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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 1991-1992)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1991

Warren Beatty, Bugsy

Robert De Niro, Cape Fear

Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides

Robin Williams, The Fisher King

Analysis:

Bugsy is an awesome movie. I constantly forget that Warren Beatty didn’t direct this movie. Though, knowing him, he kinda did, right?

It’s a biopic of Bugsy Siegel, who came out to Los Angeles and had the idea of building casinos in the desert. Which became Los Vegas. So we see a story about a hot-tempered gangster who spends millions of dollars of mob money to build something no one else understands (an apt metaphor for Beatty and his moviemaking process) and then even though they think he’s wasting money, in the end, it’s way better than anyone ever thought possible. Good stuff.

Beatty is really good here as Bugsy, and this is one of my favorites of his nominated performances. It might be his best nominated performance. I really like what he did with this. And in another year, he might have won the Oscar. But he’s up against too iconic a performance to take, and that sucks. But it is what it is.

Cape Fear is a remake of the 1962 version, with De Niro taking over the Mitchum role of Max Cady.

De Niro’s Max Cady is similar, yet different from the Mitchum version. De Niro’s version is allowed the use of violence, so you get that fucked up scene where he rapes Nolte’s mistress and beats the shit out of her. He’s definitely strong and very memorable, but it’s hard not to look at this as De Niro hamming it up a bit. It completely fits the context of the film, but the nomination didn’t necessarily need to be here. This isn’t nearly the heights De Niro reached in his earlier work. So I’m left with, “… cool.” Like the performance, fine with the nomination, wouldn’t vote for it at all. Fifth on performance, fourth on vote. No chance. Especially since…

The Silence of the Lambs is a film you’ve seen already, so you don’t need me to talk about it.

That’s one of the more chilling lines in cinema that nobody talks about.

Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter, and despite the lack of screen time (which you don’t feel at all in the film), that shit’s a wrap.

The Prince of Tides is a movie I always disliked because, in a year with four of the strongest Best Picture nominees of all time, this is the fifth. And it just feels like bullshit. Kind of like how The Reader got on in 2008. “You’re not bad, you’re just not great either.”

Nolte plays a teacher who travels to New York after his sister attempts suicide. He starts talking to her psychiatrist and simultaneously falls in love with her and also deals with his own issues, stemming from childhood.

It’s — the movie is fine. Not particularly great. And the reveal is… well, I won’t spoil it. But yeah. It just doesn’t hold up particularly well.

Nolte is really fine in the film, and does what he can with what I think is shaky material. I think this performance is legitimately worthy of a nomination and may be worthy of consideration in other years. But here, there’s just no way I take him over better films and performances I liked more. He’s fourth on performance and fifth for a vote.

I must also say — he does have the Cape Fear performance alongside this, which is also very impressive. He fits on this list, no matter how much I don’t care for his film.

The Fisher King is an awesome film. I always tell the story that I went into these Terry Gilliam movies, especially this one, expecting to hate it, because they were always talked up by those newbie film buffs whose opinions were so annoying. So I had an aversion to this movie on principle based on those people, and then I saw it and loved it and was incredibly happy.

Jeff Bridges plays a shock jock radio host whose show causes a dude to shoot up a diner. He has a nervous breakdown and leaves radio. A year or two later, he ends up getting attacked by some street toughs, and is saved by Robin Williams, a crazy homeless man. And the film is about the friendship that forges between them and Bridges’ quest to help Williams get something he wants, which of course will also help save/redeem Bridges as well. It’s quite good.

Williams is really fucking good here. He gets to play manic. Not quite his comic persona, but similar. But then he also gets to play very tragic, having these great dramatic moments where he gets to play a dude who lost his family in a horrible way. And then there’s the great romantic moments, where he’s this shy, unwell guy going on a date with a woman on whom he has a crush. It’s a great performance. And he might actually be my second favorite in the category. It’s tough as to whether or not I pick him over Beatty, but I definitely wouldn’t take him over Hopkins, so it’s all a moot point in the end.

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The Reconsideration: Nothing to reconsider. Only one of these performances is so iconic that people know it without even being into movies. I don’t care that he’s only on screen for like 12 minutes, the best performance is the best performance. No way you can vote anywhere else but Hopkins.

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Rankings (category and films):

  1. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Robin Williams, The Fisher King
  3. Warren Beatty, Bugsy
  4. Robert De Niro, Cape Fear
  5. Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides

My Vote: Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

Recommendations:

The Silence of the Lambs — really?

The Fisher King is essential for all film buffs. Trust me, even without me saying this you’ll get to it quickly enough. It cross lists with all those movies you end up loving when you start getting into movies. You’ll want to see it.

Bugsy is — I don’t know. It doesn’t feel full stop essential, though I’d say you should consider it essential just because it’s so good and there are so many great actors in it that it’ll crosslist all over the place. So, very high recommend and I think you ought to consider it essential because most people love this movie. If you like a lot of the obvious films that everyone likes, then there’s a high probability you’ll like this one too.

Cape Fear — the original is essential, and this is a remake directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro. Who wouldn’t want to see this?

The Prince of Tides is not essential and hasn’t held up well. Light to moderate recommend, and really only essential for those into the Oscars. Otherwise, I don’t see why you’d need to run out and see this unless it sounds really interesting to you.

