The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1986

1986 is, well, the year of Platoon. I don’t really know how to feel about this year because, while I like Platoon, I like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now more. And for some reason that taints my feeling of Platoon in a stand-alone Oscar year. I don’t really get it either.

Platoon wins Best Picture and Best Director for Oliver Stone. There wasn’t really a better choice to be made there, so I guess that makes it good. I mean, Children of a Lesser God is great, but — not Platoon. And Paul Newman finally wins his Best Actor for The Color of Money, playing the same character he should have won the Oscar for playing 25 years earlier in The Hustler. Marlee Matlin wins Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God, which is a great decision (because while Kathleen Turner and Sigourney Weaver were great, they were in Peggy Sue Got Married and Aliens. Did you really think they were gonna win Best Actress for those films?) And Best Supporting Actress was Dianne Wiest for Hannah and Her Sisters, because, well, there wasn’t really another choice (though naturally, I’d have gone another way).

So, I guess, in all, 1986 is a fine year. No real terrible decision to be made. Actually, I guess that would make it a good year. Wouldn’t it?


And the nominees were…

Tom Berenger, Platoon

Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters

Willem Dafoe, Platoon

Denholm Elliott, A Room with a View

Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers

Berenger — Double nomination. Score. And it’s Platoon. I have my work cut out for me here.

Platoon is a film that is incredibly good. The thing is, my one knock against it — which isn’t really a knock — is that in a stronger year, I don’t think it would be a Best Picture. But it happened to come in a year where there was really no choice for Best Picture, thus making it an easy winner. It is a really great film though. But, as Vietnam films go, I put it behind The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. But that’s just me. Some people swear by this one. And I have no beef with that. It really is a great picture.

The film is about Charlie Sheen as a young guy who just got to Vietnam. And it’s about the hell he has to go through. Basically the beginning is him not knowing what he’s doing, hating it, and basically being treated as someone who’s gonna die soon anyway. And then as we get further into the film, we start to see an interesting good vs. evil battle emerge. Two platoon leaders — Berenger and Dafoe — are basically both sides of the same coin. Which makes it really fitting that both got nominated. Berenger is the tough as nails sergeant who’s got this badass scar on his face, and is tough on his men. He makes them look at a dead man, calls him a pile of shit and tells him that’s what happens when they fuck up. He shoots innocent people in the head just because they won’t shut the fuck up. Dafoe, on the other hand, is a nice guy. He comes and helps Sheen when he shows up and carries his pack for him. He’s really nice to the men.

Two camps start to emerge. One with Berenger’s men and one with Dafoe’s. Dafoe’s men all get high in a tent and have a good time. Berenger’s men sit and drink beer and play cards. And it comes to a head when the men go to a village, and one of the more bloodthirsty soldiers (Johnny Drama himself, Kevin Dillon) kills an unarmed man. And then Berenger shoots a woman and they burn the village down, and Dafoe alerts the CO, who plans on obtaining a court martial. Which leads to the film’s most memorable sequence, where the men are ambushed, and, while deep in the jungle, Berenger shoots Dafoe for dead and has the men retreat. And then as they’re flying out of there, Dafoe emerges from the jungle, shot to pieces, and gets in that famous pose that’s all over the poster for the film. And then the film ends with Sheen eventually taking retribution on Berenger for Dafoe’s death.

It’s a really great film. Really great. Highly, highly recommended.

Berenger is fucking outstanding as Sgt. Barnes. Honestly, I don’t see how he doesn’t win this award. They nominated Dennis Hopper for the wrong movie, which means, based solely on the performances on this list — Berenger wins by a mile. He even won the Golden Globe Supporting Actor category. Really strange they didn’t give it to him. Vote splits really do hurt.

Caine — Michael Caine. Wonderful actor, nominated three times at this point, and probably should have had one of these by now. That, along with a vote split between the two nominees situated above and below him (kind of a great happenstance how that worked out, isn’t it?), is why Caine won here. He was great in Alfie, but was never gonna win for it. He was great in Sleuth, but unfortunately was up against Marlon Brando in The Godfather that year. Otherwise, I probably would have voted for him. And then he was amazing in Educating Rita. But that’s the year Robert Duvall got his horrifically overdue Oscar (having been snubbed so badly for Apocalypse Now , so, Caine wasn’t even gonna get my vote that year (even though he was amazing). Which is a shame.

Anyway, this is a Woody Allen film, which means — I don’t like it. I tried to like this one, as I do most of his films. But, as usual, I don’t see what the big deal is. Basically, Mia Farrow is Hannah. She’s married to Michael Caine. They have marital problems. Michael Caine starts sleeping with Hannah’s sister, Barbara Hershey. Then there’s Woody Allen playing another one of his neurotic characters, who starts dating Dianne Wiest, who plays Hannah’s other, cocaine-addicted, sister. And that’s basically the film. It’s not really funny, and not really interesting. At all.

