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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor & Best Supporting Actress – 2002

These are an interesting set of nominations. I remember this being my first real Oscar race. 2001 I watched as merely a viewer. 2002 was when I started drawing party lines. I had my favorites, decided who I liked, had very definite ideas of who I thought should win each category. Supporting actor specifically made me very happy. Because, to me, it was who I picked. Apparently, to everyone else, it was an upset. Now I get to go back and look and analyze this from a more objective point of view. I’m excited.

Best Supporting Actor – 2002

And the nominees were…

Chris Cooper, Adaptation.

Ed Harris, Ed Harris

Paul Newman, Road to Perdition

John C. Reilly, Chicago

Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can

Chris Cooper — What a great performance. What a great character. What makes him so great in this role is how dumb he plays it. He has that certain stupid naivety to him that only people who know people who are essentially dumb, overgrown children can understand. The whole, “done with fish thing” he has — that person who gets so involved in one specific thing, and are really excited about it and consume every bit of it they can. Then when they’ve achieved the goal — that’s it. They’re done. “Fuck fish.” Move onto the next thing. Cooper is great here.

Oh, I should maybe explain who he was. I should get into the habit of doing that in case people don’t know or forgot. Cooper is a Florida man who Meryl Streep, as a writer for the New Yorker, goes down to see because he was caught trying to steal a very rare orchid. He goes into preserves with a group of Indians to steal flowers because if they get caught, the fact that they’re Native Americans always gets him off the hook because, well — look what we did to them. And we see just how much of a character he is — he’s one of those, “Who’s gonna play me in the movie? Well, I think I should play me.” He’s really fascinating to watch.

Ed Harris — This is a good performance, but it’s a typical Ed Harris performance, which means its very low key, and not looking to win awards. He’s very much all about doing what he’s doing, and making everyone else look better. That’s why I love Ed Harris the actor, but rarely out and out love his performances. He’s not an actor that goes for the Oscar performance. He’s much more concerned with helping his costars. Which is greatly admirable. I just can’t vote for him here, despite the performance being really fucking good.

Paul Newman — My god, what a brilliant final note to the long and distinguished career of Paul Newman. (The fact that Cars is his last film makes it even more perfect.) He is awesome in this movie. He plays an Irish mob boss who rules his little suburb of Chicago while Capone rules the main city. And Tom Hanks works as his enforcer, and Daniel Craig is his ne’er do well son. And after Tom Hanks’s son, who wants to go with his father to work, sees Craig kill someone, Newman — who essentially loves Hanks more than he loves his own son — agrees to have Hanks and his family killed. Hanks survives, as does his oldest son, and Newman, knowing this, spends the rest of the movie feeling such guilt, such pain over the fact that he betrayed his best friend in favor of his asshole son, that the final moment before the inevitable happens, it’s so touching. It’s a perfect Paul Newman moment. It’s that Butch and Sundance moment, where you know what’s happening, and he knows what’s happening, and he doesn’t want to try to get out of it, yet you feel such empathy for him at the same time. It’s great. A must watch. The movie is amazing too. A real underrated gem of a film.

John C. Reilly — John C. Reilly goes this nomination out of recognition. The man is in three of the five Best Picture nominees. He’s great in all of them. The fact that it was for Chicago just meant that was the film they liked the best. So, I guess that’s the only performance we have to talk about. But keep in mind, he was nominated for those two as well as this one, which makes the nomination make more sense.

The reason this doesn’t make sense without knowing he was in the other two films is because he’s barely in this one. This movie is the Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger show, with a little Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah thrown in. Reilly really only gets one scene to shine in. The rest of the time, he’s pretty much thrown aside. But, that’s his character. He’s the dumb husband of Renée Zellweger. She cheats on him and kills her lover and he’s none the wiser. And she blatantly lies to him and ignores him and he’s still in love with her and supportive. And in almos every scene he’s in he gets cut off, shooed away, pushed back into the crowd. He only gets like three word in, and they’re usually about how much he loves her, what he did to help her and that he’s going to do more to help her. And then he gets pushed out. And he has his number, “Mr. Cellophane Man” to basically highlight all of it. So, he does a good job, but the part is marginal, so it’s really about rewarding the year he had more than anything else.

Christopher Walken — This is a great performance. This isn’t the Christopher Walken you normally see. Sure, he does his thing, but here, he really is wonderfully cast. He’s a father who is proud of his son. He’s part of the local Knights of Vespucci and is also a small time crook. He cheats the IRS out of money and cons women into helping him by pulling the old, “Is this your necklace? I found it on the floor” trick. And he gets divorced when it’s discovered his wife is sleeping with someone else. And his son ends up running away and becoming a big time scan artist. He goes and pretends to be a Pan Am pilot and finds a way to get n the payroll even though he doesn’t even work for the company. And when he comes back a year later, suddenly bringing dad a Cadillac, Walken knows what his son has been doing. It’s obvious. But he doesn’t care. He’s proud of his son. It’s not about how he got it, it’s about the fact that he got it. His son comes to him, trying to impress him with the uniform, and he wants to believe it. Even when the charade gets old, and his son tries to tell him where all the money came from, he just comes back with, “Where you going, Frank? Where you going? France? Tahiti? Spain?” It’s one of those great performances where you know he believes one thing, but is either forcing himself or just simply wants to believe another. It’s great.

