Six Spot #1: Best Actor 1998


Oscar Question

Welcome to the first Six Spot!  The Six Spot is a new weekly column (written by yours truly and running on Mondays) where I hypothesize what the 6th nominee would be in any given Oscar category.  I’ll look at the cold, hard evidence: Golden Globe nominations, SAG nominations, BAFTAs, PGA, DGA, typical Oscar voting patterns, etc.  Simply put, I try to figure out who or what would be the 6th nominee if the Oscars allowed six nominees!  It’s a little bit of Oscar sleuthing and backwards-prognostication.  But mostly, this should be fun!

In honor of the upcoming 1998 ACCAs, Clayton has asked me to focus on a 1998 race for the inaugural issue of The Six Spot.  And with that, we look at the 1998 Best Actor race.

Roberto Benigni Oscars

The First Five Spots

The Academy Award nominees were….

  • Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful
  • Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
  • Sir Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
  • Nick Nolte, Affliction
  • Edward Norton, American History X

Again, since determining the 6th spot is based on hypothesis, I think it’s helpful to take a look at some of the important awards handed out in each season, from the Globes, to the SAGs, to the NYFCC.  Hopefully, looking at the “tallies” going into the Oscar nominations, we can better figure out who just missed the lineup.  Likewise, different precursors mean different things for different categories.  A Best Picture Six Spot might place more emphasis on PGA, DGA, SAG Ensemble, and WGA.  However, if it’s an acting race, we’ll look towards more traditional acting precursors.

Breakdown of the Seasonal Hardware**

  • Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful
    • Wins: SAG
    • Nominations: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
  • Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
    • Nominations: SAG, Golden Globe (Drama), Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
  • Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
    • Wins: NBR, BFCA, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Indie Spirits
    • Nominations: SAG, Golden Globe (Drama)
  • Nick Nolte, Affliction
    • Wins: NYFCC, NSFC
    • Nominations: SAG, Golden Globe (Drama)
  • Edward Norton, American History X

    • Wins: Golden Satellite (Drama)
    • Nominations: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards


  • Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love
    • SAG nominee
  • Jim Carrey, The Truman Show
    • Golden Globe (Drama) winner, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards nominee
  • Michael Caine, Little Voices
    • Golden Globe (Comedy) winner, Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee
  • Warren Beatty, Bulworth
    • Golden Globe (Comedy) nominee, Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee
  • Ian Bannen, Waking Ned Devine
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) co-winner
  • David Kelly, Waking Ned Devine
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) co-winner
  • Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee
  • Robin Williams, Patch Adams
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee, Golden Globe (Comedy) nominee
  • Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro
    • Golden Globe (Comedy) nominee
  • John Travolta, Primary Colors
    • Golden Globe (Comedy) nominee
  • Derek Jacobi, Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee
  • Brendan Gleeson, The General
    • Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee
  • Stephen Fry, Wilde
    • Golden Globe (Drama) nominee, Golden Satellite (Comedy) nominee

**This is not an exhaustive list of the 1998 awards hardware.  I’ve omitted some objectively never-even-had-a-chance contenders and many of the runners-up at critics awards.  Likewise, since 1998 was earlier than 2000 and, thus, before the BAFTAs switched to before the Oscars, the BAFTAs won’t be used in this analysis but will be used in most post-2000 Six Spots.

1998 Best Actor Oscar

How the First Five Got Nominated

I’ll start with easiest and go to hardest.  Tom Hanks was in the (at the time) Best Picture favorite, Saving Private Ryan.  In the last five years, he had not only received two Oscar nominations, but won two Oscars.  Likewise, Hanks had starred in a Best Picture winner (Forrest Gump) and a Best Picture nominee (Apollo 13).  Not for nothing, too, Hanks was one of the most beloved actors on the planet in 1998.  One cannot understate the general admiration most people had for Saving Private Ryan, and the superstar Hanks was the most obvious (and most worthy) actor to represent the solid ensemble of the Spielberg film.  Despite not winning any major awards for his performance, he had enough consistent precursor mentions to make him seem safe.  Had I been predicting in 1998, I’d have called him a lock early on.

I imagine there was a period in 1998 when many people in Hollywood circles started calling Ian McKellen a lock to win Best Actor.  He won the majority of critics’ prizes, but stumbled once the televised award shows began.  Nevertheless, his tour-de-force performance in a very well-respected film surely explains how the future Gandalf secured his first of two Oscar nominations.

Much like McKellen, I imagine there were many people who thought veteran actor Nick Nolte was going to win his first Oscar for his stern yet vulnerable performance in the frosty independent film Affliction.  Back in 1991, Nolte was in a tight race with eventual Best Actor champ, Anthony Hopkins.  During early precursors, Nolte secured two critical wins (NYFCC and NSFC), so he was a safe bet for a nomination.  His precursor love, vet status, and great performance surely explain the nomination.

