Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Closer Look: 1992 Supporting Actor

I’ve been wanting to revive this series, since it’s so much fun to compose, but as fun as it is it is also time consuming and so I don’t get around to doing it all that often.  With my finally wrapping up the 1992 Fisti Awards (coming to you in a few weeks) I was able to contain my thoughts on the 1992 acting races and I figured that would be as good a place as any to pick back up.  So, let’s get into Supporting Actor!

The nominees were:

Jaye Davidson/The Crying Game

Gene Hackman/Unforgiven

Jack Nicholson/A Few Good Men

Al Pacino/Glengarry Glen Ross

David Paymer/Mr. Saturday Night

As a whole, this is a pretty impressive lineup.  You have three Academy favorites, legends in their own right, going toe to toe with a beloved character actor in the role of his career and a homosexual man in his first film who clearly wasn’t a fan of Hollywood or fame in general and had no interest in pursuing a career despite raves (rightful) for his performance and the obvious recognition in the form of an Oscar nomination.  Even though I don’t love all of these (and kind of hate one of them) I can’t help but respect the lineup as a whole.

Hackman obviously took the big award, the Oscar, but he wasn’t the only person in the lineup picking up wins (although he took almost everything in a near walk).  Hackman also nabbed the BAFTA and the Globe as well as critics wins from BSFC, KCFCC, LAFCA, NSFC and NYFCC.  Davidson picked up a special debut award from the NBR.  Nicholson snagged critics wins from CFCC and SEFCA not to mention the NBR.  Paymer and Pacino won nothing, but received nominations throughout the season.

I love Hackman’s performance here.  He’s positively seething at the mouth, and it’s one of the more fully realized and playful villain roles of the 90’s.  Oscar in particular has a thing for villains in this category, so Hackman wasn’t the first or the last in the line of villainous wins here, but he’s certainly one of the standouts.  The finest thing about this performance is the ability Hackman has to completely endow Little Bill Daggett with more than mere savagery.  There are so many detailed human elements that make him more than a one-dimensional cliché.  He builds an entire character here, front to back, and lavishes in every moment.  In stark contrast, you have Jack Nicholson who just presents the audience with a disgustingly stereotypical display of theatrical villainy that borders on offensively preposterous.  His outlandish cockiness and his overtly obvious prickishness take so much away from his performance.  It’s a joke of a performance from an acting legend who obviously just coasted through another ‘Jack’ performance, but it was so clearly lesser Jack.  The fact that he was probably Hackman’s only competition on Oscar night is alarming.

The rest of the ballot is a solid mix of impressive work of all different kinds.  Paymer basically takes on the ‘suffering wife’ role to Crystal’s self-destructive Lead.  Playing the supportive brother, Paymer is extremely sympathetic and sells his scenes with tenderness.  You never doubt the performance.  He is naturally unnatural, if you get what I mean.  You believe these conversations and the chemistry he has with Crystal is undeniable.  He sells his big scenes, especially the confrontation with Crystal on the stairs, and he’s certainly the best part of the film.

Pacino has a respected and lauded ensemble resting behind him in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, and I’m kind of baffled that he was the one singled out for the Oscar nomination (although category confusion surrounding Lemmon didn’t help).  I preferred Lemmon and Harris, but I can’t really begrudge Pacino too much.  It isn’t a remarkable performance, but he handles the grimy aspects of his character with this slickness that makes him memorable to say the least.  It is a less affected performance than the one he actually won the Oscar for that year (‘Scent of a Woman’) but I still don’t think he was Oscar worthy.

All that being said, and as much as I LOVED Hackman, the only person who should have won that Oscar that night was Jaye Davidson.  What a remarkable performance, and I don’t mean that just because of the twist and reveal, although that aspect of the character certainly aided in Davidson being memorable.  No, Davidson is somewhat of a revelation as Dil, and he nails all the right nuances to fit into Jordon’s world and create a complete persona, a complete entity.  We won’t forget Dil, we can’t.  It is such a naturally alluring performance, and even after the shock of the big reveal wares off, we are still left with an astonishingly human portrayal of a person bleating for affection and determined to get what they feel they need. 

So, for me, I’d rank this lineup as so:
1)      Davidson
2)      Hackman
3)      Paymer
4)      Pacino
5)      Nicholson

Now comes the part of the post where I contemplate the careers of these actors and rank them according.  I’ve missed doing the series!  Anyways, it’s pretty easy to delegate one of these five to the last slot.  Davidson, despite being my #1 pick from the actual performances in the lineup, only made two films, and this is his only performance of note (had he had another Dil like revelation for his only other performance I may have been tempted to raise him up to #4).

