Twenty years ago, Chicago swept the Oscars, scoring a major Miramax victory and helping reassure the comeback of the movie musical with six wins out of thirteen nominations, including one for supporting actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. Like this year, where not one but two films – The Banshees of Inisherin and Everything Everywhere All At Once – received four acting nominations, Chicago had done the same, for Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Zeta-Jones.
You’ll notice that there was no nomination for the film’s other lead, Richard Gere.
It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of talk about Gere. He’d even been a semi-surprise winner at the Golden Globes that year, in the Actor in a Musical or Comedy category, and received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for leading actor as well. (He lost to Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York there.) Come nomination time, though, he was not one of the five nominees, which included four previous winners: Day-Lewis, Nicolas Cage (Adaptation), Michael Caine (The Quiet American), and Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt), and one new newcomer, Adrien Brody in The Pianist. (Two-decade old spoiler alert: Brody won, in one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. He remains the category’s youngest winner to date.)
Gere has stated that not being nominated did sting a bit, given the many nominations others involved with the film received. (Jeff Daniels said something similar when he was not among the nominations received by Terms of Endearment.) And he’s entertaining as heck in the film, playing feckless attorney Billy Flynn, a slick guy who shines bright despite corruption all around him. He plays particularly well opposite Zellweger; those scenes haven’t aged a bit. But while he has musical theatre bona fides (he was in the original production of Grease!), I’m not convinced that it’s Gere we see dancing in Billy Flynn’s big scenes – director Rob Marshall cuts away from full frame shots in those scenes, replacing them with close-ups of feet that could belong to anyone.
I’m sure that Gere had to contend with common first-world problem among celebrities. He’s a movie star first, thanks to work in major movies like American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, and Primal Fear. But as his work in films like Dr. T and the Women and his other 2002 work, the underrated Unfaithful, he’s an actor too, capable of nuanced work and surprisingly versatile. In a category stuffed with prestigious actors, Academy voters might just have been swayed by the (very) decorated competition.
So, should he have been nominated? In the final analysis, still no. The other nominees that year were so good, and worked with material at a higher level. But I’ll throw out a proposition I’ve made several times in the past. He should be considered for an Honorary Oscar. Given the list of career highs I’ve already mentioned, he’s certainly overdue.