This year will mark the 20th anniversary of one of greatest films of all time, Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction made Quentin Tarantino, the “it” director, revived John Travolta’s career and made us take notice of the man with the Bad Mofo wallet, Samuel L. Jackson. Pulp Fiction is loaded with Oscar nominated performances from Uma Thurman to Travolta, but the one nominated role that stands out the most is Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield. Why, you may ask? Jackson was unceremoniously snubbed at both the Globes and the Oscars in the Supporting Actor category. To this day, there one name that make me cringe: Martin Landau. Welcome to the inaugural edition of ‘Snub You’.
So why did Samuel L. Jackson get snubbed? It couldn’t have been Jackson’s acting in Pulp Fiction. The Oscar-winning screenplay by Tarantino and Roger Avary allowed Jackson to shine in Pulp Fiction. It couldn’t have been the actual character of Jules Winnfield. I know in the past we have seen a despicable character ruin an actor’s chance to reap the rewards of bringing that miserable person to life; think Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List or Michael Fassbender’s current Oscar problem in 12 Years A Slave. Jackson’s portrayal of Jules is still quoted to this day and Pulp Fiction posters can still be seen hanging in college dorm rooms. The character’s cultural impact is ever-present in pop culture. I don’t remember seeing many Ed Wood posters featuring Martin Landau hanging in some young filmmaker’s bedroom; which brings us to the reason Samuel L. Jackson was snubbed – OLD AGE.
I’m not saying Landau didn’t do a great job in Ed Wood as horror-great Bela Lugosi. Landau gave a funny, yet heartbreaking performance as the drug-addicted, washed up Dracula actor. But it was no where close to Jackson’s performance in Pulp Fiction. Unfortunately for Jackson, the Oscars sometimes reward older actors for their past achievements rather than the role that was nominated. In layman’s terms, the Oscars are afraid that actors of an advanced age may die before they get nominated again, so they end up getting the sympathy vote.
For example, I like Jack Palance in City Slickers, but he did not deserve to win the Oscar. Palance’s role was important, but very small in City Slickers. Tommy Lee Jones should have taken home the Oscar for his role in JFK. Palance was an old-timer who had been nominated in the past but never won, so the Oscars decided to reward the Hollywood veteran with an Oscar. Another undeserving winner would be James Coburn. Coburn was a lifetime character actor and was never even nominated for an Oscar until Affliction. I would go as far as to say he was the weakest nominee in a category that included Geoffrey Rush, Ed Harris and, my pick for that year, Billy Bob Thornton in A Simple Plan.
The Oscars have a fear of watching a great actor or actress die without earning an Oscar. I call this the “Peter O’Toole Syndrome.” My problem is the award is for the best acting job that year. The award is not meant to be given to someone like Christopher Plummer who was snubbed for years then given the award for Beginners in fear of him dying before he was recognized again for his work. There is no doubt in my mind, and in the minds countless others, that Samuel L. Jackson gave the best performance in the Supporting Actor category, but was snubbed to benefit the old guy who never won. Even Jackson knew he should have won! As Landau accepted his award during the Oscars telecast, Jackson blatantly mouthed a dirty word through his insincere applause.
Jackson, who is now 65, has not been nominated for an Oscar since Pulp Fiction and now we must hope that he gets an old man sympathy vote one day. We’ll see if the same scenario plays out again with Bruce Dern’s nomination for Nebraska as speculators throw around the phrase “He’s never won” in the Oscar talk. Dern is great, but it would be highway robbery if he beat Matthew McConaughey or Chiwetel Ejiofor in the Best Actor category because he’s old. The Academy Awards are for the best performance that year… not a career achievement award. Snub You, Academy Awards!