The Last Word: This is one of the better decisions of all time. No one would argue with this because the performance is just so fucking good.

– – – – – – – – – –

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1992

Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin

Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

Stephen Rea, The Crying Game

Denzel Washington, Malcolm X

Analysis:

Chaplin is a biopic of Charlie Chaplin.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Chaplin.

And I love this film and I love Downey’s performance. Not sure he wins this on points, but man, is this a well worthy nomination. Might even by my favorite performance in the category. Though I’ll admit he’s not the best performance in the category. As much as I love this, I’d only take it because I love it, not because it’s the best.

Unforgiven is a classic. You’ve seen this already otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

This is one of the great performances of Eastwood’s career. Completely deserved of a nomination. The character embodies the dying of the western. He’s wonderfully melancholic in the part, and it fits perfectly in Eastwood’s range as an actor. Well deserved nomination and I think he feels like a solid #4 in this category. Good, solid, but there are at least two performances better than him and likely one other that gets sentiment votes. Eastwood won for Director for this film, he didn’t need Actor too.

Scent of a Woman is a remake of an Italian film and the time when Pacino first started going “full Pacino.” I guess Scarface could also count as that, but this one is the real obvious one.

He plays a blind colonel who is meant to be babysitted by a prep school kid who is in some deep shit after having seen some rich kids pull a prank on the principal and is being threatened with expulsion if he doesn’t name names. Pacino, meanwhile, is blind, bitter and doesn’t want this kid to be a babysitter, but since he’s stuck with him, he brings him along to New York for a trip he has planned, the reasons for which don’t become apparent until later on.

Pacino is great here. It’s not the weightiest of material, but he acquits himself well. This is one of those performances you grow up loving and you feel okay about since he finally got his Oscar, but the older I get at least, I don’t think this performance is good enough to be a winner on its own. It only works because Pacino was so overdue. One could argue that he’s straight up fifth on performance here. I wouldn’t. I like this performance for sentimental reasons, so I put him third all around. In reality he’s probably closer to fourth, if not outright fifth. Love him, love the movie, love the performance, but he’s not the best performance in the category.

The Crying Game is a film that was so spoiler heavy at the time, but now, I don’t think it’s automatic that people know what the twist is here.

Stephen Rea is an IRA soldier who helps kidnap Forest Whitaker, a British agent. They hold him hostage and want info. Between torture sessions, Rea is tasked with watching Whitaker, with whom he strikes up a friendship. Which is not what he should be doing. And after Whitaker dies, Rea goes and finds his girlfriend, and begins a relationship with her, not saying that he knows anything about her boyfriend’s disappearance.

Rea is really good here, and it’s a really complex part. He does a fantastic job. I rate him fourth on performance and fifth on vote, but shit, is he good here.

Malcolm X is a biopic of Malcolm X.

Denzel plays Malcolm X.

And I think anyone even remotely interested in the Oscars knows this is widely regarded as one of the great snubs of all time (performance-wise). Of course, this was the year they decided to anoint Al Pacino after twenty years of neglect, so I get that they had to do what they had to do. But still — shit man. This performance is really good, and since this go round is all about performance, I’m gonna have to vote for it. He’s that good here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Denzel is the best performance in the category, so he’s the vote. Gotta keep it simple. I love the Downey performance best, I have sentimental ties to the Pacino and Eastwood performances, Pacino is so crazy overdue that it’s hard to argue that he won, and Rea is legitimately good enough to be considered for a vote. But this is all about performance, so Denzel is the vote. His Malcolm is so incredibly strong. The only negative I can say there is about the film and not the performance.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Denzel Washington, Malcolm X
  2. Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin
  3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman
  4. Stephen Rea, The Crying Game
  5. Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

Rankings (films):

  1. Unforgiven
  2. Chaplin
  3. Scent of a Woman
  4. Malcolm X
  5. The Crying Game

My Vote: Denzel Washington, Malcolm X

Recommendations:

Unforgiven is essential. And you know that it is.

Scent of a Woman is essential because every film buff has seen it, enjoys it, and quotes the shit out of it. And essential for Oscar buffs. So all around essential and a great film. Don’t be IN THE DARK HERE about this one.

Chaplin is such a fucking wonderful movie. I love it and recommend it very highly. It’s not essential, but it’s really good. I’m not gonna make you see it, but I would really recommend that people check this out, because Downey is superb and Chaplin is one of the great figures in film history.

Malcolm X is essential because it’s about important subject matter, features an incredible performance, and just should be seen by people. It’s like seeing Gandhi. At least try to have some idea about one of the most important figures in world history.

The Crying Game is very highly recommended, and you need to see it sight unseen, especially if you know nothing about what you’re in for. It’s good.

The Last Word: Pacino holds up because he’s Pacino. Denzel gave the best performance. Though you wonder how things would have changed if Pacino never won this Oscar. How fucked up would that have been? So it’s both a good choice and not a great choice at the same time. Hard to argue against it, but hard to truly say it was the best decision in the category. Just one of those things you gotta deal with at the Oscars. This is almost like 1951. You don’t really wanna argue with Bogart winning, but also he wasn’t best in the category, you know?

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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