1990 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
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Introduction, 1927/8-39, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s
Academy Awards Summaries
Winners Charts:
"Best Picture" Oscar®, "Best Director" Oscar®, "Best Actor" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar®,
"Best Actress" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar®, "Best Screenplay/Writer" Oscar®

The winner is listed first, in CAPITAL letters.

Filmsite's Greatest Films of 1990

Best Picture


Awakenings (1990)

Ghost (1990)

The Godfather, Part III (1990)

GoodFellas (1990)

JEREMY IRONS in "Reversal of Fortune", Kevin Costner in "Dances With Wolves", Robert De Niro in "Awakenings", Gerard Depardieu in "Cyrano de Bergerac", Richard Harris in "The Field"
KATHY BATES in "Misery", Anjelica Huston in "The Grifters", Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman", Meryl Streep in "Postcards from the Edge", Joanne Woodward in "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge"
Supporting Actor:
JOE PESCI in "GoodFellas", Bruce Davison in "Longtime Companion", Andy Garcia in "The Godfather, Part III", Graham Greene in "Dances With Wolves", Al Pacino in "Dick Tracy"
Supporting Actress:
WHOOPI GOLDBERG in "Ghost", Annette Bening in "The Grifters", Lorraine Bracco in "GoodFellas", Diane Ladd in "Wild at Heart", Mary McDonnell in "Dances With Wolves"
KEVIN COSTNER for "Dances With Wolves", Francis Ford Coppola for "The Godfather, Part III", Stephen Frears for "The Grifters", Barbet Schroeder for "Reversal of Fortune", Martin Scorsese for "GoodFellas"

The Best Picture winner, co-producer/director/actor Kevin Costner's three-hour epic and revisionistic western film Dances With Wolves was an anomaly win in Oscar history - it was only the second time that a western genre film won the Best Picture Oscar. [The first Best Picture western film was Cimarron (1930-31), sixty years earlier.] However, some argued that Costner's (another actor-turned-director) romantic-epic film shouldn't have been categorized as a Western.

Dances With Wolves was honored with twelve nominations and seven Oscar wins - Best Picture (Costner), Best Director (for Costner's directorial debut film), Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Blake), Best Cinematography (Dean Semler), Best Sound, Best Original Score (John Barry), and Best Film Editing. The pretentious, but visually-impressive film told the saga of a Civil War Union officer, Lt. John W. Dunbar, who became disillusioned, headed west, and eventually found peace away from white civilization with nature and the Lakota Sioux. The film contained long portions of the Sioux-Lakota language and detailed the native American culture. Its tagline was: "Lt. John Dunbar is about to discover the frontier...within himself."

The other four Best Picture nominees were:

  • director Penny Marshall's psychological drama Awakenings (with three nominations and no wins), a semi-true account of a doctor who 'awakens' catatonic patients with an experimental drug
  • director Jerry Zucker's highly-successful, romantic comedy/fantasy Ghost (with five nominations and two wins - Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay), about a murder victim who protects his wife through a psychic
  • director Francis Ford Coppola's long-awaited gangster epic sequel The Godfather, Part III (with seven nominations and snubbed with no wins, although both previous parts of the saga won Best Picture Oscars - and it was the first of only two trilogies to have all three films nominated for Best Picture) - an extension of the Mafia-tale about an older crime kingpin Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his temperamental, trigger-happy nephew (Andy Garcia) and daughter (Sofia Coppola)
  • director Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas (with six nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actor), a violent and foul-mouthed adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book Wiseguy, about thirty years in a contemporary Brooklyn Mafia family and about federally-protected witness Henry Hill

Two of the directors of Best Picture nominees were not selected as Best Director nominees: Jerry Zucker for Ghost, and female director Penny Marshall for Awakenings. [Marshall's failure to receive a Best Director nomination was interpreted as sexist. Up to this time in Oscar history, only one women had been nominated for Best Director - Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1976), and female director Randa Haines had been passed over four years earlier as Best Director for her Best Picture-nominated Children of a Lesser God (1986).]

The two directors put into their slots for films without Best Picture nominations were Stephen Frears for The Grifters (with four nominations and no wins), a shocking film-noirish tale of three con artists - a film adaptation of Jim Thompson's hard-boiled novel, and director Barbet Schroeder for the dramatic Reversal of Fortune (with three nominations and one win - Best Actor), the story of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz's defense appeal of Claus Von Bulow's conviction for attempted murder of his wife.

