

    Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton- With every line delivered, with every word uttered, this character made my heart pound. The driving force to a film that wouldn’t stop until it’s ultimate climax

    Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James- An actor that exploded this year gave his finest performance in this film. His character was the one to watch. It was an absolute joy to watch his character grow from an innocent admirer to an arrogant murderer all through the work of Affleck.

    Hal Halbrook from Into the Wild- Do I need to say anything for this performance. If you didn’t cry when he said good-bye to Chris/Alex in the car than I do know what can get you in a movie. I don’t think any actor could have dont a better job than Hal and it breaks my heart that he didn’t win. The emotion he poured into that one moment was nothing short of exceptional. I feel richer for being able to see him in that movie.

  • 13 11-16-2008 at 7:23 pm

    murtada said...

    samantha morton for “in america” was delightful surprise, beautiful performance in a very touching movie

  • 14 11-16-2008 at 8:07 pm

    Marvin said...

    Viggo for Eastern Promises. That was a truly pleasant surprise! Jude Law for The Talented Mr. Ripley, K.Hep for The Lion in Winter. All those noms for The Insider, the nominations for Amélie, Maggie Smith for Gosford Park, the Adapted Screenplay nomination Before Sunset received, Penélope Cruz for Volver…

  • 15 11-16-2008 at 8:25 pm

    Bradley Porter said...

    Terrence Howard

  • 16 11-16-2008 at 8:46 pm

    billybob said...

    I second Ryan Gosling, for HALF NELSON.

  • 17 11-17-2008 at 7:57 am

    daveylow said...

    Kieslowski’s Best Director nod for Red.

    Kurosawa’s Best Director nod for Ran.

  • 18 11-17-2008 at 8:14 am

    josh said...

    2007: Tommy Lee Jones(Actor), August Rush (Song)
    2006: Letters From Iwo Jima (Picture/Director), Mark Wahlberg (Supporting Actor)
    2005: Terrence Howard (Actor), Harry Potter & GOF (Art Direction)
    2004: Before Sunset (Adapted Screenplay), Harry Potter & POA (Score/Visual F/X)
    2003: Johnny Depp (Actor), Seabiscuit (Picture)
    2002: About a Boy (Adapted Sceenplay), 8 Mile (Song)
    …………..the list goes on and on.

  • 19 11-17-2008 at 9:00 am

    Zac said...

    A surprise nomination for me is one that I hope but don’t expect to be nominated.

    I wasn’t surprised by Johnny Depp’s nomination for Pirates. I remember walking out of the theater and telling my friends who saw it with me that he would be nominated. They thought I was nuts. :)

    Other surprises:

    Wall Pfister for Batman Begins.

    The City of God nominations. I wonder how close the movie came to getting a Best Picture nomination?

    Terence Howard for Hustle and Flow

    Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine

  • 20 11-17-2008 at 10:25 am

    Marlowe said...

    I thought Mark Wahlberg’s nom for “The Departed” was pretty awesome, mostly because that was the first movie of his where I stopped thinking he seemed like he was probably a tool off-camera and thus impossible to enjoy. I also think it’s no easy feat to be in a movie where Jack Nicholson also has a key supporting role and be the one who comes off with a nomination. Although I will forever maintain that DiCaprio should’ve gotten a Best Actor nomination for “The Departed” that year instead of “Blood Diamond”, where he, y’know, WASN’T THE FUCKIN’ LEAD.
    Also, Marion Cotillard for “La Vie en Rose”. I’d seen it at the Provincetown Film Festival that summer, and all I could think was “I have seen the Best Actress winner”.

  • 21 11-17-2008 at 11:12 am

    R.J. said...

    Lets see , Terrence Howard for “Hustle and Flow”, Robert Forster for “Jackie Brown” (I don’t know if he was a sure-fire contender or straight out of left field, but I didn’t see the film until about a year ago and was pleased to find out that he had been nominated for his performance, which was outstanding), Kiera Knightley for “Pride and Prejudice” (I didn’t expect it), Tommy Lee Jones for “In the Valley of Elah”, and Ruby Dee for “American Gangster”.
    The last one I mentioned is completely sentimental, I love Ruby Dee and have always thought she deserved at least a nomination for so long. When I saw “American Gangster” in the theater I knew she would get a nod, she was great in the movie but I know that there were other performances that many people feel should have been acknowledged over hers.

  • 22 11-17-2008 at 11:17 am

    R.J. said...

    …oh, and Laura Linney for “The Savages”.

  • 23 11-17-2008 at 12:48 pm

    Tina Marshall said...

    I found a great post on Peterman’s Eye about the importance of supporting actors. Thought I’d share with you guys!



  • 24 11-18-2008 at 8:31 pm

    Santi said...

    Sophie Okonedo for Hotel Rwanda – 2004
    Brenda Blethyn for Little Voice – 1998
    John C. Reilly for Chicago – 2002

  • 25 11-19-2008 at 3:21 pm

    qwiggles said...

    Pedro Almodovar – best director.
    Sarah Polley – best adapted screenplay.

    Both had me tearing up a little. Unexpected, completely deserved, wonderful.