Paymer is an easy #4 here.  He’s always a reliable presence in his films.  The definition of a character actor, he serves his films and his leads very well, and it was really nice to see him get a meaty role that was tailor made to exploit his obvious talent.  With nearly 150 titles to his name, it’s safe to say he is a very recognizable face, even if his lack of star power leaves him short of a household name. 

But really, the tough part of this equation is choosing between Hackman, Nicholson and Pacino.  They’ve all had extreme highs, and in their primes they were all very consistent.  Sadly, all three of them to certain degrees entered the last stages of their careers as caricatures.  Hackman hasn’t made a movie since 2004, and Nicholson has slowed down considerably, but Pacino almost seems busier than ever, which is odd since his last two decades have been littered with some awful performances.   Still, there is no denying that the man was a legend.

For me, Pacino has a few goldmine performances under his belt, particularly in the early stages of his career.  His work in all the ‘Godfather’ films as well as ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, ‘The Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘Scarface’ were benchmarks in any career, but after that he quickly fell into self-parody, especially as the 90’s started to roll in.  He has a penchant for yelling, and that became his M.O.  Soon all of his performances were laced with this familiarity.  Even when he had a range of characters to play (‘Scent of a Woman’, ‘Heat’, ‘Any Given Sunday’, etc.) they all started to meld into one another.  With the exception of ‘Donnie Brasco’ and ‘The Insider’, Pacino has failed to really impress me much since 1983.

Nicholson isn’t free from this brand of reproach either.  In fact, Nicholson has been reportedly playing himself for decades almost, but when looking over his resume it is hard to fault him when you see the barrage of monumental performances that grace his filmography.  Starting with ‘Easy Rider’ and moving on through the 70’s, Nicholson was a force.  Iconic performances in films like ‘Chinatown’, ‘Five Easy Pieces’, ‘The Passenger’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Shining’ helped make a name for this man and prove his undeniable range.  Building a caricature that worked in ‘Prizzi’s Honor’, toning down his abrasiveness for more docile support in ‘Reds’ and finding a place for true tenderness without losing comedic timing in ‘About Schmidt’ helped keep Jack relevant through the years.  Yes, he has the tendency to ham it up for a paycheck.  There is no excusing ‘Anger Management’ or ‘A Few Good Men’ or ‘The Bucket List’, but Nicholson’s track record is nothing short of consistent.

And speaking of consistent, Hackman owns that word.  One of my favorite actors of all time (Nicholson earns that title as well), Hackman has played so many characters and brought me to so many places that I can’t help but think of him fondly at all times.  Whether he’s a ruthless thug, a sheepish man with daddy issues, a headstrong cop or even a corrupt one or a charismatic crook with a heart of gold, Hackman has done it all.  I’m extremely pissed he went out on that shit that was ‘Welcome to Mooseport’, but we can’t all get what we want. 

For the mere fact that Hackman didn’t produce as many iconic characters as Nicholson, I think he gets edged out here.

So that would make my ranking:

1)      Nicholson
2)      Hackman
3)      Pacino
4)      Paymer
5)      Davidson

So then this leads me to my actual ballot.  Well, I’m a few weeks away from completing 1992 as a whole, so I’m not going to unveil my final ballot just yet, but I’m going to give you a glimpse at my top twelve.  Feel free to make any guesses you may have as to who will make my top five.  Here they are in alphabetical order.

Jaye Davidson/The Crying Game

Gene Hackman/Unforgiven

Tom Hanks/A League of Their Own

Anthony Hopkins/Howard's End

Harvey Keitel/Sister Act

Jack Lemmon/Glengarry Glen Ross

David Paymer/Mr. Saturday Night

Michael Madsen/Reservoir Dogs

Sydney Pollack/Husbands and Wives

Tim Roth/Reservoir Dogs
Steven Waddington/The Last of the Mohicans

Forest Whitaker/The Crying Game


  1. Great stuff. I still need to rewatch The Crying Game, and I haven't seen Mr. Saturday Night yet. I'm guessing your top 5 will be Davidson, Hackman, Hopkins, Lemmon, and Whitaker, but I hope Madsen makes the cut.

    P.S. - No Alec Baldwin? ;)

    1. I'm telling you, I did not respond all that favorable to Glengarry Glen Ross. I just thought it was empty...and the ensemble, while uniformly good, really lived and died with Lemmon for me. Baldwin has a great scene, but I prefer these twelve.

      Oh, and you're VERY close to right ;-)