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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor & Best Supporting Actress – 2003

Ah, 2003…the year where everything was obvious but the acting categories…and even those were pretty clear cut (and boring).

This was my first real “Oscar” year. I remember having people i was rooting for, even though going in, there were clear cut favorites that everyone expected to win. And pretty much all of them did, which made the whole ceremony pretty clear cut (much like I’m expecting this year’s ceremony to be).

In fact, looking at it, 3 out of the 4 acting wins were by veterans/overdue actors, and the fourth was — well, Charlize Theron.

Let’s just get into it, before I lament their decisions any further before I start talking about them.

Best Supporting Actor – 2003

And the nominees were…

Alec Baldwin, The Cooler

Benicio del Toro, 21 Grams

Djimon Hounsou, In America

Tim Robbins, Mystic River

Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai

Alec Baldwin — Okay, remember Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross? “Fuck you. That’s my name!” Awesome, right? Effective, but not going to win any Academy Awards? Awesomely douchey? Okay, now — do you remember his Departed performance? “World needs plenty of bah-tendas!” Awesome whenever he was on screen, very much the working class cop? The kind of guy who would be okay with settling things out in the pah-king lot? Mix those two together, and somewhere in between you’d have this performance. That’s why he got nominated. I guess there really is an Alec Baldwin sweet spot for movies. This has been to date his only nomination.

He plays a casino boss who employs Bill Macy, aka “The Cooler.” He’s called such because he’s so fucking unlucky he brings you bad luck. You start winning money at the tables — here comes old Bill along to “cool” you down. He’s like that guy in Bronx Tale/Casino (they’re both essentially the same guy), who’s a degenerate gambler and all his picks lose. And it’s at the point where no one bets what he has because they’re guaranteed to lose. Anyway, that’s Macy. And Baldwin’s the casino boss. Old school. Mob connected. Hates the Disneylandification of his town. That kind of guy. The kind of guy who will break your leg just to send the message he isn’t fucking around. He also kicks a pregnant woman in the stomach in this movie. I mean, she’s not actually pregnant, but she could have been, so there’s an element of intelligence/ruthlessness to the character that makes him an awesomely sadistic guy. But he’s nice, though. Always willing to help out Bill Macy, no matter what kind of shit he gets into. Good performance.

Benicio del Toro — Let’s get this part out of the way now. He’s a recovering drug addict who’s become a Jesus freak. And he tries to stop kids from doing that shit he did, and is crazy into religion. And one day, he accidentally kills a dude and his daughters as they’re walking up the street. And he runs away, frightened. Eventually he turns himself in. And out of guilt, he says, “fuck god” and gets despondent. He’s unable to cope and can’t go back to his family (well, won’t), and instead, takes odd jobs and such. And eventually the wife of the guy he killed, along with the dude who got her husband’s heart (don’t ask), come along, looking to kill him. Vengeance or something. They’re all drug addicts. Or former addicts. Anyway, they come to kill him, and after the guy doesn’t have the heart to do it (Irony!) and tells him to disappear, he comes back, saying “I want to die,” and begs to be killed. And then, well, shit gets crazy. I won’t ruin the rest of it. I tell you all this because the whole thing is told out of order (for no real reason, really), and it’s not a movie that needs sudden realizations. It’s more about the performances. That said —

This is a really good performance. The only thing though is I feel the first half made you think he had all these great scenes coming up, when really, his part of the story is told early on. By the end, he just gets very subtle and low key, and gives it to the other two. Benicio always seems to go low key. He’s barely in the second half of the movie.

Djimon Hounsou — This movie still destroys me. Back in the days before Pixar could do it with only ten minutes of film, we had movies like this, whose hearts are worn solely on their sleeve, and they contain just the right amount of honesty and sweetness to carry your emotions every step of the way. That’s what this movie is for me. I’m glad it got at least this nomination, and the other one, even though it should have been up for Picture. I mean, I can see why it wasn’t (though I still don’t get the appeal of Mystic River), but really, that’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful film.

Djimon plays “the man who screams”, a mysterious neighbor named Mateo who is a recluse in the family’s building. At first, all we see is him painting angrily and screaming and looking at what all the noise is. And eventually, kind of like Meet Me in St. Louis gone right, the girls knock on his door on Halloween and meet him. And we discover (very intelligently too, they never out and out tell you until it’s obvious), that he’s dying of AIDS. And he ends up befriending the family, and ends up leaving them a lot of money.

It’s a nice part and all — but it’s essentially that guardian angel role you’d see a lot in the 40s and 50s movies. Usually it’s the old man neighbor who is nice and the main character befriends (in more of a passing way. Like, dude comes out of his apartment just after the main dude had an argument with his girl, and comes by to borrow some sugar at an opportune (or inopportune) moment, and he gets one big scene where main dude comes by to ask for advice or something), and just as all hope is lost, they discover the man died and left them a huge sum of money. Except, since it’s contemporary and about immigrants, he’s the African man with AIDS who leaves them a reasonable sum, enough to pay the hospital bills. I thought he did a damn fine job here, and totally deserved the nomination (as he often does), but out of these five, he’s (sadly) the weak link. I can’t in good conscience vote this the best supporting performance of the year. He is good though. and for god’s sake, check out this movie. It will move you to tears. (It moved me to tears, and this was before a stiff wind could move me to tears.)

