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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1996

Hey, look at that, it’s our example category. Way back when, back when I first introduced this Oscar Quest, I was explaining how these articles were gonna work, and I picked a random category by typing in two random numbers after “19–” and one of the categories at random. And I came out with Best Supporting Actor 1996. Who’d’ve thought it would take six months to get to it?

Anyway, 1996 is a year that’s fresh in most people’s minds. The English Patient, a film that most people can say probably didn’t deserve to win, won Best Picture over the superior Fargo and even the superior Jerry Maguire. Anthony Minghella wins Best Director for it as well (talked about here), but with one goes the other. Juliette Binoche wins Best Supporting Actress for it, which I’m cool with, since I like her very much. Best Actress this year went to Frances McDorman for Fargo, which is awesome, don’t cha know. And Best Actor — yeah. Geoffrey Rush wins for Shine. I believe I had quite a few words to say about that one here. So in all, I think this is a pretty terrible year. Next to 1990, probably the worst of the decade. Great. Work’s cut out.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1996

And the nominees were…

Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

William H. Macy, Fargo

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine

Edward Norton, Primal Fear

James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

Gooding — Is there anyone who hasn’t seen this movie? Agent, top of the world, writes a memo (more like a mission statement) saying agents should pay more personal attention to their clients rather than making it all about the money, gets fired, starts his own agency with his one remaining client and the one person idealistic enough to go with him, they get together, he tries to control his one client, he gets married, has marital problems, everything works out great in the end, they complete each other. Boom.

I’m getting good at summing up shit we’ve already seen.

Cuba, of course, plays Rod Tidwell, and there’s no denying the man is entertaining to watch. Whether you think he was good enough to win is a matter of opinion, but, he’s clearly very good in this movie. And really, this category was always coming down to him and —

Macy — Bill Macy is fucking incredible in Fargo. Here’s another one I assume we’re all familiar with, right?

BIll Macy, used car salesman, wants more money, hires men to kidnap his wife so his father-in-law will pay a ransom. He’s planning on getting much more than he’s telling the kidnappers, and will only give them the share he told them they’d get. Problem is, on the way, the kidnappers end up killing a cop and some witnesses. Which puts the police on it. And then Frances McDormand is investigating the case as Bill Macy’s attempts to pull off what seemed like a simple crime start going wrong at every turn. It’s a tremendous film, and if you haven’t seen it, you probably know you should.

Macy really did deserve this Oscar about as much, and probably more than Cuba Gooding did. This is clearly between the two of them, and always was. So we’ll save that decision until the end. Let’s trudge through the rest of the category first.

Mueller-Stahl — I think we all know by now how much I don’t like this movie. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, it’s just — Geoffrey Rush should not have won Best Actor for it. At best he should have won this category. But that’s all been talked about. Let’s just focus on this nomination.

The film is about a piano prodigy who was pushed really fucking hard by his father — played by Mueller-Stahl — to work, work, work. And we see him being mostly abusive to his child, mostly emotional. And the kid grows up and gets into musical school, and then suffers a nervous breakdown. Then we see him as an adult, all screwed up from the nervous breakdown, but, he can still play piano. That’s what I got out of the film.

Mueller-Stahl is actually the best part of this movie. As is Noah Taylor, who plays teenage David. But Mueller-Stahl is the father who tells his son he must succeed, and refuses to accept failure. So the whole movie is about this kid trying to win his father’s approval, and not getting it, which causes him to have the breakdown. And seeing Mueller-Stahl’s performance, I can understand why. He’s probably the third best performance on this list, but I have him ranked as 5, just because I like the movie the least. But, after Gooding and Macy, he’s my third choice to win here based on strength of performance. Based on the actor, clearly #5. Sorry, but, Ed Norton and especially James Woods come first.

Norton — This is Ed Norton’s breakthrough performance. And by breakthrough, I mean — first. This was his first movie. Quite a debut. Also, I’m gonna blatantly spoil this movie. So if you’d rather not know, don’t read.

