The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1991

I think we know 1991 pretty well. The Silence of the Lambs wins the big five: Best Picture, Best Director for Jonathan Demme (talked about here), Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins (talked about here), Best Actress for Jodie Foster, and also Best Adapted Screenplay. But we’re not dealing with screenplays here. At least not yet. The other decision that wasn’t this category was Jack Palance as Best Supporting Actor for City Slickers (which I talked about here). In all this was a really good year. (How could it not be, right?)

That brings us to this category. I don’t have a problem with the decision so much. It was actually the best decision they could have made in this category. My problem is with the nominees. It’s a really weak set. One of the weakest I’ve ever seen. So much so that I’m invoking my rule that if I disagree with three of the nominees (and I totally do), I look for alternatives that could have been nominated instead. It’s my way of coping with a shitty category. It helps if I can know there weren’t any better choices. So let’s look.

Yeah, I got nothing. Not really, anyway. And the only difference in the Globes category was Nicole Kidman being nominated for Billy Bathgate. I guess that’s better than Kate Nelligan. That nomination seems like a standard bullshit Academy nomination. Wow, this year sucked for supporting actress roles.


And the nominees were…

Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose

Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear

Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides

Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King

Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes

Ladd — Rambling Rose. Not a particularly good movie, yet immensely saved by the brilliant performance by Laura Dern. She really makes this movie go from forgettable to actually pretty good. She’s so good, I’d actually say — since I haven’t gotten to that particular category yet — if I didn’t want to vote Jodie Foster (that’s a pretty big if), I might vote Dern. At worst I think she’d be my number two. Because, to me the two Thelma and Louise nominations cancel each other out, and Bette Midler was never gonna win. But that’s for another time. Point is — Laura Dern is great in this movie.

The film is about a family, Robert Duvall is the father, Diane Ladd is the mother, and Lukas Haas is the son. There’s a daughter, but, she doesn’t figure into this plot so much. The film is about the son as an adult (played by John Heard. The great John Heard, who doesn’t seem to get nearly enough work as he should), reminiscing about Rose. Rose, is played by Laura Dern. She’s a woman who is hired by the family to be their housekeeper. And it’s hinted at that she’s had an — interesting — background, and that the family is saving her by doing this. Basically, what we can gather is, she would have been a prostitute if it weren’t for them giving her legitimate work.

And she shows up, and — is insanely grateful for the job. Like, crazily so. You really get a sense from her character really early on that she’s never really been shown any kindness, and when she is — she really is appreciative for it. She immediately falls in love with Robert Duvall, and is unable to help herself from trying to have sex with him. And him being a nice southern gentleman, doesn’t want to do this. And it’s pretty clear at a certain point that she’s kind of a nymphomaniac. Just a little bit. And also not bright. Or rather — really innocent. She doesn’t seem to see that people might not be how she sees them. Like, she comes into the son’s room at night and gets in bed with him, mostly to just talk to him. She starts confiding her feelings to him, kind of like a big sister, which is sort of how she sees herself in relation to him. And he, is in love with her. And he basically spends the entire scene manipulating her into allowing her to let him feel her breasts and touch her until she orgasms. It’s very well done and is a perfect character scene for her. It’s also very funny.

And the rest of the film is sort of a series of her doing shit like trying to sleep with Duvall, and him trying to tell Diane Ladd about it but also not tell her, and she keeps taking Dern’s side. And the film is basically a series of that. There’s really no plot. But it’s well done. Dern is really good.

As for Ladd — she doesn’t do anything at all. Not at all. She’s just there. She is just very calm, very even-keeled, and just says her lines. I honestly can’t even remember a scene where she does anything of note. And yet — because this category is so bad — she’s #2 for a vote from me. How fucked up is that? I’ll explain why down at the bottom, but I suspect my reasoning has a lot to do with why she was nominated. But I’ll tell you down at the bottom.

Lewis — Okay now, Cape Fear. Interesting bit of trivia about this film. Back in 1990, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg were both setting up projects and spoke to one another. And Scorsese said to him, “I don’t know if I could really do mine, since I’m not Jewish, and it wouldn’t feel right. I just don’t know the material as well as someone else could.” And Spielberg said, “How about we swap?” So they did. Scorsese got this film, and Spielberg got Schindler’s List. And honestly, I think it worked out well for the two of them. Because we got two great films out of it. One is clearly more impactful than the second, but honestly, I think even Marty would agree — only Spielberg could made Schindler’s List. Anyway, that’s my trivia.

