Friday, January 21, 2011

Time-Delayed Oscars 003: 1992

OK, enough with the intro. You know the drill by now. Let's look at a year and see what movies have lasted.  I think you'll agree with me that 1992 was a monster year.

The brothers of Delta House, from left to right:
Flounder, Otter, and the Duck of Death

Here's a list of ALL the movies of 1992.

Aladdin - It's a Disney movies, and not many of those fade away into Bolivion, not when they're hooked into the biggest marketing-assimilation machine the world has ever seen. This one is notable for a song ("A Whole New World") that truly embodies the quality "puke-tastic", some standard-issue Disney racial stereotyping, top-drawer animation that still holds up, and a bunch of hack pop-culture references from Robin Williams that have really, really, not.  Worse, those dumb insta-dated jokes have become the new standard for kid's movies. Shame on you, Aladdin.  Shame on you.

Bad Lieutenant - Harvey Keitel became famous in the early 90s for frequently going middle-aged full frontal in defiance of both the tastes of the audience and the will of a loving God. This movie was sort of the beginning of that. It's also remembered by some as a searing portrait of faith and mercy amid moral squalor, so it's got that going for it. Keitel is great in this; Little Harvey, even the ladies agree, is pretty much entirely unnecessary.

Basic Instinct - Wow, was this a bad movie. But Sharon Stone shows her business for approximately 3 nanoseconds, so this was a major hit. I just mentioned genitals in back-to-back paragraphs.

The Crying Game - Make that three. 1992, the year of the genitals!

Batman Returns - I don't think that anybody remembers much of this beyond Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, but she was totally iconic. In other news: Michael Keaton played Batman. Twice. Was Matthew Broderick unavailable? Can we get a Congressional investigation on this?

El Mariachi - I almost left this out, but Robert Rodriguez's debut keeps coming up mainly because he apparently made it for seven bucks and a bag of cold McDonald's cheeseburgers. Has anybody seen this?

A Few Good Men - Seems like it must be the most-quoted movie of the year, and also of the year before it and after it. An enduring classic that totally skims over what a reckless and almost criminally negligent lawyer Tom Cruise is (they annoyingly make Demi Moore's superior officer attorney ineffectual and borderline-stupid to try to cover up the fact that Caffey is a hack). Remember how he was in the shadow of his legend lawyer father, but then by the end, he'd surpassed the legend? Remember how Tom Cruise used to get this Top Gun subplot shoehorned into every single movie of his? Anyway, Jack Nicholson delivers one of his best performances in a long career of great performances and just steals this movie from everybody. Some people even forget that he's the bad guy. In fact, he's basically Dick Cheney, so I'd have to say a large part of the country forgot that he's the bad guy. After all, we want him on that wall. We NEED him on that wall. And we can't HANDLE the truth. Let's not forget that in movieland, that's the guy who gets carted off to jail. Ahem. Off my soapbox now.

Glengary Glen Ross - A sleeper in 1992, David Mamet's take on the soul-death of (five) salesman has grown into a true cult classic.  If A Few Good Men isn't the most quoted movie of the year, then it's this one.  In fact, thanks to Alec Baldwin in a career-defining walk on performance, this IS a more quoted movie than Men. A cast so talented that it's almost a joke (Alan Arkin in what seems like 8th billing; Jonathon Pryce in a bit role) headlines some of the most hard-boiled dialogue and darkly comic ever captured. "Who told you that you could work with men?"

The Last of the Mohicans - Say my wife and I are at the mall.  Say we decide to go to different stores, and then meet up a half hour later.  There is about a 90% chance that I will look at her with a barely contained and almost feral love, a love born of desperation, and breathe: "Stay alive. I will find you."  So I remember this movie for that. I also seem to recall that the last 30 minutes of this were pretty amazing.  Anyway, this movie happened before Daniel Day Lewis decided to typecast himself as a scary megalomaniac with a mustache who enjoys long walks on the beach, hording money, and murdering people.  Not that I dislike that aspect.

