Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Unsung Hero Blogathon: Laurence Fishburne


Last year, KG of KG's Movie Rants helped me host by annual Against the Crowd Blogathon. The least I could do is participate in his first solo venture, The Unsung Hero Blogathon. The task for participating bloggers is simple enough. If you want the full version of the rules, click here. The short version is that all we have to do is write a post about a performance, or a body of work, you feel was unjustly robbed or all together snubbed by Oscar. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of those, right? There is a twist that made it a little more challenging, though. The actor who gave said performance(s) must not have won an Oscar at all. After much consternation, I've decided to focus on a man whom I feel should most definitely have at least one golden statuette, if not two.That man is Laurence Fishburne.


I first became aware of Fishburne when we were both very young. So young, was he, he went by Larry. He was the pubescent star of the 'hood classic Cornbread, Earl, and Me (1975). Many more people learned of his existence through a little movie called Apocalypse Now (1979). Over the next decade, Fishburne had some highs and lows. He turned in excellent work in The Cotton Club (1984) and School Daze, but also appeared in laughably bad stuff like Death Wish II and Band of the Hand. He hit his stride in the 90s, beginning with 1990's The King of New York. 1991 gave us the first of several roles for which I thought he should have at least been nominated...

For Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Laurence Fishburne as Furious Styles in Boyz N the Hood
I won't mince words with you. Boyz N the Hood is one of the greatest movies ever made. Period. Being that it is a dissertation on the importance of fathers, the character Furious Styles casts a very large shadow over every moment of it. His very presence is what makes the difference between the protagonist and all of his friends. It all works because of the phenomenal performance put in by Fishburne. It drips with passion and conviction. He makes us truly understand the film's key line, which he gets to deliver: "Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children."

I could argue that Fishburne gave an award-worthy performance in his very next film, In fact, I will.

For Best Actor in a Leading Role
Laurence Fishburne as Det. Russell Stevens Jr. in Deep Cover
It's a tale about an undercover detective who gets sucked into the underworld he's investigating. As said detective, Fishburne is so good it's impossible not to believe in his ordeal. It's one of the few films in which he has gotten to play the protagonist and it makes me wonder why he hasn't gotten more opportunities to do just that.

To finish out a three year stretch that I consider to be among the best of any actor of his generation, Fishburne gave two more excellent performances on the big screen in 1993. In a supporting role, he again manages to assert his influence over the entirety of a film in Searching for Bobby Fischer, a film about a young chess prodigy. Should he have been nominated? Maybe. The film did earn a nomination for Best Cinematography, so it was on the Academy's radar. That said, they did give Fishburne his first and, so far, only nomination for his other performance that year...

For Best Actor in a Leading Role
Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It
No need beating around the bush on this one. He should have won. He was only about a thousand times better than winner Tom Hanks was in Philadelphia. Hanks got to sit around looking sick while Denzel Washington actually carried the movie. Fishburne, on the other hand, gave us one of the great villains of all-time, especially when we consider the fact that What's Love Got to Do With It is a biopic. He completely disappears within the visage of Ike Turner giving us an unrepentant monster, charming and scary. He should've won, dammit.

Fishburne did win something in 1993. He earned an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his appearance on TV's Tribeca: The Box. He took 1994 off, but returned with a vengeance in 1995. That year alone, he turned in five wonderful performances. He was very good alongside Ellen Barkin in Bad Company and even better alongside Sean Connery in Just Cause. Better than either of those was his turn as a caring college professor in Higher Learning. It was the first of the type of roles he's become known for, that of the sage adviser. He was also outstanding in the much-hyped, but now underrated Othello, in which he got to play the titular Moor. He capped things off by being nominated for (but not winning) another Emmy. This time it was for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for his role on the HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen. He was nominated for the same award two years later for his work in another HBO movie, Miss Evers' Boys. Also in 1997, Fishburne was excellent in the criminally underseen Hoodlum. In 1999, he was in a movie that was seen by everyone. And it should have earned him a nod...

For Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix
Like Boyz N the Hood, I consider The Matrix to be one of the best movies ever made. Also like Boyz, I don't think it would be without the contributions of Laurence Fishburne. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves is the hero, but go back and watch it again. It's really Fishburne's Morpheus that drives the entire film. His fervent belief in Neo is infectious and transfers to the film's second most important character, Carrie-Anne Moss's Trinity. More importantly, it transfers to us, the viewers. It's a big sci-fi action flick, but Fishburne gives a performance that transcends the genre, and even the medium of film itself.

