When the 1985 Oscar nominations came out, it was almost a given that the Oscar for Best Actor was going to go to the film Amadeus. Both lead actors, F. Murray Abraham who played Antonio Salieri and Tom Hulce who played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, were nominated for the award. The two shared the screen for much of the film, both giving outstanding performances, but ultimately F. Murray Abraham managed to barely out-act Tom Hulce and come home with the award.
The film Amadeus chronicles the rivalry between veteran composer Antonio Salieri and rookie savant Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Painting Mozart as a giggling yet brilliant fool and Salieri as a jealous, at times villainous elder composer, the film looks at the dynamic that occurred between the two as Mozart grew in popularity. While this story does focus on Mozart and his increasing madness, the real story is the relationship between Salieri and Mozart. They begin as enemies and Salieri even works to exacerbate Mozart’s madness. As Salieri gets to know Mozart however and respect his skill, he begins to care for the man; they even end up working together.
F. Murray Abraham plays the role of Antonio Salieri perfectly. He expertly evolves the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, showing each stage of Salieri’s tortured acceptance of Mozart’s talent and presence. Taking it beyond Salieri’s hatred of Mozart, Abraham gives his character yet another dimension by examining the effect Mozart’s talent has on him. Salieri believed that the talents one has were given to them by God so to see someone like Mozart, a man he considers to be a fool, with such raw talent shakes Salieri’s entire belief system. From the films beginning to its end, Salieri is constantly tortured and Abraham makes it seem as if it were easy to bring the tortured soul to life.
F. Murray Abraham beat Jeff Bridges (Starman), Albert Finney (Under the Volcano), Sam Waterson (The Killing Fields) and his own costar Tom Hulce for the 1985 Best Actor Oscar. In my opinion, the man closest to taking the award from Abraham was Tom Hulce and I do not believe that Abraham would have taken home the Oscar had it not been for Hulce. The two played off each other perfectly, cultivating the constantly evolving and changing relationship between Salieri and Mozart. The two give brilliant performances in an absolutely brilliant film. While F. Murray Abraham took home to win, the film’s brilliance came largely from both lead actors.