Also, Djimon shouts a lot, doesn’t he? He’s either an angry African or a wise African.

Tim Robbins — Really, Academy? 2003 is like, “Veteran Oscar” central. Three of them won. This one perhaps least deserving of all, and the most likely of all. It was the weakest category, and he’s a well-liked dude. But I’m not voting on who I like the best (unless I’m using it as a tiebreaker). I’m voting solely on the performance. And this performance, while acceptable in terms of giving the man an Oscar, is not for winning this category. This was a weak fucking year in this category, and I can’t really find anyone I’d really, really want to give it to. So, I guess in the long run, it’s okay he won here, but, I’m not voting for him.

Oh, he plays a kid who was molested as a child — picked up in a car by dudes pretending to be cops. They kept him in a basement for four days until he escaped — and is involved in the investigation of the murder of the daughter of his old friend. He tells his wife he killed a mugger, when in reality, he killed a child molester, but everyone is starting to think he killed the girl. Eventually, the girl’s father kills him, essentially forcing him to admit to it, and then he finds out later that he actually didn’t. I really don’t feel bad ruining this story because, honestly, it’s about as cliched as you can get. Like, really so. Everyone’s a stereotype, and the only reason it marginally works is because they overcast the movie. It’s like casting Snakes on a Plane with Shakespearean actors. That’s the equivalent to what they did here.

Robbins is admirable, and gives one of the better performances in the film, but I wouldn’t vote it to win (though I’m okay with the fact that he did, just because the year really was that weak).

Ken Watanabe — What an awesome performance. You know how, in Last of the Mohicans, it was pretty nebulous as to who the last of the Mohicans was? There was father and son, who were technically the last two, and then Daniel Day Lewis, who was white, but was essentially a Mohican? And then the son died, and you weren’t really sure if Daniel Day Lewis was still gonna be the last, or if the old man is the last, and it sucks that the young one died because there still might have been another one eventually, if he got to fuck that white girl he was trying to all movie? Well, this isn’t like that. In fact, this is very much not that. Ken Watanabe is, actually, the last samurai. Tom Cruise makes a case for that Daniel Day Lewis thing, but at the end of the movie he makes it clear, “No, it was that motherfucker. Take this sword, emperor bitch, Imma go back and fuck his daughter.”

It’s a great performance. He’s the samurai who befriends the white man, after the rest of the white men are trying to end his way of life. He befriends him, and we learn that he’s not the savage we thought he was — that whole thing. It’s great. In a year like this, he’s not necessarily the strong performance, but rather the sentimental favorite. Ken Watanabe is awesome. (Plus, dude didn’t get nominated for Letters From Iwo Jima — and knowing this in hindsight makes me even more likely to vote for him here.)

My Thoughts: Throw out Hounsou. Take off Robbins because I just wasn’t taken by the performance enough to vote for hin.. To me, the three worth the salt are del Toro, Baldwin and Watanabe. Del Toro won already, for something I don’t think he really should have won for. So, as well as I think he did, I can’t in good conscience vote for him. Here’s what I’m gonna do — gonna throw a little curveball.

Originally, come Oscar night, my vote was for Ken Watanabe. And in my heart, he’s still kind of my vote. But, for now, I’m gonna rank Ken #1 and throw my vote behind Alec Baldwin. Nothing against Ken, but Baldwin’s been giving brilliant performances for years, and I’m using my vote in the hopes that one of these days, he gets the recognition he so definitely deserves (for film. Not that TV bullshit).

Rankings:

5. Hounsou

4. Robbins

3. del Toro

2. Watanabe

1. Baldwin

Best Supporting Actress – 2003

And the nominees were…

Shohreh Aghdashloo, The House of Sand and Fog

Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River

Holly Hunter, Thirteen

Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain

Whoo, boy, this sure is weak, isn’t it? The whole thing was designed for Renée to win. And you know what? I think I’m okay with it. Shocking, right? I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

Aghdashloo — Here’s a film that’s very, very underrated. It’s a nice little drama that I bet no one really goes back and thinks about. I’m sure after all this time, I’m probably talking better of it than I actually think about it, but films like this need extra attention. Otherwise they get lost in the shuffle.

