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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1999

I think this is the most recent category I’ve done since before the Oscars this year. I like to throw in one everyone knows amidst all the older ones.

If we recall, 1999 is one of those years that had a lot of good films, and really, there were a lot of good choices they could have made. A lot of people didn’t like the choice for Best Picture, even though a lot did. I think American Beauty was a fine choice. Did Sam Mendes need to also win Best Director? That’s up for discussion. But, they often coincide, so, it’s not that surprising. Best Actor was Kevin Spacey, which is a point of debate amongst people, which, I’ll make my feelings known whenever I get to it. Best Actress was Hilary Swank for Boy’s Don’t Cry, and Best Supporting Actor was Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules. I’m trying not to give my opinions away, because, at this rate, it’s so recent, everyone’s seen the movies, so I don’t need to pimp them, so really all they amount to is who the vote is for and what the rankings are. So there’s really not that much to say as preface.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1999

And the nominees were…

Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense

Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich

Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown

Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry

Collette — Here’s a performance I bet you wouldn’t know how to rate if you tried. I know, I tried.

Everyone remembers the film and the twist and all, but, this film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Now, as someone choosing between the worthiness of the nominees as I see them, I need to be able to say how that is. Which, with a film like this, you can’t really do that easily.

I went back and watched it, and, really — wow, this was only nominated because it made money. I mean, he does a good job directing it, because, if you’re not paying attention (read: the majority of the American public), you won’t notice the cheat until he tells you about it. I also love that his scripts are now being treated like Woody Allens’ in that, they treat them like gold whenever they get their hands on them, and, they’re treated so top secretly that everyone assumes they’re amazing. Studios go crazy over all the scripts, which, I find funny, because, the last two scripts they went crazy over were The Happening and Lady in the Water. Also, how do people not notice the ego on this dude that he casts himself in ALL of his movies?

Anyway, we all know about the movie, so I won’t talk about that. I’ll talk just about Toni Collette. She does a fine job in this movie, but, watching the performance, it’s clear they only nominated her because they liked her and because they liked the film. I’ve started calling this the Crazy Heart nomination. The name basically becomes whatever film is the most recent example of it. It’s the one where, someone mostly undeserving (for an Oscar nomination, let’s not get mean here), comes along for the ride because of the good will the Academy has toward the film.

It’s not that Toni Collette gives a bad performance — she plays a mother who is worried by her sons’s odd behavior, and all the weird things he seemingly does. And she sees strange things happen to him and reacts to them. That’s really it. She also works a lot, mostly as a plot device to keep her out of the film until they need her. She even gets a big emotional scene where her son tells her he sees dead people, and then tells her information that only she would know from her dead mother.

It’s a fine performance and all, and I ultimately don’t care that she was nominated, because I like Toni Collette a lot, but the only drawback to the nomination is, in a year where I can’t really pick a winner, I’m worried that she might have taken a spot away from someone who did give a performance I could have voted for. But, I don’t want to get into what ifs. I’m only dealing with what was nominated. And she is clearly never getting a vote. So, it’s fine.

Jolie — This is the kind of performance that makes an actress. Really. Before this, Angelina’s Jolies biggest success was Gia on HBO. That’s usually how it works. They do the movies they can get, then they get one role that really gets them noticed. Not necessarily by the public, mind you, but by the studios. And then they get shitloads of offers. And some of them end up jumping right into big budget franchises and are sometimes never heard from again, while others don’t want the attention and stick to really low budget indie films. And some of them manage to do both. Though, the ones that do often have a distinct preference as to which they’d rather do. And it shows in their choices.

Anyway, this is one of those starmaking performances, where she gets to play the flashy supporting role that’s much more interesting than the lead. It’s almost the female equivalent of the Christian Bale/Mark Wahlberg relationship in The Fighter. She gets to play the Christian Bale role.