I really only believe Michael Caine won this because of who he is and not for the performance. I did, however, make a note that I did enjoy his performance as I watched it. I wrote that the performance itself was very good, and Caine does a good job with the shitty material he’s stuck with. So it’s one of those, “Hate the film, respect the performance.” Which is usually how Woody Allen films go for me. Still, I would never vote for Caine, even though he did deserve the Oscar. The same goes for his second Oscar in 1999. Wouldn’t vote for him, but, kind of okay he got it, since, he’s Michael Caine. Either way, being totally objective based on what I saw, I wouldn’t vote for him here. At best he’d be a third choice.

Dafoe — Dafoe, now, on the other side of the Platoon coin, is the really nice sergeant who is liked by the men. He provides a good foil for Berenger and is damn good in his own right in the role, but — just watching the film, you can see — it’s all about Berenger. He’s the one to vote for here. Nothing against Dafoe — it’s just the nature of the beast. The evil guy is much more interesting than the good guy. Dafoe is easily right behind Berenger (I’ll explain where that is down below. I have to qualify some things first), but, when it comes to a vote, I vote Berenger before I vote him.

Elliott — Yeah, this movie was another piece of shit Merchant-Ivory film. That’s not to say it’s terrible. I use piece of shit here to mean more like, “Oh god, I have to watch another one of these fucking things.” I really hate their movies. The only one I like is The Remains of the Day. Everything else is boring as shit. Miramax’s big coup was taking the Merchant-Ivory films and making them fun to watch. That’s really all that kept them from a shitload of Oscars.

Anyway, A Room with a View is a Merchant-Ivory romantic comedy. Helena Bonham Carter goes on vacation with Maggie Smith, who is her chaperone, and they go meet people, wherever they are (who cares, really?). Helena meets a man and falls in love with him, and that’s the film. Maggie Smith is interesting as a talkative, nosy bitch (not really a bitch, but, whatever), and that’s really it. Denholm Elliott plays a fun guy they meet. He’s loud, says awkward things while on tours, does things that proper people would find embarrassing. He’d be like if I were like 60 years old, still didn’t give a fuck, and went on vacation to the Vatican. And everyone was treating it reverentially, and I’m there, like, “Dude, where are the fucking tits in this place? Am I right?” That’s basically what Elliott does here. Plus he’s the father or uncle or something of the dude Helena falls in love with. It’s a fun little performance, and he’s easily the best thing about this movie, but, no fucking way I’m voting for him. You had to know that from the start. The day I actually throw a vote in on a Merchant-Ivory film — that’s the day the Oscars don’t mean anything anymore.

Hopper — If there ever was a perfect representation of just how much the Academy likes a certain type of performance, this is it. Sometimes you actually have to read between the lines on some of these performances.

What I’m getting at is — whenever the Academy is faced with the choice between likable and unlikable characters, they will always go for the likable character (usually, when the unlikable character wins, its because they’re not factoring in the character, and they’re factoring in the actor).

Right this year, Dennis Hopper had two performances (unless you really want to include The American Way, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and River’s Edge in that as well) that were high profile, and great. First, was this one, Hoosiers. He plays the town drunk, the alcoholic father of a boy on the basketball team who redeems himself by getting (mostly) sober and coaching a game. But I’ll explain it further in a second. What we can all agree on — it’s a likable role.

Now, on the other hand, Hopper was also in Blue Velvet, where he plays crazy ass Frank Booth, who terrorizes Isabella Rossellini and Kyle McLachlen, inhales some sort of drugs out of a gas mask, and drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon, man! It’s a fucking beautiful performance. He’s so off the fucking wall that you know he should have been nominated for that. Everybody knows. And yet, the Academy nominated him for Hoosiers because it’s the more likable performance. And because it’s more representative of his current state in Hollywood — “redeeming” himself after years of being a drunk. The Academy is never subtle about these things. They’re saying, “We know you used to be a drunk, but now we’re taking you back into the fold.”

Problem with that is, who’s gonna vote for him? Especially with this category. Sure, the story is good, but, if you have someone who’s a purist like me, I’m voting on best performance before I vote on who the best story is. And while I love Dennis Hopper, I’m just not gonna vote for him for Hoosiers. And from what I know about the Academy, people don’t really pay attention to what they vote for. This is why Roger Deakins still does not have an Oscar. But I believe, that Hopper being nominated for Hoosiers lost him votes, despite how good the story of him winning would be, because it’s simply just not an Academy-Award caliber performance (though it kind of is. If he won it would make sense). If he were nominated for Blue Velvet, I feel people would be more likely to be like, “Oh, man, that performance was fucking great, and pencil him in for a vote.” (Though, that’s one of those movies that stands up after the fact. I bet in 1986, that was one of those movies where the majority thought it was too weird to vote for and it would never have won. Sometimes you just know with the Academy.) Plus, the people would still be like, “It would be kind of redemptive for him to win the Oscar here.” You can add sentiment after the fact (regardless of the performance), but you can’t add performance quality. That was a bad analogy. But of course, they had to go and nominate him for the more likable, yet less likely to win, performance.

