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Six Circuit: Cuba Gooding Jr. Won the 1996 Supporting Actor Race, but who Missed a Nomination?

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Welcome to the thirty-ninth entry in our Six Circuit series.

Cuba Gooding Jr.’s excited Oscar speech remains one of the more iconic moments of any Oscar telecast. It’s hard not to feel excited for the “Jerry Maguire” actor as he jumps across the Oscar stage. However, the 1996 Supporting Actor race was more contentious than one remembers. While Gooding was a likely winner, many of the slots were very up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the men who won nominations.


  • Cuba Gooding Jr. – “Jerry Maguire” (WINNER)
  • William H. Macy – “Fargo”
  • Armin Mueller-Stahl – “Shine”
  • Edward Norton – “Primal Fear”
  • James Woods – “Ghosts of Mississippi”


Jerry Maguire
Cuba Gooding, Jr. won the 1996 Supporting Actor race for his performance as Rod Tidwell, a professional football player who signs with Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire.

Cuba Gooding Jr. was always the story of the Oscar season. He was the scene-stealing force in the highest grossing film of the category. “Jerry Maguire” was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, and Cuba was the film’s best shot at a win. He won the SAG and Critics Choice Awards, which made him the leader in televised awards. However, there still was a good deal of competition in this category.

While Cuba Gooding Jr. rode his way to victory, Edward Norton was left on the sidelines. Norton won the Golden Globe for his performance in “Primal Fear,” but that wasn’t his only performance in 1996. He won awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for “Primal Fear,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Everybody Says I Love You” as well. The Critics Choice Awards also gave him the runner-up prize for his trio of performances. James Woods was also the Critics Choice runner-up for his role as a racist in “Ghosts of Mississippi,” the true crime drama around the Medger Evers murder. Woods also earned a Golden Globe nomination for the film.

The other two nominees rode the coattails of Best Picture nominations. William H. Macy had earned a SAG nomination for “Fargo,” but little else. Still, those who loved the film recognized his work (even if one might consider him a lead). Meanwhile, few believed Armin Mueller-Stahl would be the “Shine” nominee (more on that to come). The most major nomination for him came from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, while two other co-stars earned higher profile precursors. Who was expected to take Mueller-Stahl’s slot? Let’s read to find out.


    • Hank Azaria – “The Birdcage”
      • Precursors – SAG Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Production Design
    • Harry Belafonte – “Kansas City”
      • Precursors – New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER)
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • Martin Donovan – “The Portrait of a Lady”
      • Precursors – National Society of Film Critics (WINNER), New York Film Critics Circle Runner-Up
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Hershey), Costume Design
    • John Gielgud – “Shine”
      • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Director (Scott Hicks), Actor (Geoffrey Rush) (WINNER), Best Supporting Actor (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Dramatic Score
    • Samuel L. Jackson – “A Time to Kill”
      • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • Nathan Lane – “The Birdcage”
      • Precursors – SAG Awards, Golden Globe Awards (in lead)
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Production Design
    • Alan Rickman – “Michael Collins”
      • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Cinematography, Original Dramatic Score
    • Paul Scofield – “The Crucible”
      • Precursors – BAFTA Awards (WINNER), Golden Globe Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Joan Allen), Adapted Screenplay
    • Tony Shalhoub – “Big Night”
      • Precursors – National Society of Film Critics (WINNER), New York Film Critics Circle Runner-Up, Indie Spirit Awards (in lead)
      • Oscar Nominations – None
    • Noah Taylor – “Shine”
      • Precursors – SAG Awards
      • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Director (Scott Hicks), Actor (Geoffrey Rush) (WINNER), Best Supporting Actor (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Original Dramatic Score


Big Night
Harry Belafonte won the New York Film Critics Circle Prize in 1996 for “Kansas City,” by Robert Altman.

The critic groups spread the wealth across the board in 1996. New York gave their critics prize to Harry Belafonte, who starred in Robert Atlman’s “Kansas City” as a mob boss. Their runner-up, Martin Donovan from Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” beat Belanfonte for the National Society of Film Critics prize. Though Donovan’s performance did not make it to the Oscars, his co-star Barbara Hershey showed up in Supporting Actress for the film. Buzz was high for Jane Campion’s follow-up to “The Piano,” but “The Portrait of a Lady” never lived up to that film’s Oscar haul.

One of the other strong, indie performers in the supporting category was Tony Shalhoub for “Big Night.” He tied with Donovan for the National Society of Film Critics Supporting Actor prize. He was also a runner-up for the New York Film Critics Circle prize. The Independent Spirit Awards gave Shalhoub a nomination as well, but he was nominated for lead, rather than supporting.


Nathan Lane caught lots of Oscar buzz for his performance in “The Birdcage” as Albert, a drag queen who uses his talent to fool the conservative parents of his son’s fiancee.

Comedies automatically have a tougher time at the Oscars. It usually takes strong box office, unanimous good reviews and heavy precursor budge to push someone through for a comedic performance. One 1996 comedy combines all those attributes – “The Birdcage.” The gay themed comedy earned $124 domestically and won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. In the Supporting race, both Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria received SAG nominations. Azaria stole scenes as a dramatic housekeeper. Yet, Lane was a showy co-lead, playing the head drag performer at the titular club. He also showed up in the Golden Globes Lead Actor in a Comedy/Musical category. Fans could have rallied around Lane, but category confusion and internal competition with Azaria might have cost him a nomination.

The other $100 million+ movie with Oscar buzz was “A Time to Kill,” particularly for Samuel L. Jackson. He had just been nominated two years prior for his iconic performance as Jules in “Pulp Fiction,” by Quentin Tarantino. Residual buzz from that film helped Jackson earn a Golden Globe Nomination in 1996. However, his performance in the legal thriller did not have enough widespread acclaim to make it to the Oscar stage. Instead, the Oscars went for James Woods in the biographical courtroom thriller, “Ghosts of Mississippi.”


Noah Taylor portrays the younger version of pianist David Helfgott in “Shine.” Geoffrey Rush won the Lead Actor Oscar for playing the older version of Helfgott.

Three of the five Best Picture nominees had corresponding Best Supporting Actor nominations. Though Armin Mueller-Stahl was nominated for “Shine” as the abusive father of David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush – who won Best Actor), he wasn’t the only actor from the film with Oscar hopes. Noah Taylor was among the SAG nominees for his work as the younger version of David Helfgott. Meanwhile, the BAFTA Awards went with Oscar winner John Gielgud as Dr. Cecil Parks, David’s teacher. In the end, the Oscars preferred the archetype of the villainous Father, nominating Mueller-Stahl. However, internal competition could have easily sank all three of their chances.

The BAFTA Awards also nominated Alan Rickman (“Michael Collins”) and Paul Scofield (“The Crucible”). Rickman was the stand-out performance in “Michael Collins,” but the film’s Oscar hopes never materialized. Its Cinematography and Score nominations are more consolation prizes, if anything. “The Crucible” also only earned two Oscar nominations, despite many predicting the movie before it opened. Yet, those two nominations were more prominent – Supporting Actress (Joan Allen) and Adapted Screenplay. Scofield was even more of a precursor magnet than Allen. The BAFTAs actually gave him the win. Additionally, the Golden Globe Awards also nominated Scofield. Finally, he was also coming off a surprise nomination for “Quiz Show” two years earlier. Could he have coasted to another nomination this year too?



CrucibleWho do you think came in 6th place in the 1996 Best Supporting 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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