A League of Their Own - "There's no crying in baseball!" will keep this movie alive forever, but it's a genuinely worthy sports movie, and much much funnier than the "very special episode" would lead you to believe. Also? This movie also gave us Rosie O'Donnell, and everybody is very grateful, I'm sure.

Malcolm X - Denzel Washington is out of control in this. It's a Spike Lee joint, which means that it is sometimes overly didactic and occasionally silly when it means to be earnest, but it is never boring. Still remains one of the most interesting and unconventional entries in the biopic category among major releases over the past couple decades.

My Cousin Vinny - This movie gets unfairly maligned, ironically because of its success -- namely, in winning a surprise Oscar for an at-the-time unknown television actress named Marisa Tomei. I think it's high time we reassessed Ms. Tomei's career in light of a couple decades of solid (sometimes Oscar-nominated) work. Also, it wouldn't hurt to stare at her for a while. A long while. Where was I? Oh yes, this was a very funny movie. Joe Pesci can be a little too broad in comedies, but in this one 'broad' was very much the point.

The Player - A stylish return to form from Robert Altman.  Tim Robbins stars, and Hollywood plays itself.  The self-conscious opening tracking shot aping the opening shot from Touch of Evil is itself now the stuff of legend.

Reservoir Dogs - Huh, what do you know?  So this was a year that screened A Few Good Men and Glengarry Glen Ross, it yet it turns out that neither of them is the most quoted movie from that year. Along with Glengarry Glen Ross, this is movie that has gained the most ground since it came out, but Dogs has wedged itself much further into the collective subconscious.  Quentin Tarantino's debut can now be seen in the context of his career so far, and Dogs is clearly not just a flash in the pan or an intriguing start from a promising young director; it's an opening salvo from the world's most prominent cinematic remix artist.  With its crooked time-line, hilarious pop culture dialogue, and trend-setting retro score, the QT template was fully in place. But the true value of Tarantino -- the fact that all the flash and style is in service of something -- is also there already, as an inverted moral code masticates our notions of the role of protagonist (cold-blooded killer Mr. White) and antagonist (principled undercover cop Mr. Orange).

A River Runs Through It - And thus begins the merciless reign of King Brad Pitt. You know how in medieval times, the king could sleep with your wife on your wedding night? King Brad Pitt is like that, except in this case, your wife doesn't mind. This is not progress. This movie is boring but pretty. The cult of Brad keeps it somewhat alive.

Scent of a Woman - HOO HA! This movie (from the director of Meet Joe Black and Gigli) was awful. Al Pacino sort of saved it and now sometimes people think it isn't awful, but you have to trust me on this. It so thoroughly is. Chris O'Donnell is Bland. I don't mean that blandness is a quality of his. I mean that Chris O'Donnel is Bland. Kind of like how God is Love.  The ending, while rousing in a HOO HA! sort of way, makes no sense at all.  The central conflict is sort of dumb. The protagonist (Charlie) is unlikeable.  Are you getting a sense of how I feel about this film?

Single White Female - This pot-boiler has been completely forgotten, I think, except that the term 'single white female' still is used to mean 'creepy friend who emulates you too much' or just 'crazy roommate.' So there's that.

Unforgiven - One of the all-time great Westerns; in a way sort of the Last True Western. Almost certainly if one were to ask for the best movie Clint Eastwood ever directed, this would be the consensus pick. It won Best Picture in 1992. It's hard to believe that something could unseat it.

"Kid, what did I tell you about interrupting me during my squintin' time?"
And The Time-Delayed Oscar Goes To . . .

Best Picture

Real Nominee List: The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howard's End, Scent of a Woman, Unforgiven

Today's List: A Few Good Men, Glengarry Glen Ross, Malcolm X, Reservoir Dogs, Unforgiven.

I'll be honest:  I think Unforgiven still takes it down, but it's pretty close.  A Few Good Men is still warmly remembered -- in fact, Jack Nicholson might filch Best Supporting Actor from Unforgiven's Gene Hackman in a do-over -- and more timely now than it was when it debuted.  (What are we willing to become to feel safe from our enemies?)  Reservoir Dogs and Glengarry are also contenders.  But Unforgiven is undeniably great.  It's the year's Big Damn Movie, and it earns every bit of its praise.  Still, I'm very interested in how this vote will shake out.

