1991 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
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Academy Awards History (By Decade):
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 1991

Best Picture


Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Bugsy (1991)

JFK (1991)

The Prince of Tides (1991)

ANTHONY HOPKINS in "The Silence of the Lambs", Warren Beatty in "Bugsy", Robert De Niro in "Cape Fear", Nick Nolte in "The Prince of Tides", Robin Williams in "The Fisher King"
JODIE FOSTER in "The Silence of the Lambs", Geena Davis in "Thelma & Louise", Laura Dern in "Rambling Rose", Bette Midler in "For the Boys", Susan Sarandon in "Thelma & Louise"
Supporting Actor:
JACK PALANCE in "City Slickers", Tommy Lee Jones in "JFK", Harvey Keitel in "Bugsy", Ben Kingsley in "Bugsy", Michael Lerner in "Barton Fink"
Supporting Actress:
MERCEDES RUEHL in "The Fisher King", Diane Ladd in "Rambling Rose", Juliette Lewis in "Cape Fear", Kate Nelligan in "The Prince of Tides", Jessica Tandy in "Fried Green Tomatoes"
JONATHAN DEMME for "The Silence of the Lambs", Barry Levinson for "Bugsy", Ridley Scott for "Thelma & Louise", John Singleton for "Boyz N the Hood", Oliver Stone for "JFK"

The five films nominated for Best Picture for 1991 were a very distinctive mix of different types of films: a musical animation, a horror/thriller, a gangster bio, a political conspiracy thriller, and a romantic melodrama.

The big winner was director Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (with seven nominations and five wins). Its surprise win came for many reasons:

  • it was a 'horror' film - the first of its genre to be named Best Picture
  • it was the first Best Picture nominee to have been commercially-available on videotape before its win
  • it was released in late January of 1991, many months before most Best Picture nominees were released (to keep them fresh in Academy voters' minds)
  • and most importantly, it was the third film to win the top five awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writer/Screenplay - Ted Tally) since two other films had accomplished the same feat: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and It Happened One Night (1934) - it was the last Best Picture winner, to date, to win both Best Actor and Best Actress

The top-notch film, a shocking psychological horror picture about a cannibalistic killer and his strange relationship with a newbie FBI agent, was based on Thomas Harris's 1988 best-selling novel of the same name. It was a sequel to an earlier film Manhunter (1986) (aka Red Dragon: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter), also based on a Thomas Harris novel titled Red Dragon published in 1981. The two nominations without wins were for Best Sound and Best Film Editing. Jonathan Demme (with his first directorial nomination) won the Best Director award for The Silence of the Lambs, a film with uncharacteristic subject matter that was not usually the recipient of so many Oscar awards.

The other four Best Picture nominees that spread the nominations fairly evenly were:

  • Walt Disney's feature-length animated musical cartoon Beauty and the Beast (with six nominations and two wins - Best Song "Beauty and the Beast" and Best Original Score) - it was the first hand-drawn animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture. [It would be another ten years before a special Oscar category for animated films would be created - Best Animated Feature Film.] Three of the film's nominations were for Best Song - its other two nominated songs were "Be Our Guest" and "Belle." It was the first film to have three nominated songs in one year, a feat duplicated by The Lion King (1994)
  • director Barry Levinson's Vegas gangster movie Bugsy (with ten nominations and two wins - Best Art/Set Direction and Best Costume Design)
  • director Oliver Stone's controversial three-hour long examination of President Kennedy's assassination and conspiracy theory in JFK (with eight nominations and two wins - Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing); Stone was nominated for three Oscars - producing, directing, and writing
  • star/co-producer/director Barbra Streisand's second directorial effort The Prince of Tides (with seven nominations and no wins), a melodramatic adaptation of Pat Conroy's novel about a psychiatrist's curing of the traumas of a patient's family

Two of the directors of Best Picture nominees were not nominated for Best Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise for Beauty and the Beast, and Barbra Streisand for The Prince of Tides. [Streisand was the third female director who failed to receive a nomination for a Best Picture-nominated film. The other two were Randa Haines for Children of a Lesser God (1986), and Penny Marshall for Awakenings (1990). Part of the controversy over the nominations for director was because Streisand had been overlooked one other time as director - for Yentl (1983).]

Their two directors' places were taken by Ridley Scott (with his first directorial nomination) for his stridently feminist buddy/road film Thelma & Louise (with six nominations and one win - Callie Khouri's Best Original Screenplay), and 24 year-old black director/writer John Singleton (with his directorial debut) for his tragic film about South Central Los Angeles gang violence in the ghetto drama Boyz N the Hood (with two nominations and no wins).

