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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1997

I did one of each of the other acting categories so far. Might as well round it out with a Best Supporting Actress. I’m saving Best Director because I have a lot of those done, and I think I’m going to do them all in a row. Also, I’ve been doing older categories, so I also thought I’d do a more recent one. My guess is most people have seen all or most of these movies.

1997 was one of those pass over years. The ones where you see what won, go, “Well, yeah, it’s (whatever),” and move on. Titanic, Ben-Hur, Schindler’s List — films that are so big and huge that you just gloss over the rest of the films because, “What’s gonna beat them?” These are the years I try to look more closely at, just because, while you can’t completely say something else should have won (Watch me.), you can still discover good films that generally fall by the wayside more than films in other years. (Note: This is not a concrete theory. I just assume the casual person is less likely to look in a year with a definitive winner than one where, “Chariots of Fire — what the fuck did that beat?”). So, I’m gonna try my best to turn you onto films that you may not have seen. (But, if you’re around my age and haven’t seen them, what the hell have you seen?)

Before I do that, let’s cover what else won this year. Best Picture went to Titanic, and Cameron won Best Director in one of the least surprising races of all time. Best Actor and Best Actress went to Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets. Best Supporting Actor went to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting. Those were all the winners. Now let’s get into this category, which is a surprisingly — I don’t really have a problem with the nominees, but I’m not ecstatic about them either. This year seemed to be one of those films years where the films were good, but not many acting performances were standout. Some years you get great performances but shit films, other years you get both — this one seemed to produce films that felt like ensemble pieces, where you couldn’t really be like, “that performance is the one.” So the result is a decent, but mostly unmemorable category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

And the nominees were…

Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential

Joan Cusack, In & Out

Mnnie Driver, Good Will Hunting

Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights

Gloria Stuart, Titanic

Basinger — I love this movie. To me, L.A. Confidential was the movie that should have won Best Picture. It’s by most peoples’ consensus the best film of 1997, whereas Titanic was nothing more than a great achievement. But enough about the film.

Kim Basinger is an actress that most people probably don’t know nowadays. In fact, she’s not really an actress I really know. I know of her, and I know her from this, but outside of this, if I weren’t as fastidious as I am about having the amount of movie trivia in my head that I do, I’d probably need a reminder about what films she’s done. He first feature film was Never Say Never Again, playing the Bond girl to Connery in his unofficial-but-kind-of-official remake of Thunderball. Then she was in The Natural, and Nine 1/2 Weeks — that movie that she and Mickey Rourke basically fucked the whole movie — did Blind Date with Bruce Willis, which was a screwball comedy directed by Blake Edwards made in 1987 (it’s all sorts of fucked up and weird), Batman, as Vicky Vale to Michael Keaton’s Batman, and then she had a fairly quiet 90s until this movie. If you still don’t know who she is, maybe you’ll recognize her as Eminem’s mother in 8 Mile, or more likely as Alec Baldwin’s ex-wife who he’s been having the custody battle with for about twenty years now. It’s actually kind of strange that they gave her an Oscar, considering she’s one of those actresses that doesn’t really fit the bill as their “type.” And believe me, Oscar has a type.

In this movie, she plays a prostitute. But not just an prostitute, one that looks like Veronica Lake. Which, she definitely does. Russell Crowe bumps into her and starts following her as part of an investigation, while also falling in love with her. It’s one of those, noir, police, everything ends up connected because it’s corrupt, kind of plots. And she gets to play the hooker with a heart of — well, the hooker with a heart. The one who wanted to be an actress, got involved with this guy who made her an escort, and now she wants to get out, but can’t, because he put in all this money, and he’s dangerous, cops on the payroll, shit like that.

The performance itself is not really part of the movie that much. She shows up, plays mysterious, Crowe goes to her, has one of those sexually tense conversations, they fuck. Then he watches and protects her, and she starts to fall in love with him. Then they end up together. The redemptive woman in the form of the whore. It’s that role. Maybe they voted for the role/the film more than the performance. That’s the only way it makes sense. Because, she’s fine in it, but she reminds me more of Veronica Lake than anything. In my mind Veronica Lake wasn’t that great an actress but wasn’t a bad one either. She was pretty easy to look at and could be charming in certain roles. To me, I picture this role as not that taxing and one where she gets to talk in that breathy whisper a lot. To each his own, I guess. No vote from me. Love the film though. And she doesn’t detract from it, which, is fine enough for a nomination for me.