My Pick: Unforgiven (but Reservoir Dogs is very close)

Best Actor

This could get dicey.  I have already been clear (crystal) about how I feel about Scent of a Woman.  On the other hand, it can't be denied that Al Pacino, who took his only golden boy for this film, is magnetic.  He's the only reason to watch this movie, and it's a pretty good reason.  Also, if he hadn't won for this, there isn't much else after for which he could have won.  The guy really should have an Oscar, so I'm fine with him winning his award for polishing a turd.

Nevertheless . . . let's consider our premise here.  This is the Oscars if Hollywood were able to do it from a more sober remove of 10 years.  If that were the case, my friends, I submit to you that the man who was Michael Corleone (twice) and Tony Montana and Serpico and Daniel Day Afternoon and many others would already have won an Oscar.  I mean, really, 10 years after the fact, is 1974's sentimental favorite Art Carney playing an old guy who loves his cat still beating the star of The Godfather II ?

I don't think they Academy would need to honor Pacino here.  I think Al would already have his hardware.  And it can't be denied that after Scent, Pacino has been stuck in HOO-HA mode, maybe forever.  With each passing year, his performance looks less and less like a revelation and more and more like the hammy sign of things to come.

What I'm saying is, I think the award goes where it should have all along: Denzel Washington in Malcolm X.  He was ferocious, amazing, it was his best performance.  It was the performance of the year.  It was one of the performances of the decade.  Hook the brother up.

Best Actress

Emma Thompson won for Howard's End.  Now, Emma Thompson is a fine actress, and I'm sure she was quite good in this, but do you know what I never hear anybody talk about at all, ever?  Howard's End.  Would you watch this on purpose?

It was a hard year out there for actresses in leading roles, though.  I am scanning for something that would be a surefire win.  Thompson may take it by default, but I think that Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns might have a shot.  You know what?  I think it goes to Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.  Hear me, now:  It was a lead role, not supporting.  She was really, really good in it.  And it's  finally starting to sink in that she's a fantastic actress.  Tomei is my pick.

What was the best movie of 1992?  Go to FilmChaw! Your country needs you to vote!


Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I think Nicholson walks away hands down with the best actor time-delayed oscar here. No one else is close in the end. As good as Denzel was, Nicholson took a ho-hum movie and made it simply incredible, all really with one 15-minute soliloquy.

Julius_Goat said...

Given that Nicholson was voted Best Supporting Actor (rightly, since he really only has 2 scenes), I'm keeping him in that category. Otherwise, yes, he'd be a contender, since he gave maybe the most iconic courtroom performance in 30 years.

Shrike said...

A River Runs Through It was far from boring in my mind. Some very very good performances in it by my way of thinking.


Anonymous said...

I love Nicholson but he is overrated in A Few Good Men. It was a great scene (courtroom) but it was no where near Hackman's work in Unforgiven. The scene where Hackman as Little Bill makes English Bob (Richard Harris) look like a fool in the prison cell is better acted and more chilling than anything Nicholson did in A Few Good Men. Hackman deserved his win, no doubt

I agree though Washington gave the best performance of the year, he should have won Best Actor

Julius_Goat said...

@PL -- I actually have little opinion on A River Runs Through It. It was probably a very solid movie, but it left little impression on me.

@Anon -- In fact I agree with you on the merits of Hackman; he was awesome in Unforgiven and I don't have a problem with his win in 1992. That said, it's quite possible that Nicholson would win a re-do for a showier and much more remembered scene. I don't know if Nicholson is over-rated, but Hackman is probably now underrated.

Anonymous said...

I am a big Nicholson fan, but I just felt it was a good, solid performance. Hackman I think is really superb, his performance gets really underrated in my opinion. I think its one of the all time best supporting actor performances to win the Oscar. Just the complexity of the character how he makes the transformation from average joe who wants to build a house to a violent, sadistic man who uses his badge of authority to mask a sadistic and brutal individual.