The Great Performances: 1995

Posted by · 4:06 pm · October 10th, 2009

(from left) Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison CountyBased on some of the comments I received last week regarding my article on great acting, I took the suggestion of a young lady and am kicking off a series of articles, one per week, that will explore the best performances ofeach year, beginning today with 1995.  So let’s go back and work our way towards 2008 and discover the great film performances we know about, and maybe a few we do not.

The Academy did a pretty fine job in 1995 when it came to the acting nominees.  Sure there was some shock when John Travolta was snubbed for his superb work in “Get Shorty,” and those hoping for a three-peat with Tom Hanks missed it when the actor was not nominated for his solid work in “Apollo 13.” I personally would like to have seen Clint Eastwood nominated for his wonderful work in “The Bridges of Madison County,” but there are just five slots open, and so many fine pieces of acting.

One could also argue for Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, both excellent in David Fincher’s “Seven,” or Bruce Willis, who was nobly brilliant in “Twelve Monkeys,” and perhaps even Jack Nicholson in “The Crossing Guard.”

Nobody could argue with Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas,” Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking” or Anthony Hopkins for “Nixon” as Best Actor nominees.  And frankly I believe Penn gave the best performance of the year, one for the ages in fact. However, Richard Dreyfuss in “Mr. Holland’s Opus?” Seriously?  I love Dreyfuss and I think he’s even been short-changed in the past, but come one.  He does fine work and it’s not his fault the script asks him to be mushy and sentimental, but I have struggled with his nomination over Hanks, Travolta and Eastwood for many years.

Massimo Troisi in “Il Postino?” He was a good actor who gave many great performances, but this was not among the top five leading turns of the year.  I know the man died right after making the film, but let’s call it as it is.

For the ladies, one has to wonder why Julianne Moore missed the cut for her haunting performance in “Safe,” one of her best performances, and Todd Haynes’s breakthrough feature. The nominees that year — again, Oscar called them pretty good — were Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking,” Elisbaeth Shue in “Leaving Las Vegas,” Meryl Streep in “The Bridges of Madison County,” Emma Thompson in “Sense and Sensibility” and, are you ready for it, Sharon Stone in “Casino.” Now Stone did not ruin the film, nor did she look out of place in the film, Scorsese is much too fine a director to allow that, but come on.

How about Nicole Kidman, who gave her first great performance in Gus Van Sant’s black comedy “To Die For?” Kidman won the Golden Globe for comedy (as did Travolta) but neither wins turned into an Oscar nod.  Jennifer Jason Leigh also gave a soul-shaking performance in “Georgia” that won her the New York Film Critics prize for Best Actress, but no nomination from the Academy.

Perhaps the Best Actor category might have been Cage, Penn, Hopkins, Travolta and Eastwood, while the ladies might have been Moore, Streep, Shue, Sarandon and Leigh. Those 10 performances, for me, were the finest lead performances of 1995.

As far as supporting work goes, the Academy honored Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspects” and Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite,” both brilliant performances, both deserving.

I felt bad for Ed Harris, who did stunning work in “Apollo 13 “ in one of his best roles in years, and for Joe Pesci, who was terrifying again in “Casino” and to his credit gave a very different performance than he did in “Goodfellas.” Pesci was not nominated but might have been a stronger choice than James Cromwell in “Babe,” one of the more bizarre nominations of the year.

Are the we really supposed to believe that Cromwell, a reliable old character actor, did stronger work than Kevin Bacon in “Murder in the First” or Don Cheadle “Devil in a Blue Dress?” The Supporting Actor nominees might have been Bacon, Harris, Spacey, Tim Roth in “Rob Roy” and Cheadle, and that would have been just fine by me.

For the women in the Best Supporting Actress category, this is where Stone might have fit in much better.  Though it is hard to argue with the nominees: Joan Allen in “Nixon,” Kate Winslet in “Sense and Sensibility,” Kathleen Quinlan in “Apollo 13,” Mare Winningham in “Georgia” and the winner, of course, Sorvino.

Stone might have bumped Quinlan, or perhaps Anjelica Huston could have squeezed in for her heartbreaking work in “The Crossing Guard,” but no one else, as the Academy nailed that category, in my opinion.

Next week we’ll tackle the performances of 1996.

What were your favorite performances of 1995?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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72 responses so far

  • 1 10-11-2009 at 11:36 am

    jess said...

    Kidman and Moore should have been shortlisted for the Oscar, they were both marvellous.

    By the way, it was not Kidman’s first great performance : she was impressive in Bangkok Hilton and, to a lesser extent, in Dead Calm. It wasn’t like she suddenly became great. She had shown her ability before.

  • 2 10-11-2009 at 12:15 pm

    Eric said...

    Gosh, you people really know nothing about cinema.

    Kidman is stunt acting at best.

