The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1990

Ah, 1990 again. The year Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves. I think that about covers how well this year went.

Best Actor was Jeremy Irons for Reversal of Fortune, Best Actress was Kathy Bates for Misery, Best Supporting Actor was Joe Pesci for Goodfellas, and Best Director was Kevin Costner, for Wolves.

I like this category though. It’s filled with a lot of interesting performances that I liked a lot. It’ll be a fun one to go through, since, either Best Supporting Actress is a great category, or it’s fucking insufferable. They’re all veteran nominations, or they got in based on support for the film. It’s terrible. But here — oh man, this is gonna be fun.


And the nominees were…

Annette Bening, The Grifters

Lorraine Bracco, Goodfellas

Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost

Diane Ladd, Wild at Heart

Mary McDonnell, Dances with Wolves

Bening — Okay, first, The Grifters. This is that awesome modern-day period noir I told you about. The one that was made as though it was the 40s but looks as though it was made in the 80s. Yeah, it’s awesome.

The film is about John Cusack as a con artist who almost dies when a small-time scam backfires and he gets reacquainted with his mother, Anjelica Huston, also a con artist. And Annette Bening shows up midway through and starts sleeping with Cusack. And she’s usually involved in big confidence schemes — Brothers Bloom and The Sting type games — The Big Con — and wants to learn all his tricks. And the film plays as though we aren’t sure what her angle is. Huston is convinced she’s no good and is gonna fuck him over, while he’s in love with her, and she plays it as though she’s both in love with him, but also makes it seem like it’s possible she could turn on him. And they plan a con together, and eventually everything comes to a head where one woman tries to kill the other, then one woman kills the other, and it gets messy. The film is great. Really recommend it.

As for Bening’s peformance — I really liked it. She plays the ditzy blonde that does have some brains on her. It’s kind of like, she portrays herself as the ditzy blonde — it’s part of her con — but she is smart enough to pull off a con — but is also kind of the ditzy blonde at the same time. As in, she’s still kinda naive and isn’t smart enough to think of all the angles. I thought she was really good, and honestly, might get my vote. Especially now, knowing she never got an Oscar, especially after twice deserving one (the first she earned it and was screwed over, and the second time she didn’t deserve it but should have gotten it because she didn’t get it the first time. I don’t count Kids are All Right. She shouldn’t have even been nominated for that one). But, the performance is really good and she did lighten up the proceedings considerably. Everyone else in the movie is so deadly serious.

Bracco — Yeah, now this is what I’m talking about. How great is Lorraine Bracco in this movie?

What’s great about the performance is how she shows up as almost a side note and then becomes essentially the lead female of the movie. It’s still a supporting performance, but there is no more important female in the movie past her. But the first time we see her, Joe Pesci is (this is the scene when they’re sitting in the car, calmly talking about this as they wait for the arson they engineered inside the restaurant to take effect) asking Ray Liotta to go with him on a double date because his girl won’t go out unless he friend comes with them. So they show up at dinner, and the whole thing is portrayed as Ray Liotta not wanting to be there and quickly getting the fuck out of there. (“I was ordering dessert while they were having dinner. While they were having coffee, I was asking for the check.”) And then you think, that’s it — it’s done. But then her voiceover starts, and you find out what she was thinking. And then he stands her up and she has that great scene where she gets pissed at him and yells at him for standing her up, and that’s when he (and us too) really start to pay attention to her. It’s fucking perfect. And then she gets all these great scenes throughout the movie. Like when after she gets slapped around by her neighbor, Ray Liotta calmly walks across the street and pistol whips him half to death in front of everybody. Then he comes back and tells her to hide the gun — which she does. Or the scene where she flips the fuck out when she finds out about his mistress and starts telling all the people in her building that she’s a whore. Or the scene where the cops come and raid the house, and she runs around, flushing drugs and hides a gun in her underwear. Or the scene that should have won her the Oscar, when Ray Liotta wakes up and she’s got a gun pointed between his eyes and is ready to kill him, but the voiceover is like, “But I couldn’t hurt him.” Man, that’s a perfect moment. It really should have won her the Oscar.

