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The Oscars 2004: How the Best Actor didn’t win

The Oscars 2004: How the Best Actor didn’t win

Throughout the first half of February, the Sound On Sight staff will take a look at the Academy Awards.

(Warning: plot spoiler alert!)

The 76th Academy Awards ceremony was a memorable year. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King swept the board with its 11 awards, Sofia Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for Best Director, and there was also one debatable injustice for Best Actor.

43 million viewers saw Sean Penn won the prize for his role as ex-con Jimmy Markum in Mystic River.  He won over apparent frontrunner Bill Murray’s aging actor Bob Harris in Lost in Translation.

Don’t get me wrong: Mystic River is a great film – gritty, gripping and heartwrenching in one tidy bundle – but Tim Robbins deserved more praise for his performance as the tormented Dave Boyle.  Sean Penn is a wonderful actor; his portrayal in Milk (2008) is beyond brilliant and his acclaim for the role as Harvey Milk is rightly deserved.

2004 was also the year Johnny Depp was nominated for his now-iconic role as Jack Sparrow alongside Murray and Penn.  But seeing as his role is purely comedic, we can rule that out.  Between themselves and fellow nominees Jude Law and (Sir) Ben Kingsley, Murray and Penn were the most likely choices to receive the award.

For his performance as Harris, Bill Murray had already won 15 major acting awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and various critics associations.  As a renowned comedy actor, opportunities for Murray to be nominated for his work don’t come up very often.  Before 2003, he delved into ‘dramedy’ roles such as Herman Blume in Rushmore and Walter Raleigh in the fabulous The Royal Tenenbaums.

The character of Bob Harris is quiet and dignified – he doesn’t scream in your face and his charm comes from the simplicity and subtlety of his being in a foreign metropolis like Tokyo. So, how did the character of a reformed criminal win the hearts of the Academy?

The character of Jimmy Markum, who ultimately killed a childhood friend as he thought he murdered his beloved daughter, isn’t exactly a positive, inspiring role, so unless the Academy wants to make a point in awarding philanthropists and/or political activists, they need to broaden their award-winning criteria.

Katie Wong