The movie, in case you haven’t seen it (this is one of those winning performances that people are most likely to not have seen, despite hearing about it), is about Winona Ryder, as a teen with problems — big fucking surprise. This is one of those movies the girls my age love — films like, Cruel Intentions, Thirteen — those dumb teenage girl movies. And she gets committed to an institution after a half-hearted suicide attempt. And she’s there, refusing treatment. I don’t really know why. And it’s one of those female Cuckoo’s Nest movies, or at least it’s supposed to be. It’s not quite that. (I think this is because the film’s director, James Mangold, is one of those technically proficient but stylistically bland directors, in the Brett Ratner sense. Sure, he’ll make some good movies — 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, even Identity and Cop Land, shit, even Kate & Leopold was actually a pretty good Rom Com. (Note: Not kidding.) This is also a decent flick. And then he also made Knight and Day, which, was, not good. But, in those films, you can see where the good ones are, but, if someone asked you and you didn’t know, you couldn’t pull the director’s name out of a hat. There’s no sense of style in there at all. They’re just, proficiently made films.)

They pretty much make the film about Jolie’s character. They have Ryder meet everyone in the asylum and get settled before bringing on Jolie. They do make her an agent of chaos in the film. She just sort of shows up, in handcuffs, having run away and been picked up again. And she shows up, and befriends Ryder. But, befriend is kind of a strong term. Jolie’s character is clearly a sociopath, and doesn’t really care one way or another about anyone else. She just sees them as one more thing to play with. And she starts hanging out with Ryder, and we see them getting friendly, while Jolie just constantly creates chaos because, that’s what she does. She fucks with the nurses, torments the other patients with their problems, knowing exactly which buttons to push and pushing them just because she can and because it’s fun. It gets to the point where, after her and Winona break out, they go to stay at Brittany Murphy’s house. She’s another patient who got released. The daughter of a rich dude, lots of problems. Cuts herself, bulimic, pops lots of pills. And Jolie is constantly antagonizing her because it works. And she pushes and pushes and pushes until, the next day, they find out she hung herself in the bathroom. And when Winona sees this, she fucking loses it. Starts crying, calls the police, is distraught. And then Jolie comes in and sees it and just goes, “What an idiot.” And then she goes and takes her money out of her pockets. That’s the character in a nutshell.

It’s a nice performance by Jolie. Nice and crazy. It’s a bit — I don’t know — it felt a bit, on the nose at times. I’m not sure who’s to blame there — Jolie or the material. Still, it’s a good performance, and I can she why she won, with the relatively weak category coupled with her up-and-comingness as well as — the Academy just loves awarding performances like this. Knowing the Academy like I do, Jolie winning this award was about as much of a certainty as Natalie Portman winning this year or Reese Witherspoon winning that other year. They love to give it to actresses “on the rise.” I’m not sure if I’m gonna vote for it, but, I did like the performance, but, like I said, it might be a bit too — something — for me to vote for it.

Keener — Being John Malkovich is one of those films that — as a stand-alone film, would be a masterpiece. It would be a great piece of fantasy filmmaking, featuring great performances and a fantastically brilliant premise. However, when seeing the stuff that Charlie Kaufman came up with after this, the film just kind of loses a bit of its luster. To me, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine are two masterpieces of screenwriting/film execution that anything he did before them would just seem — I don’t know, less mature. It’s kind of like watching Reservoir Dogs after seeing Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill — you can just see the young Tarantino at work. Not to say it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination (come on, we do know what film I’m talking about, right?), it’s just that, you can see how young he was when you watch it. You can see how, with the films after it he got better at execution and overall ability. There’s nothing bad about either this film or QT’s film, like I said, stand alone they’ll still hold up amongst the best, but, against the other films of the filmmaker in question, they just seem, not quite as perfect as the others. Which is weird to say, because, filmmakers strive to make one near-perfect film — these guys have two or three (or, you know, five).

Anyway, Being Johnny Malks — the film, if you don’t know (Note: Why?), is about John Cusack as a fledgling puppeteer and Cameron Diaz as his crazy-ass wife who’s obsessed with animals. And he goes to work at this place, which, is kind of awesome. It’s on the 7th and a half floor of a building, and requires him to stop the elevator between floors 7 and 8, pry open the doors with a crowbar and climb out to his floor. And he works there, and the great conceit of the film is that all of this is played pretty — normal. It’s pretty droll, not necessarily fantastic. We see him go to work, start crushing on a coworker — played by Miss Keener — trying to seduce her without telling her he’s married and get far enough along with her that he can leave his wife. And it’s all pretty normal. Until one day he manages to find a secret portal that leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain. Which we’ve all done at least several times.

