The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1984
The 80s, I feel, are a pretty ho-hum Oscar decade. The 70s were all about auteurs and gritty innovation. Then the 80s were like, “Fuck that, the blockbuster is back!” and everything went all studio. Which meant the Oscars went back to all these boring, epic “Oscar films.” Actually, I’m pretty sure the 80s is the decade where the “Oscar” film really came into being. 1980 – family drama. 1981 – well, Chariots of Fire. 1982 – historical epic about Gandhi. 1983 – family drama. 1984 – historical epic about Mozart. 1985 – historical epic romance set in Africa. 1986 – Vietnam movie. 1987 – historical epic about a Chinese emperor. 1988 – family drama about a savant and his brother. 1989 – historical, I guess, epic (if we’re counting time span), about a woman and her chauffeur. More of a drama, I guess. Still, you can see where a specific type of movie started getting voted in.
1984, though, might be the best Best Picture choice of the 80s. Amadeus is an amazing movie. And Milos Forman definitely deserved Best Director. That movie is incredible. F. Murray Abraham was great as Salieri and deserved his Best Actor win. Though, Sally Field, for Best Actress, no matter how much they “really liked” her, did not deserve that win by a long shot. Oh, and Best Supporting Actress was Peggy Ashcroft for A Passage to India. See what I mean? Aside from Amadeus, a lot of the choices in the 80s are boring. This one is no different.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1984
And the nominees were…
Adolph Caesar, A Soldier’s Story
John Malkovich, Places in the Heart
Pat Morita, The Karate Kid
Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields
Ralph Richardson, Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan
Caesar — Adolph Caesar isn’t well-known amongst actors. He made very few films in his short career. But, this performance in this film, is astounding.
The film is one of those flashback stories. A black soldier is sent to investigate the murder of black officer in a pretty racist area of the south. And as he questions people, the story starts to unfold. The dude was very strict, and despised by his men. He would pick on them, torture them, bully them, and really just be a hard ass for no particular reason. They thought he was doing it to suck up the white officers, make them think he wasn’t a black man. By the way, Caesar plays the officer. And you see throughout the film, just how much of an asshole this man was. And the film is mainly about the officer thinking he was killed by the KKK, and racism was involved — but it turns out he was shot by one of his own men. Denzel, in fact. This is one of Denzel’s first roles. It’s one of those things where, you see a young Denzel in a movie like this, you just know he’s the one who did it. Not to give anything away, but, the same thing happened with Jimmy Stewart in After the Thin Man. You just know. I tell you Denzel did it because — that’s not the intriguing part of the movie. It was nominated for Best Picture — don’t know why, really — but the whole film didn’t appeal to me so much as Caesar’s performance did.
This is a wonderfully sadistic performance. The kind of performance that offers very little likability whatsoever. And there came a point where even I — who can find likability in even the most deplorable characters (a trait I discovered in 2008, when Atonement came out. And all my friends were like, “That cunt Briony needs to burn in hell.” To this day I still defend that character) — was just like, “Goddamn, this motherfucker is evil.” And it was great. I loved how fucking awful he was. There might have been a slight shred of complexity in how evil he was, but still — the shit he did, you can see why he got shot. That’s all I’m gonna say. And that’s why I think Caesar truly gave one of the best performances of this year.
I really suggest you see this film purely for the performance. If you get 30 minutes in (just enough to see him in action. Forget the main story. It’s boring), and aren’t spellbound by this dude’s performance, turn the film off, you don’t need to watch it. But, this dude’s performance actually made me believe the character. Sometimes you watch something and are like, “Yeah, it’s this dude playing the dude like this, so I’ll go with it. I see why he wants to make him a hard ass” (looking at you, Lou Gossett). But here, I actually believed that everyone around him wanted this motherfucker knifed. And that’s why I automatically gets top preference when it comes to a vote. Very few performances capture me like this one did.
Malkovich — I love John Malkovich. The man is always worth watching. And now as he gets older he’s learning — like Christopher Walken — that he can be entertaining just by being him and being on screen. So he does fun shit. But this was back before he was even famous. Back in the 80s, when they would still give him hairpieces. Like Bruce Willis and Ed Harris. You remember seeing them with hair either? This is back when Malkovich “had hair.”
The film is about a widowed Sally Field trying to keep her farm running so she can keep it. And since she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she hires anyone she can find — which happens to be Danny Glover, a drifter who steals things to get by, and Malkovich, a blind man. It’s one of those movies. So Malkovich is blind, and he gets to play cantankerous at first, getting pissed at the children and such. Eventually he warms up to the family, and helps them. His big scene is when the Klan comes to lynch Danny Glover, and Malkovich pulls out a gun and starts shooting based on the sounds. He’s not amazing in the role, but it’s nice to see him get some recognition. He’s only got two nominations to his name thus far (and the other one was certainly not gonna win), and neither were really strong enough to contend for a win. It’s a shame, because he does deserve a statue. But I can’t vote for him here.
Morita — Mr. Miyagi, motherfucker! Motherfucker beats up kids! How can you not love Mr. Miyagi? This dude is fucking awesome! And he has a theme song from Zamfir, master of the pan flute. You do not achieve true badass status if you don’t have a theme song from Zamfir. (As an Asian karate master, anyway. Or as anyone, really.)
Also, please tell me you’ve seen The Karate Kid. And not the Jaden Smith version. This one first. Otherwise it’s like watching the Tim Burton Willy Wonka before watching the original. Nuh uh. You don’t do it. And if you do, you don’t do it and continue talking to me.
