Award Repo: Cuba Gooding, Jr.

It's very important that we as a society take care to correct mistakes where possible. Scientific hypotheses that don't stand up to scrutiny are discarded. Newspapers print retractions. I don't see any reason we shouldn't treat awards the same way. If we truly wanted to recognize deserving performances, we'd hand the accolades out five years after the fact, because with all the hype and buzz and politics and pageantry of awards season, it's easy for the actual quality of the work to get muddled. There's no way we could ever do that, though, so the best we can do is look back in time and admit that mistakes were made.

So, let's hop in our time machines and head back to the 69th Academy Awards, when Oscars for the movies of 1996 were presented. And once we get there, let's revisit Best Supporting Actor:

Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire)
William H. Macy (Fargo)
Armin Mueller-Stahl (Shine)
Edward Norton (Primal Fear)
James Woods (Ghosts of Mississippi)

Before we get to the winner, there's another problem that needs to be addressed. I remember being gobsmacked, even at the time, that Jerry Maguire was nominated for anything. Not only is it up there in Best Supporting Actor, but it took one of the five Best Picture nomination slots. WHY?!? It was a middle-of-the-road romantic comedy that didn't distinguish itself in any way. It was fine, but not anything to write home about. It'd be like Friends With Benefits or 27 Dresses being nominated for Best Picture. Sure, The English Patient sucked too, but at least it was aspiring to be something more than passable.

Anyhow, Best Supporting Actor. Jerry Maguire is an unfathomably over-praised movie, but it didn't win. No, that honor went to Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Quick, tell me what he did in that movie besides shout "Show me the money!" into the phone. You have no idea, do you? Me neither. That's because it was an unremarkable performance in an unremarkable movie, which is especially galling when you look at who he was up against. Edward Norton tore his role in Primal Fear to shreds. William H. Macy's role in Fargo could have easily been a one-note joke. He turns Jerry Lundegaard into a nuanced, tortured loser, and what happens? The one-note joke wins an Oscar.

Perhaps I wouldn't be so tetchy about this if Cuba Gooding, Jr. were a better actor in general. There are plenty of compensatory Oscars given to great actors for less-than-stellar roles, and I don't have as much of a problem with those. But here's what Cuba Gooding, Jr. has been spending his time doing since his triumphant victory:

-Chill Factor
-Pearl Harbor
-Rat Race
-Snow Dogs
-Boat Trip
-Daddy Day Camp
-Eleven movies you've never heard of because they went straight-to-DVD.

The prosecution rests. When the repo team has successfully reclaimed the award, they may deliver it to either Macy or Norton at their convenience, and we can consider this wrong righted.


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