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Six Spot #7: Best Actor 1997

How the First Five Got Nominated

 Easy Rider

JACK NICHOLSON for AS GOOD AS IT GETS
In the over 15 years since Jack Nicholson’s third Oscar win for As Good As It Gets, many film-lovers remain divided on the quality of this victory. For my money, it’s a great combination of populace love, movie star bravado, character subtleties, actor-driven narrative, and schmaltz. Given how much people try to roll their eyes at this worthy win, you’d never guess how much a juggernaut Nicholson was throughout the 1997 season, nabbing not only the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy Actor, but also the SAG, BFCA, and NBR. Not to mention, his film was nominated for Best Picture and his co-star was a runaway winner from day one.

PETER FONDA for ULEE’S GOLD
If the 1997 Best Actor race happened in the Age of the Blogs, I think Peter Fonda would have fared better for his performance in Ulee’s Gold. Then again, he could have ended up more like Bruce Dern than Alan Arkin. Nevertheless, this unlikely Golden Globe winner was the critical favorite (along with Duvall) throughout the season. Fonda’s performance was so impressive that eventual winner Nicholson name-dropped his longtime friend and Easy Rider co-star in his acceptance speech. Alas, even with honey, Fonda could not attract enough Oscar voters.

MATT DAMON for GOOD WILL HUNTING
Matt Damon was never a critical favorite to win Best Actor for Good Will Hunting, unlike three of the men in this race. He was, however, the title character in a hit movie that he co-wrote. Once it became very clear that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were likely going to win screenwriting Oscars and Good Will Hunting was going to be a big contender, it was assured that new kid on the block Damon was going to be invited to join the quartet of industry veterans in the 1997 Best Actor lineup.

ROBERT DUVALL for THE APOSTLE
Despite his critical Golden Globe miss (six non-nominees were nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press), this veteran actor nabbed his first Oscar nomination since his first and only Oscar win in 1983. He received acting honors from LAFCA and NSFC for his searing performance in The Apostle. A very worthy nomination for a very respected character actor.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN for WAG THE DOG
This is one of those great, funny performance that slide through Oscar season with no wins, little pomp and circumstance, and without much campaigning. I thoroughly believe that this is the type of performance that would be left out nowadays due to the shortened Phase 1 process. But nevertheless, it’s great that two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman was able to nab the final Academy nomination for the rather funny Wag the Dog.

What do you think?

Written by Sam Coffey

Attorney-at-law, Oscaroligist, coffee lover, Fantasy Football silver medalist, soccer fan (Orlando City SC), Geoffrey Rush enthusiast, and Time's 2006 Person of the Year.

Sam joined The Awards Circuit in January 2014, predicting all award shows with 100% accuracy ever since. A.K.A. "the stat guy."

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