Robert Downey Jr.: Chaplin
Stephen Rea: The Crying Game
Denzel Washington: Malcolm X
Al Pacino: Scent of a Woman (winner)
Clint Eastwood: Unforgiven
So it’s completely unplanned on my part that I posted a review of Profumo di Donna that relied heavily on Scent of a Woman and find myself a few days later looking at the Oscar battle of this same year. Things simply happen that way—I plan out my Oscar posts a few months in advance, and this just happened to work out this way. Anyway, as is always the case, I have some ideas on changing our nominations. Russell Crowe’s work in Romper Stomper probably doesn’t really merit a nomination, but it’s pretty damn good. The same may be true of Tim Robbins and The Player, and is almost certainly true of Tony Todd and Candyman, but I like that film a lot more than it probably deserves. Jack Lemmon is near-perfect in Glengarry Glen Ross, and he’s the closest thing to a lead that film has. My Cousin Vinny scored a win for Marisa Tomei, but no nomination for a brilliant performance from Joe Pesci? Robert Redford may have been overlooked for Sneakers as well. My big addition, though, would be Tom Cruise for A Few Good Men, another movie I seem to like more than everyone else.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I hate putting Pacino last, especially for the one Oscar win he has, but it’s where he’s going. Al Pacino absolutely earned multiple Oscars in his career, and for him to have just one and for this performance feels wrong. It’s not only not his best performance, it’s not his best performance in 1992—he’s far better in a much smaller role in Glengarry Glen Ross. I get why he won. I understand that this is a function of the way Oscar works. And I hate that it’s the case because it gives us results like this.
4. One of the problems with The Crying Game is that everyone knows the big twist at this point. The genius of the film is that it still works even if you know the twist. Stephen Rea is an interesting nomination, but one that ultimately doesn’t work for me for one simple, important reason: Jaye Davidson is the most compelling person on the screen at all times, both in terms of character and performance. This isn’t to take anything away from Rea. It’s just the truth that he can’t stand up to one of the great confluences of performance and role of its decade.
3. I like Robert Downey Jr. as an actor and I liked Chaplin pretty well. He is the best part of a film that is good but ultimately pretty flawed. What works for him more than anything is that he gets the pathos of Chaplin’s persona correct. When he’s doing Chaplin’s bits, he’s both funny and tragic, and that’s everything that made the real Chaplin so effective on screen. It’s a good performance and one that would gain a lot of traction in a year that didn’t have two towering performances.
2. Unforgiven, which netted Clint Eastwood his first Oscar, is also the closest he’s ever been to earning an acting Oscar. In a lesser year, I would hand him the statute without a second look or a second thought. Eastwood made his bones playing a tough guy who couldn’t be stopped or kept down. In Unforgiven, he plays a broken version of the same thing, and that’s what makes him so damn interesting. The character is so flawed and damaged, but Eastwood isn’t. He’s a clear winner in other years, but in 1992, he’s just a clear second place.
1. I’ve said before that Do the Right Thing is my favorite Spike Lee movie, and it is. Malcolm X is almost certainly his best and most important, though. A big part of this comes directly from the career performance of Denzel Washington, a guy who has had more than his share of career performances. It was his bad luck to give this in a year when the Academy decided that Pacino had finally done enough to be awarded. It’s what happens when the Academy gives frivolous awards and then has to make amends. This was so clearly Washington’s Oscar that I can’t imagine voting a different way..