Great Oscar Debates: Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and the 1994 Best Actor Category

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Greetings, readers! The Academy Awards are this Sunday. In the lead-up to the Oscars I’ve been looking back at times the Oscar voters got it wrong. Often I’ve focused on them picked the wrong winner in a category. But in this week’s case, I’d like to shine a light on two of our best actors who were omitted from a stacked field in 1994.

1994 was the year that Schindler’s List was the major winner. Steven Spielberg finally won a Best Director Oscar, the film won Best Picture, and John Williams was awarded for his beautiful score. I have no problem with any of that. Schindler’s List remains to this day one of the most powerful films I have ever seen.

My issue with the 1994 Oscars stems from the Best Actor category. Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia. It was definitely deserved. If that performance didn’t move you, you’re dead inside. And let’s look at who Tom Hanks beat that year: Daniel Day-Lewis for In The Name of the Father, Laurence Fishburne for Whats’s Love Got to Do with It, Anthony Hopkins for The Remains of the Day, and Liam Neeson for Schindler’s List. You could make a strong case for any of the nominees. But what’s stunning here are two omissions: Harrison Ford for The Fugitive and Clint Eastwood for In the Line of Fire.

I don’t know what prejudice the bias has against action movies. There are a few exceptions. Sigourney Weaver was nominated for Aliens and Tommy Lee Jones won Best Supporting Actor for The Fugitive. But then you have cases like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and Clint Eastwood for In The Line of Fire, where the work goes unnoticed.

I thought for sure Harrison Ford had multiple Oscar nominations for his body of work. He has one. Let me repeat that. Harrison Ford has one Oscar nomination for his entire career. It was for Witness. Now, certainly that performance was worthy of recognition. But no nominations for Presumed Innocent, Working Girl, American Graffiti, or Blade Runner? That just isn’t right. I don’t think the Oscar voters appreciate the skill it takes to hold together an action picture. The Fugitive isn’t the same movie without Harrison Ford’s performance. He’s vulnerable, smart, and an absolutely compelling every man. We’re rooting for him to prove his character’s innocence and catch his wife’s killer. Ford brings out many of the same pathos that David Janssen did in the TV series. The Fugitive is not worth seeing just for the action and special effects (although they are great). But the cat and mouse chase between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones makes it an exhilarating action film with believable human drama.

Another brilliant action performance that didn’t get enough love that year was Clint Eastwood’s in In The Line of Fire. Now, Clint Eastwood has four Oscars. But none of them have been for his acting. He won Best Director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Both of those films also won Best Picture. And both of those films are still the only times he has been nominated for Best Actor. Eastwood’s career in front of and behind the camera has spanned decades, going back to his television acting roots on Rawhide. I think he’s become such a brilliant director that we’ve taken his acting skills for granted. In Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire, Eastwood gives one of the best performances of his career as Secret Service agent who wasn’t able to save JFK and is determined to not have the same fate befall the current president. Now, I think it’s worth noting that John Malkovich, the would be assassin taunting Eastwood was nominated. It’s the showier part. And the humanity in Eastwood’s performance got the shaft when the nominations came out. That’s really a shame. In the Line of Fire was one of the best thrillers of the 90s.

In the case of both Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood in 1994, the actors supporting them were nominated. But without their lead performances the supporting roles wouldn’t have been as captivating. Also in both cases. you have actors who have been giving great performances for so long that Oscar voters have taken their talents for granted. One day I hope the Oscar voters will finally recognize Eastwood for his skills as an actor and that Harrison Ford will receive recognition for being the glue that has anchored many of the best action films of the last several decades.

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