Yes, you’re seeing this right.  The eventual winner of this category was not as safe of a bet as it would seem to land a nomination.  Despite the Charlie-Chaplin-in-color performance of the Italian comedian, he was not nominated for the Golden Globe for a Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.  But leave it to award season maestro Harvey Weinstein to make a giant push for Life is Beautiful late in the game.  Benigni got a SAG win, DGA nod for directing, and, before you knew it, Life is Beautiful was a major player in the 1998 awards race.

Edward Norton’s second Oscar nomination for American History X will forever be one of the most interesting surprises of Oscar season.  His performance is tough and the film itself is tough to sit through.  Looking at the precursor awards, he was barely a factor: no SAG nod, no Globe nod.  He wasn’t mentioned by the BFCA or any major critics associations other than Chicago, the Online Film Critics, and Golden Satellites.  Yet the Academy snubbed his worthy competitors and nominated Norton.

the Truman show

The Contenders for The Six Slot

Here comes the fun.  Figuring out just WHO would have been the sixth nominee if the Oscars allowed six nominees….or, if you prefer, who just missed being an Oscar nominee.

There was a time where Jim Carrey seemed like he was going to receive his first Oscar nomination for his title performance in The Truman Show.  After years of being a comic god, Carrey teamed with renowned Australian director Peter Weir to show us his dramatic chops.  While much of the early critic praise was directed at Truman’s tortured creator, Ed Harris, Carrey nevertheless won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama.  Not since Omar Sharif failed to get a Best Actor nomination in 1965 for Doctor Zhivago had the winner of this Golden Globe category been snubbed by the Oscars.  Despite his SAG snub in favor of Joseph Fiennes, it’s hard not to think Carrey was the sixth man.  However, when The Truman Show received a total of only three Oscar nominations, one must wonder just how much the Academy liked the movie.

The Fiennes brothers starred in three Best Picture winners in a span of six years.  When a film is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, it’s pretty unusual for the title character to not be nominated (think: the slave, the wolf, Lincoln, the artist, the king, Precious, Ben Button, Nixon, Milk, Juno, Michael Clayton…but don’t forget Hugo, the slumdog millionaire, the fighter, Frost, and the reader).  Such a snub is all the more rare when the title character is a historical figure.  Despite a zillion nominations (three of them in the acting fields), Shakespeare in Love‘s resident bard was snubbed for Best Actor.  Fiennes missed a series of critical precursors, but landed the all-important SAG.  Perhaps he split votes with himself over his great turn in 1998’s other Elizabethan drama, Elizabeth.

Little Voice received a decent amount of precursor love, especially for its actors.  Michael Caine won the talent-barren Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but was SAG-snubbed despite Little Voices nabbing nominations for costars Jane Horrocks, eventual Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn, and Ensemble.  The role itself borders between lead and supporting, and he’s particularly unlikeable.  Given that the film itself only managed one Oscar nomination, I wonder how much they liked it.

This is a classic example of blogger bait.  In March of 1998, I imagine I would have predicted Warren Beatty in my year-in-advance predictions.  He had the narrative: Hollywood icon, rarely appears in films, writer/director/producer/star, and overdue for an acting Oscar.  But in the end, Bulworth was just not as loved as many of Beatty’s prior films.  Though Beatty was an Oscar nominee in 1998 for writing, he was left off the Oscar shortlist for Best Actor, despite a Golden Globe mention.

No disrespect to the other leading males of 1998, but I don’t feel the need to highlight any of the other Lead Actors shortlisted by precursor awards.  In a perfect world, Jeff Bridge’s iconic performance as The Dude in The Big Lebowski would have been mentioned much more often.  Likewise, it would have been nice for John Travolta to get a nomination for his layered work in Primary Colors.  However, I don’t think either of these men were ever in play.  Likewise, the other men mentioned in the “Hardware” section didn’t seem to have much of a chance.

The Six Spot

I think The Six Spot nominee would have been:

Joseph Fiennes

Joseph Fiennes.

WHY: As I said earlier, it’s awfully tough to be the title character in a historical movie that the Oscars love and yet somehow manage to not get an Oscar nomination.  Nevertheless, that fate befell Joseph Fiennes.  While the Golden Globe Drama winner is almost always nominated for Best Actor, I have a hard time really believing that Jim Carrey was so close.  The Academy gave The Truman Show three major nominations (Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay) but failed to recognize any of its technical merits or nominate it for Best Picture.  Simply put, the heat was with Shakespeare in Love. It had not only a SAG Ensemble nomination, but a SAG win.  Clearly, the actors loved the movie.  I imagine Fieness missed just barely over a strong contingent of Norton voters.  So, for those reasons, I think Joseph Fiennes was the Six Spot of the 1998 Best Actor race.

What do you guys think?  Who do YOU think was the Six Spot of the 1998 Best Actor race?  Was it Carrey, Fiennes, Caine, Beatty or someone else?  Sound off in the Comments!