Cusack — Oh, Joan. I love Joan. She’s the type of actress that can do pretty much anything. Normally they stick her in comedies, and she’s usually that class factor that shitty comedies tend to have to make them appear respectable. She’s also the type of actress that you could believe in just about any role in any genre. Her voice is also instantly recognizable, and if I told you she was Jesse the cowgirl in Toy Story 2 + 3, you’d probably immediately know who she was even if you didn’t immediately recognize her name. She has parts in so many movies I guarantee you know who she is. She’s a character actor, through and through.

This movie is tough for me to talk about, because, I grew up with this movie. It came out when I was 9, and I saw it and loved it and have been watching it since then. To me, it’s one of those movies that I just know about. But I don’t know if that’s the case for everyone. For some reason, a lot of people I met in college have no idea about this movie. Which, is a shame, because it’s one of the funniest movies the 90s has to offer.

The movie is about Kevin Kline and Joan Cusack as English teachers at a small town high school. They’ve been engaged forever — like, a really long time, to the point where she was worried he might never ask her and she’d be too old to have kids or find someone else — and he’s finally popped the question. And now the entire town is buzzing with their impending nuptials and she’s going full out to prepare for it. One of those women that really wants to be a bride.

This all happens on the eve of the Oscars, where one of their former students, Matt Dillon, is up for Best Actor. He went from being an ugly, nerdy high school kid to a heartthrob who is the favorite to win the big award. And the movie he’s in is basically — well, it’s Oscar cliche to the max. He’s a gay soldier in Vietnam who is sleeping with another soldier, and the other soldier has his legs blown off and their affair comes out in the open, and both of them are court-martialed and have to go through the ringer because they’re gay. It’s based partially on when Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia. So, Dillon wins, and gets up on stage and thanks Kevin Kline for being an inspiration to him when he was a student — it’s made clear that Kline has a close relationship with his students and is a teacher that everybody loves, and that he also took Dillon under his wing, so everyone thinks it’s really touching that he’s acknowledging this teacher that he thought would have forgotten — and he goes, “he’s the most wonderful teacher and the most extraordinary man — and he’s gay.” And that’s when the shoe drops.

Now everyone’s figuring out what the hell that means. They’re all like, “Why does he think he’s gay?” And now they’re all questioning whether Kevin Kline is gay, on the eve of his wedding. And then people start thinking, like, “Oh yeah, he does like Barbra Streisand, and he does have all of this mannerisms…” and he’s like, “I’m not gay!” and everything he does is screwball in such a way that it only exacerbates things. And then the media shows up to cover the story, and the town gets all crazy, and life gets hectic, because people think he’s gay and isn’t telling anyone, and he has to convince even himself that he isn’t gay, because now even he’s starting to doubt it. It’s really one of the funniest movies of the 90s.

I highly, highly suggest you watch this movie. And not that I would ever promote something directly, but I hear tell this movie can be viewed at any instant, if one so chooses.

Anyway, Joan Cusack, as she’s preparing feverishly for this wedding to the point of mania — now has to stress out over the fact that her fiance might be gay. And she starts questioning everything about him and herself. She wonders why he waited so long, why he likes Barbra Streisand, is trying to take his word for it that he’s not gay, but is so stressed out it’s not really calming her down. Add that to the fact that she used to be really fat and he made her get thinner, and she put in all this work to get thin for him and now she thinks it was all a waste of time (waist of time. Zing.), and is losing her mind over this.

It’s a hysterical, hysterical performance. That is, she spends the entire movie in a state of hysteria, and is hysterical doing it. The scene of the wedding alone is why she deserved the Oscar. Seriously, watch this movie, I guarantee you that at the very least, you will love her performance. I don’t even want to spoil anything about what happens in the movie because I want you to see this if you haven’t. Shit, I’m going to go watch it now after talking about it.

Love this performance. Am voting for it. If you see it you’ll understand why. It’s a miracle she was even nominated — you have to vote for it. I love that they nominated a comic performance because, this performance is a comic performance that really does show how good comedy really does come from good drama. Because this entire performance is literally one step away from drama. You could really take this exact movie and play it dramatically and it would work.

Driver — I think everyone knows about Good Will Hunting. It’s one of those movies that everyone just knows about. Strangely, everyone makes the break between Will and Hunting and not where it’s supposed to be, between Good and Will. People say it more like “Goodwill Hunting” and not “Good Will Hunting,” which is what the actual title is. His name is Will Hunting. That actually comes as a surprise to people who were like — “Oh, I never really gave much thought to the title.” That’s how you tell it’s a good one, that it becomes its own thing and people don’t really think about what it means. I guess it could also mean “hunting for good will,” but the primary meaning — oh fuck it, you know what I’m saying.

