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Six Spot: Which Actor Sang A Sour Note in the 2002 Best Actor Race?

Welcome to the eighteenth entry in our Six Spot series.

Few Oscar wins are as memorable as Adrien Brody’s Best Actor performance for “The Pianist” in 2002. The 29-year-old actor had few precursor wins and was up against heavyweight competition. When his name was called, Brody was the most stunned of anyone. He walked up to the stage, planted an even more surprising kiss on presenter Halle Berry, and delivered a wonderful speech. To date, he is still the youngest winner in the Best Actor category. Before we look at who was snubbed in the 2002 Best Actor race, let’s first look at the nominees.


  • Adrien Brody – “The Pianist” – WINNER
  • Nicholas Cage – “Adaptation”
  • Michael Caine – “The Quiet American”
  • Daniel Day Lewis – “Gangs of New York”
  • Jack Nicholson – “About Schmidt”


There’s an old theory that says, “it pays to be the only apple among oranges.” Using this theory, perhaps pundits should have predicted Adrien Brody’s win earlier. In a crop of four Oscar winning legends, Brody was the young upstart. His film, “The Pianist,” was a Best Picture contender that caught heat at the exact right time. With the media concentrated on the Daniel Day-Lewis vs. Jack Nicholson narrative, supporters of “The Pianist” were able to rally and pull off a Brody victory.

When it comes to second place, Day-Lewis likely prevails over Nicholson. Day-Lewis won both the SAG and BAFTA, while Nicholson only won the Golden Globe, but they tied at the Critics Choice and Los Angeles Film Critics Association. “Gangs of New York” was a Best Picture nominee with ten nominations, illustrating widespread support for the film. Meanwhile, “About Schmidt” did well with three nominations (Actor, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay). While both actors now have three Oscars each, Day Lewis only had one Oscar at this point in time. Nicholson had already won his three career Oscars and only one actor has won four Oscars (Katharine Hepburn).

The rest of the lineup shakes out rather easily. Nicholas Cage winds up in fourth place for his dual role in “Adaptation” by Charlie Kaufman. The Oscar winning actor headlined a film that was loved by the acting branch (Chris Cooper won Best Supporting Actor this year for “Adaptation”). Also, the conceit of playing twin writers Donald and Charlie Kaufman certainly won him some key votes. The legendary Michael Caine makes it into this race mostly on name recognition. His film, “The Quiet American” was seen by very few people and had very little buzz or promotion behind it. If voters didn’t name check Michael Caine, who would’ve benefited?


  • Kieran Culkin – “Igby Goes Down”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – “Catch Me If You Can”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Original Score
  • Richard Gere – “Chicago”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes (WINNER), SAG Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture (WINNER), Director, Actress (Renee Zellweger), Supporting Actor (John C. Reilly), Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones – WINNER), Queen Latifah), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction (WINNER), Cinematography, Costume Design (WINNER), Film Editing (WINNER), Original Song, Sound (WINNER)
  • Hugh Grant – “About a Boy”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Greg Kinnear – “Auto Focus”
    • Precursors – New York Film Critics Circle Runner Up
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Adam Sandler – “Punch Drunk Love”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Campbell Scott – “Roger Dodger”
    • Precursors – National Board of Review (WINNER), Independent Spirit Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Robin Williams – “One Hour Photo”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None


There were plenty of independent films that were looking for an awards boost in 2002. If a small movie runs the gauntlet with critics prizes (see Marion Cotillard in “Two Days One Night”) or carves out a passionate niche following (see Demian Bichir in “A Better Life”), they can receive Oscar nominations in lead categories. Unfortunately, with so many smaller movies crowding the precursors in 2002, none stood a chance at ousting a veteran actor from the Oscar lineup.

Campbell Scott seemed to have the most passion of the group. He won the National Board of Review prize and was nominated by the Independent Spirit Awards. The film “Roger Dodger” did well on the festival circuit, winning awards at the Venice Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and San Diego Film Festival. However, the film’s buzz never translated to commercial success, even by independent film standards. Even the critics’ prizes would sometimes stray to other actors besides Scott. Greg Kinnear (“Auto Focus”), for example, was the runner up of the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, behind Daniel Day-Lewis.

