The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1997
We just talked about 1997 a week ago. Titanic. Remember? Yeah, nuff said. Fortunately, though, Titanic doesn’t factor into this category, so we really get to have some fun here. This was a great year for Supporting Actor. All five are really good movies, and three of them didn’t get enough love past this category, so it’s nice to be able to talk about them.
Just to recap, Best Actor and Best Actress this year were Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets (and just because it’s a great piece of trivia, I’ll point it out each time this comes up — all three times Jack Nicholson has won an Oscar (twice for lead once for supporting), the lady he was playing opposite won Best Actress for the same film. How incredible is that?), Best Supporting Actress was Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential, and Best Director was James Cameron for Titanic. You know, despite the sweep this year, they did spread the wealth surprisingly well, considering. Sweep films so rarely get acting nominations.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1997
And the nominees were…
Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
Anthony Hopkins, Amistad
Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets
Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights
Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
Forster – Jackie Brown is a wonderful film. Most people would write this off as the least of Tarantino’s films (well, before Death Proof, which, is actually a great film, but, by elimination, something needs to be at the bottom), but, it’s probably one of his strongest.
The film is an ode to the blaxploitation films of the 70s. It’s about a flight attendant (Pam Grier), who transports across the border for Samuel L. Jackson, who is a gun runner. And one day she’s caught with drugs in the envelope, and goes to prison. And at that point, things get complicated. She is asked by the FBI (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) to help catch Jackson, while also meeting and getting involved with her bail bondsman (that’s Forster), while Jackson is planning to smuggle the rest of his money into the country ($500,000), along with his stoner friend Louis (Robert DeNiro), and then Bridget Fonda is there as a beach bunny. Lots of stuff happens. The whole thing comes to a head during the money exchange. In one single sequence in a mall — Jackie conspires with the bail bondsman to steal the money from Jackson, the FBI is planning on getting the money and using it to arrest Jackson, and Jackson has sent DeNiro and Fonda there to pick up the money and bring it back to him. It’s a great, great film.
Robert Forster plays Max Cherry, the bondsman. And this is the type of role that helped Tarantino be known for reviving the careers of actors who have faded into obscurity. Within the span of three film, Tarantino made John Travolta relevant again, he reintroduced Michael Parks to the world, and he made everyone remember how great Robert Forster is. And that’s before pulling out David Carradine from nowheresville and getting Christoph Waltz into the country. And even getting Kurt Russell to be remembered again too. The Forster role is perhaps my favorite of the bunch because — Forster is the perfect Max Cherry. He’s laconic, he doesn’t have high ambitions, he just wants to do his thing and live out his life. He’s too old and too tired to do anything else, so he just wants to live his days comfortably. And he sort of allows himself to be reinvigorated by Jackie, but also kind of knows it won’t last. It’s a great performance. Jackson may be the flash of the film, but Cherry is the backbone of it, and it was nice to see him get the recognition. I loved this performance a lot.
Hopkins – Amistad is perhaps one of the more forgotten Spielberg films. I say forgotten because, you watch it and might not immediately think of it as a Steven Spielberg film. Or, you may not watch it as quickly as you’d watch many of his other films. I feel like this, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun – these are films that tend to get overlooked in favor of Jaws, Jurassic Park, any of the Indiana Jones movies, Saving Private Ryan – you get the point. But, Amistad is a very good film. Not as good as Color Purple, but still, very good.
It’s about a group of slaves, led by Djimon Hounsou (ever playing the intense African man), who commandeer a slave ship and try to get it back to Africa. However, the sailors, held captive, sail it to America instead. So the men get arrested and put on trial. And the trial is about whether or not they should be sent back to Africa or whether they should be sent as property to their destination. The answer seems obvious, but if you remember, we’re Pre-Civil War here. They actually had to have trials about shit like this. And, of all people, Matthew McConaughey plays the lawyer defending the men (and he actually does a really great job, proving once again that as long as he picks good projects, he can be a good actor), trying to convince the courts that they were, when they commandeered the ship, free men, and by that account, can go back to their homes as they wish. And eventually the case moves up via appeals all the way to the Supreme Court. And that’s where Tony Hopkins comes in.
Anthony Hopkins plays John Quincy Adams. As in, former President John Quincy Adams. We first see him as an old man, sleeping in the Senate during a colleague’s speech. And they crack a joke about how he’s perhaps too old to do his job. And, with his eyes closed, goes, ‘Perhaps if you said something worth listening to, I’d pay more attention.” At that point you know you’re dealing with a Best Supporting Actor nominee. And he sort of mentors McConaughey throughout most of the film, giving him advice about the case and following it. But it’s after he meets with Hounsou that he he decides to take the case on himself. He originally wants no part of it, and is about to tell Hounsou that himself, when Hounsou starts invoking the spirits of his ancestors for help. He says that he’s the only record that they ever existed, and this makes a huge impression on Adams, remembering his own father’s contributions to the country. (Note: His father was John Adams. In case you blanked.) So he takes on the case and makes a brilliant speech to the Supreme Court in defense of the men, and then — well, you can guess how it turns out.
