The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1992

Unforgiven. There’s really nothing more I need to say about 1992. It was a great year. Eastwood wins Best Director for it (which I talked about here). Al Pacino finally wins Best Actor, for Scent of a Woman (which I talked about here), Emma Thompson wins Best Actress for Howards End, and Marisa Tomei wins Best Supporting Actress for My Cousin Vinny. Really not a bad decision in the bunch.

And now this category. Another one of those, good decision by default, ones. There really wasn’t much else they could to here.


And the nominees were…

Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game

Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

Al Pacino, Glengarry Glen Ross

David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night

Hackman — Unforgiven, as you should know, is a film everybody needs to see. I imagine the one thing that keeps people from seeing it is the fact that it’s a western. Trust me, that doesn’t matter. Plus, if you’re at all interested in seeing film, you need to see this movie. If you’re a movie fan but don’t like westerns, there’s only about five westerns you need to watch. Stagecoach, High Noon The Searchers, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and this. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I don’t really count as a western. I don’t know why. So that skews my list a bit. And then The Wild Bunch — also amazing, but probably not necessary unless you love the genre, or love film history. Same with Shane. Rio Bravo, I think everyone should see, but I don’t know if I’d say you need to see it if you just hate westerns. Anyway, the point it, Unforgiven is a film that everybody needs to see because it’s the eulogy to the western genre. The genre died with Outlaw Josey Wales, but never really was given a fitting end, until Clint Eastwood rode back into town and made the western to end all westerns. This film is perfect.

Clint plays a retired gunslinger who has since retired, moved onto a farm with his wife and has raised children. The dream that all gunslingers have. And his wife has since died, his kids are young, and the farm just isn’t really working out. He’s running out of money, the crops won’t grow, the pigs are dying — times are tough. And along comes this kid saying he wants him to take a contract with him for two cowboys who went into a whorehouse and beat and cut up a woman real bad. And Eastwood eventually agrees, and goes along — picks up his old friend Morgan Freeman along the way — and they go about killing those two boys. And that’s the film, basically. The western is a deceptively simple animal. Just look at The Ox-Bow Incident.

And Gene Hackman plays the sheriff of the town. He’s intent on making it a civilized place, even though he’s pretty sadistic in doing so. He has a “no guns” policy for the town, and pretty much runs anyone out who even remotely fits the bill of a troublemaker. There’s a great scene where Richard Harris shows up in town, and he’s a known gunfighter. And Hackman knows he’s coming for the reward — which he disapproves of — and puts him in jail, beats the shit out of him, and uses him as an example to anyone else looking to get the reward. And he has a writer there who he tells his story to, and he encounters Eastwood, and then there’s the thing where he and his men kill Morgan Freeman and string him up in a coffin outside the local tavern, which leads to the incredible showdown at the end of the film. Really great stuff.

Hackman is as Hackman always is. You know what you’re gonna get with him. Some say he wasn’t good enough to win, but, I say it’s fine. Once we get to the end, you’ll see why he won. I say it was fine, and hey, he’s Gene Hackman — do we really need more of a reason to vote for him than that?

Davidson — Well, probably one of the most appropriate nominations I’ve ever seen in this category. This is a performance that does exactly what it needs to so. And really makes the film what it is as well.

The film is about Stephen Rea as an IRA dude who kidnaps Forest Whitaker, a British soldier. They keep him hostage, and Rea is the dude who guards him. And he gets to talking to him over the course of a few days. And eventually starts to respect him. And his more — militant — partner, Miranda Richardson, doesn’t like it. And eventually Rea tries to escape with Whitaker, and eventually Whitaker dies during the escape. So Rea goes to London to tell Whitaker’s girlfriend. And he starts talking to her, and before he can reveal anything, starts falling for her. And he starts talking to her and dating her, and eventually they get to the sexy time, and there’s a nice scene where she undresses, and — boom. The big reveal. Chick, with a dick.

Jaye Davidson plays the girlfriend. And that’s the great conceit of this movie. You think he’s a woman for almost the entire film, and then boom, Mr. Limpy comes out and you’re like — “Huh, I don’t know how to feel about that.” Davidson does a really great job in the movie. And he totally earned this nomination because the performance was so good. I just don’t know if it was good enough to actually win. I wouldn’t have been upset at all if he’d won, but, in a case like this, I don’t really love the film all that much outside of that one moment. There are two films and performances (and actors) I love a lot more than this film, so naturally I skew toward voting for them.