One last thing before I get to Hoosiers — the Globes nominated him for Supporting Actor for both films. And here I always say, when the Oscars get it wrong, the Globes get it right. And boy, did the Globes get it right. Not only did Hopper get a Blue Velvet and Hoosiers nomination, but Tom Berenger won, which I think we can all say — yes. And also Denholm Elliott wasn’t nominated at the Globes, which also points to another thing the Academy does — nominate veterans (regardless of performance). If you ever wanted to teach about the Academy and their tendencies, this is the category to use as exemplar.

So now, Hoosiers. Hoosiers, since this is my one opportunity to talk about it, is a fucking great film. Gene Hackman plays a college basketball coach who’s been out of the game for a while, mostly because of some — rules violations. He has a bit of a temper when he coaches, and one day he punched one of his own players in the face. Yeah. And now he’s been hired by a small town in Indiana to coach their team. And he shows up, and sees how — actually, this is almost exactly like Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High. Shit, those would make a great double bill of sorts. Though maybe there’s something more similar than that one. Anyway, he immediately kicks the problem players off the team. Which, just so happen to be their star players. And it ends up being that only about six players remain after the first practice. Two of which never played in a game in their careers. And he starts putting them through rigorous practices, training them hard, and long. And at first it doesn’t do anything, but then it starts to pay off. And then the town wants to fire him, but he stays because — there’s a really great player in the town, and he’s refused to play for the team thus far, but he finally agrees to play for Hackman because he believes in him. And that gets everyone to stop calling for his head. And then they start winning, and eventually make it to the state championship game, and win it, you know how it is.

And then there’s this whole subplot of Hopper, the town drunk, coming in and talking to Hackman, knowing who he is and knowing all these statistics. He’s an encyclopedia of college basketball. His only flaw is that he’s a drunk. And Hackman invites him to come sit on the bench for the games, be his assistant coach. And Hopper is excited, until Hackman tells him he has to be sober for it, at which point Hopper is like, “I don’t know if I can do that.” And Hackman tells him that’s how it is, and he eventually comes and is the assistant coach, using his love of the game to overcome his alcoholism (to an extent). And one day, Hackman — notorious for getting himself kicked out of games for arguing with the refs — gets himself kicked out of the game on purpose (he actually tells the ref, “Eject me,” and the ref is like, “What?” and he’s like, “Eject me!” and the ref is like, “All right”), just to force Hopper to become head coach and finish coaching the game. And Hopper, when that happens, is scared shitless. He doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t think he can do it, and eventually, manages to do it. It’s a very sweet moment. But then things fall apart, and he falls off the wagon. He shows up to a game one night, drunk, and makes a scene. Then he wanders off, and they find him passed out on a frozen river. So for the rest of the film, he’s in bed with pneumonia, and we see him listening to the game from his hospital room, jumping and screaming as the team wins. It’s really great. And also, before the end, he tells his son he’s gonna be a better person, all of that.

It’s a great performance, and a really great film. It’s just — I really don’t think it was Academy Award worthy. And that’s why I’m not voting for him, despite really wanting to. If this were a Blue Velvet nomination, he’d be my vote all the way, and even on Sunday.

My Thoughts: Elliott, while entertaining, is not getting voted for. Hopper, as I said, was not nominated for Blue Velvet, and is not getting voted for. Dafoe was good, but was really overshadowed by Berenger hardcore. And Caine, while really good, just wasn’t really worth a vote in my eyes. Berenger really is the vote here, since they fucked up on the Dennis Hopper nomination. Berenger really should have won this, so he’s my vote.

My Vote: Berenger.

Should Have Won: Berenger. Hopper for Blue Velvet.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Or should I say, understandable, then acceptable. In that order. Because, Hopper got the wrong nomination, and that’s why he didn’t win. And Berenger and Dafoe definitely split votes here. Had it just been the Berenger nomination (like at the Globes), I think he’d have run away with this category. But, still, Michael Caine is amazing, and should have had one by now. It’s totally acceptable that he won. It’s the Cider House win that was the poor choice. Though, admittedly, if Berenger won here, then that one would be okay. But he did, so — this is confusing. Yes, it’s okay. I don’t particularly love it, but it’s okay.

Performances I suggest you see:


5) Elliott

4) Caine

3) Dafoe

2) Berenger

1) Hopper (We’re including Blue Velvet here.)

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