The answer to the title question may seem simple: obviously Jim Carrey is a comedian. Comedians don’t win Oscars.
While anyone familiar with Carrey’s post Ace Ventura career knows the former isn’t true—nor should the latter be— they also know that Jim Carrey has delivered at least five—yes, FIVE—performances truly deserving of Oscar consideration, but how many nominations does he deserve out of that lot? Ben Travers hashes it out:
#1: Dumb & Dumber
In 1994, Jim Carrey was having a Channing Tatum kind of year. First came Ace Ventura in February with The Mask arriving quickly on its heels in July. Though both films are quite funny thanks mainly to the efforts of their leading lad, they do not hold a candle to the film that followed them.
Dumb & Dumber arrived in December and should have immediately been embraced as an absolutely brilliant piece of film history. It deserves to be ranked among the best comedies ever produced. It’s up there with The Gold Rush, Some Like It Hot, Animal House, and The Jerk. Though the collaboration between Carrey and Jeff Daniels certainly makes the film a team effort—I would argue they both deserve Oscar nominations—Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas is a uniquely sympathetic moron in that he exists in a vacuum of his own thoughts. Think back. From “We’ve landed on the moon!” to “Big Gulps, eh?” Lloyd’s mistakes are those of a pure soul and a good heart. Carrey embodies these attributes perfectly with his goofy grin and bright eyes, and his comedic timing could not have been more spot on—“Harry, you’re alive…and a horrible shot!”
Unfortunately for Carrey, 1994 wasn’t just a big year for him. The Best Actor race was made up of at least four beloved thespians from films with passionate supporters. Tom Hanks won for Forrest Gump, and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, John Travolta (Pulp Fiction), and Paul Newman (Nobody’s Fool) made up the rest of the time-honored nominees.
The odd man out would be Nigel Hawthorne for most voters casting ballots for a retraction. I, however, strongly dislike Forrest Gump for its haphazard blend of whimsical impossibilities and historical facts, so I would remove Hanks. Just to infuriate my readers even further, I would argue Jim Carrey’s performance is better than the rest of the class, as well.
He shouldn’t have just been nominated in 1994. He should have won.
I know, I know. It’s a one out of a million shot anyone agrees with me, but if anything it’s fitting to parallel the ignorant belief of the character I’m championing. So you’re telling me there’s a chance…
#2: The Truman Show
This was the one that got away. Despite a booming box office, across-the-board praise, and even a Golden Globe win for Best Dramatic Actor, Jim Carrey still found himself on the outside looking in come nominations’ day.
Well, like many still jaded over the undeserved attention paid to Life is Beautiful, I’m going to blame Roberto Benigni. The energetic Italian won Best Actor over the heavily favored Tom Hanks in 1998. Despite his victory, he’s still the odd man out. Hanks—come on. Give him the nod just for being in the greatest war movie ever made. Nick Nolte (Affliction) and Edward Norton (American History X) also cannot be denied. Though I’ve never seen Gods and Monsters, I find it hard to image Ian McKellen didn’t earn his spot on the roster either.
So who should be kicked out to make room for Carrey? Benigni. The man who caused such a ruckus on Oscar night by climbing over the chairs on his way to the podium was never to be heard from again after that night. Nor was he notably missed. Carrey, on the other hand, was driven so utterly mad by the snub he actually tried to become Jimmy Stewart, and then we all had to suffer through The Majestic.
#3: Man on the Moon
While 1999 was an admittedly exceptional year for film, Jim Carrey seemed to have his first Academy Award nomination locked despite the crowded field. Carrey earned his second Golden Globe and first Screen Actors Guild nomination for his nuanced, controlled, and emotionally variant portrayal of troubled comedian Andy Kaufman.
Though the film wasn’t terribly successful with critics or at the box office, everyone seemed to agree that Carrey delivered an eerily riveting performance. While I can’t in good conscious argue he deserved to win—Kevin Spacey earned his Oscar for American Beauty—I would substitute Carrey for Russell Crowe, who’s nomination for The Insider was deserved, but in the wrong category.
#4: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In retrospect, it seems positively criminal Michel Gondry’s opus on regret and relationships only received two Oscar nominations. It was shut out of the Best Picture race in favor or Ray and Finding Neverland (WHAT?!). Kate Winslet made her way into the Best Actress field and Charlie Kaufman’s script won for Original Screenplay (how could it not?), but Gondry was cast aside for Best Director in favor of Mike Leigh for Vera Drake—a movie even the people who voted for won’t remember today—and Taylor Hackford, who’s first syllable of his last name makes the appropriate adjective for the director of Ray.
So who was chosen over Mr. Carrey, who’s haunted, shy, introverted romantic lead was not only a first for the actor but for romance films in general? Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator), and Jamie Foxx (Ray). Only DiCaprio and Cheadle deserved their nominations, and we may as well flip a coin over who actually warrants the win between the two and Carrey. I’d vote for Carrey, but would have gladly settled for anyone other than Jamie Foxx. An impressive impersonation is not on the same level as impressive acting.
Just Missed: I Love You Phillip Morris
Never heard of it? Yeah, I can’t say too many people have. Other than my brilliant colleague Joe Vallese, I’ve only spoken to a handful of film fans who’ve seen the gloriously independent love story from directors (and writers) Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Jim Carrey plays Steven Russell, a happily married man who realizes he’s a repressed homosexual after a car accident. He then flips from a conservative family man to a single-and-loving-it law-breaker. His actions land him in jail where he meets and falls head over heels in love with Phillip Morris. He then breaks in and out of jail for the rest of the movie trying to spend time with his loved one.
No, this is not about the tobacco industry—but it is a true story. Yes, Carrey is portraying the real life Russell and he does so with a surprisingly effective blend of his old and new selves. There are moments of laugh-out-loud humor invoked from Carrey’s trademark rubber face. Then there are heartbreaking instants where the soul in Carrey’s eyes shines brightly before it cracks.
It’s a memorable, poignant portrayal, but I don’t know if I could nominate Carrey in 2009. Jeff Bridges won that year for Crazy Heart, and he was followed closely behind by George Clooney (Up in the Air), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), and Colin Firth (A Single Man). Perhaps I could part with Morgan Freeman in Invictus, but that would be based more on my distaste for the film than Freeman’s solid turn as Nelson Mandela.
So how many Oscar nominations and wins should Jim Carrey have by now? Ben Travers says: