1996 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 1996

Best Picture


Fargo (1996)

Jerry Maguire (1996)

Secrets & Lies (1996, UK)

Shine (1996, Australia/UK)

GEOFFREY RUSH in "Shine", Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire", Ralph Fiennes in "The English Patient", Woody Harrelson in "The People vs. Larry Flynt", Billy Bob Thornton in "Sling Blade"
FRANCES MCDORMAND in "Fargo", Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets & Lies", Diane Keaton in "Marvin's Room", Kristin Scott Thomas in "The English Patient", Emily Watson in "Breaking the Waves"
Supporting Actor:
CUBA GOODING, JR. in "Jerry Maguire", William H. Macy in "Fargo", Armin Mueller-Stahl in "Shine", Edward Norton in "Primal Fear", James Woods in "Ghosts of Mississippi"
Supporting Actress:
JULIETTE BINOCHE in "The English Patient", Joan Allen in "The Crucible", Lauren Bacall in "The Mirror Has Two Faces", Barbara Hershey in "Portrait of a Lady", Marianne Jean-Baptiste in "Secrets & Lies"
ANTHONY MINGHELLA for "The English Patient", Joel Coen for "Fargo", Milos Forman for "The People vs. Larry Flynt", Scott Hicks for "Shine", Mike Leigh for "Secrets & Lies"

In the 1996 awards race, four of the five Best Picture nominees were from independent studios - and financed outside of mainstream Hollywood. 1996 was therefore dubbed "The Year of the Independents," plus films from abroad. For the first time in Oscar history, none of the major Hollywood studios (including Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros., UA, Fox, Columbia, Universal, or Disney's Buena Vista) were represented among the Best Picture-nominated films for 1996. All the pictures nominated for Best Picture were low-budget, independent films - with the sole exception possibly being Tri-Star's Jerry Maguire, the closest nominee to a major, mainstream Hollywood studio. [Note: The surge for independent films wouldn't last long - in 1997, the big-studio, big-budget Titanic (1997) swept the Oscars.]

The big winner of the year was writer/director Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (a Saul Zaentz/Miramax film). [20th Century Fox studios dropped its support during pre-production, letting it go to the independent Miramax.] It was a prestigious, three hour long World War II saga/romance composed of flashbacks, conspiracies, and ambiguities and based on an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel, about a French-Canadian nurse who cares for a mysterious, dying burn patient ('The English Patient') in a ruined, abandoned monastery in Italy's Tuscany, after he was wounded in a WWII plane crash in the African desert. Its tagline was: "In love, there are no boundaries."

It had twelve nominations and nine Oscar wins - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. It lost its nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Minghella), Best Actor (Fiennes) and Best Actress (Scott Thomas).

Its nine Oscar wins made it the third most-awarded film in Academy history - and tied it with two other films with nine wins: Gigi (1958), and The Last Emperor (1987). Previously, only two other films had more wins: West Side Story (1961) (with ten), and Ben-Hur (1959) (with eleven).

With its Best Picture win for the expensively-made film, producer Saul Zaentz became a multiple Oscar-winning producer over a span of twenty years with over twenty Oscars for his films: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) (5), Amadeus (1984) (8), and The English Patient (9). With his win, Zaentz became a three-time Best Picture producer (his first and second wins were for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984)). He became the second person to have produced three Best Picture winners since 1951. Only two others were three-time Best Picture producer-winners: Darryl F. Zanuck and Sam Spiegel.

The other Best Picture nominees were:

  • the Coen Brothers' violent, black, film-noirish comedy Fargo (a Working Title Films/PolyGram/Gramercy Pictures film with seven nominations and two wins - Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay), about a Minnesota car salesman whose kidnap/ransom plan goes awry, and who was investigated by a no-nonsense, heavy-accented Minnesota police officer (Frances McDormand), known for saying: "Oh, you betcha, yah." This film was the quirky Coen Brothers' most conventional film to date, thereby accounting for its critical and commercial success
  • writer/director Cameron Crowe's romantic sports comedy Jerry Maguire (a Gracie Films/TriStar film with five nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actor) about an ultra-slick sports agent (Tom Cruise) who becomes morally transformed
  • director Mike Leigh's soap-opera-ish British film Secrets & Lies (a CiBy 2000/Thin Man Films/October Films production with five nominations and no wins), a socially-realistic film about an adopted, black London optometrist who seeks out her biological mother
  • director Scott Hicks' Australian/UK arthouse tearjerker film Shine (a Momentum Films/Fine Line Features film with seven nominations and one win - Best Actor) - a biopic about the adversities faced by disabled, musical pianist genius David Helfgott

Anthony Minghella won the Best Director award for The English Patient, following the pattern that the Best Director Oscar is often awarded to the Best Picture director. The only one of the five directors of Best Picture nominees who wasn't nominated for Best Director was Cameron Crowe. His replacement in the category was director Milos Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt (a Phoenix Pictures/Ixtlan Productions film with two nominations and no wins) about the infamous, unrepentant pornographer and Hustler Magazine publisher.