This film is a remake of the 1962 version with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Honestly, I feel as though neither is particularly better than the other even though they’re almost the exact same film. Seriously. If anything, this version is better. And that’s only because they really get to flesh out the characters without having to deal with censors and because Marty really took the violence to a gruesome level.

If you don’t know, the film is about Sam Bowden and his family, being terrorized by Max Cady. At the beginning, we see Bowden get approached by Cady (they have that scene here, which I’m 90% positive is not in the original, where Cady is at the movie, smoking a cigar and laughing obnoxiously). Cady was convicted of rape fifteen years prior and had been in jail. Problem was, Bowden fudged the evidence a bit to get Cady convicted. He was guilty, but he didn’t get a fair trial. So what he did was dedicate the last fourteen years to learning the law (and getting some religion), and now he’s come back to make Sam Bowden’s life a living hell.

So what happens here is, Cady starts popping up in a bunch of places — never illegally — and harassing Sam and his family. He starts flirting with Sam’s wife until she finds out who he is. He picks up Sam’s mistress in a bar and proceeds to savagely beat her half to death, and then afterward, she refuses to testify because it would bring the affair to light. Then he goes so far as to pretend to be the new drama teacher at school and quasi-seduce Sam’s daughter — played by Juliette Lewis. We’ll get back to her in a second. And the rest of the film is about Cady legally (thought not really, but no one can prove anything) fucking with Sam until he retaliates with violence (there’s a really fucking gruesome scene where Bowden has someone hire three men to beat the shit out of Cady with crowbars and he ends up fucking all three of them up, while Bowden watches too.

Oh, also, in case I didn’t mention, Robert De Niro is Cady and Nick Nolte is Sam Bowden. The other great thing about the film is that Scorsese gets both Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum in with cameos, playing the opposite side of the law they were on in the original version. Peck plays Cady’s slimy lawyer while Mitchum plays a lieutenant. Genius casting.

Anyway, the film ends with Bowden organizing a boat trip, designed to make it so enticing that Cady will be unable to resist trying to kill Sam and his family. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but on the off chance you haven’t, I won’t spoil the ending. Both versions are definitely worth checking out. This version really does a great job getting into the psychology of the first story. They work really well as a double feature. I know. I’ve done it.

Now, Juliette Lewis here plays Sam’s daughter. And her role in the film is, first and foremost, narrator. I can imagine Scorsese picturing her voiceover for the film kind of like Scout’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, and kind of a perverse version of that. And for that, I commend him. But I hate voiceover, so, for me, that’s kind of a knock against the performance. I despise voiceover. However, since Scorsese is so good with voiceover work in his films, that pretty much balances that back out. Anyway, Lewis plays the tween girl who’s just entering into puberty and is discovering her sexuality. And she has to deal with her parents fighting all the time, and isn’t particularly happy with things, and then De Niro comes along, and he excites her, even though she knows he’s bad news. And she almost allows herself to be drawn in, but then doesn’t. And then that’s really her big scene. She runs from him, then doesn’t do much until the end on the boat. But even that’s like a thriller scene.

Honestly, this performance is something I remember better after the fact than it actually is. It’s the kind of thing I look at and want to vote for, but really — it’s not worth a vote. Juliette Lewis is worth a vote, but, that’s really after all the years of her putting in great work. And honestly, I can see her getting one of these at some point, but, not really here. At best she’d be third for a vote and second in the rankings. Trust me on this. You might think she was good enough to win — and you might be right, since the category sucks — but go back and watch the performance. You’ll see there isn’t all that much to it past the one scene in the school with De Niro. I wish I could vote for it — but I can’t.

Nelligan — Yeah, what the fuck is this doing on here? What the fuck is the film doing anywhere around the Oscars? The only nomination I can agree with for this film is the Nick Nolte nomination. Because he was great in that and great in this, and you don’t want two Cape Fear nominations. First, it’s two Cape Fear nominations. Looks good to us, but not for the Academy who prides themselves on class. Also, it cancels both of them out. Fucks over both De Niro and Nolte.

Plus, you don’t want to nominate both men for this version when neither of the men in the original got nominated for that one. Though, granted, that was also the year Gregory Peck busted out Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, but a lot of people say Robert Mitchum should have been nominated for playing Cady. Personally I don’t see who he could have displaced aside from Marcello Mastroianni. The other four were incredible and were all good enough to win. Anyway, what I’m saying here ultimately is, it makes sense that Nick Nolte was nominated for this film.