Hopkins does a great job as Adams, but, on the whole the role isn’t very demanding. In fact, the movie itself seems to be missing something that prevents it from being as classic as other Spielberg films. I think The Color Purple has that going for it too, albeit less so. I think it’s because Spielberg is white, and he doesn’t really have the emotion coupled with the source material. So in a way it comes off as distant, in a way. Not to say it isn’t emotionally engaging, but rather, it’s as if the material is being presented to you the way someone would give a report on the material, and not in a way like — like Schindler’s List. You felt that one, didn’t you? It’s like that. But, we’re talking about the performance, so, still, while it’s good, I don’t think I can vote for it. Plus Hopkins already had an Oscar, and that really hurt whatever chance he had.
Kinnear – As much as I love As Good As It Gets, I don’t love this performance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, and it absolutely deserved to be on this list, but — someone had to be the last one on this list. It just so happened that it’s Kinnear.
The film is about Nicholson as a misanthropic author who pretty much hates people. He’s mean as fuck to everyone, whether trying to be or not. He’s crazy OCD and also manages to write the most romantic romance novels despite his — disdain toward people. And the film is about him loosening up. One of the ways he does so is through is gay neighbor, played by Kinnear. He used to dismiss him as “the queer next door” and even threw his dog down the garbage chute. Then after Kinnear gets assaulted, he agrees to take the dog in for a while, and eventually forges a friendship with Kinnear and the two become very good friends. Kinnear basically plays a nice supporting role to Nicholson, acts as foil for most of the movie, then he gets his own problems thrown in as well, going bankrupt, getting assaulted, etc. So he gets a nice range to play and does a good job. But, like I said, it’s just the weak link on this list. I can’t vote for it. I don’t like it enough to vote for it. This is Nicholson’s film.
Reynolds – Burt Reynolds! Isn’t he awesome? I mean — Deliverance? Gator? Come on, man. Burt Reynolds is so great with his fake hair. This is kind of a career resurrector too. Only, not so much, since Reynolds squandered it. But, still, we’ll always have Boogie Nights.
The film is about Marky Mark as a kid who winds up doing porn. Mostly because he has a huge dick. Spoiler alert, we see it. And Burt Reynolds is the man behind the jizz. He’s the producer of the porn. And the film takes place from the 70s to the 90s. So at first, Reynolds is king of the world. He’s got his leading lady, Julianne Moore, and the ingenue, Heather Graham, and he is pretty big in the industry (pun ridiculously intended). And then Wahlberg shows up and they pop huge. And the film is about the rise and fall of the industry. And we see Reynolds go from king all the way to filming shitty videos in the back of a limo (mostly because his financial backer gets arrested for child porn).
Honestly, while Reynolds is good in the movie, and I’m glad he got nominated, but he didn’t deserve to win this. I mean, I’d have been okay with it, but, he didn’t really do all that much here. To me he’s a solid third choice. But still, he’s great in the film and the film is amazing.
Williams – Robin Williams. The man’s been turning in great performance for a decade at this point and they finally reward him with a statue. Robin Williams performances tend to end up one of two ways. First, they’re basically him acting and doing his routine at the same time. The whole, manic, making jokes a mile a minute, thing. That’s one type of performance. These performances typically have no beard. Then you get the toned down Williams performance, where he is very subdued and actually acts. These performances typically have beards. Sometimes there is overlap between the two — for instance here, where he does throw in some Robin Williams-esque jokes and moments among the seriousness. But on the whole, this is an “actorly” performance.
Anyway, the film’s about Matt Damon, janitor, genius IQ, goes to shrink to find out why he’s wasting his potential. Williams plays the shrink. They have sessions, talk to one another, become friends. We find out about Damon and Williams, and Williams is very good in the role. It’s the kind of performance that wins awards. Also, since Williams was usually nominated in the Best Actor category, it was hard for them to reward him the way they wanted to. This was the perfect way to do that. Robin Williams is like Christopher Walken, in that, while they can be leads, they feel like supporting actors. I think Christian Bale is another one of those, which is why they gave him Supporting Actor this year.
So, final analysis on the performance — very good, and perfect to be voted for. However, I’m not voting for it because I liked another performance better. But I am very okay with him winning. He definitely deserved it.
My Thoughts: Williams probably did deserve it, but my vote goes to Forster. I just love that performance so much. Any way this category was gonna turn out (which was, one of three ways) would have been okay, so, I can’t really go wrong however I vote.
My Vote: Forster
Should Have Won: No preference, really. I kind of liked them all. Anyone but Kinnear, really. And I guess Hopkins, just because he has one. Best choices for me were Williams and Forster. Reynolds would have been okay too.
Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. Historically, Robin Williams deserved an Oscar. Supporting was the way to go, and this was the best performance for them to do it with. In hindsight, he was the best choice. I’d have gone differently, but Williams was a good decision.
Performances I suggest you see: Jackie Brown is a must see purely because it’s a Tarantino film and because no one’s really seen it. They always skip it in favor of the other ones. And I bet people watch it expecting it to be like the other ones and end up dismissing it because it’s not. But this is a 5-star movie. Don’t let it fool you. Or rather don’t let you fool you. Also, Good Will Hunting, as we know, is an amazing film. as is Boogie Nights. Fuck, watch all five of these movies. They’re all fucking great. If I had to pick an order to watch them in, I’d go, Jackie Brown, As Good As It Gets, Boogie Nights, Good Will Hunting, Amistad. They’re all great, though.