The 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.
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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