[Singleton became the youngest nominee for Best Director in Academy history, and the first African-American to be nominated as Best Director. He was also the third non-white director ever nominated - the first was Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes (1965), and the second was Akira Kurosawa for Ran (1985). Singleton was also cited with a nomination for Best Original Screenplay - but surprisingly, no Best Picture nod for Boyz N the Hood. Interestingly, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett played a divorced couple in this film, and would become Oscar nominees for What's Love Got to Do With It (1993) two years later as the real-life battling couple Ike and Tina Turner.]

The Best Actor winner was Anthony Hopkins (with his first nomination and first Oscar) for his chilling portrayal as cannibalistic, menacing, psychopathic serial psychiatrist/killer Dr. Hannibal "Cannibal" Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins' performance - supposedly comprised of about 16 minutes of screen time, was purported to be one of the shortest Best Actor performance ever, up to this time. David Niven also had an extremely short role in Separate Tables (1958). (Hopkins was on-screen less than the Best Supporting Actor winner, Jack Palance, for City Slickers.)

The competing Best Actor nominees were:

  • Warren Beatty (with his fourth unsuccessful acting nomination) as womanizing, glamorous East Coast Jewish gangster and 40s Las Vegas dreamer/developer Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in Bugsy
  • Robert De Niro (with his sixth nomination, and his second consecutive nomination in the 90s) as vengeful, demented ex-convict Max Cady in director Martin Scorsese's remake of the earlier 1962 thriller Cape Fear (with two nominations and no wins)
  • Nick Nolte (with his first nomination) as Streisand's emotionally crippled patient Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides
  • Robin Williams (with his third nomination) as Parry - a New York City street person in search of the mystical Holy Grail in director Terry Gilliam's fantasy/comedy The Fisher King (with five nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actress)

The Best Actress Oscar was presented to Jodie Foster (with her third nomination and second Oscar) for her performance as strong-willed, brainy, yet vulnerable FBI agent trainee Clarice Starling searching for a brutal serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs. [She had previously won a Best Actress Oscar for The Accused (1988), three years earlier.]

Two other Best Actress nominees were the co-stars in Thelma & Louise, two gutsy, pistol-wielding female outlaws who raise hell and joyride until they have nowhere left to escape from surrounding FBI agents:

  • Geena Davis (with her second nomination) as bored housewife Thelma
  • Susan Sarandon (with her second nomination) as Louise Sawyer

The remaining two Best Actress nominees were:

  • Bette Midler (with her second nomination) as USO entertainer Dixie Leonard, wife of showbiz partner James Caan in director Mark Rydell's musical For the Boys
  • Laura Dern (with her first nomination) as oversexed, uninhibited 19 year-old Rose in director Martha Coolidge's tale of sexual repression and coming-of-age in a film adaptation of Calder Willingham's semi-autobiographic book Rambling Rose (with two nominations and no wins). [Laura Dern's nomination was in the same year as her own mother's (Diane Ladd's) supporting nomination for the same film. They were the first and only real-life mother-daughter pair to receive Oscar nominations in the same year and for the same film.]

The Best Supporting Actor Oscar was a surprise win for seventy-two year-old Jack Palance (with his third nomination and first Oscar - it was thirty-nine years since his last nomination for Sudden Fear (1952)), for his role as trail boss Curly in director Ron Underwood's adventure/comedy City Slickers (the film's sole nomination and win). This was the award for which Palance performed one-arm pushups.

[Palance tied the existing record of thirty-nine years between nominations and victory with Helen Hayes - her span of films existed between The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931-2) and Airport (1970). The record holder of the longest span between acting nominations was Henry Fonda, with forty-one years between The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and On Golden Pond (1981).]

Two competing Best Supporting Actor nominees were co-stars in Bugsy:

  • Ben Kingsley (with his second nomination) as Bugsy's long-time mobster mentor Meyer Lansky
  • Harvey Keitel (with his first nomination) as Bugsy's foul-mouthed gangster associate Mickey Cohen

[Note: Keitel has repeatedly been overlooked by the Academy, although he has consistently given original and strong Oscar-worthy performances, including these roles: Charlie Cappa in Mean Streets (1973), "Sport" Matthew in Taxi Driver (1976), Judas Iscariot in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Jake Berman in The Two Jakes (1990), Hal Slocumb in Thelma & Louise (1991), Mr. Larry White in Reservoir Dogs (1992), George Baines in The Piano (1993), Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction (1994), and more!]

The remaining two Best Supporting Actor nominees were:

  • Tommy Lee Jones (with his first nomination) as New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, accused of complicity in Kennedy's murder in JFK
  • Michael Lerner (with his first nomination) as Louis B. Mayer-like studio boss Jack Lipnick in the quirky Barton Fink (with three nominations and no wins) from the writer/director team of Joel and Ethan Coen

Mercedes Ruehl (with her first nomination) won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as video store owner Anne Napolitano and girlfriend of burned-out radio talk-show host (Jeff Bridges) in The Fisher King - it was the film's sole Oscar win.