So, Catherine Keener is Cusack’s coworker. He tries, very unsuccessfully, to sleep with her, and she keeps rebuffing his advances. That is, until she finds out about the portal. And then she’s all over him. She convinces him that they’re gonna run away together, convinces him to start charging people money to go into the portal — because, as we know, you only get to go in for 15 minutes and then it drops you on the side of the road in a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike. I mean, clearly. And then he starts figuring out that while inside the portal he can stretch it for as long as he wants, and can even start controlling Malkovich as well. Which, gets Keener to thinking. What she does is, start actually fucking Malkovich, and then, when Cusack is inside of him, controls Cusack (basically), and now has a larger vehicle with which to gain power.

And they basically go about as husband and wife — she’s technically married to Malkovich, though Cusack is the one controlling him — it gets fucked up after a while — and basically the whole deal is, she’s actually a lesbian, and ends up with Cameron Diaz instead. And there’s a whole plot with Malkovich and all this — it gets weird. But, it’s enjoyable, and Keener does a good job of playing a manipulative, controlling bitch. So, that’s good. She is very good in the role. A lot of people say she should have won here — and a lot of people say she should win/be nominated all the time — but I just don’t like her enough as an actress to vote for her. I just don’t see the appeal. I mean, I like her, but, it’s like Julianne Moore. I never really understood why people love Julianne Moore to the point where they say she should be getting nominations for all these performances. So, good performance, no vote. See the movie.

Morton — I’ll say it every time I review one of his movies — I don’t like Woody Allen films. Once you know how he works, all his films — past a certain year — are nothing more than him, getting out all his psychological issues (something he himself has stated) while also paying homage to the films/directors/genres he likes best. I watch the movies like, “He’s not really writing dialogue, he’s just going through the issue in his head an putting the thoughts in the character’s mouths. You know it’s him because all the characters are upper-middle-class white people who go to operas and read obscure Russian authors and look at paintings and shit.” Not only that, you can tell what kind of films he’s trying to emulate when you watch them. I never get the appeal. I never really find them funny. Only a handful of his films since Annie Hall (that I’ve seen. I’ll admit I really haven’t watched a lot of his films, but, I’ve seen my share. Just not the early comedies yet. I’m saving those for last) have I out and out liked. (Those I can actually count on one hand. Here they are: Mighty Aphrodite, Small Time Crooks, Whatever Works. And Annie Hall. Four. And Bullets over Broadway I like moderately, but not enough to really watch it more than once every ten years, if that. You’ll also notice that, almost all those films, save one, really, are exercises in genre, and aren’t so heavy on the psychoanalysis. Which leads me to believe I’ll probably like the comedies) I just don’t like them, and I think they’re really boring films. That said, the son of a bitch does get interesting performances out of people.

I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed certain performances in Woody’s films more than I’ve enjoyed the actual films. And I think that’s because he tries to write certain characters as other characters. That is, the characters I tend to like best in his films are the ones that are stereotypes. Or rather, archetypes. Jennifer Tilly as the gangster’s moll. Alan Alda as the condescending schmuck TV producer. Mira Sorvino as the dumb as nails prostitute with a heart of gold. Larry David as — well, Larry David. And here, Samantha Morton as Harpo Marx.

Now, this film — I don’t like. I mind it because of the two lead performances. That is, Sean Penn does a good job as the no-good, drunk, second greatest flamenco guitar player in the world. He’s very charming, and is very entertaining. That said, the film, not good. Very boring. But, I tolerate it. Anyway, one day, him and his buddy go out on a date with two girls. And Morton is the one that’s — well, she’s kind of slow. She doesn’t talk, she’s a mute — like Harpo — and is very expressive without talking. She’s very innocent, in that she doesn’t really know what’s going on around her, yet, is very charming. I can’t really do the performance justice. You just watch it and love it. Having her be this type of character is perfect, because Penn’s character is the type that loves nothing more than talking about himself. Having the woman talk is just a waste of time until he can get going about himself again. Plus, she gets to be a great foil for him to play off of. It’s a great touch.

