An unfortunate precedent

Posted by · 1:02 pm · January 4th, 2009

With Sally Hawkins and Sean Penn each picking up a gong from the National Society of Film Critics yesterday, the two actors thus complete the trifecta of major critics’ awards, having already taken the New York and Los Angeles critics’ respective honors. (I know some refer to the ‘big four,’ but we all know the National Board of Review isn’t really a critics’ group.)

Ordinarily, such a sweep would make both shoo-ins for an Oscar nomination, which is certainly true in Penn’s case. Hawkins, however, continues an unusual awards trajectory — the unequivocal critical favorite who has been unaccountably overlooked by SAG and the Broadcast Film Critics. I remain confident Hawkins will find her way into the Oscar circle, but those peculiar snubs prevent her from being the slam-dunk she should be.

With that in mind, I did some historical digging to find out if there’s a precedent for an actor taking the ‘big three’ critics’ prizes, and yet missing out on an Oscar nomination. As it turns out, there is one, and his name is Bill Murray.

His hilarious supporting turn in 1998’s “Rushmore” (which remains, for me, the only element of a Wes Anderson film I’ve ever wholly liked) essentially instigated the revival of Murray’s cool, and was duly rewarded by the NYFCC, LAFCA and NSFC, but neither SAG, nor the Academy, were amused. Chances are the film was too eccentric for their tastes, or Murray was still too prickly a figure for them to embrace as they did (sort of, at least) five years later.

The quirkiness of “Happy-Go-Lucky” as a vehicle may have proved a similar obstacle to Hawkins’ chances with SAG and the BFCA, though I ultimately think she suffered from voters’ fear of unfamiliar faces. So, I’d just like to take this opportunity to remind the Academy of the unprecedented snub the made ten years ago — particularly egregious given that the 1998 Best Supporting Actor nominees comprise, for me, one of the blandest acting fields of recent years. (Robert Duvall in “A Civil Action?” With all due respect to a great actor, can any of you remember that?)

Snubbing Bill Murray in 1998 not only made the Academy look curiously out of step with critical opinion, but also suggested their sense of humor was somewhat lacking — both of which would be true again if they repeat the omission with Sally Hawkins. Don’t make the same mistake twice, guys.




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24 responses so far

  • 1 1-04-2009 at 1:09 pm

    A.J said...

    She may be snubbed by the Academy, however there is one thing about her that is different from Bill Murray, she is British. The same thing is true as the SAG/BFCA and the Academy, the Academy has British people. We all saw how the brits pushed Atonement into Best Picture and certainly helped Tilda Swinton last year.

  • 2 1-04-2009 at 1:14 pm

    Bing147 said...

    I don’t know that they did so bad in 98… I mean, Harris and Thornton are amazing in their nominated roles. Ya, they left out some great performances. Murray who you mentioned, John Goodman in the Big Lebowski, Matt Dillon in Something About Mary, Jeff Daniels in Pleasentville, Joaquin Phoenix in Return to Paradise, Elias Koteas in the Thin Red Line, but as strong a year as that was, you can’t help but leave some people out.

  • 3 1-04-2009 at 1:30 pm

    Casey F. said...

    just watched Rushmore again the other day actually. loved it yet again, and yet again Bill Murray stole the show. Tho

  • 4 1-04-2009 at 1:33 pm

    Casey F. said...

    *** Though I love the writing and am a big Wes Anderson fan, i really think the best moment in the film is when Murray’s son tells him to take his head out of his ass. Murray’s reaction is priceless. He sits it out for about a second not quite knowing how to act. then he just snaps and flings to the back seat of his car grabbing his son by the throat. priceless

  • 5 1-04-2009 at 2:09 pm

    Edward L. said...

    Bing147: I’m delighted that you mention Elias Koteas in The Thin Red Line. He’d have been my pick for Best Supporting Actor of 1998. He’s great in that film.

  • 6 1-04-2009 at 2:32 pm

    red_wine said...

    The academy is very clearly out of touch this year championing films like Slumdog & Button & Frost/Nixon & Doubt when there are better films around.

  • 7 1-04-2009 at 2:44 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I love all the research going on in this space today. I’m sitting here feeding my face watching some wild card football and my contributors are making me look bad with all this legwork!

    Anyway, the real supporting snub of 1998: Benicio Del Toro in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” His best performance ever.

    I said it.

  • 8 1-04-2009 at 2:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    red_wine: Let’s start with the obvious, that “Slumdog” is hardly an “out-of-touch” film to champion, given the fact that it is perhaps the most critically hailed live action film of the year (going by awards). But to say the Academy is out of touch for “championing” anything makes no sense, given that, you know, they haven’t spoken up with a set of nominations, let alone winners, quite yet.

    But I understand sometimes one can’t help oneself to kick a little sand in the direction of this film or that.

  • 9 1-04-2009 at 3:01 pm

    red_wine said...

    Out-of-touch not in the sense that which films are “current” (that honestly is such a cliche) but which films are currently deemed to be the best of the year by the general critics community.

    The one thing I can praise Slumdog for is that it did not want any of this, it was not a movie tailored, designed and altered for Oscars like Button & Rev Road but it accidentally finds itself to be the favorite.

    An unfortunate accident I must say. Its no secret its most likely going to win Best Picture.

  • 10 1-04-2009 at 3:03 pm

    red_wine said...

    The film would like us to believe its current and shows the harsh realities of life and yet its such an utter fantasy.