Nicholson — A Few Good Men is a perfect film. It’s one of those films that — whenever it’s on, I can watch it, from any point, all the way through. Beginning, middle, doesn’t matter. It’s just that great. It’s because Aaron Sorkin is an amazing writer. His scripts are so well-written, they just bring you in. This was his first screenplay. His others were Malice, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and soon, Moneyball. Pretty fucking good resume, wouldn’t you say?

This film, if you don’t know — and why don’t you? Have you not watched TNT or TBS at all over the past ten to fifteen years? — is about Tom Cruise as a Navy lawyer. He excels at avoiding trials and currying favors with people in order to get minimum sentences without the hassle of a court case. He’s good, he’s cocky, and he plays softball. And along comes a case, where a dude died during a hazing exercise down at Guantanamo Bay, and the two guys who hazed him are on trial for murder. However, they say it was all part of a standard hazing ritual, which, on the record, doesn’t exist. And more information comes out that the dude may have had a heart condition that was kept hidden in order to cover everybody’s ass. And Cruise doesn’t want the case, but Demi Moore, a superior officer, comes down and he’s basically forced into it. And they go down to Guantanamo and meet with the C.O. there — which of course is Nicholson — who is a real cocky son of a bitch. One of those, “I eat breakfast seventy yards from people who want to fucking kill me, and you have the gall to come down here in your gay little outfit and say I’m the one who should be helping you?” Great performance.

The rest of the film is basically a courtroom film — and we know how great those always are. Seriously, any time a court case is involved, the film is always engrossing. No matter what the case is about. And the film is about them trying to prove these two guys innocent by proving Nicholson guilty of ordering the illegal hazing. And Nicholson gets his great scenes, like the one where he talks about how great it is to get a blowjob from a superior officer, right in front of Demi Moore, and, of course, his fantastic “You can’t handle the truth,” monologue, which, really, is one of the best speeches ever put to film. And the whole thing is made better when you hear about when they shot it, and how, regardless of whatever take it was, whatever camera angle it was, whether he was on screen or not, Nicholson delivered the monologue exactly the same way, with the exact same power, every time. That’s fucking great acting.

Just by watching the film you can see Nicholson was clearly the best performance on this list, and probably deserved to win for it. Yet — I’m kinda glad he didn’t. He had one Best Actor (for Cuckoo’s Nest) and one Supporting Actor (for Terms of Endearment), and really, his third Oscar should have been a Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor (which he got for As Good as It Gets). So I’m glad he didn’t win here, even though I loved his performance the best. What can I say? I’m a complicated man.

Pacino — And…Al. This is clearly a ringer nomination, kind of the way Jamie Foxx’s nomination for Collateral is a ringer nomination. Not to say Pacino is the lead, that was just a Jamie Foxx thing, but — in both cases, it’s very clear that this nomination is added incentive to get people to vote for the man for Best Actor. It’s possible that without this nomination, Pacino doesn’t win Best Actor. Plus, this nomination was also their backhanded way of showing their like for the film. Personally, I can think of several people who deserved to be nominated for this film over Pacino — namely Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin — Baldwin being the obvious one in the supporting category (but you can make a case for Lemmon too. In an ensemble you can call him supporting and get away with it). But we’ll take Al, I guess. At least the film got something, otherwise it’s like they completely forgot about such a fantastic fucking movie.

The film is about real estate. A middling real estate office isn’t doing so well and corporate wants to shake things up. Alec Baldwin shows up one day and delivers one of the greatest single scenes in the history of film. This one:

David Mamet specifically wrote the part for Baldwin to play. I’d say everything about that moment is flawless. So he tells them that, and the rest of the salesman spend the rest of the film rushing around, worrying about making sales. Lemmon knows he’s an old timer and is gonna be the first to go, so he worries the most. Ed Harris is the scheming one, Alan Arkin is kind of the aloof one, Spacey is the ringleader of sorts, he’s safe, but also has to keep everyone in check, and Al Pacino plays sort of — well, he’s kind of in his own movie. I’ll get to him in a second. Basically, the rest of the film is them trying to make sales and get the glengarry leads. Some other shit happens, but really — just fucking watch it. It’s a brilliant film, and I don’t think there’s anyone who will end up not getting sucked in by this film. It’s that great.

