Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Surprise Inclusion of 2004

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Surprise Inclusion is the third in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed.

Each year, the Oscar nominations announcement presents several shocking names and films. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most surprising inclusion of all (in any category). It has nothing to do with personal opinion but rather with what was considered a surprise at the time compared with what most people were predicting. Once again, this is a film/director/actor whose nomination was unexpected.

The Surprise Inclusion of 2004:

Alan Alda (The Aviator) for Best Supporting Actor

Why it wasn’t going to happen: Despite winning multiple Emmy Awards and Golden Globes for his starring role on the TV version of “MASH,” Alda had never earned an Oscar nomination. His problem with surefire Best Picture contender “The Aviator” was similar to what had befallen him in the past: other supporting stars in the same film. Alda won prizes from the National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics for “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in 1989, he found himself snubbed in favor of costar Martin Landau at the Oscars. Alda didn’t have a big part in “The Aviator,” and attention might instead be focused on previous Oscar nominees like Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, and John C. Reilly, regardless of the size of their parts.

How it happened: Mostly, Alda was carried by his film. Even though it was eventually knocked out by Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” Martin Scorsese’s epic reaped eleven Oscar nominations. Scoring in all the top categories and most of the technical ones made it easier for another acting nominee to slip in. Alda was able to get into the Supporting Actor category particularly because his film was typical Oscar fare, giving him an edge over Golden Globe and SAG nominees like David Carradine (“Kill Bill Vol. 2” was too violent) and James Garner (“The Notebook” was too sappy). Taking the place of young actor Freddie Highmore (“Finding Neverland”) was easy – Alda been paying his dues for over thirty years.

Was it deserved? The way Alda says “Just who the hell do you think you are” to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes is running through my head as I write this. While I think that Carradine really deserved a nod, this is a sort of subtle tour de force performance from a fine actor who has delivered many great performances over the year and clearly deserved some recognition. Plus, it wasn’t a fluke. Alda won an Emmy two years later for his performance on “The West Wing,” continuing to do great work at an age where most actors stop trying.

Come back next week for a look at the Surprise Inclusion of 2003. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments. Also, what do you want to see as the theme for the next Wednesday Oscar Retrospective series, beginning in three weeks?

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