The Best Actor award was presented to Jeremy Irons (with his first nomination) for his performance in Reversal of Fortune as the icy, arrogant, and decadently-aristocratic millionaire Claus Von Bulow who was accused of trying to kill his comatose Newport heiress wife Sunny (Glenn Close).

The other four Best Actor nominees were:

  • Kevin Costner (with his first nomination) as idealistic frontier officer Lt. John W. Dunbar who encounters the Lakota Sioux tribe in Dances With Wolves
  • Robert De Niro (with his fifth nomination) as Leonard Lowe - a comatose patient who was revived in Awakenings
  • Gerard Depardieu (with his first nomination) as the long-nosed swordsman/poet in French director Jean-Paul Rappeneau's film Cyrano de Bergerac (with five nominations and one win - Best Costume Design)
  • Richard Harris (with his second nomination) as stubborn Irish farmer 'Bull' McCabe in director Jim Sheridan's The Field (the film's sole nomination)

The Best Actress award was given to Kathy Bates (with her first nomination) as obsessed, psychopathic fan Annie Wilkes for a romance novelist (James Caan) in director Rob Reiner's black thriller Misery (the film's sole nomination), William Goldman's adaptation of Stephen King's novel.

Her competing nominees for Best Actress included:

  • Anjelica Huston (with her third nomination) as racetrack scammer Lilly Dillon in The Grifters
  • Julia Roberts (with her second consecutive nomination) in a star-making role as wheeler-dealer Richard Gere's fantasy Los Angeles prostitute Vivian Ward in director Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman (the film's sole nomination)
  • Meryl Streep (with her ninth nomination, and 7th Best Actress nomination) as drug-addicted film actress Suzanne Vale in director Mike Nichols' Postcards from the Edge (with two nominations and no wins), a disguised semi-autobiography of Carrie Fisher (daughter of Debbie Reynolds)
  • Joanne Woodward (with her fourth nomination) as conservative, mousy, middle-aged Kansas wife India Bridge in director James Ivory's Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (the film's sole nomination)

In the Best Supporting Actor category, Joe Pesci (with his second nomination) won his first Oscar award for his ferocious performance as comically psychotic gangster killer Tommy DeVito in GoodFellas (the film's sole Oscar win). [The same year, Pesci starred as a clumsy burglar in the blockbuster Home Alone starring Macauley Culkin.]

The other four Best Supporting Actor nominees were:

  • Bruce Davison (with his first nomination) as David - one of nine gay New Yorkers followed over a nine year period while coping with the killer disease AIDS in director Norman Rene's Longtime Companion (the film's sole nomination)
  • Cuban-born Andy Garcia (with his first nomination) as Vincent Mancini - the illegitimate son and heir apparent of godfather Michael Corleone's brother Sonny in The Godfather, Part III
  • Canadian-born Graham Greene as Native-American Sioux Indian Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves [Greene was the second Native-American to receive an Oscar nomination]
  • Al Pacino (with his sixth nomination) as over-the-top crime boss Big Boy Caprice in director/producer/actor Warren Beatty's comic-bookish Dick Tracy (with seven nominations and three wins - Best Art/Set Direction, Best Song, and Best Makeup). [Pacino's nomination for Dick Tracy instead of for The Godfather, Part III was truly unexplainable, except for the fact that Andy Garcia was nominated in his stead, to avoid splitting the vote]

In 1990, Whoopi Goldberg became the second black actress to win an acting Oscar. [The first black actress to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel's win for Gone With The Wind (1939).] Favored to win, Goldberg (with her second nomination) won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as an imposter clairvoyant - and then genuine psychic medium Oda Mae Brown in Ghost. [Some interpreted Goldberg's win as a 'consolation' prize for not winning Best Actress five years earlier when she was considered for the award for her performance in The Color Purple (1985), and lost to Geraldine Page's performance in The Trip to Bountiful (1985).]