I loved watching her in this, and without her, I wouldn’t have been able to stand the movie. But, she is very, very good as the mute, and my only real gripe with the performance is — there wasn’t enough of her in the film. It’s possible that more would have ruined it, but, I think it’s safe to say, in a Woody Allen movie, that wouldn’t happen. More makes it better. This is why I loved Mighty Aphrodite so much. Mira Sorvino gets shitloads of screen time. My other real gripe with it is, because she doesn’t get that much screen time, I’m torn as to whether or not I can really vote for it. I want to, since it was my favorite performance of the bunch, but, can I and not feel bad about it? I don’t know. We’ll see soon, I guess.

Sevigny — The last one. Here’s a performance I went in expecting to think was admirable but not really expecting much out of. And at the same time I was hoping for one I could vote for. Well, the answer was somewhere in between.

Chloë gives a good performance as a woman who — really has no options in her life. She’s from a small in Nebraska, and her existence is basically working in a factory doing menial labor, going out to a bar every night with the same twelve people in it, and singing karaoke. And one day she meets Hilary Swank, who is a transgender — a girl who feels better suited as a man. And they don’t take kindly to gays in Arkansas. She’s gotten in trouble a few times for hooking up with girls who found out about her. Not good. Plus she’s got a record, naturally, troubled youth and all that. And she finds herself in this place, and is smitten by Chloë. And they start hanging out — Chloë thinks she’s a guy (which, she kind of is, just, you know, not where it counts. Yet) — and eventually start falling for one another. And they get together, fall in love, plan to run away together, all that. And then Chloë’s friends rape and kill Hilary one night after finding out she’s a woman and not a man, like they thought she was.

Chloë gets to play small town girl who falls in love, has a complicated relationship with men, because, it’s a small town and there are no other options, gets big city dreams that, probably won’t work out (since she sings karaoke a lot, they decide to have her be a professional and be managed by Hilary. Because, yeah, that’ll work), and gets to play a nice juicy role. My favorite part is when everyone finds out about her, and they’re confronting her. And Chloë has already said that she doesn’t care one way or the other. And they rip off her clothes to show her, and Chloë refuses to look. She doesn’t care and doesn’t want to know. Which, I thought, was a great moment. Plus she gets to cry and stuff once they shoot Hilary, and all that.

So, it’s a good performance, definitely worth the nomination, but not quite worth the win, I feel. I think it’s because the movie has an indie sort of feel, and for some reason I just can’t get past it. Or maybe that’s just rationalization after the fact. Still, I can’t vote for it, even though it should definitely be here.

My Thoughts: So, I guess, since there are two performances here that I’d never vote for, and one I just don’t feel I can vote for, that leaves us with Angelina Jolie and Samantha Morton. Obviously, we know how the Academy decided that one. Not surprised in the least. But, personally, I can’t vote for Jolie, because — well, like I said, there’s just something about the performance that makes me unable to. But it’s not like I’m upset about her winning. I’m just gonna vote Morton.

My Vote: Samantha Morton

Should Have Won: No preference. Not a very strong year. I guess really either Jolie or Morton. Or, I guess if we’re going on actress and not the role, since that’s kinda what you do when there’s no clear winner, I guess it’s really still those two anyway as the ones I’d prefer to have the statue more than the rest.

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah, I guess. If it came down to it, I really wouldn’t have an opinion one way or another. I’m glad it was one of those two. I’d probably have been slightly happier if it were Morton, but that’s more of a perk up, like, “Oh, that’s awesome that she won,” instead of like, “Oh, god, justice served.” The win would be a cherry on top of a fine performance. The lack of a win doesn’t take away from anything. And the Jolie win is fine and perfectly understood, so, I’m cool with it.

Performances I suggest you see: Morton (for the performance, not the film), Keener (for the film, and for the performance too, I guess. Just see the film), and Jolie if you want to. Trust me you’re not missing anything you absolutely need to see. Also, Collette too, I guess, if for some reason you haven’t seen the film.

Rankings:

5) Collette

4) Keener

3) Sevigny

2) Jolie

1) Morton

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