The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1992
I like 1992 a lot. Because this could have turned into a really bad year. But the Academy rallied. I say that because, based on the precursors, it seems like The Crying Game or Scent of a Woman were possibly favorites to win here. Though, Unforgiven did have the most nominations (along with Howards End), so maybe it was always gonna win. Either way, I’m glad they went the way they did.
Clint Eastwood won Best Director for the film (talked about here), which is nice. He deserved it (plus the other nominees were so weak). Gene Hackman also won Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), which was a good decision. They were gonna give it to either him or Nicholson, and while I liked Nicholson’s performance better, I’m glad they gave it to Hackman. Best Actor this year was Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman (talked about here), which, just logistically, was a good decision. The man was so horrendously overdue by this point, it was best to just give him something. Of course, the win came at the expense of a brilliant Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, but sometimes it’s best to just correct mistakes. Denzel got his second Oscar anyway. It worked out as well as it could have. Best Actress was Emma Thompson for Howards End (talked about here). The performance wasn’t particularly good (nor was the film), but it was just her time. It also allowed Holly Hunter to win after this, and the category wasn’t that strong. So it’s fine. And Best Supporting Actress was Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny (talked about here). I don’t care what anyone says, I think this is a terrific decision. The category was one of the worst in history. It was between her and Judy Davis, and I think Tomei’s been more of a lasting actress than Davis, having given more awards-worthy performances over her career. (I also liked her performance better and didn’t despise her film, so that also helped.)
Overall, this is a year that could have turned out very sour, and instead, turned out all right. I don’t disagree with the winners (just the films two of them won for). And then we get Unforgiven as a Best Picture, which is amazing. It’s really the film on here that’s held up the best. Chalk up another great decision to the 90s (making up for those awful 80s).
BEST PICTURE – 1992
And the nominees were…
The Crying Game (Miramax)
A Few Good Men (Columbia, Castle Rock Entertainment)
Howards End (Sony Pictures Classics)
Scent of a Woman (Universal)
Unforgiven (Warner Bros.)
The Crying Game — This was a very famous picture when it came out. It still holds some of a reputation. Though I’d imagine nowadays there are more people (younger people, of course) who don’t really know this film very much. I mean, when you hear its central conceit you’ll probably recognize it, and I’m sure the title rings a bell, but what I’m saying is, it’s one of those movies that’s remembered as more of a “gimmick” than anything, like The Sixth Sense. That central conceit overshadows what the rest of the movie is, for better or for worse.
The film begins with Stephen Rea as an IRA man. He and his crew kidnap a British agent, played by Forest Whitaker. They kidnap him while he’s out with his girlfriend. And they keep him hostage and try to get information out of him, and the leader of the group (Miranda Richardson) is very adamant about killing him if he doesn’t talk. Meanwhile, Rea is assigned to guard him, and strikes up a friendship with him. They sit and talk for long hours, and Whitaker keeps telling him, “Why are you doing this? You’re better than this.” And eventually Rea stops believing in their cruel methods and tries to help Whitaker escape. Though he dies during it. So Rea, distraught, hides out in London and ends up meeting Whitaker’s girlfriend. Whitaker had talked about her and Rea goes, at first, to tell her. But instead, fascinated by her, he starts talking to her and getting to know her. And then, of course — central conceit of the film — she’s a man. The big penis reveal. And then the film takes a very different turn, and becomes about a whole different topic. It’s a very bold film. It’s also really well-made.
The film, unfortunately, is mostly judged by the penis scene, but on the whole, it’s a really great film, and definitely worth seeing. It asks some strong questions, and I like that about it.
A Few Good Men — What a perfect film this is. I almost can’t describe it because everyone has to have seen it (right?) and because it really is just so perfect that it’s just something you should experience if you haven’t seen it.
I’ll be brief, since I really can’t imagine anyone not having seen this movie. Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, and if you thought The Social Network was well-written, check out this movie (as well as The American President and Charlie Wilson’s War. Sorkin is like Quentin Tarantino — his scripts are so perfect they defy all logic. You just marvel at them). It’s about a marine, Pvt. Santiago, stationed at Guantanamo, who had been a “subpar” soldier, and was subjected to a “code red,” which is basically military hazing for when you fuck up (think of the soap bar in the sock scene from Full Metal Jacket). Only, what is normally a routine thing — he dies suddenly. And the army basically hangs the two guys who performed the code red out to dry (since code reds are strictly illegal, even though they’re regularly performed). So the two are put on trial for murder, and Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a hotshot Navy lawyer with a penchant of plea bargaining his way out of cases, is tasked to defend them. And he thinks they’re guilty, but, over the course of the film, starts to defend them when he realizes there’s a cover up. And Nicholson is the Colonel who oversees the base, who is a cocky sumbitch, and everyone knows his performance, he’s amazing. The film is amazing.
Seriously, if you haven’t seen this — get on it. It’s perfect.
Howards End — Merchant-Ivory. Hooray! … he said, with biting sarcasm.
The film is about the difference between the upper class and the middle class. Anthony Hopkins and his family are old money. Money, and property. And then their mother, Vanessa Redgrave, dies. But before she dies, she starts hanging out with Emma Thompson, a woman from the middle class family next door. They talk and all, but it’s clear the family (but not Redgrave) thinks of them as lesser. And Redgrave, believing Thompson to really be the only decent person she knows (her children only care of money, and don’t really have enough respect for the house she grew up in, at Howards End, and are planning on selling it when she dies), gives her the house. And her children freak out. Because their mother gave the house to a “stranger,” and because she’s of a lower class. They’re appalled. And they, before anyone finds out about it, burn the paper that says she left her the house. But then Hopkins ends up marrying her anyway, realizing she is a good person, and she does sort of get the house. Only, Hopkins is much older than her, so he dies, and the film ends with her actually getting control of the house like she was supposed to.