So Pacino plays Ricky Roma, the hotshot salesman of the office. He’s the top salesman, and has his own method of closing deals. While everyone else is on the pavement, making calls, hounding people, Al sits in a Chinese restaurant with Jonathan Pryce, performing this really long monologue that has nothing to do with anything. But by the end of the monologue, he has Pryce hooked. And then he uses that leverage to close a huge deal. And that’s mostly the performance. Then he shows up at the office the next day, and eventually the deal falls through, but he doesn’t really care. Honestly, he really only got the performance because he’s Al Pacino. I think that’s widely acknowledged. But the film is really great, and all the performances are really great, even if Al wasn’t really the one that should have been nominated here.

Paymer — And, here’s your fifth nominee. The, “just happy to be nominated” nominee. It was clear from the start that Paymer really never had a shot here. He’s one of those great character actors that gets overlooked most of the time. And here was his one chance to get acknowledged by the Academy. But he was never going to win. Because the film’s no good. But he’s solid in it, and if there’s anything the Academy loves, it’s a solid actor making a tepid film tolerable.

The film is basically Billy Crystal writing and directing himself. He plays a standup comedian who’s a real asshole to everyone around him. He starts up with his brother — Paymer — and they begin as a comedy duet. But eventually Paymer bows out and becomes Crystal’s manager, and that’s how the relationship stays. Paymer is Crystal’s rock, even though he never actually treats him all that great. No matter what happens, Paymer always comes back and sticks by him. And that’s the performance. He’s just — there. And that’s what makes him good in this movie. The put-upon brother. And really, the movie isn’t very good. It’s okay at best. But Paymer does make the performance work. And he did deserve to be nominated. But he was never going to win. In spirit, I’d want to vote for him, but — I just can’t. The film really does hurt him here. This kind of performance in a better film, then I’d want to vote for him. Here — #5.

My Thoughts: Well, first off, you know Pacino wasn’t getting it. That’s pretty clear. That nomination was just an added incentive to give him Best Actor (kind of the way they did it with Jamie Foxx in 2004). So he’s out. David Paymer, I think, got the nomination for — I don’t know — for something. He was good, but, I don’t see how he was ever going to win here. And Jaye Davidson was really good, but, I don’t know if enough of the Academy was ever gonna vote for that performance. So really it comes down to both Hackman and Nicholson. Those were my two favorite performances by far, and those were really the only two that had a shot at winning here. And the thing is, in a year with another really strong performance, I’d gladly not vote for either of them. But here, you kind of have to. So, between the two, I say Hackman is a better decision because — Nicholson had a Best Actor and a Best Supporting Actor already. And I think (and I think the Academy thought as well) that his third statue was rightfully a Best Actor statue and not Best Supporting. So really Hackman became the only person to vote for. Then he got his Best Actor and one Best Supporting, and everything worked out all right in the end. Plus, here they were able to show their support for Unforgiven without having to give Eastwood the statue for Best Actor.

My Vote: Hackman

Should Have Won: No preference, really. The only two that had a shot were Hackman and Nicholson, and Hackman really deserved it more, as I’ve explained up there.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Really the only decision to make here. Definitely a great decision.

Performances I suggest you see: Unforgiven is an essential film. It’s a great western, and a great film. Everyone needs to see it. Same goes for A Few Good Men. It’s not as essential historically, but it’s definitely the most entertaining film on this list. I can watch that film every day, it’s so engrossing. Everyone really needs to see it, because Aaron Sorkin really wrote a hell of a script on that one. And also Glengarry Glen Ross is a fantastic, fantastic film. So many great actors at the top of their game, and, I feel, it’s a film that everyone does need to see. You won’t regret any one of those three films, I guarantee you. And, The Crying Game, I do always like to recommend people, because — well — chick with a dick. You just have to.


5) Paymer

4) Pacino

3) Davidson

2) Hackman

1) Nicholson

3 responses

  1. MovieFan

    No way was Nicholson better than Hackman. People only say Nicholson because of that overrated court room speech, Hackman was far more menacing in a much more complex role

    July 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

  2. MovieFan

    Im sorry my friend. I think Hackman is one of the most underrated Oscar winners of all time. I actually heard a lot of people favored Davidson that year, but I never really liked his performance and was only nominated for the gimmick.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

  3. Chad

    My rankings for 1992 Best Supporting Actor are:
    1. Gene Hackman (by far the best)
    2. Al Pacino (a fairly close second)
    3. Jack Nicholson
    4. Jaye Davidson
    5. David Paymer

    August 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm

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