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Six Circuit: Which 2004 Best Actor Contender Got Edged Out For Jamie Foxx’s ‘Ray’ Win?

SS Jamie

Welcome to the forty-first entry in our Six Circuit series.

Musical biopics have been cat-nip for actors at the Oscars. Jamie Foxx’s Oscar win for his performance as Ray Charles in “Ray” ushered in a trend of musical biopics. They became so prevalent that the film “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” parodied the micro-genre. Though his win felt pre-determined, the 2004 Best Actor race was fierce and competitive in terms of nominations. Let’s take a look at the category.


  • Don Cheadle — Hotel Rwanda {“Paul Rusesabagina”}
  • Johnny Depp — Finding Neverland {“Sir James Matthew Barrie”}
  • Leonardo DiCaprio — The Aviator {“Howard Hughes”}
  • Clint Eastwood — Million Dollar Baby {“Frankie Dunn”}
  • Jamie Foxx — Ray {“Ray Charles”} (WINNER)


SS Jamie
Jamie Foxx won his first Oscar for Taylor Hackford’s “Ray,” where he portrayed legendary singer Ray Charles.

Jamie Foxx was always going to win this award. Between this and “Collateral,” 2004 was the year of Jamie Foxx. He swept the televised precursors – winning at the Globes, SAG Awards, BAFTA Awards and Critics Choice Awards. The buzz around his performance was a strong factor in getting “Ray” into Best Picture.

The biggest competition to Foxx was Leonardo DiCaprio, who also portrayed a real person. The teen heartthrob slid into the shoes of Howard Hughes for “The Aviator,”Martin Scorsese film that many predicted could win Best Picture. DiCaprio won the Golden Globe, but got steamrolled by Jamie Foxx throughout the season.

Both Johnny Depp and Clint Eastwood were also in Best Picture nominees, though they had different precursor track records. Depp showed up at all the major precursors, despite being in “Finding Neverland,” which was always on the Best Picture bubble. Meanwhile, Clint was nowhere to be seen in the Actor category before the Oscars. However, “Million Dollar Baby” was surging at the time of the nominations. Eastwood’s surprise acting nomination was a major sign that “Million Dollar Baby” was going to win Best Picture.

Meanwhile, Don Cheadle was the lone nominee not from a Best Picture nominee. “Hotel Rwanda” was supposed to be a big Oscar contender, but fell a bit short. It only received nominations for Cheadle in Actor, Sophie Okonedo in Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay. The SAG and Globes nominated Cheadle, making him the most likely nominee from the film. However, who else could’ve crashed this lineup? Let’s take a look at the contenders.


  • Javier Bardem – “The Sea Inside”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, Critics Choice Awards, Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup (WINNER)
    • Nominations – Best Foreign Language Feature (WINNER), Makeup
  • Jim Carrey – “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA Awards, Online Film Critics Society
    • Nominations – Best Actress (Kate Winslet), Original Screenplay (WINNER)
  • Gael Garcia Bernal – “The Motorcycle Diaries”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Nominations – Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Song (WINNER)
  • Paul Giamatti – “Sideways”
    • Precursors – SAG Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Critics Choice Awards, New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER), Online Film Critics Society (WINNER), Independent Spirit Award (WINNER)
    • Nominations – Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Supporting Actor (Thomas Haden Church), Supporting Actress (Virginia Madsen), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER)
  • Liam Neeson – “Kinsey”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association (WINNER), Independent Spirit Awards
    • Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Laura Linney)
  • Jack Nicholson – “Something’s Gotta Give”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards Nominee
    • Nominations – Best Actress (Diane Keaton)
  • Billy Bob Thornton – “Bad Santa”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards Nominee
    • Nominations – None


SS Jim Carrey
Jim Carrey hoped to earn his first Oscar nomination for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” where he shared the screen with eventual nominee Kate Winslet.

The BAFTA Awards are often a great barometer for Oscar success. With so many British actors also in the Academy, there is a good deal of voter overlap. One of the actors BAFTA went with was Jim Carrey for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Carrey plays sad sack Joel Barrish who tries to erase spontaneous ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) from his mind. Winslet wound up with an Oscar nomination and the film won Original Screenplay. This proves that voters watched “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” in which Carrey is great. However, his role is more subdued. Plus, there seems to be bias about Carrey’s comedy roots (see his “Truman Show” snub).

Also nominated for the BAFTA was Gael Garcia Bernal. He earned the nomination for “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a small Brazilian film about Che Guevara. The movie was able to win Best Original Song and get a surprise Adapted Screenplay nomination. However, with such a competitive category, Bernal was always going to be a longshot in the Lead Actor category.


SS Nicholson scaled

The Golden Globes are known for giving out some fun, left-field choices in the Comedy/Musical categories. The 2004 Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy was no exception, though their choices were pretty inspired. In retrospect, it’s surprising that Jack Nicholson didn’t get closer to a nomination. Not only was his performance in “Something’s Gotta Give” heartfelt and hilarious, he is also an Oscar favorite. At this point, Nicholson had won three Oscars in total. Just two years earlier, he earned a Lead Actor nomination for “About Schmidt,” nearly winning a fourth time. On top of that, his co-star Diane Keaton was nominated for Best Actress, most likely coming in second place behind eventual winner Charlize Theron (“Monster”).

Also nominated at the Golden Globes was Billy Bob Thornton for “Bad Santa.” There was virtually no chance that he would repeat at the Oscars, especially in a race stacked with Best Picture nominees. However, this is why the Golden Globes’ Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy category is so much fun. Funny performances like this deserve to have their moment in the sun (see Jack Black in “School of Rock” around this time as well).


SS Bardem
Javier Bardem hoped for a second Oscar nomination for his performance in “The Sea Inside,” where he played euthanasia advocate Ramon Sampedro.

The key to an Oscar nomination is passion. Actors need first place votes to get in. The following actors had some critical support and passion leading into Oscar voting. Javier Bardem kicked his campaign off strong for his work in “The Sea Inside.” He won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, before going on to nominations at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards. He had earned an Oscar nomination a couple years earlier for “Before Night Falls” in 2001. That was also a smaller foreign film. Unfortunately, those performances usually sneak in when there’s more room in the category. This race was pretty competitive.

Liam Neeson also won a critics prize early in the season. His performance in “Kinsey” earned him a win from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA). He also earned a Golden Globe nomination. Unfortunately, the film petered out when it came to Oscar. Laura Linney was the lone nominee for the film in the Supporting Actress race.

The biggest snub on Oscar nomination morning was Paul Giamatti. His performance in “Sideways” won tons of critics awards, including the New York Film Critics Circle, Online Film Critics Society and Independent Spirit Awards. “Sideways” was also a huge Oscar film, winning Adapted Screenplay and making it into Best Picture. Giamatti’s critical love translated to major precursor support. He made it into SAG, Critics Choice and the Golden Globes. Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood likely passed him up at the last minute due to “Million Dollar Baby” support. At the end of the day, voters liked that movie just a tiny bit more than “Sideways.”



SS Sideways

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2004 Best Actor race? Share with us in the comments below.

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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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