Leaving Las Vegas (1995): Mike Figgis Best Film Starring Nicolas Cage in Oscar Winning Performance

Bleak yet compelling, depressing yet strangely romantic, “Leaving Las Vegas” is easily Mike Figgis’ best feature to date, an accomplished drama boasting two great performances, by Nicholas Cage, who deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar, and Elizabeth Shue, who was nominated but didn’t win.




Cage plays Benjamin, a man who arrives in Las Vegas intent on drinking himself to death—literally; he begins the day drinking Vodka in the shower. Shue plays Sera, a self-deluding and victimized yet sensitive hooker. The two meet on the strip and bound by loneliness and inevitable ruin, enter into a bizarre love affair, based on some basic agreements. Benjamin won’t complain about her seedy line of work, while she won’t try to stop his drinking. Surprisingly, the movie is not dreary or depressing; in moments, it’s even humorous and romantic.





“Leaving Las Vegas” swept all the critics awards, including the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics associations, which praised Figgis’ film as a small-scale, deeply intimate two-character drama about a peculiarly engaging relationship. However, as expected from a “small” art film, it was not particularly popular at the box-office. According to rumors, many Academy members had simply not seen the picture.





Nicholas Cage excels in playing a middle-aged man on a quick slide to bottom as he sinks deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism. But the real revelation is Elizabeth Shue, mostly known until now for frivolous comedies “Adventures in Babysitting”), who turns in an extraordinarily complex and riveting performance as a sensual, tough prostitute who gains her humanity and self-respect the hard way.





Oscar Alert




Oscar Nominations: 4



Director: Mike Figgis



Screenplay (Adapted): Mike Figgis


Actor: Nicholas Cage


Actress: Elizabeth Shue


Oscar Awards: 1








Oscar Context






The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Susan Sarandon for “Dead Man Walking.” Emma Thompson won the Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “Sense and Sensibility.”





In 1995, the best picture nominees were: “Apollo 13,” “Babe,” “Braveheart,” which won, the Italian film “Il Postino” (“The Postman”), and “Sense and Sensibility.” The Oscar-nominated Figgis refused to view the omission of “Leaving Las Vegas” from the Best Picture nominees as a snub, claiming: “Everything is a bonus. The film will get an exposure to audiences it would not have otherwise had.” Indeed, industry recognition, by way of Oscar nominations and awards, increased the films’ commercial prospects abroad.