The other four Best Supporting Actress nominees were:

  • Annette Bening (with her first nomination) as provocative con artist Myra Langtry in The Grifters
  • Lorraine Bracco (with her first nomination) as Henry Hill's wife Karen in GoodFellas
  • Diane Ladd (with her second nomination) as Marietta Pace - Nicolas Cage's possessive mother in director David Lynch's erratic and surreal Wild at Heart (the film's sole nomination)
  • Mary McDonnell (with her first nomination) as Sioux Indian Stands with Fist - an emotionally-traumatized white woman captured and raised from childhood by Indians in Dances With Wolves

Never-nominated actress Myrna Loy received an Honorary Oscar this year, "in recognition of her extraordinary qualities both on screen and off, with appreciation for a lifetime's worth of indelible performances." She was best known for her appearance opposite William Powell in The Thin Man (1934) series of six films. Sophia Loren was also presented another Honorary Oscar - "one of the genuine treasures of world cinema who, in a career rich with memorable performances, has added permanent luster to our art form." She had been nominated as Best Actress for Marriage-Italian Style (1964), and won her only Best Actress Oscar for Two Women (1960).

Oscar Snubs and Omissions:

The biggest omission of the year was the Coen Brothers' neglected and fresh gangster film Miller's Crossing (see below for acting omissions) - with no Best Picture, cinematography, or screenplay nominations. In addition, actor/director Jack Nicholson's The Two Jakes, a sequel to Polanski's Chinatown (1974) was completely overlooked: Nicholson's dual roles, screenplay by Robert Towne, Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography, and Harvey Keitel as the "other" Jake. And female director Penny Marshall was overlooked as a Best Director nominee, even though her film Awakenings was a Best Picture nominee. There was no recognition for the latex animatronic costumes (by Jim Henson Productions) for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, for Jim Henson's last-produced film - director Nicolas Roeg's - The Witches with Anjelica Huston, or for Michael Caton-Jones' story about a WWII B-17 bomber and its crew, Memphis Belle.

Bruce Joel Rubin won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Ghost, but his co-scripted screenplay for Jacob's Ladder (with no nominations) was neglected. Stephen Frears' The Grifters contained marvelous performances and had four prominent nominations (Best Actress - Anjelica Huston, Best Supporting Actress - Annette Bening, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay - Donald E Westlake), but ended up with no Oscars.

The following were not nominated for their acting performances - note that the first four films listed here were 'quality' gangster films - 1990 was a glutted year for the genre:

  • John Turturro as bookie Bernie Bernbaum, Garbriel Byrne as Tom Reagan, Marcia Gay Harden as Verna, or Albert Finney as Leo in Miller's Crossing
  • Al Pacino as violent Mafia head Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III
  • Ray Liotta as 'wiseguy' gangster Henry Hill, Robert DeNiro as mobster/hitman Jimmy Conway, and Paul Sorvino as mob boss Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas
  • Gary Oldman as Hell's Kitchen gang member Jackie Flannery in Phil Joanou's first big-budget film State of Grace
  • Richard Gere as sadistic rogue cop Dennis Peck in Mike Figgis' Internal Affairs
  • Michael Gambon as Albert Spica - the Thief in Peter Greenaway's British film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
  • Robin Williams as the experimental doctor in Awakenings
  • Sean Connery as defecting Soviet submarine Capt. Marko Ramius in John McTiernan's political action thriller The Hunt for Red October (with three nominations, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects (win))
  • Paul Newman as the other half of the middle-aged midwestern couple in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
  • Mia Farrow as the title character in Woody Allen's Alice
  • Debra Winger as a Sahara Desert-dwelling American in a romantic triangle in Bernardo Bertolucci's visually-stunning The Sheltering Sky
  • Uma Thurman as bi-sexual June Miller in writer/director Philip Kaufman's NC-17 rated Henry & June
  • Meg Ryan in a tri-part role as office secretary DeDe, LA debutante/socialite Angelica Graynamore, and Angelica's blonde half-sister Patricia in the romantic comedy fantasy Joe Versus The Volcano
  • Glenn Close as playboy Claus Von Bulow's (Oscar-winning Jeremy Irons) threatened heiress wife Sunny (who narrated her earlier life with him in flashback) in Reversal of Fortune
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh as a prostitute in Miami Blues
  • Tim Robbins as tortured, hallucinating ex-Vietnam vet Jacob Singer, and Elizabeth Pena as Jezzie - his mysterious live-in girlfriend and co-worker, in Adrian Lyne's supernatural horror-thriller Jacob's Ladder (with no nominations)

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