In the final heated build-up to Oscar night, the tendency is to look at all of the ways the Academy has failed us or is bound to fail us. We do last-minute championing of underdog films and performances or perform a final public, or private, snub lament (not to worry, some of that is forthcoming).

I thought it might be nice, however, to take a look back at some of the moments where the fates have aligned to provide a win we can really appreciate. I spent some time yesterday afternoon looking over the Academy Award winners of the past 20-odd years, and there were some notable pleasures in the mix. Whether they were upsets or favored, whether I recall watching the moment live or have since come to appreciate the significance, they inspire that rare sense of visceral gratification.

Glancing down the list I assembled I'm reminded of films and performances that I'm happy to see preserved by at least the small measure of posterity that an Academy Award win in their category affords them. Whether it was the world's discovery of Geoffrey Rush in “Shine,” Chris Cooper’s “Adaptation” win and acceptance speech, the brilliantly satiric and effective “No Man’s Land,” the acknowledgment of cinematographer Guillermo Navarro’s work on “Pans Labyrinth” or my own strange affection for Anjelica Huston’s win for her portrayal of “yeah, right here, on the oriental with all the lights on” Maerose Prizzi in “Prizzi's Honor,” there are a wealth of solidly satisfying Oscar wins in my book.

As much as I appreciate all of the other honorees, however, I must say, the Oscar win that was at the forefront of my mind at the beginning of my investigation remained at the top of my list at the close. There are few Academy Awards moments that evoke as deep and cathartic a sense of pleasure as Kevin Kline’s Best Supporting Actor victory for his portrayal of the hapless, but most certainly not stupid, criminal simple-mind Ottto in “A Fish Called Wanda.” Kris, you'll note, also mentioned it in Friday's podcast when prompted by a questioner for his favorite Oscar win.

Firstly, Kline was the strongest in his field that year. He was fresh, spontaneous, and yet so finely tuned. Secondly, his win represents one of the rare occasions in which the Academy voters have demonstrated a real respect for legitimate comedy rather than splitting the difference with a drama peppered with comedic tones. On a more ephemeral level, Kline is an actor who inspires goodwill with his mere presence. He is someone we want to see win and it is especially gratifying that he did so on merit, in a surprising role.

Aside from Kline’s performance, which holds up beautifully, the film remains one of the best comedies of the last several decades. It sometimes happens that we do not care for a particular actor but can concede that his or her performance is the strongest in a given year, or we like the portrayal but not the film as a whole, or we love the film and think the depiction is fine, but do not find it outstanding or particularly memorable. It is rare and significant when all of the elements are in place.

Kevin Kline’s win stands out as the one that, 24 years after the moment occurred, is guaranteed to bring a smile to my face.

For a reminder of the events that make Oscar worthwhile, re-familiarize yourself with the Otto:

Meanwhile, how ironic that just as this piece goes up this afternoon, the Academy has just announced a new comedy bit between Kline and Mike Myers called "Oscar Etiquette," which you can view at Oscars.com or via the embed below.

 

 

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