Three out of the four winners in the acting categories were first-time nominees.

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush (with his first nomination) won the Best Actor Oscar for his star-making performance as talented but agonizingly-troubled, mentally-disabled Australian concert pianist David Helfgott who suffers a crippling nervous breakdown when pushed to the breaking point in Shine.

The other Best Actor nominees included:

  • Tom Cruise (with his second unsuccessful nomination) as sports agent Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire
  • Ralph Fiennes (with his second unsuccessful nomination) as the title character - mortally-burned Hungarian Count Laszlo Almasy who flashbacks on his tragically-doomed love affair as a debonair romantic with married mistress (Scott Thomas) in The English Patient
  • Woody Harrelson (with his first nomination) as First Amendment-protected, crippled, pornography publisher Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt
  • director/star/writer Billy Bob Thornton (with his first nomination) as mildly-retarded, convicted murderer Karl Childers in the moving drama Sling Blade, Thornton's directorial debut film (with two nominations and one win - Best Adapted Screenplay for actor/director/writer Billy Bob Thornton)

Frances McDormand (with her second nomination and first Oscar win) won the Best Actress award for her role as Marge Gunderson - a chatty, largely-pregnant, intrepid local police chief and homicide detective in a small-town in Minnesota, in Fargo. [Note: McDormand won the Academy Award for a performance directed by her nominated husband - Joel Coen. She became the second star to win Best Actress in a film directed by her nominated director-husband. Some argue that she was the first, however, since Sarandon and Robbins, nominated in the previous year for Dead Man Walking (1995), were unofficial, live-in marital partners.] They were the fourth married couple to be nominated for the same film: (1) John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands were nominated together (but neither won) for A Woman Under the Influence (1974), (2) Susan Sarandon and nominated-director Tim Robbins (her unofficial live-in husband) were nominated for Dead Man Walking (1995) (Sarandon won Best Actress), and (3) both Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri were nominated (but neither won) for Never on Sunday (1960). Note: Julie Andrews was nominated as Best Actress (without a win) for Victor, Victoria (1982) but her husband-director Blake Edwards wasn't nominated as director.]

The other Best Actress nominees were:

  • Brenda Blethyn (with her first nomination) as lonely, unmarried, self-pitying white factory worker Cynthia - the biological mother of a black daughter in Secrets & Lies
  • Diane Keaton (with her third nomination) as sensitive, self-sacrificing, leukemia-stricken spinster Bessie in director Jerry Zaks' film of Scott McPherson's 1991 off-Broadway play Marvin's Room (the film's sole nomination)
  • Kristin Scott Thomas (with her first nomination) as beautiful English newlywed Katharine Clifton - a cartographer's wife involved in a torrid, adulterous affair with 'the pre-English patient' in the unfolding story of The English Patient
  • Emily Watson (with her first nomination) in her film debut as shy, religious Bess McNeill who sexually degrades herself for her paralyzed, oil-rigger husband's sake in writer/director Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (the film's sole nomination)

In a surprise win, Cuba Gooding, Jr. (with his first nomination) won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Cruise's faithful client with a memorable line of dialogue ("Show me the money") - a black football player for the Arizona Cardinals named Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire.

[Gooding's award made him the third black actor to win the Best Supporting Actor award - the others honored before him were Louis Gossett, Jr. for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and Denzel Washington for Glory (1989).]