The film is about Jennifer Connelly as a recovering addict who gets evicted from her house. And Ben Kingsley is an Iranian colonel who fled his country during conflict. Now in America, he’s still pretending to be a businessman in order to not shame his family, and is spending beyond his means. And he buys the house, learning that it’s about a quarter of what it’s actually worth. So, naturally, bingo. He intends to sell it. But, Jennifer gets a lawyer, who finds out she might have been unfairly stripped of the property. So, she goes to confront the family, and it’s a whole back and forth of, “You stole my house,” and Ben Kingsley being like, “Okay, I’ll give the house back, but give me the appraisal value rather than what I paid for it.” Which, is kind of a fair stance. And it’s one of those, no one is really right or wrong, but they’re very adamant that they’re right, and they make stupid decisions when interacting with one another. Jennifer does some shitty things, like seducing a police officer away from his wife and kids in order to have him blackmail Ben with deportation if he doesn’t give up the house. One of those, people do desperate things when they’re desperate, movies.

Shohreh plays Ben Kingsley’s wife, who is very much the Middle Eastern wife type. She doesn’t speak much English, and is very subservient to Ben, but also treats Jennifer kindly and lets her stay with them. It’s a fine performance. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens, but it’s a fine performance. One of those, fifth nominee performances. There’s no way she was ever going to win this.

Clarkson — I’m not even going to dignify this nomination with a response. Not worth it. At all.

Harden — This film was nominated for 3/4 acting awards and won two of them. That’s shameful. Just fucking shameful. She plays Tim Robbins’ wife, who finds him one night covered in blood. He says he was mugged. She believes him, despite his story having more leaks than the Iraqi Navy. Then the next day she finds out Sean Penn’s daughter is dead. She naturally assumes her husband had something to do with it. She tries to figure it out — gets to act all suspicious and scared and shit, and eventually tells Sean Penn about it, and gets her husband killed. You know. Not a performance that should be nominated, but it’s better than Laura Linney, who goes from barely there to Lady Macbeth in the last three minutes of the film, and you knew they were gonna nominate someone here from the film, because they liked it so much, and because the category is weak as shit. That’s it. Never gonna vote for this. Not that good.

Hunter — Uhh…yeah. Here’s a performance that the film it was in was not worthy of. I didn’t much care for the movie, even though it seemed everyone did (to be fair, “everyone” back then involved people my age). I think it’s the equivalent of Rebel Without a Cause done in 2003. Rebel Without a Cause clearly painted a very extreme picture of what the kids of the 50s were going through — I’d like to meet one person who got into chicken races, knife fights and shit — while also containing some form of truth in it, mostly in the relationships with the parents (which were also grossly exaggerated to some extent). This is kind of like that. Yeah, because all 13-year old girls get into drugs, shoplifting, and cutting themselves. No. Only the crazy ones do that. I really disliked this movie. But, Holly Hunter is a champion.

Holly Hunter gives this movie a performance it really doesn’t deserve. It’s like when Kevin Spacey did Superman Returns, giving that movie its only redeemable element. She’s the recovering addict mother of the main girl who slowly gets distanced from her over the course of the movie. It’s one of those, she knows the girl’s doing shit, but doesn’t really know the extent of it. One of those, “Modern mothers are too busy thinking about themselves to think about their children,” bullshit. It’s a fine performance. Certainly should not have been nominated. At all. Which is the third in the category so far.

Zellweger — Most films are Oscar bait. This is Oscar chum. Seriously. I’m surprised only Renée and Jude got nominations. Normally they’d just nominate across the board for something like this. She was really the only person that was ever gonna win for this, mostly because people felt she should have won for Chicago the year before. That made her a mortal lock to win this weak ass category. The performance is fine, for what it needs to accomplish. No nonsense woman who’s worked on farms all her life and now needs to teach a pampered woman how to do hard work — fine. Oscar-worthy? Not in the least. I’m sure there’s been worse, so, like Tim Robbins, it’s acceptable that she won for this. Would I vote for her — maybe. This is a weak year. Let’s see. Before I do that, though…

In a situation like this, where I out and out disagree with more than half of the nominees — I feel I need to go back and try to find other performances that should have been nominated instead. If I can come up with 3, then it was shitty voting by the Academy. If I can’t, then it was a weak year and we shrug and move on. Let’s take a look —

(I’m using the 2003 in film wikipedia article and seeing which supporting performances jump out at me as either being good or being something that would seem to be in the running for a nomination.)

The ones that immediately come to mind are: Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men (Seriously, she was 22 playing 12. And you had no idea. That’s pretty fucking good.), Maria Bello in The Cooler (I don’t much remember how good she was in this, but she got a SAG nomination and I like her more than I like Patricia Clarkson), Christina Ricci in Monster … wow, this was a weak year.

My Thoughts: The only two I’d vote for here are Shohreh or Renée. And I’d probably only vote for Renée knowing they’d eventually give her one anyone and knowing this year sucked so badly. So, I’m cool with Renée voting, but I really didn’t love the performance, so I’m voting for Shohreh, knowing full well she never was going to win. One of those, I’m not voting the favorite, and I’m sure as hell not ganging up to make someone else win. So, take the “never gonna happen.”

Rankings: (Do I have to?)

5. Clarkson

4. Harden

3. Hunter

2. Zellweger (Its sad when this performance goes second.)

1. Aghdashloo

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