1993 Best Actor Oscar: Take two?

Tomhanks_lThe 1993 Best Actor race was Tom Hanks’ to lose, and he didn’t. There were several striking performances that year. Laurence Fishburne was searing as the mercurial Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It. Anthony Hopkins was understated to the extreme as the ultimate stiff-upper-lip butler in The Remains of the Day, though his 1992 win for The Silence of the Lambs may have let voters decide it was someone else’s turn. Same with Daniel Day-Lewis, searing in In the Name of the Father as a wrongly imprisoned man, but who had also won just four years earlier for My Left Foot. And Liam Neeson was fascinating and mysterious as the unlikely savior in Schindler’s List, but the Academy must have felt it had several other opportunities to honor the Holocaust drama (it won in seven of its 12 categories, including Best Picture).

It’s easy to chalk up Hanks’ prize for his Philadelphia performance to political correctness. A lot of observers thought he was doing something brave and risky, as a straight actor playing a gay man with AIDS (though William Hurt had won an Oscar for playing an embattled gay man eight years earlier in Kiss of the Spider Woman and hadn’t seen his career suffer at all). Others may have thought Hanks was owed, having paid his dues, established himself as a serious actor (no longer the goofball from Bosom Buddies and Turner and Hooch), and missed out on the award five years earlier (when his Big kid lost to Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man). Today, Philadelphia seems more heavy-handed and obvious than bold, with Hanks’ character a colorless martyr without much of a personality, except when he’s passionately discussing opera (see the clip after the jump). In contrast, Neeson’s character continues to surprise to this day, as the actor was faced with the more difficult task (to my mind) of trying to answer the riddle of what made Schindler do the right thing. In a movie era where slashers and serial killers are abundant and performances like Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in Silence try to explain the mystery of evil (even though nothing could be more commonplace and banal), it’s much more interesting to probe the mystery of goodness, of why, when it was so easy to do wrong, Schindler risks all to do right. I’m not sure the movie ever finds an answer, and Neeson’s performance remains all the richer today for preserving the ambiguity.

Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these performances doyou think is the best? Vote in our poll, and list your comments below.(For a refresher, watch the clips embedded after the jump, whichmay contain some NSFW language.) Remember, we’ll be running the Recall the Gold surveys every Tuesdayand Thursday until January, so you may go back at any time and vote inthe other polls (click hereto see them all), reexamining the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25years ago. On Thursday, Nov. 27, we’ll look at the 1993 Best Directorcompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout EW.com,including on Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.

addCredit(“Fotos International/Getty Images”)

Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father

Laurence Fishburne in What’s Love Got to Do With It

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List

Comments (57 total) Add your comment
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  • Cliff

    Hanks’ performance in “Philadelphia” is one of the top contenders for one of those “Great Performances in Bad Movies” lists that movie critics hate. Yes, Hanks is great, and I’d still give him the Oscar (with Neeson a very close second), but the film is an overwritten, preaching-to-the-choir Message Movie, and the courtroom scenes are utterly ridiculous. Thanks, Gary…I’ve spent 15 years thinking I was the only one who thought “Philadelphia” was less than the sum of its parts.

  • Michael

    What an interesting, thoughtful post. It’s always intriguing to dissect a performance outside of its initial context, but then to add the examination of thematic relevance…well done, Gary Susman! And I agree, Neeson’s is the performance that holds.

  • bronxmom

    Daniel Day Lewis all the way!

  • Daniel Salinas

    Are you kidding me? Liam Neeson’s performance was the weak link in an otherwise great film. He is so overrated and wooden as an actor! Ambiguity? I believe he was expressing nothing. He was only nominated because the film was about the Holocaust and Spielberg directed. Hollywood loves this stuff, but best acting? He is not even in the neighborhood. I wasn’t not hot for Tom Hank’s performance either. It was world’s away better than Neeson’s. However, Philadelphia is not a classic, unlike Schindler’s List. I think Tom Hank’s performance was more than worthy of the golding rube.

  • paige

    Hmm well this one is interesting but I have to add that this was one of the rare years where they all deserved it. I’d still give it to Hanks though cause he took a “colorless martyr” and really, he ran with it. I still find this to be his best performance. I think we do need to Recall the supporting actors of that year though! Tommy Lee Jones for the Fugitive over Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List was criminal and Anna Paquin over any of them was just weird. Seriously, Winona Ryder was perfect in the Age of Innocence and Rosie Perez was just heartbreaking in Fearless.

