The first subject in our look at the 1996 Best Picture contest is...
Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Renee Zellweger, Kelly Preston, Jerry O'Connell, Jay Mohr, Bonnie Hunt, Regina King, Jonathan Lipnicki
1 win, for Best Supporting Actor (Gooding)
Hard-working sports agent Jerry Maguire (Cruise) grows a conscience seemingly overnight and decides that his industry needs to start treating their clients less like money-making machines and more like close friends. He impulsively writes a lengthy mission statement for his agency and prints enough copies for everyone in the office. Unsurprisingly, upper management disapproves of his "fewer clients, less money" approach to business and summarily fires him. In a failed attempt to bring all his clients with him to start a new firm, he leaves the office with just one remaining client, football wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Gooding). He is joined by Dorothy from accounts (Zellweger), who, inspired by Jerry's brave outspokenness, throws caution to the wind and walks out with him. While the two struggle to keep the new company afloat, they also struggle to navigate through their burgeoning romance.
A modern classic, Jerry Maguire feels comfortable and familiar. Though, I guess to be fair, I've seen it a number of times before, so it's not entirely surprising that it's familiar to me. And sure, it's a little sentimental and manipulative and Hollywood, but it's sentimental and manipulative and Hollywood in exactly the way that I find entertaining. There's a reason inspirational music is layered on top of romantic turning points. It makes you feel stuff. And Jerry Maguire made me feel stuff, I'm not ashamed to admit it. Underneath it all, the film explores that incredibly accessible theme of not quite knowing what you want but knowing that you want do something great.
It's hard to think of another film in recent history with as many well-known lines. In fact, not since Casablanca has one film spawned such an abundance of quotable quotes that have entered the pop culture lexicon. "You complete me." "Help me help you." "The key to this business is personal relationships." "You are my ambassador of kwan." And, of course, the two that found their way into the AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes, "You had me at hello," and "Show me the money!" That last one features in what is possibly the most famous scene of the movie, a sequence so endearing and electrifying that it's almost impossible not to smile while experiencing it.
Not only are Cameron Crowe's direction and Oscar-nominated screenplay on point, but he has also assembled a superb cast. With his used car salesman smile, I often feel Tom Cruise comes across as superficial, but as a sports agent, his mild insincerity seems fitting and earned him a Best Actor nomination. In her breakout role, Renee Zellweger nails her portrayal of the cute and insecure Dorothy. Bonnie Hunt is both droll and genuine as Dorothy's concerned sister. Little Jonathan Lipnicki is beyond adorable with his infectious smile. Jay Mohr is perfectly smarmy and slimy. And Beau Bridges is excellent in an uncredited role as the bold father to a rising football star. But the two standouts among this incredible ensemble are Regina King and Cuba Gooding, Jr (pictured). They display brilliant chemistry together and both deliver knockout individual performances. King is amazingly honest as the strong yet vulnerable football wife. And Gooding won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the sort of role that doesn't often get recognised with awards. Rod Tidwell is brash and showy, but Gooding balances Rod's cockiness with a genuine sensitivity that is on beautiful display during several heart-to-hearts with Jerry. Even his famed acceptance speech seemed in line with the character for which he won. It was both full of heart and full of you-can't-play-me-off-stage-with-your-orchestral-music.