Anyway, I think we all know what it’s about — and now that I’m saying it, we also think — “Really?” — because it’s one of those plots that only makes sense in context. Will is a janitor working at M.I.T. He’s a genius, but you wouldn’t know it. He hangs around with construction workers and “lowlifes,” who hang out and drink and are the type that will never leave their neighborhood for the rest of their lives. And he’s forcing himself to stay with them instead of using his brains to do what he can really do. And one night a math professor who puts nearly impossible proofs on the board outside his classroom for students to attempt to solve — spots Will solving it. So he starts talking to him, gets him to see Robin Williams, his old friend who’s a psychiatrist, whose life sort of parallels what Will’s can become. And they talk, and they try to get to the root of the problem, and the movie’s about Will coming to terms with who he is and all that stuff.

Anyway — Minnie Driver plays a pre-med student at Hah-vahd, and is the girl in the bar during the — “Gordon Wood” conversation where he shuts down the douchebag talking about the southern colonies. She’s the one who precipitates the “How do you like them apples” comment. She starts dating Damon, and he keeps deflecting all this information about himself and constantly lying to her, and she tries to figure him out. And he refuses to introduce his friends to her and keeps her separate from everyone else, when she really wants to meet the real him. And it’s that kind of role. One of those roles that could be relegated to “girlfriend” status, but gains an added amount of prestige because Minnie Driver is such a pro. The British accent helps a lot too. It’s one of those roles you love seeing nominated because, too often does a job like this in a role like this go unnoticed. That said, I can’t vote for her even though I love the performance. I just loved Joan Cusack’s more. However, this is an actress that does deserve to have a statue one day, as does the actress I’m about to talk about next.

Moore — Julianne Moore is like Michelle Pfeiffer. Every year brings more talk about, “Is this the year she wins?” Unlike Michelle Pfeiffer, Julianne Moore tries. She does more baity movies than Michelle does. This is a role that was before they were looking to nominate her. It’s actually a really great job, and nice that they picked her out in a film that has a lot of great performances.

You know Boogie Nights, right? If not, really, what kind of movies have you seen? She plays the leading lady of Burt Reynolds’ porn stable of actors and actresses. She’s the go-to actress. And she takes Marky Mark under her wing when he first starts out. And she’s kind of ditzy, in that porn star-ry way, but we also find out that she’s a mother who is desperately trying to regain custody of her daughter. But due to her — career choice — and cocaine addiction, that’s not the easiest thing in the world. That’s pretty much the role. She’s really good in it, even though she doesn’t get enough scenes to shine to the point where she would have won this. I do like the performance though, and if Joan Cusack weren’t note perfect in her role, I’d probably be voting for either Moore or Driver. I love Boogie Nights, though, so I rank Moore second in my rankings. Tie goes to the film/person I like better.

Stuart — Definition of a veteran nomination: 87 year-old actress who hadn’t really worked since the 40s aside from some TV movies and a few small roles in features, plays an old woman, shows up on screen, talks a lot and shows she’s alive. Oscar nomination. That’s all this is. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing veterans get parts, but, let’s not pretend this broke acting ground. As a performance, it’s not even close to worthy of a vote. But, it’s nice to see her get the nomination. She didn’t exactly take it away from someone, so it’s great that she’s here. Not gonna vote for it though.

Also, I’m not telling you what the role is if you don’t already know. She’s the old woman who drops the thing in the ocean. That’s all you need.

My Thoughts: Joan Cusack had far and away the best performance here. Kim Basinger winning gave the film some sort of recognition, which is nice, if slightly disappointing that Cusack didn’t win. Driver and Moore did good jobs, but in actuality are better served as nomination-but-no-win.

My Vote: Cusack

Should Have Won: I don’t know. I’d say Cusack, but, it’s a comic performance, though I think it’s well-rounded enough to claim that she should have won. So I guess, sure. Her.

Is the result acceptable?: Uhh, yes? I don’t really feel one way or another about this race. I love L.A. Confidential to death, so Basinger’s performance, while not my favorite, is nice in that it got the film some sort of recognition. And while I do wish Cusack’s performance was ultimately the one that won, I can kind of see why it didn’t, and also really don’t feel all that bad about it. Put it this way, I’m not crazy about any of the nominees in the way that I am about Best Actress 2009. So the result doesn’t upset me even though my choice didn’t win. I’ll leave this for everyone who sees them all to decide what they think.

Performances I suggest you see: Cusack, Moore (for the movie, and also the performance), Driver

Rankings:

5) Stuart

4) Basinger

3) Driver

2) Moore

1) Cusack

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