  • Lindsay

    Oye- what a tough year! Daniel Day Lewis feasibly could win for any performance…he’s that good (the male Meryl Streep). Liam Neeson was phenomenal, but Ralph Fiennes deserved to win for Schindler’s List. That scene in Philadelphia has haunted me from the first time I saw it to this day. Tom was the right choice.

  • Nathan

    Great year for this category, but Hanks is still the clear cut winner. His performance in Philadelphia would win in just about any year.

  • Cara King

    I thought Daniel Day Lewis deserved to win, though Hanks was of course excellent too.
    BTW, those of you discussing Ralph Fiennes that year — there’s already a post for that issue! (Click on Recall the Gold at the top of this post and scroll down…)

  • Ceballos

    Paige- I believe the supporting actor race for this year has been discussed. If you click on “click here” to see them all, it should take you there.
    I actually surprised myself by the fact that I voted for Neeson. I think Gary did a great job of putting into words why I think his performance was so great (I’m not smart enough to express it myself).
    Still, I have absolutely no problem with Hanks’ well-deserved win despite the fact his is only my second favorite performance in “Philadelphia.”
    Whether you wanted to put him in the Best Actor or Supporting Actor race, Denzel Washington wuz robbed. How could he not even get a nom…explain it to me like I’m a four year old.

  • Ken A.

    Count me as another one who was not overwhelmed with “Philadelphia” or Tom Hanks…the film was preachy, over-the-top, and Hanks was so sincere and nice as were all the gay people. And in a reverse sense of stereotyping, the straight people were Evil! What a crock! If someone was going to get nominated for that film, better Denzel Washington, who played a real human being. With that out of the way, my choice was Daniel Day-Lewis–I’m not always a fan; but he had quite a year with his wild Irishman in “In the Name of the Father” and his restrained yankee aristocrat in “The Age of Innocence”. The Oscar to Day-Lewis for his versatility in both films. Honorable mention to Hopkins for “Remains” and Neeson for “Schindler”.

  • Anonymous

    I’m okay with Tom Hanks winning this Oscar he robbed Morgan Freeman in 1994 but that’s for another day.

  • Chichester

    The only movie I have ever seen more than once in the cinema was “In the Name of the Father,” all because of Daniel Day Lewis’s performance.
    So there you have it.

  • Rahul

    Tom Hanks’ performance was great but I feel the Academy gave him the award to honor the film itself and the topic it addressed: to quote Denzel Washington’s character, “the general public’s hatred …loathing …fear of homosexuals.”
    Like I’ve said on this blog before, ‘Schindler’s List’ is one of my favorite films, but I truly believe that Liam Neeson nailed a pretty complicated juggling act. He morphed from a ruthless, womanizing Nazi-sympathizer into one of the greatest heroes in film history. When he collapsed at the end lamenting on how he could’ve gotten more prisoners out, his pain was authentic and boundless.
    The filmmakers got rewarded that night, but like his co-star Ralph Fiennes, Neeson deserved some recognition.

  • John

    I actually thought Tom Hanks’ performance was the weakest of the five that were nominated…as someone else said on this thread, Denzel should have been nominated instead…because his story & character seems to have the most charge in the film. As Tom Hanks said on Inside The Actors’ Studio, he steals something everyday acting from his watching & working with Denzel on “Philadelphia”. I would have replaced Tom Hanks and put the most underrated performance of 1993…Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive”. Everyone raves about Tommy Lee Jones, but without the very human Dr. Richard Kimble, the movie does not work. In fact, I would also say that Andrew Davis was robbed of a Best Director nomination as his work is much greater than Jim Sheridan’s work in “In the Name of the Father.”

  • Kim

    Let ‘im keep it. It wasn’t because a straight actor played a gay man with AIDS, it was because *that* straight actor played a gay man with AIDS. Hanks had broad appeal — particularly to people who might still find that kind of thing offensive. His screen presence is benign, making the gay man with AIDS more palatable to somewhat socially conservative types. The gay man with AIDS was also a corporate lawyer and not a dancer, a singer, an artist, etc., nor was he effeminate or pathetic. You can’t get much more “normal” than Tom Hanks, which was why this movie mattered — as silly as some of it seems today. It had a huge impact. And his performance in the opera scene was golden and certainly warranted this award. (And it’s all been downhill since then.)
    (Also, I fully concur with those who laud Denzel in this — his character was the one with lights and darks and complexities. Terrific work.)

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