From the archives | 1993

The layman’s guide to the Oscars

Here’s what the critics say:

“Unforgiven” is the favorite for Best Picture.

Al Pacino is the man to beat for Best Actor.


Susan Sarandon is the logical choice for Best Actress.

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Here’s what I say:

“Unforgiven” was an enjoyable movie, but somewhat overrated. I mean, ‘’Shane” or “High Noon” it ain’t.

Al Pacino has done better work, and I got tired of the character after the eighth or ninth “Hoo-Ha!”

Susan Sarandon was fine, but the role was a One Note Samba.


OK, I never went to film class. I’ve never met a director. I’ve never even been introduced to a Best Boy.

I’m just a film fan who happened to attend 65 movies last year, which translates into a mountain of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I’ve already seen 20 this year, and I can claim a distinction not many members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences can match. Without anyone mailing cassettes to my home, I have seen each one of this year’s 30 primary nominations. Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Picture -- I’ve seen them all.

Last year, I saw movies in 33 theaters covering seven states. I saw movies in a theater so crowded my wife and I had to split up in order to find a seat. I saw many a movie in theaters so empty I thought five minutes or so before the scheduled start I would fulfill a dream and have a private showing (Elaine Ryan has had this experience). I haven’t had a solo showing yet, but I’m sure I will someday.

I didn’t see everything I wanted to see. I missed “A Midnight Clear,” and Elaine Ryan says it was probably the best movie of the year. I missed “Leap of Faith,” and as a Steve Martin freak, that hurts.

Incidentally, the Ryans seldom rent. Wayne Huzienga doesn’t get rich off me. I believe movies should be seen in theaters, with the exception of ‘’Casablanca” and “Diner,” which can be seen biannually in the comfort of the living room.


You’re wondering, “How does he do this?” Number one, the kids are 22 and 17. If we want to go to the movies, we go to the movies. Number two, I can often shake free for matinees. Number three, I travel. Number four, I really work at it. I like going out. It makes me feel alive. I subscribe to Premiere Magazine. I scour reviews. Movies matter to me. I always stay for the entire credits, if only to satisfy a theory that four out of five movie credits contain at least one nickname (e.g. “Asst. Gaffer, John ‘Tiny’ Jefferson).

The critics will all have their say, but, with all due respect, most of them are writing for each other and are pining for another Bergman. Scorcese, I understand. Rob Reiner, I understand. Merchant and Ivory, I understand. The only Bergman I can deal with has a resume that says “Good field, OK Hit,” and he’s spent the last decade playing first base for the Detroit Tigers. The West Newton and Coolidge Corner Cinemas are as avant-garde as I get (When you get a minute, explain “Cabeza de Vaca” to me.)

Here, therefore, is The Layman’s Guide to the Oscars:


Clint Eastwood (”Unforgiven”)? No, no, no. Stephen Rea was terrific in ‘’The Crying Game,” and certainly merits a nomination. Pacino’s in line for a Lifetime Achievement Award, a la Paul Newman in “The Color of Money,” and the Smart Guys say he’ll win it. He shouldn’t. Denzel Washington was easily better in the horribly neglected “Malcolm X,” but he only gets the silver medal in this race.

If anyone actually saw all five nominees, they’d know this is open and shut. Nobody out-acted Robert Downey Jr. in “Chaplin.” Nobody. He had to do a British accent. He had to do physical comedy. He had to play a man who aged from his late teens to his 70s, and he carried it all off. His old Chaplin is sensational, because he gets a believeable voice down and doesn’t over-act. I know he won’t win, but I’m telling you it will be a robbery of Brinksian proportions.

Two other actors worth nominations were Ned Beatty for “Hear My Song,” (or was that a Best Supporting?” It’s often not easy to tell, and Tim Robbins for ‘’Bob Roberts,” in which he was appropriately creepy and totally believable as the songwriting, right-wing candidate.


Catherine Deneuve is there for “Indochine” only because it’s such a weak year for lead female roles they had to come up with somebody to fill out the card. There is surely nothing wrong with Mary McDonnell’s performance in ‘’Passion Fish,” although it isn’t any better than Alfrie Woodard’s in the same movie.