Since the turn of the century, Mr. Fishburne has continued to be a very busy actor, appearing on screens big and small, year after year. Even this year is shaping up to be a very nice one for him. He's a regular on, and one of the producers of, the hit sitcom Black-ish. He may very well be nominated for another Emmy for his role as Nelson Mandela on the BET miniseries Madiba. On the big screen, he appeared in the hit John Wick: Chapter 2. Fishburne also has two more films in production that may or may not be released in 2017, Ruby in Murdertown and Last Flag Flying.  I've got my fingers crossed that an Oscar is his future.

C'mon, Academy.

26 comments:

  1. Fishburne is a great choice for this. I have Boyz N the Hood on my Blind Spot list this year and I'm really looking forward to seeing it, and his performance in it.

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  2. I'm going to say something that might get me kicked off this site, I've actually never seen Boys N The Hood...I keep hearing about it and it's quoted a lot in pop-culture but I've never made an honest effort to get my hands on it. I think it's about time I change that. I also haven't seen Deep Cover so I'll be sure to give that a look when I get time. I definitely agree that Hoodlum is criminally underseen, one of my favourite childhood movies even though I don't think thirteen year old me was supposed to be watching such. I recently watched The Matrix for a review and have to agree that Fishburne deserved an award for that film, his Morpheus is monumental. Thanks for joining in the fun and giving me a list of movies that I need to go watch.

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    1. Please rush out and see Boys N the Hood RIGHT NOW! And yes, check out Deep Cover when you get a chance. Hoodlum is downright tame compared to some of the stuff I was watching at 13. Finally, Morpheus = yes.

      Thanks for hosting and giving me an excuse to hype this great actor.

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  3. While I haven't seen all these films I definitely agree that Laurence Fishburne is overdue for the prize but at least he's been acknowledged with a nomination. It's people like Donald Sutherland or Alan Rickman who've never been even given a nod, and now sadly that won't happen for Rickamn, that really drives me nuts.

    Anyway back to Fishburne. He's consistently good, whether the material matches his work or not which makes his single time up to bat all the more perplexing.

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    1. I keep forgetting Donald Sutherland has never been nominated. It's a hard thing to reconcile with the man's resume and ability. As for Fishburne, I'm a fan, so you get no argument from me.

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  4. How embarrassing is it the only thing I've properly seen him in was as the main character in CSI like, a-billion years ago? xD

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  5. I agree, and I'd consider him in Searching for Bobby Fischer as well.

    The number of people who never got a nomination in their careers is depressing, going all the way back to the glory days of Hollywood--Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotten, Peter Lorre. Mia Farrow is a big miss, too. And, as mentioned above, Donald Sutherland. Without thinking hard I can come up with probably half a dozen where he deserved recognition.

    It's frustrating. I'm happy that Laurence has at least gotten a nomination, but there's no reason he shouldn't have walked off with a statue at some point. Of course, I also say that about Barbara Stanwyck (four noms, no wins) and Peter O'Toole (eight noms, no wins). And Amy Adams (0-for-5), Sigourney Weaver (0-for-3), and Ed Harris (0-for-4).

    Man, sometimes the Oscars suck!

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    1. Love the passion in this comment! It's amazing that none of those giants won an Oscar. I'm especially partial to Robinson. What a great actor, he was. Oscars suck, indeed.

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    2. I say without shame that this is why I do Oscar posts on Monday and Friday. It's not a celebration of Oscar; it's an accounting.

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    3. No shame necessary. I love your Oscars stuff.

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    4. only sometimes they suck?... ;P

      I know you're talkin actors but Kubrick never won one. If that doesn't make them a complete joke I don't know what does. Welles didn't either.

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    5. Absolutely true on both counts.

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  6. Dang, aside from The Matrix -- and Fishburne's is definitely the stand-out performance there -- I haven't seen any of these movies. I hadn't even heard of Deep Cover.

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    1. Hmmm...sounds like someone needs to go on a Fishburne bender.

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  7. Such a great choice! Fishburne is one of those actors who you always remember even in small roles and his Morpheus is absolutely iconic and so influential not just in movies but in pop culture

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    1. Thanks. Fishburne is an amazing actor and, yes, Morpheus is truly an iconic character.

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  8. The man is definitely one of our finest actors and is in a rare list, in my opinion, of actors who can't suck. You could put him in a bad movie or even the worst thing ever and he can put out a performance for the ages. And I still dug him as Cowboy Curtis.

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  9. Boyz n' the Hood was some movie. A big omission for Laurence. Saw him recently in Hannibal where I noticed how amazing his voice was. Never noticed it before.

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    1. He has a great voice. It was pretty much the only thing I liked about the Silver Surfer in that Fantastic Four movie.

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  10. Furious Styles and Ike Turner are my two favorite Fishburne performances. He's very difficult to watch in What's Love Got to Do With It. So damn brutal.

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    1. Damn brutal is an understatement. He's something far beyond that.

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