As Hollywood prepares for the 94th Academy Awards this Sunday there will be a lot of discussion about nominations, nominees, favorites and who is expected to hear their name when the presenter says “And the Oscar goes to…” But every year as we watch the Oscars, you should always pause and think about those who almost made it. In particular, think about an all-time snub that changed the course of one man’s career.
1998 was a titanic year in Hollywood and at the box office. James Cameron’s Titanic cleaned up at the Academy Awards with 11 Oscars as the film industry tried to model the film’s success with special effects and casting. Hollywood kicked the action into high gear with several high budget films released during the summer. One such film that didn’t have a large budget but made large returns at the box office was The Truman Show.
Jim Carrey burst on the scene in 1994 with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a comedy that put him on the map and turned him into an overnight sensation. Carrey followed that up with Dumb And Dumber and The Mask, making for a trio of films that did well at the box office as fans gravitated toward Carrey’s goofy antics and physical comedy. It paid off for Carrey as he signed a $20 million deal to do The Cable Guy in 1996. The funny man role suited Carrey well as audiences everywhere were seeing years of comedic work come to fruition. Carrey took some risks in his various roles and most of the time it paid off for him.
He took another risk with The Truman Show. The film was way ahead of its time as a satirical look at media and reality TV. Carrey was cast as Truman Burbank, a man who was living a ‘made for TV’ life but wasn’t aware he was the star of his own show. Though it was satire the role was a serious one and much different than the goofy gags Carrey had mastered in his earlier work. Carrey played the character with depth and emotion. Just as he did with physical comedy Carrey contorted his body language and facial expressions to show a man who felt confused, alone and at times was left searching for answers. The film had a stellar cast and great directing, but Carrey was the star. Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert raved about the film. Siskel said Carrey was “marvelous” and Ebert called it one of the best films of the year.
The Truman Show showed a side of Jim Carrey no one knew existed. He showed range and phenomenal acting skills. If it were medieval times this would have been the equivalent of the court jester challenging the king for the throne.
Carrey’s challenge wasn’t far off as critics raved about the film and his performance. Hollywood took notice. Carrey received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Drama, before actually taking home the Globe. Then the Oscar buzz started. The unthinkable was happening- A man who just a few years prior was pretending to talk out of his own butt in Ace Ventura was being taken seriously. He threw everything he had into the role with smashing success. The Oscar buzz grew after Carrey won at the Golden Globes. The court jester was ready to attack.
On February 9, 1999 the 71st Academy Award nominations were announced. Here were the Best Actor nominees:
Tom Hanks – Saving Private Ryan
Roberto Benigni – Life is Beautiful
Nick Nolte – Afflication
Ian McKellen – Gods and Monsters
Edward Norton – American History X
Jim Carrey did not receive an Oscar nomination. He had been snubbed. At the time it didn’t seem like a huge snub given Carrey was still relatively new to Hollywood. Some felt that maybe this was just the beginning of his path toward a long and distinguished career. Carrey laughed it off with an appearance at the Oscars that year as a presenter. But that appearance is the closest Carrey would ever get to being on the Oscars stage. He followed up The Truman Show with his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon and even though he netted another Golden Globe nomination (and win, for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy) it wasn’t enough to get an Oscar nomination. It was an accolade that would elude Carrey for the rest of his career.
Carrey went back to goofy and his next film was the comedy Me, Myself & Irene. Carrey stayed in the comedy genre for most of the rest of his career. As society entered the reality tv realm The Truman Show has aged well and so has Carrey’s performance. But he never ventured outside the silly or took a risk at a serious role. Many are left to wonder what would have happened if Carrey had received an Oscar nomination. It feels like his career path would have been different. This comparison might be a bit of a stretch but I can’t help but think of an Entourage scene where Martin Landau’s character says to super agent Ari Gold “I’m over this town” before hanging up the phone. The scene makes me think of how Carrey may have felt after he tried his hardest to get Oscar consideration and then just said to himself “I’m over this town” and accepted that he was better off playing in the sandbox.
There will be a lot of discussion next week about who missed out on winning an Oscar this year. And just like with Jim Carrey’s Oscar snub, it might leave you wondering what could have been.