Now, then. I’m a Susan Sarandon fan, and she surely is compelling as the anguished mother hen in “Lorenzo’s Oil,” but her emotions in this movie run the gamut, as Dorothy Parker said of Kate Hepburn, “From A to B.” Fierce and Determined she starts out, and Fierce and Determined she finishes.

Give me Emma Thompson in “Howards End,” without doubt, but, most of all, give me Michelle Pfeiffer in “Love Field.” She portrays a woman of great complexity. Frankly, I don’t think this is a difficult choice.

Incidentally, I would have thrown out Deneuve and inserted Diane Lane for ‘’My New Gun.”


What a powerhouse category! The chalk says Gene Hackman wins for ‘’Unforgiven,” and he was indeed a cinematic force. Pacino’s here for ‘’Glengarry Glen Ross,” and he’s more deserving in this race than he is over in Best Actor. David Paymer (”Mr. Saturday Night”) is in over his head. As for Jaye Davidson (”The Crying Game”), supply your own punch line.

The truth is that the most electrifying 10 (eight? six?) minutes of acting on display last year were supplied by Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” But 10 or eight or six minutes is 10 or eight or six minutes, and, yes, I know that once upon a time Beatrice Straight got Best Supporting Actress for one scene in “Network.” Anyway, Jack Nicholson deserves to win for his high- voltage (but not completely over-the-top) portrayal of Col. Nathan Jessup in “A Few Good Men.”

This is easily the toughest category, because Robert DeNiro (”Mistress”), Al Freeman (an etherial Elijah Muhammad in “Malcolm X”), Matt Dillon (”Singles”), David Straitharn (”Passion Fish”), Jack Lemmon (”Glengarry Glen Ross”), Xavier McDaniel (”Singles” -- Ha! Just wanted to see if you’re paying attention), Forrest Whitaker (”The Crying Game”) ‘’Fred Gwynne (”My Cousin Vinnie”), Jon Lovitz (”A League Of Their Own”), Kevin Bacon (”A Few Good Men”) and, of course, Baldwin (”Glengarry Glen Ross”) are all worthy nominees.


I love ‘em all. Judy Davis is always scintillating -- she should have walked away with something last year for “Barton Fink” and “Impromptu” -- and she is up to form in “Husbands and Wives.” You can’t knock either Vanessa Redgrave or Joan Plowright in “Howards End,” although the Redgrave character was so sweet and virtuous I wanted to give her one good slap. Miranda Richardson (”Damage”) should be acclaimed as Actress of The Year for her additional work in “Howards End” and “The Crying Game.

When I saw “My Cousin Vinnie,” I flipped over Marisa Tomei as the enchanting Mona Lisa Whatever, but figured Tomei was just doing a what-comes- natural New York turn. It wasn’t until I saw “Untamed Heart” that I realized how good an actress Tomei is, and that she really was acting in ‘’My Cousin Vinnie” and not just playing herself. She’s the best in this field, and yet the Smart Guys say she has no chance.

Here’s a tough omission: Robin Wright in “The Playboys.”


We’re talking sore spot with me, because I loved “Malcolm X,” and thought it was an astonishingly quick 3 hours and 16 minutes. But the establishment just won’t make peace with Spike Lee.

Martin Brest (“Scent of A Woman”) is a joke. I’m not going to knock Clint Eastwood, and it’s impossible to detract from James Ivory’s achievement in ‘’Howards End.” That leaves the estimable Robert Altman for “The Player,” and Neil Jordan for “The Crying Game.” I’m rooting for Altman, well, just because. But I think Jordan probably deserves it for his truly original tour de force.

But whoever does win it should apologize to Spike.


“The Player” should be here. What’s more important is that “Scent Of A Woman” shouldn’t be. C’mon, take out the tango scene, and what have we got? ‘’Unforgiven” is all right, but Best Picture? Uh-uh. It’s just time to honor Clint; that’s all.

“A Few Good Men” is entertaining, and both Nicholson and Bacon are tremendous, but Best Picture? Sorry.

A vote for “Howards End” would be a vote for civility, and that’s certainly worthwhile, but the best picture of these five is “The Crying Game.”

Regardless, the fact remains that the best reason to leave the house and go see a movie last year was “Malcolm X.” Then again, what do I know? I’m just a sportswriter. You know, Oscar Madison.