With the 85th Academy Awards tomorrow night, I thought it would be fitting to take a look back on the New Jersey actors and actresses who have won the gold statue. Honoring the best in film acting since the 1920s, the Academy Award has only gone to nine New Jersey natives in the categories of Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, making the list small enough for two articles.
New Jersey is proud of its homegrown movie stars, even if most of them had to leave and go to another state to find work. For some reason the New Jersey movie scene never got going, despite the enormous success of In & Out.
Anyway, the Oscar goes to…
Michael Douglas- 1987 Best Actor-Wall Street
From: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Although I cannot believe Douglas did not win for a second time for his memorable role in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, he actually does hold two Oscars, the other for producing the 1975 classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It took him thirteen more years after that to prove his worth as an actor, but he struck gold as the money obsessed villain Gordon Gekko. Gekko is often used as an allegory for the real life Wall Street and it is often believed that his “Greed is Good” philosophy propels the entire financial sector. Regardless, Douglas plays an amazing antagonist and he followed up his Oscar winning role with another antihero—Kate Hudson’s dad in You, Me and Dupree! I kid, he also did a sequel to Wall Street in 2010 and reprised his most famous character.
Kevin Spacey- 1995 Best Supporting Actor- The Usual Suspects AND 1999 Best Actor- American Beauty
From: South Orange, New Jersey
Speaking of great villains, no one plays evil better than Kevin Spacey. One look at his rap sheet displays a career founded upon playing the character everyone loves to hate—Seven, 21, Superman Returns, The Men Who Stare At Goats, even A Bug’s Life. He switched gears temporarily in 1999 to play a man going through a mid-life crisis indifferently and he played it perfectly, down to quitting his important job and going to work at a fast food restaurant. Aside from his acting, Spacey is also known for his impressions. There is one clip of him from Inside the Actor’s Studio where the host asks him to impersonate some legendary actors and I highly suggest looking it up. While I am suggesting things, I have barely mentioned The Usual Suspects. Just see it. That is the best review I could ever give it.
Thomas Mitchell- 1939 Best Supporting Actor- Stagecoach
From: Elizabeth, New Jersey
If it were pretty much any other old movie, the chances of me seeing it would have been slim. Luckily though, I took a film class two years ago and had the pleasure of seeing Stagecoach, which is important for so many reasons. It was John Wayne’s breakout movie. As if that were not enough, it was the beginning of a relationship between director John Ford and Monument Valley, where he shot most of his westerns, and it was the beginning of the relationship between Wayne and Ford that spawned over 20 movies. Despite the apparent chemistry between Wayne and Ford, it was Mitchell who walked away with the Oscar that year for his portrayal of a mostly-drunk doctor kicked out of a small western town. He was comic relief in the otherwise action-packed and drama-filled movie. The Academy used to award funny, now it rarely does. If it did, Robert Downey Jr. would have won for Tropic Thunder.
Frank Sinatra- 1953 Best Supporting Actor From Here to Eternity
From: Hoboken, New Jersey
Sinatra’s Oscar winning role in the 1953 classic saved his career. He had rose to prominence in the 1940s but pretty much had been forgotten by the 1950s. Although it was not Sinatra in that iconic beach scene (it was Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr for anyone who did not know), his portrayal of Prewitt’s only friend who helplessly dies was enough to win over the country, not just us in New Jersey. In 1956, his status as a film star was cemented when he was nominated for Best Actor for The Man with the Golden Arm. Then, you know, there was that whole singing career that kind of took off as well.
Joe Pesci- 1990 Best Supporting Actor Goodfellas
From: Newark, New Jersey
With all the great movies Pesci has been in I cannot believe he has only won an Oscar once. His résumé reads like a list of the greatest movies of all time. From the obvious Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, to the forgotten One Upon a Time in America, A Bronx Tale and the cult classics JFK, My Cousin Vinny, Home Alone. In every single one Pesci left his mark and someone is always donning his distinctive voice and delivering one of his quotable lines like “I’m funny how? I mean funny, like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” or “You were serious about that?” and my personal favorite “two youts.” I have not seen Pesci in movies recently, although I crack up every time I watch that Snickers commercial when he calls the two women glove models. I hope he gets back to feature length films though. Despite Pesci’s talkative nature, he gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches in history and I have posted it below.