The remaining Best Supporting Actress nominees were:

  • Diane Ladd (Laura Dern's co-star and real-life mother) (with her third unsuccessful nomination) as genteel Southern matron 'Mother' Hillyer in Rambling Rose
  • 17 year old Juliette Lewis (with her first nomination) as young rebellious teenager Danielle Bowden who nearly succumbs to Robert DeNiro's psychotic assaults in Cape Fear
  • Kate Nelligan (with her first nomination) as co-star Nick Nolte's mother Lila Wingo Newbury in The Prince of Tides
  • Jessica Tandy (with her second and last nomination) as eccentric 80 year-old nursing home resident and storyteller Ninny Threadgoode in director Jon Avnet's adaptation of Fannie Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes (at the Whistle Stop Cafe) (with two nominations and no wins)

It should be noted that Terminator 2: Judgment Day with Arnold Schwarzenegger won four technical Oscars (out of its six nominations): Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects.

Oscar Snubs and Omissions:

Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects genius of notable films during the 50s-80s, including It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years, BC (1966), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and Clash of the Titans (1981) -- but who never received even a single Oscar nomination -- was awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer honorary Academy Award this year.

Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise should have been nominated for Best Picture. Coming before Jane Campion's The Piano (1993) was the New Zealand director's second feature film in this year - the un-nominated, autobiographical An Angel at My Table with Kerry Fox as novelist/poet Janet Frame. Director/writer/actor Albert Brooks' existential fantasy comedy about heaven, Defending Your Life lacked nominations, and recognition for Brooks as recently-deceased Daniel Miller on trial in the afterlife, for Meryl Streep as his love interest Julia, for Rip Torn as Daniel's reassuring defense attorney Bob Diamond, and for Lee Grant as prosecutor Lena Foster.

As mentioned earlier, there was no Best Picture nod for John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood, and Laurence Fishburne was denied a nomination for his role as strict, tough-love South LA father Jason "Furious" Styles. And director Terry Gilliam's fantasy/comedy The Fisher King with five nominations came away with only one Oscar win - Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes Ruehl). Losing nominees included Robin Williams (Best Actor), Best Original Screenplay (Richard LaGravenese), Best Original Music Score, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.

There were also many acting performances that deserved some sort of recognition by the Academy:

  • Wesley Snipes as the targeted, wealthy Harlem ganglord Nino Brown in director Mario Van Peebles' violent New Jack City
  • also Wesley Snipes as married, slick black architect Flipper Purify, engaged in an inter-racial love affair with Italian-American secretary Angela (Annabella Sciorra) in writer/director Spike Lee's Jungle Fever
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Flipper's violent, crack-addicted brother Gator Purify in the inner-city melodrama Jungle Fever
  • Lili Taylor as aspiring but plain San Francisco folk-singer and poet named Rose (opposite River Phoenix as a young GI) in the heartbreaking Dogfight
  • River Phoenix as Seattle narcoleptic hustler Mike Waters in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho
  • Reese Witherspoon (in her film debut) as a 14-year old with a crush on an older boy in The Man in the Moon
  • Steve Martin (the film's screenwriter) as wacky TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher and Sarah Jessica Parker as liberated Valley Girl SanDeE* in Mick Jackson's L.A. Story (with no nominations)
  • Annette Bening as sassy, slinky, and leggy B-movie starlet Virginia "Flamingo" Hill, Bugsy's hard-boiled gangster moll and namesake for his visionary casino/resort in the Nevada desert in Bugsy
  • Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams in Barry Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family
  • Harvey Keitel as sympathetic police officer Hal Slocumb in Thelma & Louise
  • Gary Oldman as presumed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, Donald Sutherland as Mr. X, and Joe Pesci as conspirator David Ferrie in Oliver Stone's JFK (only Tommy Lee Jones was recognized for his acting performance, among the film's eight nominations)
  • Macaulay Culkin as friendly neighbor Thomas J. Sennett to Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) in Howard Zieff's My Girl
  • Mary Stuart Masterson as Alabama cafe operator Idgie Threadgoode - one character in the life stories of Jessica Tandy's Ninny in Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Mimi Rogers as a spiritually-converted Los Angeles telephone operator in writer/director Michael Tolkin's The Rapture (with no nominations)
  • Lili Taylor as shy waitress and aspiring folk singer Rose - chosen as River Phoenix's 'ugly date' in Nancy Savoca's Dogfight
  • Alison Steadman as Wendy - the nurturing mother of a lower middle-class London family in British filmmaker Mike Leigh's second film Life is Sweet
  • Timothy Dalton as screen star and Nazi spy Neville Sinclair in the comic-book spy film The Rocketeer
  • Val Kilmer as Doors' lead singer Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's biopic of the 60's rock group The Doors (with no nominations)

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