Robert Altman’s very black comedy was the HFPA’s choice of Best Comedy or Musical in what proved to be a very controversial year. When the Golden Globe for Best Drama was announced and Scent of a Woman won there was much surprise in the room, and, later, outrage. Rob Reiner felt his drama A Few Good Men was more worthy, and was vocal about it. How about Howards End, or Unforgiven, which ended up the Academy’s choice?
But even the critics’ prizes were divided that year with all three groups recognizing different movies, although the New York Film Critics honored The Player as the best film of the year. The story of a Hollywood film studio executive who murders an aspiring screenwriter he believes is sending him death threats, The Player is unquestionably a masterpiece. It has the highest possible rating among top critics, and it resurrected Altman’s career after a five-year slump. He went on to direct Short Cuts, one of his signature classics.
To give you an idea how highly regarded Altman was, no less than 65 celebrities appear as themselves in the film, still considered the best satire about Hollywood ever made. Altman preferred to call it a “gentle satire.” The opening tracking shot lasts over seven minutes without an edit. 15 takes were required to shoot that scene, a sequence that’s been compared to Orson Welles’ opening of Touch of Evil.
Altman was nominated for both the Academy Award and a Golden Globe as Best Director. The screenplay was the work of Michael Tolkin, the son of Mel Tolkin – one of the early TVs great comedy writers. Other nominees for Best Motion Picture comedy or musical that year were Aladdin, Enchanted April, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Sister Act, not exactly a serious challenge.
Tim Robbins won for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. He was also nominated for Bob Roberts, which he wrote and directed that year. Other nominees were Nicholas Cage in Honeymoon in Vegas, Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night and Marcello Mastroianni in Used People. The Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Golden Globe went to Miranda Richardson for Enchanted April. Her competition was Geena Davis in A League of Their Own, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Shirley MacLaine in Used People, and Meryl Streep, again, in Death Becomes Her.