“The Player,” the satirically dark view of modern Hollywood from maverick director Robert Altman, was voted best film of 1992 on Thursday by the New York Film Critics Circle and Altman picked up the prize as best director.
In acting categories, Denzel Washington won top honors for his portrayal of African-American leader Malcolm X in director Spike Lee’s movie, while British actress Emma Thompson was selected for her role in the Merchant Ivory production of “Howards End.”
In several instances, the New York Critics’ outcome was the reverse of the awards voted last weekend by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. In Los Angeles, the critics gave the best picture nod to the Western “Unforgiven” and honored its director Clint Eastwood, while “The Player” and Altman were runners-up in both categories. In New York, in what was described by one insider as “nearly dead-heat voting,” “Unforgiven” and Eastwood came in second place.
“I’m very surprised by the outcome,” Altman said by telephone from Manhattan during a break from editing his next feature, “Short Cuts,” due out next fall. “Surprised especially because there are many, many good films out. So how do you compare films? I basically don’t believe in competition in the arts. But if it’s going to exist, I’m pleased to be on the winning side. . . .”
Ira Deutchman, the president of Fine Line Features, which distributes “The Player,” said his company is “incredibly pleased. This clearly positions the film as one of the front-runners for the Oscars. And it clearly vindicates our decision to reopen the film on Christmas in many major cities.” “The Player” originally premiered in April in Los Angeles and New York.
After the Los Angeles critics announced their choice of “Unforgiven,” Hollywood insiders felt its Oscar status was greatly enhanced, but whether the New York critics’ selection makes “The Player” a major player in the Academy Awards competition was a subject of some speculation in Hollywood circles on Thursday. Critics’ groups have mixed track records when it comes to the Oscar races. But some Oscar watchers noted that last year the New York group selected “The Silence of the Lambs” as best picture of 1991 and it subsequently swept the Oscars, including the award for best picture.
The New York and Los Angeles critics groups are rarely in agreement. In fact, the Los Angeles critics intentionally schedule their voting so that their choices are the season’s first. As a rule, movies chosen by the Los Angeles critics are not the winners with the East Coast group. Only when a film has won overwhelming favorable endorsements has there been an alignment of opinion, the last instance being Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” in 1990.
Some suggested that the Hollywood-bashing of “The Player” especially appealed to the New York critics. But Deutchman discounted that. “Maybe it does strike a chord,” he said. “But I think the people (in New York) are just responding to the artistry of the movie. After all, it was the runner-up for the L.A. awards.”
Again, as in the case of the Los Angeles critics, several of the most frequently mentioned Oscar contenders, such as “A Few Good Men,” “Hoffa” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” were omitted from any first-place prizes. Other potential Oscar favorites, such as “Malcolm X,” “Unforgiven” and “Howards End” did receive mentions.
Among the parallels in New York and Los Angeles voting: Thompson as best actress and Gene Hackman as best supporting actor for “Unforgiven.” Judy Davis won the L.A. vote for supporting actress in “Husbands and Wives,” while Miranda Richardson in “The Crying Game” as well as work in two other films was runner-up. The reverse was the case in the New York voting.
The 27-member New York group consists of some of the nation’s most recognized names in film commentary. Awards will be presented at a dinner Jan. 17.
The complete list of winners and runners-up:
* Picture: “The Player.” Runners-up: “Unforgiven”; “Howards End.”
* Director: Robert Altman, “The Player.” Runners-up: Clint Eastwood, “Unforgiven”; James Ivory, “Howards End.”
* Actor: Denzel Washington, “Malcolm X.” Runners-up: Harvey Keitel, “Bad Lieutenant”; Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman.”
* Actress: Emma Thompson, “Howards End.” Runners-up: Susan Sarandon, “Lorenzo’s Oil”; Michelle Pfeiffer, “Love Field.”
* Supporting actor: Gene Hackman, “Unforgiven.” Runners-up: Seymour Cassel, “In the Soup”; Jack Nicholson, “A Few Good Men.”
* Supporting actress: Miranda Richardson, “The Crying Game,” “Damage,” and “Enchanted April.” Runners-up: Judy Davis, “Husbands and Wives”; Alfre Woodard, “Passion Fish.”
* Screenplay: Neil Jordan, “The Crying Game.” Runners-up: Michael Tolkin, “The Player”; David Webb Peoples, “Unforgiven.”
* Cinematography: Jean Lapine, “The Player.” Runners-up: Jean de Segonzac, “Laws of Gravity”; Zago Fei, “Raise the Red Lantern.”
* Foreign-language film: “Raise the Red Lantern.” Runners-up: “The Match Factory Girl,” “Indochine.”
* Documentary: “Brother’s Keeper.” Runners-up: “The American Dream,” “A Brief History of Time.”
* New directors: Allison Anders, “Gas, Food, Lodging.” Runners-up: Quentin Tarantino, “Reservoir Dogs”; Tim Robbins, “Bob Roberts.”