Without Pacino, the last installment of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather franchise would have been just another mafia melodrama. Even so, the 1990 gangster-family saga garnered 7 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Andy Garcia), and even Best Cinematography for the usually neglected Gordon Willis, but Pacino's performance – unlike those in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II – didn't make the cut.
“Al not getting nominated has almost spoiled everything else,” remarked producer Fred Roos. “I thought Al was the surest bet we had. Maybe his performance was taken for granted.”
Pacino did, however, get a Best Supporting Actor nod that year for his heavily madeup (and very effective) master criminal “Big Boy” Caprice in Warren Beatty's cartoonish Dick Tracy. But Pacino lost to Joe Pesci's gun-toting psycho in that year's other gangster movie not based on comics, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.
Two years later, Pacino would be nominated both as Best Supporting Actor (for Glengarry Glen Ross) and as Best Actor (for Scent of a Woman). He won in the latter category.
Regarding that win – for a lesser performance than, for instance, those in the Godfather movies or Dog Day Afternoon – Pacino was quoted as saying in Al Pacino in Conversation with Lawrence Grobel:
“You know, I was surprised how I felt after that. There was a kind of a glow that lasted a couple of weeks. I'd never had that feeling. It's kind of like winning an Olympic medal, because it is so identifiable. Only in the Olympics you win it because you're the best – with the Oscar that's not necessarily the case. It's just your turn.”
Fred Roos quote: Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona.