IT'S NEVER POSSIBLE to acknowledge every one of the year's memorable performances, but this year's list of Academy Award nominations, released last week by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes one wonder if the members of the Academy have been falling asleep over their popcorn boxes for the last 12 months. The list of nominees in the four major acting categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress) as well as the Best Director category is distinguished by the absence of several rather prominent names.
Four deserving actors left out in the cold on nomination day were Tracey Ullam (Plenty), Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future), Rosanna Arquette (After Hours), and Griffin Dunne (After Hours).
Although the film itself received poor to middling reivews, Tracey Ullam's performance as Meryl Streep's kooky, off-the-wall sidekick in Fred Schepisi's Plenty was very highly praised. That newcomer Ullam was able to work within the constraints of an exceptionally poor screen adaptation of David Hare's play and against the grain of Schepisi's generally sloppy direction is a tribute to her acting ability and potential.
PERHAPS MORE SURPRISING than Ullam's exclusion from the list of Best Supporting Actress nominees is that of mainstream teen idol Michael J. Fox from the list of Best Supporting Actors for his much-touted portrayal of a contemporary teenager who goes back in time to encounter his nifty fifties parents courtesy of a souped-up DeLorean. Although Fox's contribution to Back to the Future is unlikely to go down in the annals of movie history, his approach to the quintessential teen Marty McFly was fresh and unencumbered, in sharp contrast to those featured in the large proportion of vacuous teen skin flicks currently in vogue.
That Martin Scorcese's After Hours did not garner even one of the big awards is entirely inexplicable. Easily the most original film of the year (with the possible exception of Terry Gilliam's Brazil or The Kiss of the Spiderwoman), this black comedy chronicling the adventures of Yuppie Everyman Griffin Dunne as he tries to extract himself from a darkened SoHo should have been a shoe-in for nominations in the Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress category. What happened? Were all the members of the Academy sick the night that this film was screened?
No one should have been surprised by what was clearly the Academy's most complete transgression: its failure to nominate Hollywood wunderkind Steven Speilberg for his directorial effort in The Color Purple. The Academy gave itself away as a bunch of jealous, unappreciative snobs when it failed to commend Speilberg for E.T, choosing to give the Best Director award of 1982 to Sir Richard Attenborough for his crowd control talents in Gandhi.
This takes care of the errors of omission. Errors of inclusion, an entirely different topic, would require about twice as much disscussion. For example, can anyone tell me why Ed Harris was nominated for his performance as Patsy Cline's husband Charlie Dick in Sweet Dreams? How hard can it be to act like a boozing jerk for two and a half hours?
Amy Madigan, of course, must have gone to the Ed Harris school for character interpretation and execution, because her portrayal of the MacKenzie family's enraged daughter Sunny in Twice in a Lifetime is just about as profound and thought-provoking as Harris' Charlie Dick.
And how about Akira Kurosawa's Best Director nomination for Ran. Didn't anyone see Kagemusha and realize that the man has done what is essentially a remake of one of his own movies?
The Academy and its policies, unstated though they may be, will probably never change. With any luck, though, those who go unnominated will not go unlauded by others.
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