The other four Best Supporting Actor nominees included:

  • William H. Macy (with his first nomination) as hapless, indebted, dim-witted car salesman and failed blackmailer Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo
  • Armin Mueller-Stahl (with his first nomination) as Geoffrey Rush's domineering, Holocaust-surviving father Peter Helfgott in Shine
  • Edward Norton (with his first nomination) as altar boy - accused murderer Aaron/Roy in director Gregory Hoblit's feature film debut and thriller Primal Fear (the film's sole nomination)
  • James Woods (with his second nomination) as evil Southern racist Byron De la Beckwith in director Rob Reiner's story of the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evars and its subsequent trials, Ghosts of Mississippi (with two nominations and no wins)

In another surprise win, Juliette Binoche (with her first nomination) won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar - she was the only nominated actor or actress in The English Patient to win the Oscar - for her performance as Hana, the fragile, good-hearted, and sympathetic Canadian nurse who cares for the dying, burn victim WWII patient (Ralph Fiennes).

The four other Best Supporting Actress nominees were:

  • Joan Allen (with her second nomination) as a prim Puritan wife named Elizabeth Proctor who is a wrongly-accused witch in a film version of Arthur Miller's 1953 stage play The Crucible (with two nominations and no wins), about late 17th century witchcraft hunts and trials by director Nicholas Hytner
  • the acknowledged and favored nominee - Lauren Bacall (with her first nomination) as Streisand's vain and narcissistic mother and faded glamour queen Rose in producer/star/director Barbra Streisand's romantic comedy The Mirror Has Two Faces (with two nominations and no wins)
  • Barbara Hershey (with her first nomination) as manipulative and opportunistic Madame Serena Merle who manages to steer co-star Nicole Kidman into a disastrous marriage in director Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady (with two nominations and no wins)
  • Marianne Jean-Baptiste (in a lead role) as young Yuppie Londoner Hortense who seeks out her birth parents after the death of her adopted parents in Secrets & Lies. [Marianne Jean-Baptiste was the first black British actress to be nominated for an Oscar.]

The Best Documentary this year was When We Were Kings, a chronicling of the 1974 world heavyweight championship bout ("Rumble in the Jungle") in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Forman.

Oscar Snubs and Omissions:

Black actor Eddie Murphy was denied a nomination for his role as shy, overweight professor Sherman Klump (and many others) in The Nutty Professor. In a comeback supporting role, Debbie Reynolds was neglected as Beatrice in Mother. Ron Shelton's sports romantic comedy Tin Cup with Kevin Costner and Renee Russo was completely unnominated, and Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet had only one nomination (unsuccessful) - Best Art Direction. One of the greatest nature documentaries ever made, MicroCosmos, was puzzlingly completely overlooked for Best Documentary, Best Editing and Best Cinematography (for its revolutionary lensing of microscopic point-of-view of insects.)

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (with four unsuccessful nominations, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Dramatic Score) was lacking nominations for Best Director, and performance nominations for Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet, Julie Christie as Gertrude, Kate Winslet as Ophelia, and Derek Jacobi as Claudius. John Sayles' Lone Star (with a great performance by Kris Kristofferson as a Satanic border-town sheriff) was recognized with only one nomination, Best Original Screenplay (losing to Fargo), and Doug Liman's Swingers went nomination-less. Courtney Love's supporting role as Althea Leasure Flynt was bypassed in the recognition given to The People Vs. Larry Flynt.

William Macy might have fared better if nominated for Best Actor instead of for a supporting role, when compared to co-star Frances McDormand, who won for a leading role. Danny Boyle's UK film Trainspotting about a heroin addict was able to garner only a single nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (losing to Sling Blade), and Mel Gibson was unnominated for his performance as ex-fighter pilot Tom Mullen in search of his kidnapped son in Ron Howard's crime thriller Ransom. Joe Pantoliano was neglected for his role as Jennifer Tilly's psychotic mobster consort Caesar in the lesbian noir Bound.

Kate Winslet was un-nominated for her role as ostracized Sue Bridehead for expressing her forbidden love for her cousin Jude in Thomas Hardy's adaptation, Jude. Noah Taylor was under-rated for his performance as teenaged, emotionally-damaged pianist David Helfgott (also played as an adult by Oscar-winning Geoffrey Rush) in the biopic Shine. Tony Shalhoub was unrecognized for his role as mid-50s Italian chef and restaurant co-owner Primo in Big Night, and Harry Belafonte was un-nominated for his supporting role as Depression-era black mobster Seldom Seen, memorable in a scene in which he disagreed with Marcus Garvey's 'Back-to-Africa' movement, in Robert Altman's Kansas City (with no nominations). And Meg Ryan was bypassed for her role as tough Gulf War Captain Karen Walden in Courage Under Fire, as was Catherine Keener for her role as a neurotic 30-yr. old single New Yorker struggling with loneliness in Walking and Talking.

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