And now a brand spanking new feature on my blog that will look back on certain years in Oscar history and review what won and was nominated, what wasn’t, and why.
We’ll start with 1992 – a year that brought one iconic actor some very overdue recognition, gave us a real surprise in the Supporting Actress category, and started the Academy recognition for another iconic director and actor that would continue over the next two decades.
In the Best Picture race, the film to beat was actually released in summer 1992: Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which received critical acclaim and was a huge box office hit.
Eastwood had not exactly been on a roll in 1992. Titles he directed and appeared recently before that included Pink Cadillac, an action comedy co-starring Bernadette Peters and the buddy cop flick The Rookie, with Charlie Sheen. Unforgiven marked a great achievement for Eastwood – a great Western with a wonderful cast that included Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris. Audiences responded well and the Academy saw it as their first real chance to honor the filmmaker.
Also nominated in the Best Picture race: Rob Reiner’s hit A Few Good Men, with an all-star that included Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland. We all remember the final courtroom scene showdown between Cruise and Nicholson (I won’t bother quoting it – you couldn’t handle it). Released in December 1992 to decent reviews and huge box office, I won’t deny that Men is an intensely watchable film with some fine moments. However, I’ve always maintained that it’s a little bit overrated. Still, 1992 is a pretty weak year for movies, so it’s nomination is no big surprise and I do not strenuously object to its nomination.
On the British side, we have Jame Ivory’s Howards End with Anthony Hopkins (fresh off winning Best Actor in 1991 for some movie where played a cannibal) and Emma Thompson, based on E.M. Forster’s novel. I would love to share my thoughts on this picture, but truth be told, it’s been years since I’ve seen it and I don’t remember much about it. Rewatching the trailer – I kind of want to see it again and I’m sure the performances were terrific, but I’m not going to pretend I recall a whole lot about it.
A film that came out of nowhere in 1992 is Neil Jordan’s thriller The Crying Game, starring Neil Jordan, Jaye Davidson, Miranda Richardson, and Forest Whitaker. A top-notch thriller – it’s become famous for a twist in the second half that truly is shocking. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it (because you should), but it took the film in a totally unexpected direction that helped garner the attention paid to it. Shocking twist aside, The Crying Game, along with Unforgiven, deserved its Academy recognition.
The same cannot be said, in my humble opinion, for the fifth nominee – Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino stars as a blind Army colonel who gives his new aide (Chris O’Donnell) a hard time and in the process they learn about life and stuff. Pacino also has a now famous tango scene. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but Scent of a Woman didn’t have much of an impact on me and it, unfortunately, helped start a little down slide in the great Pacino’s career where he overacted way too much.
Those were the five nominees in 1992. Unforgiven was the clear frontrunner at the time and it won, as did Eastwood for his directing. Other directing nominees were Martin Brest for Scent, James Ivory for Howards End, and Neil Jordan for Crying Game. Rob Reiner’s direction in A Few Good Men was not nominated. Instead, the fifth slot went to Robert Altman for The Player, a biting satire of Hollywood that is one on my favorite features of 1992 and should ha received a Best Picture nomination.
What else could’ve or should’ve been Best Picture contenders in 1992? Many would say Spike Lee’s biopic Malcolm X. Or Glengarry Glen Ross, a terrific film adaptation of David Mamet’s play. Or how about Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day-Lewis? Also, Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It. 1992 also marked Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which in a perfect world, should’ve been nominated. Another favorite of mine from that year is George Miller’s Lorenzo’s Oil, starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon as the parents of a boy with a rare disease. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it’s great.
In the Best Actor race, the Academy would finally give Pacino his gold statue. It’s unfortunate that his only Oscar win came for something as unspectacular as Scent. He definitely should’ve won in 1974 for The Godfather – Part II, instead of Art Carney in Harry and Tonto. He also should’ve won Supporting Actor in 1972 for the original Godfather. I’ll forgive him not winning in 1975 for Dog Day Afternoon because I think Jack Nicholson was equally deserving for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His 1992 win is clearly an example of the Academy honoring someone for their body of work and not necessarily the particular film. His competition that year: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) and Denzel Washington (Malcolm X). Many thought Denzel was the actor who deserved it. I probably would’ve found room for Day-Lewis in Mohicans and Nolte in Lorenzo’s Oil among the five as well and perhaps Tim Robbins in The Player.
Emma Thompson would win Best Actress for Howards End, over Catherine Deneuve in Indochine, Mary McDonnell in Passion Fish, Michelle Pfeiffer in Love Field, and Susan Sarandon in Lorenzo’s Oil. Pretty weak category that year and I can’t really think of anyone left off who was totally deserving.
The Supporting Actor category would reward Gene Hackman for his terrific performance in Unforgiven. Other nominees: Jaye Davidson in Crying Game, Jack Nicholson in Few Good Men, Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross, and David Paymer for Mr. Saturday Night. I definitely would’ve left Nicholson and Paymer off the list and replaced them with two more actors in Glengarry Glen Ross: Jack Lemmon (who is the heart and soul of that great movie) and Alec Baldwin, who only has one scene in it, but it’s so fantastic that I would’ve given him a nomination.
The Supporting Actress category would have a foreign feel to it. The nominees: Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives, Joan Plowright in Enchanted April, Vanessa Redgrave in Howards End, and Miranda Richardson in Damage. But it’s the winner that shocked Hollywood: Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. First off, the Academy hardly ever nominates peformers in comedies so Tomei’s nomination was rare. For her to win over that group of actresses though? Shocking. So shocking that there’s been conspiracy theories in Hollywood that Jack Palance (the elderly actor who presented the category) read the wrong name on stage. Probably not true, but Tomei winning is a true Academy surprise. I thought Vinny was a watchable, though completely unremarkable comedy and her performance was good, but Oscar worthy? In that category, I probably would’ve found room for Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns.
So that’s 1992 – a good year for Eastwood and Pacino but a pretty blah year for movies in general. 1993 would be a definite improvement, even if that Best Picture race ended when its winner was released. Stay tuned.