Often times, the Golden Globes can catapult a smaller performance to a bigger stage. This launching pad can catapult someone to a more serious level of Oscar conversation. The Globes gave this boost to “Igby Goes Down” star Kieran Culkin, and in addition to the Golden Globes nomination, he won Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical at the Satellite Awards and was nominated for Young Actor by the Critics Choice. However, the film was ignored on the whole by Oscars. This includes Susan Sarandon’s supporting performance as Culkin’s unconventional Mom.


The Oscars may not love comedy, but they love when comedians go serious. Robin Williams, Steve Carrell, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, Lily Tomlin and Mo’nique are just a few actors who have received Oscar wins or nominations for their switch to drama. While there are many success stories, other comedians cannot command Oscar’s attention, even when they headline dramas (see Jim Carrey and Steve Martin).

Adam Sandler follows in the tradition of both Carrey and Martin. “Punch Drunk Love” was the first of a few attempts to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. His role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s uncomfortable romantic drama turned off as many people as it impressed. Sandler’s biggest precursor during this season was a Golden Globes nomination. However, Paul Thomas Anderson movies weren’t as sure-fire Oscar bait in 2002 as they are now. Only Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, and Burt Reynolds had received acting nominations from a Paul Thomas Anderson vehicle at this point. If “Punch Drunk Love” came out this past year, perhaps Sandler would have had a better chance at a nomination.

Robin Williams had already won (“Good Will Hunting”) and been nominated (“Dead Poet’s Society,” “The Fisher King”) for his shifts to drama. In fact, he was also nominated for comedy as well (“Good Morning, Vietnam”). The one genre he hadn’t excelled in by 2002 had been horror. “One Hour Photo” was a strangely uncomfortable summer sleeper hit that cast Williams as a stalker photo developer. He was praised for his surprising turn and received a Critics Choice nomination for his performance. Unfortunately, horror seems to be the one genre Oscar ignores more than comedy, which hurt Williams’ chances for “One Hour Photo.”


There has always been a “slap the stud” theory with the Oscars. While voters love to shower younger actresses with awards, they often will snub conventionally attractive movie star men. Paul Newman had to wait well past his prime to win his Oscar for “The Color of Money” in 1986. George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio both had to seriously de-glam for their Oscar wins, and Brad Pitt still doesn’t have an Oscar for acting. Three Hollywood Heartthrobs, in particular, were shut out of the Oscar lineup this year.

Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Hugh Grant were snubbed for their work in movies that received Oscar nominations in other categories. Many pundits had Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” starring DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, at the top of their predictions throughout 2002. While the movie did well with critics and audiences, it only received two Oscar nominations. Golden Globe nominee Leonardo DiCaprio was snubbed yet again, much like he was for “Titanic” in 1997.

On the other hand, Hugh Grant was the star of “About a Boy,” a critical summer smash. The film had enough good word of mouth to contend in Best Adapted Screenplay, unfortunately, the Golden Globe nominee was unable to get his first Oscar nomination for the film. He still has never been nominated for an Academy Award.

Though Richard Gere was a mainstay of the silver screen (and People’s Sexiest Man covers) for the 80s and 90s, he had never been nominated for an Oscar. Throughout the press cycle for “Chicago,” Gere’s campaign made sure to mention his overdue narrative. As unscrupulous lawyer Billy Flynn, Gere sings, dances and charms everyone on-screen and off. He beat Nicholas Cage at the Golden Globes for Lead Actor in a Musical/Comedy and the SAG-nominated Gere instead of Michael Caine. On top of all that, “Chicago” was a front-runner in every category and would eventually win Best Picture at the Oscars. Gere wasn’t a lock, but many were certain he would receive his first nomination in 2002. Though “Chicago” received four acting nominations at the Oscars, Gere was unceremoniously snubbed.



Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2002 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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