But, the fact that this film got nominated for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress on top of it — really goes to show you how the Academy will nominate a shitty film simply because they like who made it. And the Academy has had a hard on for Barbra Streisand for fucking years. I don’t know what it is. She’s made some horrendous films that got nominated — namely this one and The Mirror Has Two Faces. That one — Jesus. It was brutal. Talk about hubris — christ, she won the Golden Globe for Best Director for fucking Yentl! Yentl! That’s just — wow.

So this film is pretty shitty. Nick Nolte is the only one who holds it together. It’s about a southern writer whose sister tries to kill herself. And he goes up north because he psychiatrist, played by Streisand, asks him to. And he does, which his wife is unhappy with, but he does anyway, because apparently he doesn’t give a shit about his family, and apparently that’s a family trait, and basically the rest of the film is about him working through his issues. His father apparently was shitty, and his mother was an overbearing bitch — something like that. Basically, he has one brother who killed himself because the mother is a cunt. And the sister, who loved the brother dearly, never got over that. And then she tried to kill herself. And then Nolte works through all those problems, and then falls in love with Streisand, who, naturally, is locked in a shitty marriage, and Nolte befriends her son, and there’s that, and — honestly, would you ever watch this fucking movie? Didn’t think so. It’s just — not good.

Now, Nelligan — doesn’t do anything in this movie at all. She’s barely in it. I think she even only shows up in flashback. I have no idea. I honestly spent 75% of the movie thinking she was playing the sister who tried to kill herself. And I’m thinking, “Why did she get nominated? All she does is sit there catatonically.” Then I realize she played the mother, and I thought, “Really? She’s only been in like, two scenes. I guess that’s slightly better.” And then when I got to the end of the movie, I was like, “Wow. If they were gonna nominate anyone from this movie it should have been the actress who played the sister.” So that should tell you what kind of performance we’re dealing with here. She basically is just a bitchy, terrible mother who drives her children to suicide and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Only, if that role were barely in the movie.

Clearly, I’m not voting for this, and clearly, if I could rank this lower than #5 (as in, not at all), I would. So, #5 it is. Vote? Don’t make me laugh.

Ruehl — The Fisher King, as I say whenever I have to talk about this movie (which was only once so far, and this is the only other time I get to talk about it, so, twice), is a film I heard about for the longest fucking time before I watched it.

From very early on, it was one that was recommended to me. Like, “Based on your interest in all this other shit you like, other people have also liked this one.” Like on IMDB, which was before the days of Netflix.This would always show up in the recommended films, and people would always be saying shit about it. It was always on this list of films that people whose opinions I didn’t respect because they said shit like, “The Fisher King should have won Best Picture,” completely ignoring the other five films that were nominated that year, and then I’d spitefully not want to see it because internet people are dumbasses. I still haven’t seen Donnie Darko because of this. And even so, I know I will not like it. And people who know me tell me that I won’t like it. So now I’m excited to watch it to see how much I don’t like it.

Anyway, so Netflix comes around, and now I really get a sense of how much this film is being recommended for me to watch. It had the little heart there and everything. They thought I’d rate it a 4.1, which is basically their way of saying I’ll give it a 5. And it would just show up all the time. They’d be like, “We really think you’re gonna like this.” And I had a thing with Terry Gilliam films. I love Fear and Loathing and the Monty Python stuff, but I really didn’t like Brazil all that much. I mean, I thought it was fine, but, we live in a world where people love that film. Same for Blade Runner. And I get upset that I don’t like it as much as everyone else, because it’s almost like I have to. I go through the stages of grief on shit like this. So I was worried about watching it — same goes for Twelve Monkeys — because I thought I’d just hate it and then be upset with myself.

And it was always floating around my Queue for the longest time (it probably went in within the first week of my getting Netflix back in 2006), and I just never got around to it and was putting it off for so long. And finally, this Oscar Quest comes, and, at the beginning, I had both the Oscar categories and the corresponding Golden Globes categories on there as well. Back when I gave a shit what the Globes voted for. And this film actually had 5 nominations. Total. Two Oscars, three Globes. And I knew I had to get to it at some point. Yet I continued to put it off. And then I got rid of all the Globes categories (which must have been around — August. Which really didn’t affect the Quest all that much, except get me to watch certain things earlier than I would have otherwise. Still, not much at all besides extra pages), and this film got pushed back. I didn’t watch it until Mid-February of this year.