    1995 was Isabelle Huppert’s finest hour (to that date), and that is really saying something, considering that she had already dominated European and World Cinema for 20 years.

    She should be on everybody’s short list, should have been nominated and WON, but you parochial Anglos haven’t even seen the movie.


  • 3 10-11-2009 at 12:44 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Yeah, we get it, Eric. We’re all a bunch of ignorant, slack-jawed xenophobes because we don’t agree with you about the best performance of 1995.


  • 4 10-11-2009 at 1:04 pm

    Lance said...

    I understand that there is some bias to Sharon Stone but she really is a great actress. She showed this in her scene in Casino when she wants to get into the house to get some of her stuff so she can go do some more drugs. For me, acting is about objectives and raising your stakes and Sharon goes after her objective in that scene like I’ve rarely seen and it’s completely appropriate because drug users will do ANYTHING to get their next fix.

    She was also incredible in “The Practice” which she won an Emmy for.

  • 5 10-11-2009 at 1:57 pm

    The InSneider said...

    Sharon Stone is GREAT in Casino. Period.

  • 6 10-11-2009 at 2:14 pm

    Calan said...

    Kathy Bates in Dolores Claiborne!

  • 7 10-11-2009 at 3:13 pm

    Ali E. said...

    I saw La Ceremonie, back then when it was first released and I hated it… and I still hate it, like most of Chabrol’s work… and even though I usually admire Huppert, she has no place in my ballot for that film.

    and I know about cinema… oO

  • 8 10-11-2009 at 3:26 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Wow, Eric. So pretentious. It’s not that I disagree with you, but just because something is foreign doesn’t mean it’s superior to ALL American films. I hate that attitude towards film. Insinuating that foreign fare is somehow superior to American-made movies does not give you the unwarranted self-importance you think it does.

  • 9 10-11-2009 at 3:46 pm

    Eric said...

    I did not say that, James. At all.
    I said this discussion was Anglocentric, which is a completely different point. And it is.

    Robert: yes, you are. At least you got that right.

  • 10 10-11-2009 at 7:39 pm

    Chris said...

    I really thought Sharon Stone was the weakest of the Best Actress nominees. I think it was a tricky role to pull off and there were dozens of other actresses who could have pulled it off better. She looked and sounded the part, but she lacked the intensity to make it truly scary.

  • 11 10-11-2009 at 10:39 pm

    Erik said...

    Actually, Eric, if you’d have bothered to read the discussion you are participating in, you’d have noticed a edcent amount of discussion of foreign language films, including your beloved ‘La Ceremonie’, which slayton already pointed out would have been eligable for 1996, which means it’s up for next week’s discussion at best.

    And let’s be realistic here: the oscars are primarily focussed on English language films, so it’s no wonder they feature more prominently in this discussion. Also: please stop using the word “Anglocentric” till you’ve actually looked up what it means.

  • 12 10-12-2009 at 12:54 am

    Eric said...

    Will do, if you agree to spell ‘focused’ with only one s.


  • 13 10-12-2009 at 1:58 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    So not only are you a big baby who resorts to ad hominem attacks when people disagree with you, but you’re also a spelling nazi, no doubt to try to distract people from the ridiculousness of your claims.

  • 14 10-12-2009 at 3:51 am

    Eric said...

    I am, Bob.

    Your gift for observation is mighty and formidable.

  • 15 10-12-2009 at 5:22 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Again gang space…Huppert and Collette were very much in my thoughts, but I cannot write a book on the site — will try and work it to include foreign language performances…

    Brad Pitt was nominated for Supporting Actor — good performance.

    Bates? Sorry, did not do it for me.

    And Jess, not saying she suddenly (Kidman) showed up with a great performance, I liked her previous work, but this was the first time she demonstrated any sign of greatness. Her sheer understanding of the character and the manner in which she executed the role made it clear she was the real deal.

  • 16 10-12-2009 at 5:23 am

    John H. Foote said...

    And gang for the record, “Ed Wood” was a ’94 release…and “The Sweet Hereafter” is ’97…

  • 17 10-12-2009 at 9:27 am

    lance said...

    Chris – she lacked the intensity? I would think most people’s problem with stone would be that she was over the top – which of course can be just your personal taste. There are at least a couple of scenes where she is yelling at the top of her lungs and waving her arms over the place – pretty intense and I thought it was appropriate for situations about drugs and money. Do you mind pointing out the scenes where she lacked intensity?

  • 18 10-12-2009 at 10:49 am

    Ivan said...