I don’t understand the point of this movie. It’s pretty boring, and the story, as you read, is barely a story. That’s literally all that happens. The rest is all just social bullshit. Those problems rich people with “manners” have. Can’t stand this Mechant-Ivory stuff.
Scent of a Woman — What a movie. You’ve seen this, right? Isn’t it great. I mean, sure, it has it’s — it’s not exactly an American classic, but man, is this great.
Chris O’Donnell is a middle class student at an elite private school. It’s the kind of school where future presidents go. And he’s barely there. He shouldn’t be there, based on his background. And one night, a bunch of students toilet paper the dean’s car, and he sees this as he leaves the library with his buddy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the dean (James Rebhorn) knows this. So he pressures the O’Donnell into giving up the kids who did it. And he even threatens to take away his scholarship and ruin his future. Because he’s a dick. And he gives him the Thanksgiving holiday to think about it. He says he’ll help him if he gives the kids up, and if he doesn’t, he’ll put him through an academic hearing that will basically ruin him. And O’Donnell dwells upon this as he goes on vacation, where he is hired by friends of his family to “babysit” their uncle, Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Pacino), a blind and grumpy man. And he thinks it’ll just be him sitting in the house, checking on the guy every so often, but instead, Pacino has huge plans for the weekend. He brings the kid to New York, gets a limo, hires a prostitute, and does all these things with him (basically teaching him how to live), with the idea that, at the end of the weekend, he’ll blow his brains out, since he can’t stand this life of being blind. And what happens is, he teaches the kid, the kid teaches him, and then he shows up at the kid’s hearing and helps him get acquitted. Finding Forrester is almost an exact ripoff of this movie.
But it’s a great film. It’s not perfect, like I said, but you can’t help but enjoy it as you watch it. I just love this movie so much.
Unforgiven — This is a perfect film. The eulogy to the western. Or was it epitaph. I forget what I called it in one of those articles. Epilogue? One of those e-words.
The western genre, which was the single biggest American genre from 1915 (which is when features came about) until 1976. thereabouts. It was a genre about America’s history, and was used to both reflect a history that was quintessentially ours, and also mirror modern events. There was a definite progression to the western. You really started to see it change as ideals changed. Post-World War II, you started to see a more conscious western, which was more revisionist, in that it didn’t paint the Native Americans as savages and started to show that manifest destiny wasn’t all good. And then once we got to Vietnam, you saw the western completely die out, since it was more of a pure form of genre, and America became so disillusioned, it was like when you’re 17 and you look at all that stuff you watched when you were a kid, and are like, “What childish stuff.” The Outlaw Josey Wales was, for the most part, the last real western. That was the end of the western, and this film is that Harry Potter epilogue, 17 years later.
Clint Eastwood plays a retired gunslinger who is tempted to come back one last time to score a $1,000 bounty on two men who cut up a whore. And what’s so great about it is how it really extends the tropes of the western genre in a really smart and mature way. Like — at the end of the western, the gunslinger leaves with the redemptive woman and gives up the gun. And here, we see him — he has given up the gun, but now his wife is dead. And now that he’s alone, with young children, he’s unable to take care of his farm. And he can’t shoot straight anymore — he’s getting old. So he goes back to what he knows, shooting people. And he gets his old buddy Ned (Morgan Freeman) to go with him, and they go into the town of Little Bill (Gene Hackman), who is attempting to create a civilized town, but is also ruthless in doing so. (He doesn’t allow guns in the town, and when suspected outlaws come in to presumably cash on the bounty — started by the prostitutes and not sanctioned by him — like English Bob (played by the great Richard Harris) — he basically kicks the shit out of him and sends him out of town. And of course — things progress, and there’s a showdown — it’s an amazing, amazing film.
My Thoughts: Some people might not think Unforgiven is the right film to win Best Picture this year, but considering its importance to the western genre (which itself is such a huge part of film history), and considering the other nominees, I think it was the perfect choice for the year. To me, the only two films that should have won were Unforgiven or A Few Good Men. And I feel like, of the two, Unforgiven is just the better choice that holds up better over time.
My Vote: Unforgiven
Should Have Won: Unforgiven
Is the result acceptable?: The best decision they could have made here. Everything about this one works. Perfect choice.
Ones I suggest you see: Don’t even pretend like you haven’t seen Unforgiven or A Few Good Men. If you really haven’t, don’t tell anyone, go find them both right now, and watch them. Because otherwise you are dead to all of us and you’re not fit to live in this country.
You should also see Scent of a Woman. Outside of Pacino “hoo ha”-ing his way around, it’s still a really great film. It’s just a film that many people just love. You should see it. There’s too much iconic stuff in it to not see it.
The Crying Game is a really solid film. Unfortunately it doesn’t pack the emotional punch now that it did back then. We all know the dick is coming. Still, it’s pretty solid. And a great exercise in using one interesting plot to lead to what you’re really trying to talk about. Really solid film. Unfortunately marginalized over time, though, because of its central conceit (kinda like The Sixth Sense. Which is why I feel both films would have made terrible winners).
Take or leave Howards End. Whatever. Emma Thompson won for it, so that’s a reason. Otherwise, I despise Merchant-Ivory films (not named The Remains of the Day).
5) Howards End
4) The Crying Game
3) Scent of a Woman
2) A Few Good Men