"The Crying Game," a thriller with a stunning plot twist, placed next with six nominations, in a year that honored many smaller independent films but overlooked "The Player," a scathing indictment of Hollywood itself.
Al Pacino won the headline with nominations in two categories--best actor and supporting actor, his seventh and eighth Oscar mentions. But the day's top buzz came when voters tapped Jaye Davidson, a first-time actor and London hairdresser, in the supporting actor category. His performance in "The Crying Game" provided the year's biggest surprise at the movies. Jack Nicholson was thought to have a chance of a double-dip with a nomination for "Hoffa" in the best actor category, but unknown Stephen Rea, the lead in "The Crying Game," got the nod, on a very good day for the low-budget Anglo-Irish production.
The voters passed over both "The Player" and "Malcolm X" in many categories where they were thought to have good chances, although Denzel Washington was nominated for best actor for his performance as the slain black leader, and Robert Altman got a nod for directing the liveliest anti-Hollywood movie in years.
As the dust settled after the nominations were announced at 5:30 a.m. in Los Angeles, Clint Eastwood and his taut Western, "Unforgiven," looked like good bets for top Oscars when the awards are announced on March 29, and it seemed likely that British and Irish accents would be heard on the podium.
Best Picture nominations went to "The Crying Game," a thriller about an IRA man's unconventional love affair with a London hairdresser; "A Few Good Men," about a messy Marine court martial; "Howard's End," the adaptation of E. M. Forster's novel about a young wife who rebels against her husband's hypocrisy; "Scent of a Woman," with Pacino as a retired colonel who teaches a young man some of the lessons of life; and "Unforgiven," with Eastwood as a retired killer who goes on the trail one last time, in the dying days of the Old West.
In the Best Actor category, Robert Downey Jr., whose work in the title role of "Chaplin" won nearly unanimous praise from critics, overcame the film's bad reviews and dismal box office to win a nomination. He joins Eastwood, Pacino (who played the crusty colonel in "Scent of a Woman") Stephen Rea and Denzel Washington. Notable omissions included Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.
For Best Actress, the biggest surprise was legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve, for "Indochine," an epic about French colonial years in Southeast Asia. Mary McDonnell was named for "Passion Fish," where she played an actress embittered by the accident that leaves her paralyzed. The voters also went for Michelle Pfeiffer, as a Dallas woman who determines to attend John F. Kennedy's funeral in "Love Field;" Susan Sarandon, as a mother fighting her son's deadly disease in "Lorenzo's Oil," and Emma Thompson, as a bright young woman married to a narrow middle-aged man in "Howard's End."
In best supporting actor, the big surprise was Davidson of "The Crying Game," whose real sex was kept a secret by millions of moviegoers until the Academy announcement made it obvious. If he wins in the category, he will join Linda Hunt, a woman who played a man in "Year of Living Dangerously" (1983). Other nominees are Gene Hackman, as the sadistic sheriff in "Unforgiven," Jack Nicholson, winning his tenth nomination, as the savage Marine commandant in "A Few Good Men;" Pacino, as one of the embittered real estate salesmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross," and newcomer David Paymer, who played the long-suffering brother of a stand-up comic in "Mr. Saturday Night." A notable omission was Jack Lemmon, in "Glengarry Glen Ross."
For best supporting actress, the nominees were Judy Davis, as a wife who determines to get divorced in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives;" Joan Plowright, as one of a group of British women who go on an Italian holiday in "Enchanted April;" Vanessa Redgrave, winning her sixth nomination, as the first wife of the hypocritical banker in "Howard's End;" Miranda Richardson, as the wife of an adulterous cabinet minister in "Damage;" and Marisa Tomei, as the ditzy girl friend of a would-be legal hotshot in "My Cousin Vinny." Overlooked by voters was the fine work of Alfre Woodard in "Passion Fish," and Rosie Perez's career-making work in "White Men Can't Jump."
Best director nods went to Neil Jordan, for "The Crying Game;" James Ivory, for "Howard's End;" Robert Altman, for "The Player;" Martin Brest, for "Scent of a Woman," and Clint Eastwood, for "Unforgiven." The Director's Guild of America awards, widely seen as a predictor of the Oscars in this category, nominated Rob Reiner for "A Few Good Men" instead of Brest. The obvious exclusion in the category was Spike Lee, for "Malcolm X," a film many Academy voters possibly did not chose to see.
In the Best Documentary category, where the Academy's dysfunctional selection committee has made an annual practice of not naming the year's best candidates, there was another scandalous exclusion this year. "Brother's Keeper," the most successful and best-reviewed documentary of the year, was passed over. One interesting choice: "Fires of Kuwait" was the first Oscar nominee to be shot in the huge-screen IMAX process.
For foreign film, the voters selected "Close to Eden," from Russia; "Daens," from Belgium; "A Place in the World," from Uruguay; "Schtonk," from Germany, and "Indochine."
When all the nominations were totaled, "Howard's End" and "Unforgiven" led with nine, "Crying Game" had six, "Aladdin" had five, and there were four apiece for "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "A Few Good Men," and "Scent of a Woman." Oscar trivia hounds noted that Pacino's double nomination was the sixth in Oscar history.
The Oscarcast will be televised from Los Angeles on March 29, with Billy Crystal once again as emcee.