  • 11 1-04-2009 at 3:13 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Tapley, re: Benicio- YES! That performance only gets more amazing and frightening every time I watch it, and as much as I love Johnny’s work as Duke, he’s not in the same league. How about them Chargers?

    Also, having just watched Happy-Go-Lucky last night I am going to have to cast it into the dustbin as one of the most overrated films of the year. Hawkins has some good moments, but that’s just a strange film. I don’t normally get bent out of shape about something being sold as something other than what it is, but that is NOT a comedy. Haven’t been this put off since About Schmidt in that regard.

  • 12 1-04-2009 at 3:20 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    To be fair, BurmaShave, it’s Miramax’s marketing team that is selling the film as a jaunty comedy, not the film itself. When I interviewed Hawkins, she remarked on how amused/confused she was by the American “Meet Poppy!” trailer.

  • 13 1-04-2009 at 4:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Burma: Happy for the Chargers, of course. My #4 team. A sad day for the Dolphins, though, and I actually found myself pulling for the Vikings down the stretch.

    Ah well. I’m hoping for a Chargers/Panthers Super Bowl, but I’m expecting Steelers/Panthers.

    Regarding “Happy-Go-Lucky,” I’ve been perplexed over that film for the start.

  • 14 1-04-2009 at 5:24 pm

    Glenn said...

    I’m on the “Happy-go-Lucky” bandwagon, but not on the “Slumdog Millionaire” train. Not sure why people are getting so “uplifted” and having their “heart warmed” by it. Nothing says heartwarming like eye-gouging, electric torture, police brutality, domestic violence and gang warfare hazaa!

  • 15 1-04-2009 at 7:13 pm

    Simone said...

    Glenn, like you, I don’t get the ‘Slumdog’ love either. And although I haven’t seen ‘Happy’ nor ‘Slumdog’ yet, just based on all the fan/critical claims on both, reading the synopsis and seeing the trailers, I find myself on the bandwagon for ‘Happy’ instead of ‘Slumdog’. One is just more of my kind of film than the other and I hope ‘Happy’ does well in the Oscars, esp for Sally.

  • 16 1-04-2009 at 8:57 pm

    Ryan said...

    I don’t get the train of thought that a movie has to be void of “bad things” to be uplifting. I mean most uplifting movies are usually uplifting because the protagonist overcomes his or her difficult situation(s) to reach a happy ending.

    And well Slumdog Millionaire was pretty much just that.

  • 17 1-04-2009 at 10:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Sometimes you feel silly having to explain such things, no?

  • 18 1-05-2009 at 1:52 am

    Scott said...

    I’ve done some similar research Guy, though exclusively on the Best Actress side. It turns out the only performances of the past 45 years to win at least two of the big 3 critics’ prizes but fail to nab an Oscar nomination are Ally Sheedy’s fantastic 1998 turn in ‘High Art’ (victorious at the NSFC and LA, tying Fernanda Montenegro at the latter) and Liv Ullmann’s iconic role from 1974’s ‘Scenes From A Marriage’. Ally’s problem was undoubtedly the spectre of her 1980s persona, while Liv Ullmann suffered from foreign language syndrome (even if she was recognised twice in the 70s by the Academy for other films).

    I’d also add to your comments that in the 34 years that all 3 critics’ organisations have co-existed, 9 actresses have won all 3 best actress prizes, with the majority also winning the Oscar. The exceptions? Imelda Staunton egregiously edged by Hilary Swank in 2004 (though obviously both were bettered by an under-recognised Winslet that year) and Michelle Pfeiffer even more egregiously set aside in 1989 in favour of Jessica Tandy’s swansong.

  • 19 1-05-2009 at 2:18 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Simone: It’s possible to like both “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Happy-Go-Lucky,” as I do. Both are rather more complicated than the “feelgood” label with which they’ve been branded this awards season suggests. Wait and see.

  • 20 1-05-2009 at 2:23 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Oh, and Scott: Thanks for the further research… let us geeks unite! I was aware of, and am also pained by, Pfeiffer’s snub — for Christ’s sake, she won the NBR and the drama Globe too! One correction, though: “Driving Miss Daisy” wasn’t Tandy’s swansong… it was actually the start of a brief career resurgence.

  • 21 1-05-2009 at 2:39 am

    Scott said...

    Sorry Guy – I should have added the word ‘perceived’ before swansong. It’s true that she even enjoyed a further supporting nomination two years later for ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, but the Academy no doubt felt at the time that they wouldn’t have any further opportunities to honour Tandy, equally believing that Pfeiffer’s time would shortly come. It’s devastating that it never did. Who knows, perhaps Pfeiffer will resurge in later life like Geraldine Page, or even Tandy, nabbing a future Oscar from a talented ingenue!

  • 22 1-05-2009 at 9:37 am

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    Scott, actually the real reason of lack of Ullmann’s nomination in 1974 for Scenes of Marriage was the release in Norway and Sweden. Originally it was a TV premiere… So the AMPAS rules are against of that kind of pemieres and Ullmann was out of the competition. Same happened with Linda Fiorentino in 1994

  • 23 1-06-2009 at 6:50 am

    Scott said...

    Thanks Xavi – that’s really interesting and makes total sense, given the Academy’s apparent fixation on Bergman during those years. I was aware of the Fiorentino situation and it still annoys me – if only she’d been in the mix we might have been spared that boring Jessica Lange outcome.

  • 24 1-06-2009 at 6:51 am

    Scott said...

    Sorry I meant Ullmann not Bergman!