The Best Picture Winners: Unforgiven (1992)

| January 15, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just 46 days away and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

By Nineteen Ninety-Two, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hadn’t so much as acknowledged the existence of Clint Eastwood.  Despite having been an icon of American cinema for more than 40 years, Eastwood’s contributions had been completely overlooked.  Yet, in a moment of madness, the academy chose this moment to make up for lost time by rewarding Eastwood’s much lauded Unforgiven, a revisionist western and a meditation on what it means to be “heroic,” what it means to grow old with a lifetime body count that comes back to haunt you.

I greatly admire what Eastwood was trying to do.  The film is fantastic in the way that it breaks the façade of the American western and setting it at a moment in 19th century history when the west was turning from a real place into the stuff of myths and legends.

And yet . . . and yet, as I look at the film again, I begin to wonder if the academy voters were rewarding the film or Eastwood’s impressive career.  One could argue for both, but again I wonder if they were making up for lost time (this particular year they also gave a long overdue Oscar to Al Pacino).  One could argue that this makes the best case for the futility of the entire institution of The Academy Awards.  Do you reward the artist, or his artistic vision?

Nineteen Ninety-Two was a great year for films that the Academy voters shy away from; great experimental films that broke the mold and showed the reach of what cinema could do.  This was the year that gave us Malcolm X, The Player, The Crying Game, Damage, One False Move, Bad Lieutenant, The Waterdance, Swoon, and many others.

I think Eastwood’s best work as a director was still to come. Over the next two decades he would turn out a long list of great directorial work with films like A Perfect World, The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River, Changeling, Gran Torino, and his World War II duology Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.  He would win the Oscar again for the much more deserving Million Dollar Baby a decade later.  I’m happy for the acknowledgement, but I might have wished they’d waited a bit.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.