2 films get 9 nods, but 'Crying Game' is Oscars' biggest deal

February 18, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

An article about the Oscar nominations in yesterday's editions said that Al Pacino was the first male to win a nomination in both acting and supporting acting categories. However, in 1944 Barry Fitzgerald received nominations in the acting and supporting acting categories for the same role in "Going My Way." That practice has subsequently been disallowed by the Academy.

Now it can be told.

The big news at yesterday's 65th annual Academy Award announcements wasn't the expected triumphs of "Howards End" and "Unforgiven," which received nine nominations apiece, but the outing of Jaye Davidson, who played the enigmatic Dil in Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game."

Davidson was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, which at last lets a cat out of a bag. For months, ever since the unheralded British import began electrifying audiences and winning wider and wider audiences, critics and moviegoers alike have been informally involved in a conspiratorial pact to keep Davidson's gender a secret, since its discovery is the movie's most riveting astonishment.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

But so surprising is the revelation of Davidson's gender that it seems to have propelled the small movie into Oscar territory in other areas. Besides the nomination for Davidson, the film was nominated in the Best Picture category and Neil Jordon was nominated for Best Director as well as Best Screenplay. In fact, the movie resulted in six nominations altogether. A subtext of yesterday's announcement was: "Here comes Mr. Jordan."

Another theme of the nominations may have been: "Where went Mr. Nicholson?" Jack Nicholson, it was widely rumored, would be the first actor in history to win nominations in both the Actor and the Supporting Actor categories in the same year (it has happened four times to actresses). However, Nicholson was not nominated for his role in "Hoffa." The rumors at least got the distinction right, if not the actor. It went to Al Pacino, who received Best Supporting Actor nod for "Glengarry Glen Ross" and Best Actor for "Scent of a Woman."

Another question that will be asked on the morning after: "Where went Mr. Lemmon?" Jack Lemmon was widely rumored to be a shoo-in for his stunning turn in "Glengarry Glen Ross," but he went untapped.

But the breakthrough of Jordan and the surprises in the actor categories shouldn't completely overpower the success of the more mainstream fare, "Unforgiven" and "Howards End," with their nine nominations apiece. This is an especially satisfying set of nominations for the old salts responsible for each picture: Clint Eastwood for "Unforgiven" and James Ivory for "Howards End."

Eastwood, for years a critic's whipping boy for his violent and rabble-rousing crowd-pleasers like the "Dirty Harry" films, has finally broken through to widespread respect both as an actor and a director with the baleful and violent western about an old gunfighter who straps on the pistols one more time. The movie, far more morally complex than Eastwood's usual shoot-'em-ups, has won a number of prestigious critical awards.

"Howards End" is perhaps the most conventional of the successful movies. Hollywood loves high-toned British literary adaptations because they're everything Hollywood is not -- restrained, elegant and moral. Ivory, who works outside the mainstream with his collaborators Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, has had success before, notably with the Best Picture nominee "A Room With a View" in 1986, but this is validation beyond his wildest dreams; although he's an American by birth, he has chosen to work almost exclusively overseas and indeed began his cosmopolitan career in India.

Spike Lee, whose "Malcolm X" received excellent reviews and great publicity when it was released in November, was largely snubbed by the academy. His movie was not nominated for Best Picture or for Best Adapted Screenplay; nor was Lee nominated for Best Director, though the director of a rather routine commercial film received one: Martin Brest for "Scent of a Woman." Does the academy have a Spike Lee problem or does Spike Lee have an academy problem? Only Denzel Washington was singled out in the Best Actor category. Lee, you can bet, will be heard from.

Other actors nominated along with Washington were Robert Downey Jr., for his amazing impersonation in "Chaplin," Eastwood and Pacino, and Stephen Rea, who plays the IRA gunman shadowed by conscience and regret in "The Crying Game." That film's late surge probably edged out Jack Lemmon for the final nomination.

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