Denzel Washington, “Malcolm X” (1992)
Jay Pharoah on “SNL” has succinctly condensed the last 10 years of Denzel Washington’ career into a perfect parody consisting of condescending hand claps, toothy grins, and some well-timed“All rights” and “OKs.” Following his Academy Award-winning turn as detective Alonzo Harris in “Training Day,” it seems every rogue cop and gun-toting cliche has been a series of recycled “best of” moments. If Denzel Washington were Michael Jordan, this is the Washington Wizards twilight of his career.
But in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” Denzel was at his absolute best, breaking down a man of disparate parts, a myth shrouded in pathos and bogus misconceptions. Washington deftly juggled the various reincarnations of the man who would eventually become Malcolm X; from country rube, Malcolm Little, to “Red” the zoot-suited street hustler, all the way to his militant, uncompromising civil rights persona. To this day, Pacino’s victory over Denzel for “Scent of a Woman” remains one of the biggest snubs in Oscar history, right next to Marty Landau stealing one from Samuel L. Jackson.