Bill Murray did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day is much like It's Wonderful Life, and even more so like A Christmas Carol in that it is about the main character having a growing realization, and change for the better. Bill Murray performance entails the journey of this realization of Phil Connors, but since it is Bill Murray pre-Rushmore he is going for laughs all along the way as well. Here Murray screen persona of the time is perfect for this role, and from the beginning he could not be better as the snarky meteorologist prima donna who thinks very very little of his assignment to a small time to cover an event he has absolutely no respect for whatsoever.
Murray really is a master at playing a jerk in the film. What works so well about his portrayal is the fact that he most certainly does not avoid portraying the more negative qualities, and his smug and cynical behavior is always on full view. What is interesting though is that even though he avoids being a jerk in the role, Murray still manages to be likable nevertheless and very funny. Murray plays the moments when Phil is suppose to be obnoxious such as when he is constantly ridiculing the idea of the Groundhog Day with perfect wit and sarcasm that he both still fits what his character needs to be doing as well as still not being ever actually obnoxious at all.
Eventually though the story springs into action and Phil finds himself reliving the same day over and over and over and over again and again and again. Murray is excellent in this process and he brings us right in there with him as this is one of the very best examples of Murray's particular charm. Yes of course he was smug man just minute ago, but since Murray played that with humor he still is very easy to follow along the rest of the way. Murray particular comedic presence is perfect for this situation, since unlike many comedians Murray's whole style rarely has him act out in just a look at me sort of fashion, even when he screams Murray still makes it grounded within a character.
Murray makes his way through every one these days with excellent precision. Early on when he is mostly just confused by this very strange thing that is happening to him, Murray does actually realistically portray this. He shows that Phil is not horrified, since after all this is not a horrible day, but Murray appropriately convinces us just how taken aback he is by the entire process. In the early days Phil just decides to exploit the day since he faces no consequences for whatever he does. Murray here simply has a lot of fun, and is consistently funny as Phil just does random stuff for the thrill of it.
In the middle though he sets on his sight on his kind but in some ways no nonsense producer Rita (Andie McDowell), and tries to gain knowledge from an infinite amount of encounters to try to seduce here. Again Murray is terrific here as he shows Phil has pretty much just a one track mind, but also more deeply this is quite the shallow pursuit at the moment. There is no want for a deeper connection here just more of a chance to score pretty much, and Murray makes no excuses. Interestingly despite the fact that the group of moments are technically repetitive they never get boring because Murray consistently keeps them fresh with his always enjoyable reactions and little jokes he makes in every realization.
After his repeated failures we have a set of scenes in which Phil commits suicide in various ways to try to end the cycle, but finds he has absolutely no results. This actually here is an outstanding achievement on Murray's part because not only do these never seem in bad taste their in fact hilarious all because of Murray's portrayal. What is fascinating though is Murray even does show the depression fittingly for his situation, but nevertheless his well for the lack of a better word delivery of the suicide scenes are pitch perfect hilarity. Everyone of these could have gone terribly wrong, but Murray makes everyone go absolutely right.
Once his suicides all fail to end the cycle, he finally instead just tries to better himself, and be the best that he can actually be. What works about this is Murray does not really show it to be Phil becoming a new man, but rather making a transition to really what he always could have been. Murray is excellent here because he does not become boring, but frankly his wit is still there is just comes to serve better things. It is a realization that Murray portrays not a change. Murray genuinely shows that Phil simply does find the beauty, and the joy to be had of his surroundings that was always there.
This is a terrific achievement by Bill Murray because he not only is a great comedic performance, but it does actually is a emotionally convincing one as well. He is the perfect jerk as well as the charming romantic lead, even though I should say his chemistry with McDowell works a great deal because it is not overly romantic, but that really is the perfect tone for the relationship. Really if the lead actor was not someone who is such a joy with to be with through everyone of the groundhog days the film would have not worked. Murray brings this joy to every scene though with his truly memorable work here that is probably his personal best.