    Dead Man Walking
    Leaving Las Vegas
    The Usual Suspects

    Mike Figgis/Leaving Las Vegas
    David Fincher/Seven*
    Michael Mann/Heat
    Tim Robbins/Dead Man Walking
    Bryna Singer/The Usual Suspects

    Nicolas Cage/Leaving Las Vegas*
    Morgan Freeman/Seven
    Anthony Hopkins/Nixon
    Sean Penn/Dead Man Walking
    Linus Roache/Priest

    Nicole Kidman/To Die For*
    Susan Sarandon/Dead Man Walking
    Elisabeth Shue/Leaving Las Vegas
    Meryl Streep/The Bridges of Madison County
    Emma Thompson/Sense & Sensibility

    James Cromwell/Babe
    Val Kilmer/Heat
    Joaquin Phoenix/To Die For
    Brad Pitt/Twelve Monkeys
    Kevin Spacey/The Usual Suspects*

    Joan Allen/Nixon
    Gwyneth Paltrow/Seven
    Mira Sorvino/Mighty Aphrodite
    Sharon Stone/Casino*
    Kate Winslet/Sense & Sensibility

    Richard III
    Sense & Sensibility
    The Usual Suspects

    The Usual Suspects
    Toy Story

    Dead Man Walking
    Leaving Las Vegas*
    Sense & Sensibility
    To Die For
    Twelve Monkeys

    Dead Man Walking
    Little Princess
    Sense & Sensibility

    Strange Days
    To Die For
    The Usual Suspects

    Little Princess
    Richard III*
    Sense & Sensibility
    Twelve Monkeys

    Little Princess
    Sense & Sensibility*
    Twelve Monkeys

    Apollo 13*
    Crimson Tide
    The Usual Suspects

    Apollo 13
    Batman Forever

    Batman Forever
    Richard III
    Twelve Monkeys

    Antonia´s Line/Netherlands
    La Haine/France
    Mideq Alley/Mexico
    The White Balloon/Iran*

    Dead Man Walking
    Sense & Sensibility
    To Die For

    Batman Forever*
    Dead Man Walking
    Golden Eye
    Toy Story

    Empire Records
    Leaving Las Vegas
    Strange Days*

  • 19 10-12-2009 at 4:33 pm

    Sam said...

    I’m going to go by today’s standards and add five more films to the Best Picture category. I also eliminated the Best Director because I believe that Picture/Director should be one in the same honestly. Here it goes:
    * indicates my choice

    Braveheart – Mel Gibson
    Casino – Martin Scorsese
    Dead Man Walking – Tim Robbins
    Heat – Michael Mann*
    Leaving Las Vegas – Mike Figgis
    Rob Roy – Michael Caton-Jones
    Seven – David Fincher
    To Die For – Gus Van Sant
    Toy Story – John Lasseter
    The Usual Suspects – Bryan Singer

    Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas
    Robert De Niro, Casino
    Mel Gibson, Braveheart
    Al Pacino, Heat
    Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking*

    Nicole Kidman, To Die For*
    Jessica Lange, Losing Isaiah
    Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
    Elizabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas
    Sharon Stone, Casino

    Robert De Niro, Heat*
    Patrick McGoohan, Braveheart
    Joe Pesci, Casino
    Tim Roth, Rob Roy
    Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

    Angela Bassett, Waiting to Exhale
    Halle Berry, Losing Isaiah
    Jessica Lange, Rob Roy
    Sophie Marceau, Braveheart*
    Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13

  • 20 10-16-2009 at 4:51 pm

    Gustavo H.R. said...

    How was Pesci’s performance in CASINO so different from his own in GOODFELLAS?

  • 21 10-20-2009 at 4:07 am

    Andrew said...

    I think Streep should have won for The Bridges of Madison County. She was absolutely fantastic and outstanding, much more than the actual winner, Susan Sarandon. I don’t understand the love for Kidman’s To Die For, but we all know how crazy Kidman fans can be, nominated her for pretty much everything and comparing her to Kate Winslet, who is a much better actress, of course. The best of her generation!

  • 22 11-08-2009 at 3:01 pm

    Xavi Rodriguex said...

    My line-up:

    -Nicolas Cage; Leaving Las Vegas (Runner-up)
    -Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
    -Ian McKellen, Richard III
    -Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking (Winner)
    -Massimo Troisi, Il Postino
    Alt: Linus Roache, Priest

    -Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding (Runner-up)
    -Jennifer Jason Leigh, Georgia
    -Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
    -Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas
    -Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County (Winner)
    Alt: Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility and Carrington

    Supporting Actor:
    -Kevin Bacon, Murder at the First
    -Don Cheadle, The Devil Wears Blue
    -BRad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys (Runner-up)
    -Tim Roth, Rob Roy
    -KEvin Spacey, Usual Suspects (Winner)
    Alt: Val Kilmer, HEat

    Supporting Actress:
    -Joan Allen, Nixon (Runner-up)
    -Stockard Channing, Smoke
    -Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite
    -Mare Winningham, Georgia
    -Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility (Winner)
    Alt: Sharon Stone, Casino