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LEADERS OF THE PACK / Wearing the crown: Holly and the ivories: Screen Actor Of The Year

IT WAS the year of the supporting actor, starting with Jack Nicholson blowing Tom Cruise away in A Few Good Men. His portrait of the brutality that calls itself patriotism was so powerful it thwarted the film's liberalism. Watch on the video for the eyelash flutter when he feels the heat on the witness stand. Tommy Lee Jones also stole a star vehicle, The Fugitive, outshining Harrison Ford with his swagger and wisecracks. Even the turn that won the Oscar for Best Actor - Al Pacino's blind war vet in Scent of a Woman - felt like a brilliant cameo.

In Malcolm X Denzel Washington captured the changing man, from coy delinquent to disciplined sage. Angela Bassett's Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It almost outshook the lady herself. Best newcomer was Karina Lombard, whose wrenching Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea showed she's worth far more than that bikini role in The Firm.

The best performances involved holding something back. For Tim Roth, in Reservoir Dogs, it was his guts: you believed his insides were about to pour out as his voice leapt an agonised octave. For Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day, it was his emotions: they'd been crushed under layers of self-discipline - only his louche walk suggested a more dissolute self. Daniel Auteuil displayed a similar atrophy in Un Coeur en Hiver, magnetising his mystery with a few masterly twitches.

Holly Hunter, in The Piano, held back her voice. In other hands (Meryl Streep's, say) the role of Ada might have been absurd, but Hunter played it with unselfconscious conviction. Her power was crystallised in two contrasting moments: the joy surging over her chalky face as she played the piano on the beach; and the agony as she slumped brutalised into the mud. No one else matched those twin peaks.

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