Now I want to point out my favorite scene from this entire movie. It’s very brief, and pretty much details their entire marriage in thirty seconds. Ray Liotta’s reaction at the end is one of the most perfect things I have ever seen:

Bracco is brilliant in this movie, and for my money, should have won this award hands down.

Goldberg — Oh, Whoopi. I’m very ambivalent about this performance. On the one hand, she’s great in the movie. She’s very funny. And she also should have won an Oscar five years earlier for The Color Purple. On the other hand — she’s playing a magical negro. Literally. That’s gotta be a bit of a backhanded compliment, right?

The movie, in case you don’t know — but who hasn’t seen Ghost? Isn’t that a modern classic? Or is it one of those where, unless you were born of the time period, you don’t really know about it? But even so — it’s great. It’s one of those movies you’re amazed no one thought to do it earlier. It’s a bit too schmaltzy, but, hey, you know, everybody’s got their preoccupations — it’s about Patrick Swayze, who is madly in love with Demi Moore. It’s one of those perfect unions. Then randomly one day he gets mugged and killed. Shank Shank. So he dies, and then he becomes a ghost. Gasp. I know. And he comes to terms with his new state, and then, while trying to contact Demi Moore, since he’s got unfinished business, he goes to Whoopi. She’s a fake psychic who pretends to communicate with the dead for money. But now she realizes, she can do it. And she’s freaked out, but goes along with it. And she acts as Swayze’s earthly buffer, helping him out as he tries to warn Demi that she’s in danger from the guys who killed him.

That’s pretty much the character. She acts as a magical negro. She helps out the protagonist and really has no storyline except helping Swayze. So, while she was good, is it really okay that this is the role they gave her the Oscar for? And even so, the performance really isn’t worth a win. She’s great, but, not for the win. I don’t know. I just don’t feel right about that. Same thing with Sidney Poitier in 1963. Historically significant? Yes. Great. But the role? Nuh uh. That’s not okay.

Ladd — Oh, man, where to begin with this fucking movie?

Okay, the best place to start is — this is a David Lynch movie. That should explain everything I’m about to say from the start. It’s fucked up, so, be prepared. Also know that this is a Nicolas Cage movie. If there were two directors that Nicolas Cage was born to work with, it’s David Lynch and Werner Herzog. Now, the movie is about Cage and Laura Dern, who are madly in love in that white trash kinda way. And he goes to jail for killing a dude in self-defense. And then he gets out, and she’s real happy, and they go to a motel and fuck, then they go to a metal concert, where Cage gets on stage and sings an Elvis song, after having a barfight with a dude hitting on his woman. Oh, trust me, we’re not even halfway there yet. So they then decide to run away to California. Basically it’s a David Lynch version of a road movie.

Now, the big hinderance to their plans is Laura Dern’s mother. That’s Diane Ladd. She’s basically batshit insane. The movie is structured around allusions to The Wizard of Oz, and Ladd plays the Wicked Witch role. She hires a hitman to track them down and kill Cage. And there are random scenes interspersed of her doing shit like smearing lipstick all over her face. It’s so fucking surreal. Then Willem Dafoe shows up acting all weird, and there’s a robbery, and Cage goes back to prison, and then the mother just vanishes for no reason. And then there’s a crazy dream sequence after Cage is attacked by some hoodlums and he has a vision of Glinda the Good Witch, telling him to go find his woman, and he runs through (and on top of) a bunch of parked cars until he finds her and they sing Elvis as the credits roll.

I told you it was fucked up. But the movie is great. As both a David Lynch film and as a Cage film it’s one you need to see if you’re a fan of either. Especially Cage. Even if you’re not into the film at all, I guarantee you that you’ll enjoy yourself. This movie is so much fun because of how fucking off the wall it is. David Lynch is like the Dr. Strangelove of cinema — the mad genius.

