Oscar Rematch: Penn vs. Murray – Best Actor (2003)


It’s not a good week to be Bill Murray. The funnyman’s latest, “Rock the Kasbah” opened to an abysmal $1.4 million, one of the lowest wide opens in the history of film. So, in attempt to remember the good instead of the bad, this week’s Oscar Rematch features Murray’s one and only Oscar nomination going toe to toe once again with Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning turn in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Mystic River’ in the Best Actor race of 2004.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

MV5BMjA0ODk1MTAxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNTc3MTAz._V1_SX640_SY720_Sean Penn

  • Fourth Oscar nomination (at the time)
  • Zero wins previously
  • Golden Globe (Drama), Broadcast Film Critics, Central Ohio Film Critics, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics, Florida Film Critics, Kansas City Film Critics, Las Vegas Film Critics, London Critics Circle, National Board of Review, Vancouver Film Critics
  • Six total Oscar nominations for ‘Mystic River,’ two wins


bill-murray-lost-in-translationBill Murray

  • First Oscar nomination (at the time)
  • Won Golden Globe (Comedy), BAFTA, Boston Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics, Independent Spirit Award, Los Angeles Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics, New York Film Critics (Online), Online Film Critics, San Francisco Film Critics, Seattle Film Critics, Toronto Film Critics, Washington Film Critics
  • Four total Oscar nominations for ‘Lost in Translation,’ one win

While it was almost assured that Peter Jackson’s conclusion to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was finally destined to take home the gold in 2004, a heated battle was brewing in the Best Actor field. Sean Penn and Bill Murray were the clear favorites going into Oscar night as both sought their first ever Oscar, but both came in through extremely different paths.

Penn had earned his fourth nomination to that point in time; he was a familiar entity with the Academy and quite possibly due. Murray, on the other hand, had managed to shatter the comedy-man stigma the Academy hates so much with his ‘Lost in Translation’ performance, a first-time nominee but already a Hollywood legend. We know the outcome, Penn won for ‘Mystic River,’ his first of two, and Murray has not come close since.

When you look back at ‘Mystic River,’ it lives and dies on the performances. The film earned three Oscar nominations for its actor; Marcia Gay Harden for Best Supporting Actress, and Tim Robbins, who would win for Best Supporting Actor, were the other two. But is there anything about the film that stands out for people today? Penn is good, that goes without saying, but Murray was at the top of his game in ‘Lost in Translation.’

Sofia Coppola’s tale of two lost souls meeting in Japan remains to this day the best performance in Bill Murray’s impeccable career. A perfect balance of some more drawn back comedy and heavier drama then we are used to seeing from Murray, his performance was quite possibly the pinnacle of what he can do as an actor.

Obviously, his performances have been hit or miss since. He is always reliable in Wes Anderson films, and he’s had a few indie darlings like ‘Broken Flowers,’ but he has never really come close to sniffing an Oscar as he did in 2004.

So, part of it is certainly hindsight, but in reexamining the Best Actor race of 2004, it is hard not think Murray should have ended up on top. ‘Lost in Translation’ has become almost as iconic for Murray as ‘Groundhog Day’ or ‘Ghostbusters,’ while Penn’s ‘Mystic River’ performance has been buried by his second Oscar-winning turn in ‘Milk.’ At the end of the day, Penn had a puncher’s chance of holding on to the title, but the award for Best Actor of 2004 should belong to Bill Murray.