The movie’s about a young, stuttering altar boy accused of murdering an archbishop. And Richard Gere shows up to defend him, and is trying to figure out what happened. And Norton is the stuttering boy. And we find out that the archbishop molested him and some other altar boys, so they figure he did it. But when Gere questions him harshly, he breaks down and switches to another personality, that of a sociopath. And the sociopath personality confesses to killing the archbishop. But then the other personality comes back, having no memory of the other one. So they send him to a shrink, who says that he was molested as a child, and developed split personalities as a result. So now Gere’s figuring, “I got this shit.” But, he can’t enter a plea of insanity during a trial. So what he does is, gets Norton on the stand, and gets the prosecutor to question him harshly, which causes him to turn into the other personality and attack her. He’s subdued, and the judge, clearly seeing him as insane, calls off the trial. So now, Gere comes back and talks to Norton, telling him, basically, that they won. He’ll be put in a hospital, and won’t be charged for killing the archbishop. At which point, Norton asks him to tell the prosecutor he hopes she’s okay. Which makes Gere curious, because that personality isn’t supposed to know about the other one. And he realizes — Norton’s not insane at all. In fact, he actually is a sociopath, and created the stuttering personality for that very reason, so he could get in the exact situation he’s in at this moment. And he taunts Gere, telling him he killed the archbishop, and his girlfriend, who was also molested by him. And Gere basically just walks away because — well, what can you do? It’s a good movie. I wasn’t particularly invested in it because I figured out pretty early what was going on. At that point it was just — jesus man, get to the reveal already. But if you don’t know about it, you might enjoy it more than I did.

Norton is fantastic in this movie, and a lot of people will say he deserved this award. Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think Norton’s ever really been an Oscar-winning caliber actor thus far — American History X excluded. He was really good in that. But otherwise, he’s just there. He does his thing. He usually makes good movies — except nowadays, he tends to not do particularly good movies, probably due to that reputation he has for being difficult and forceful on directors (hence the reason Marvel did not ask him back). But, whatever, all that matters here is the performance. And the performance is really good. But, with Cuba Gooding and Bill Macy giving Oscar-worthy performances, and James Woods simply being here, Norton is no better than 4th for a vote for me. That’s just the way it is.

Woods — James Motherfuckin’ Woods. My man. I love this guy, and I don’t particularly know why. I tried to pinpoint exactly what it was that got me to thinking he was so awesome, and I can’t do it. I don’t think it’s any one thing. If it is, it’s probably San Andreas. He was so awesome as Mike Toreno. But I digress. This isn’t (entirely) about how awesome James Woods is.

Anyway, this film is — supposed to be a courtroom film, but for some reason does not have a very set tone throughout. It fluctuates. I don’t know. It mostly works, but, for me the film doesn’t entirely work. It’s about the killing of Medger Evers by James Woods. I forget his character name. Byron de la something — Beckwith, I think, maybe. Whatever. He kills him, and has openly said so for years, but, they were never actually able to prosecute. However, twenty years later, Alec Baldwin, a local lawyer, finds evidence that may work. And he contacts Evers’s widow — Whoopi Goldberg — and convinces her to give him all the previous trial transcripts, which she was holding onto, because, if they use them in court, and the don’t win the case, they’re gone for good. So she agrees to let him try the case, and his big evidence — the actual gun that was used — basically help him win the case. It’s not really hidden that they’re gonna win, the film doesn’t even make it a challenge. It’s weird how this film managed to misfire.

Anyway, Woods does a good job. He plays the dude, mostly at age 70, under a lot of prosthetics. And he’s southern and cocky, and that’s a lot of fun, but, he was never gonna win this, nor should he have. In fact, most of the time he was talking, I was focusing on the crazy makeup around his cheekbones and how that was moving around. Seriously, check it out. It’s fucking freaky. But, you know, good performance, not vote-worthy unless you’re voting purely for James Woods.

My Thoughts: I’m gonna take such shit for this. Not from you, from myself. Everything points to Bill Macy here, even after the fact. He’s had such a strong career. And yet — goddamn it, I’m still taking Cuba. He’s just so likable here. I can’t not vote for him. He’s awesome in this movie. I just have to. And I know Bill Macy should have won.

(Note: I’ve changed my mind, after the fact. Just because I love the performance doesn’t mean he needed to win. It’s Macy. I know he should have won. So I’m changing the vote.)

My Vote: Macy

Should Have Won: Macy, Gooding

Is the result acceptable?: Yes and no. He deserved it in 1996. In 2011, next to Macy, no. So, both.

Performances I suggest you see: I think all people should see Jerry Maguire at some point. I know it’s become its own cliche, but, it’s a hell of a movie. Cameron Crowe’s best next to Almost Famous. Gooding is so awesome in it. And Fargo is another one all people should probably see. It’s an incredible movie, and Macy is extraordinary in it. Coen brothers. That makes it essential. This is their quintessential film too. So doubly so. And Primal Fear is Edward Norton’s starmaking turn. I mean, I kind of figured out the performance really early on, but still, as someone who hadn’t really been in a film before, this is a hell of a debut. You should check it out for that much. I don’t really care for the film too much, but Norton is pretty good. And Ghosts of Mississippi, it has its moments. It’s somewhat engaging. You know, if it appeals to you, go for it. It’s not bad at all.

Rankings:

5) Mueller-Stahl

4) Norton

3) Woods

2) Macy

1) Gooding

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