My Thought: This is a tough one. It’s between Newman and Cooper. Which I’m pretty sure is what everyone else thought during Oscar night. Everyone had to have seen Reilly as the “good year” nomination and Harris as the “solid but won’t win” nomination. Walken would have been second choice if he weren’t out-veteraned by Newman. Newman must have been considered a huge favorite and Cooper the underdog. This is tough for me. I’m torn between Newman and Cooper. On Oscar night, I was voting Cooper, even though I liked Newman’s performance. Now, I see them as much more even because of what this film now means to Paul Newman’s legacy. But, Oscar has always ignored Paul Newman, so I feel as though him not winning this is just as fitting to his legacy as winning it would have been. So, I guess I’ll stick with my vote of Cooper, but Newman is right there. This must have been a close vote.

Rankings:

5. Ed Harris

4. John C. Reilly

3. Christopher Walken

2. Paul Newman

1. Chris Cooper

Best Supporting Actress – 2002

And the nominees were…

Kathy Bates, About Schmidt

Queen Latifah, Chicago

Julianne Moore, The Hours

Meryl Streep, Adaptation.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Kathy Bates — You know, I really don’t get the appeal of this performance. A lot of people loved it. I thought it was fine. Would I have nominated it for an Oscar? Not in the least. But, you know, veteran, fifth nominee — the Oscars are littered with nominations like this. So, it happens. Still not voting for it. Just so you know, she plays the kind of weird indie, hippy mother character that’s become commonplace now. The kind of mother Maggie Gyllenhaal in Away We Go would grow up to be. She’s the kind of mother that is super open about everything, breastfed her son until he was ten, let him sleep in the same room while she fucks her husband — you know the type. That’s the character. She also gets into a hot tub with Nicholson while stark naked. That’s the scene everyone remembers from this movie. I haven’t actually gone back and watched this performance in a while (I mostly stick to Nicholson scenes — those last ten minutes get me bawling every time), but I’m guessing I’d watch it and go — “That’s the same shit they do all the time now.” So, I guess, points for doing it slightly earlier. Still, not gonna vote for it.

Queen Latifah — She was good. Wasn’t really in the movie so much. But she’s sassy and black, and big-boned. I guess Oscar is just into that sort of thing. Jennifer Hudson won for basically the same role. She pretty much plays the big lesbian prisoner (I assume lesbian, because, you know –) whose name is Mama. She trades in cigarettes and pretty much runs the female prison the way rich white people do. She gets one or two good numbers, but as a supporting performance goes, there’s clearly a better one from this same movie. (Hint: It won.)

Julianne Moore — There are most years when the films Julianne Moore is either up for an Oscar for, or in contention for an Oscar for, where I just don’t see why she should be nominated or win. I just don’t get it. However, this year, both of her nominated performances were perfectly worth of both a nomination and a win. I thought she did the best job of anybody in this movie. Even Nicole Kidman, who won the Oscar for it. She was no more of a supporting character than Julianne Moore was.

Meryl Streep — I thought Meryl did a fine job in this movie. Though perhaps this nomination was one of those, “You’re Meryl Streep nominations.” Her reputation was built on these — this and Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia — her and Judi Dench pretty much just get those nominations for anything they do. So, it happens. I guess this seemingly a weak year (I haven’t gone back and thought of what could be nominated otherwise. It’s weak based on these nominees), I’m okay with her being nominated. I like the love for the film. The performance wasn’t astounding, but it did its job. She’s a writer who goes down to Florida to interview Chris Cooper about his stealing orchids. She gets fascinated by him, and eventually starts sleeping with him — it’s not entirely certain how much of this is real or not — well, you’ll have to see the movie. To explain Charlie Kaufman’s (brilliant) script is to do it injustice. The performance is good though. Won’t vote for it, but it’s good.

Catherine Zeta-Jones — Really well done. She’s Renée Zellweger version — whatever the version is that comes before the one that is now. It’s now 1 because she’s version 1, and version 0 just seems weird. Anyway, she’s the one that killed her husband before Renée and used to be the news but is now old hat because Renée is here. And she’s not happy about it. For a while. Eventually they team up and become besties and such, but before that she gets to be all jealous and over the top and stuff. It’s a fun performance. Really counters Renée’s perpetual lemon face thing she’s got going on. I was surprised how much I liked this performance.

My Thoughts: In my mind, this comes down between Julianne Moore and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Moore was very good, but it was one of those sad, weepy roles. Catherine Zeta was a fucking spark plug. She had an energy and sass and — something — that I hadn’t seen from her before or since in any of her movies. So, I say I’d stick with her, even though Julianne was just as deserving (but we’ll get to Julianne being deserving tomorrow). Seriously — those two were the best.

Rankings:

5. Kathy Bates

4. Queen Latifah

3. Meryl Streep

2. Julianne Moore

1. Catherine (as Sean Connery called her when she won the award)

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