As for Diane Ladd’s performance, she’s not really in it enough to qualify for a win, but she is appropriately batshit for the role. I mean — really.

That about sums it up. Like I said, she’s not in it enough to qualify for a vote (and she disappears and never returns on top of it), but I’m so fucking glad she’s on here. She was wonderful in the movie.

McDonnell — Yeah, unfortunately this counts as a weak link. Sorry. I look at this as a support for the film nomination above anything. Every Best Picture winner usually musters at least one acting nomination (I said usually), and this got three. That’s about right.

The film is Kevin Costner, soldier, sent out to outpost, meets Native Americans, befriends them, becomes one of them. That’s it, really. It’s about him becoming Native American. The film is boring as fuck. When rewatching it for this Quest, I watched the Director’s Cut — big mistake. Two more hours of bullshit to sift through.

But, of all the performances, hers was the one that stood out the most for me. She plays a white woman who was captured by the Indians as a child and was raised as one of their own. And now that Costner is there, I think she sort of is reminded how confusing her whole — situation is — and tries to off herself. Or they don’t give a reason for her doing it and it just happens as a plot device so Costner can help her and get the tribe to like him. My way gives the film a bit more credit and makes it look better than the other way, so, let’s go with that one. He finds her in a field, having slit her wrists, and helps her. Then he brings her back, helps her, and she becomes his translator. And then they marry. Eventually. Naturally. I do remember though her performance breathing some life into the stagnant turd that was this movie. Whatever performance Costner had was severely undercut by the incessant narration he was providing. I immediately tuned out and stopped paying any attention to what he was saying or doing. But when she came on, I perked up, because she was feisty. So, I’m grateful to her for that. No vote though. #5, because she’s clearly the weakest performance on this list.

My Thoughts: It comes down to Bracco and Goldberg. And I’m sure this is exactly how it came down in the voting this year as well. And the difference is — because this category is the makeup category extraordinaire — Whoopi should have won one already. And once that happens — it’s over. Like Morgan Freeman in 2004. No way he wasn’t winning. Alan Arkin, Tim Robbins, Jim Broadbent, Michael Caine (twice, interestingly enough split between either category), James Coburn, Renée Zellweger — the supporting categories are used mainly to reward people who didn’t get Oscars before yet were deserving of one, or to reward old-timers for a life’s worth of work. Supporting Actress tends to shy away from the veteran Oscar and is more geared toward giving it to up-and-comers or people they like. Jennifer Hudson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Penélope Cruz — either a newcomer or someone who’s popular. So, knowing that, Bracco was never going to win. Especially coming off the 80s, which were all about veterans and likable newcomers. Whoopi had this all the way. But, this isn’t the Academy. This is me, and I’m voting Bracco all the way. You can’t say she didn’t earn it. You can differ in who you’d vote for, but you can’t fault the choice.

My Vote: Bracco

Should Have Won: Bracco

Is the result acceptable?: I guess. Whoppi is a good actress, and deserved an Oscar in ’85 for The Color Purple, so I guess this is cool. I still think Bracco should have won though. But in terms of result, I’m okay with it.

Performances I suggest you see: Goodfellas is a must see for everybody. You’re not a human if you haven’t seen this movie. It’s requisite viewing for all. The Grifters I highly recommend, especially for fans of noir, confidence films or John Cusack. Wild at Heart, like I said is well worth it for fans of David Lynch, Nicolas Cage, or people who just take joy in seeing movies that are batshit insane and are so surreal that it’s fun. This is your movie. Trust me. You will enjoy yourself even if you hate it. And Ghost is a great movie. A bit too saccharine, and chick-flick-y, but it’s enjoyable and probably should be seen, considering how big a film it is culturally. And, Dances with Wolves, I guess, hold some appeal as a Best Picture winner. I mean — if you must.


5) McDonnell

4) Ladd

3) Goldberg

2) Bening

1) Bracco

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