I’m sure you all understand how The Karate Kid works. Kid, moves from New Jersey to California. He quickly runs afoul of some 80s bullies — you know, the ones who travel in packs and have no problems almost killing their victims, since safety wasn’t invented until the 00s. And Miyagi is the grumpy, mild-mannered asian janitor. And then one night as the kid is getting beat up by the bullies, Miyagi comes out in beast mode and beats the shit out of all of them. Then he starts training the kid in karate. And he has him do all this shit that has nothing to do with karate, like washing his car, sanding a floor, painting a fence. But, as we all know, he’s really teaching him better karate than everyone else. Asian magic, baby.
And the kid trains — the movie was directed by John G. Avildsen, by the way. Clearly he learned from Rocky. This is an example of taking tropes that work and using them to their fullest. Anyway, back to Miyagi. He trains the kid to fight in the big karate tournament — because 80s movies always end in some big tournament — and we also find out that his family in an internment camp, giving him a deeper character and all that. But whatever, he’s awesome. We know he’s awesome.
Wanna know how awesome Pat Morita is? Watch this.
The first 8 minutes are worth what happens in the last 2. Trust me. Also, yes, that is Jay Leno and Pat Morita in a buddy cop comedy from the early 90s. And no, they certainly do not make ’em like that anymore. Movies like this used to be the “bad” movies that came out each year.
This is the kind of role that you’re amazed even got nominated. And it’s so awesome that, most years, you’d probably just vote for it. But, knowing it would never have won in a million years, I’m gonna vote Caesar and then accept the fact that he was even nominated as the ultimate reward here.
Ngor — This is a performance that — is not really so much of a performance. This is a dude, who lived through the Cambodian genocide, and is now playing a man living through the Cambodian genocide. He wasn’t an actor before this, and made comparatively few films after this. (A sad note, though, is that he was killed in his garage one afternoon, in what many people think is related to his having fled the country.)
The movie is about a photojournalist down there covering everything. And Ngor plays the translator. He’s the right hand dude who leads the main dude around everywhere and is also a reporter. And he worries for his family and such. And he’s the kind of guy that can play both sides. As in, he can negotiate with the Khmer Rouge and can also help the Americans. And his story is basically, when they get captured, he negotiates himself for the main guy’s release. And then he’s put into prison and a work camp. And he pretends to be stupid so as not to undergo re-education and has a moment where he discovers all the bodies. Shit like that. And he has to pretend he’s uneducated all the time, and eventually gets to leave after making friends with the prison guard. That whole deal. And he makes it out okay. It’s 80s in the sense that if feels 80s. And the character is that usual, “we want an Oscar out of this part” character.
Personally, I wasn’t blown away by the performance. Why? Because — it’s like Adrien Brody syndrome. You put a character through a horrific deal, it’s not the same as acting the part. I really don’t think he did that much to deserve this win. I didn’t believe his character (which is a tough statement to make, because the dude lived through this, but, not knowing that fact, I wouldn’t think it was a performance I’d vote for) as much as I believed in Adolph Caesar’s character. The Academy does tend to operate on guilt a lot. Remember back in 2001, “Black actors never win Oscars!”? Look what happened. This is kind of that. This was Hollywood voting for the fact that they didn’t like what was going on in the world. They felt they were being liberal by giving this dude an Oscar. I guarantee you that’s what it was. So, in a purely objective sense of performance and nothing else — no vote.
Richardson –– Veteran nom! Seriously. You know it’s a veteran nom when they’ll put a guy up for a fucking Tarzan movie. Granted, it was an attempt at a “classy” Tarzan movie. But, come on. The movie is literally him in the jungle, then Ian Holm stumbles upon him, teaches him and learns from him, then brings him back to England, to his grandfather — old Ralph here — and they show him what the world is like. And he lives there, meets the woman, falls for her, doesn’t get married, and decides, “Fuck that, I’d rather be in the jungle,” and goes back.
Ralph plays Tarzan’s grandfather. Years earlier, the plane with his son and daughter in law, and Tarzan, the baby, crashed in the jungle, and they died. But now Ralph’s old and getting senile, and sometimes forgets that this is his grandson but instead thinks its his son coming home. And he’s elated, and just goes overboard in his love and is very over the top, not giving a shit if the dude thinks he’s an ape. It’s clearly a veteran nomination, since he doesn’t do much but be old and lively. And then dies. So, yeah, whatever. Let him have the nomination. Never gonna win.
My Thoughts: The two best performances here were clearly Caesar and Pat Morita. Pat Morita was never gonna win this in a million years. You just love that he was nominated and be satisfied with that. I probably would vote for him most times, since he was so awesome as Miyagi (and because this was an overall weak year), but Caesar was so fucking good I have to vote for him.
My Vote: Caesar
Should Have Won: Caesar, or Morita. For the awesomeness factor.
Is the result acceptable?: No. I mean, I know the dude lived through this thing and is portraying it on screen, but I’m voting strictly on performance and not on circumstances. I only go to circumstances if I can’t decide. So, based solely on performance, it’s not really that acceptable. But in a year like this, where there’s one veteran nomination, three unknowns and Malkovich (and I thought about throwing Malkovich a vote because he really is someone that deserves a Supporting Actor Oscar one day), it’s mostly acceptable. It didn’t disrupt any major star or anything. But he is a nonactor. This is like when Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar.
Performances I suggest you see: Caesar (he’s fucking incredible), Morita (for christ’s sake, watch this version before you see the Jaden Smith version. They’re both good, just, watch the better Miyagi first).