Long story, I know. But it’s worth it. Because, when I tell you — I loved this film — you’ll understand what I had to overcome for that to happen. I loved this film. Can’t say the same for Twelve Monkeys — that’s one I recognize as a good film, but, honestly, I have no desire to ever watch that film again — but this one, I really loved.

The film is about Jeff Bridges as a Howard Stern-type shock jock radio host, who says some shit to a caller one day, and the caller goes out and kills a bunch of people in a restaurant and then himself. And this causes him to lost it. He quits his job and hides from society for the next few years. We find him later on, living above a video store with its owner, his girlfriend, played by Mercedes Ruehl. And one day, he’s out, drunk — that’s what he does is drink a lot and shirk responsibility — and two guys attack him and go to set him on fire. But he’s saved by Robin Williams, a homeless man who fights them off. And Bridges goes along with Williams, and finds out the next day that he went crazy after he saw his wife get shot. And we find out his wife got shot in the same accident that Bridges feels himself responsible for.

So Bridges feels responsible for Williams, and tries to help him. He gives him money, which Williams doesn’t care about at all, and he finds himself unable to leave Williams because he wants closure. And Williams has been stalking a woman he’s in love with. It’s cute, but it’s still stalking. The woman is played by Amanda Plummer. So what Bridges does is, he feels as though if he gets Williams and Plummer together, then he’ll find closure. Williams, by the way, believes he’s a knight on an Arthurian quest. And to make matters worse, whenever his confidence goes up and he starts to feel better about himself, he has hallucinations of a red knight that comes and saps it all away again. This is a device that works really well in the film. At one point, when the knight comes, you really feel for Williams, because he himself is like, “Not not, don’t do this now,” and it hurts.

Anyway, Bridges helps Williams and Plummer get together — and there’s this whole cute sequence where he and Ruehl organize a meeting with them, and get Williams ready to go on a date, and then they go on the date with them, and it’s all very charming. Then the rest of the film is Bridges helping Williams with this one object he really wants, which, I won’t get into because you should just see the film.

Anyway, Ruehl plays Bridges’s girlfriend, and she factors mostly in the scenes where they get Williams cleaned up to go out with Plummer. And she also has a scene or two where she tries to tell Bridges he needs to smarten up and be more committed to her. But, mostly, she really doesn’t factor into the plot that much. However, she is the most fully realized character on this list, and honestly, is really the only person to vote for. I’m not kidding. Watch all five nominees and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In any other year she wouldn’t rate past maybe a #2, and that’s in a year as weak as this with a clear winner (like 1989). But, here, she’s actually the only person to vote for.

Tandy — And, Jessica Tandy. I think we can all realize that this is, plain and simple, a veteran nomination. No more, no less. The film is fucking — just wow. I did enjoy it, because Mary Louise Parker is in it and the flashback scenes aren’t terrible. But the film as a whole — just, wow. Why does this exist? The whole present day shit with Kathy Bates — that doesn’t need to be there. That’s just 90s shit. Very clearly a 90s film.

Anyway, the film is about Kathy Bates, in a relatively unhappy marriage, who goes to a nursing home for — whatever reason. Her husband’s mother or something — and meets Jessica Tandy. And Tandy tells her stories, because, she’s old and that’s what old people do, I guess. And she tells her about her childhood. And the weird thing about it is, you never actually know who she is. Tandy says she’s a younger cousin of the sisters in question, but, I thought they were hinting at the fact that she was the one played by Mary Stuart Masterson. It’s pretty clear she isn’t the Mary Louise Parker ones, because, spoiler alert, she dies. Anyway, Tandy tells the story, and there’s all this southern shit going on, and the plot of the movie really doesn’t matter, because, Jessica Tandy, as the film plainly tells us, has nothing to do with it. She doesn’t factor into the flashbacks at all, so there’s really no point for them to exist other than to make Kathy Bates feel better about herself.

So, Jessica Tandy’s part exists as narrator, and then as an old woman, and then — that’s it, really. Then she comes to live with Kathy Bates in the end because they tore her house down, and they didn’t tell her about it because they figured she’d die, and then — I don’t even know why she’s in the home, or that they could just leave like that — I really don’t know. Basically, this is a veteran nom, and, since she won Best Actress for Driving Miss Daisy, there’s no way in hell she was ever going to win this.

I think they expected it to be a posthumous nomination. I really do. But she hung on another three years and died after filming Nobody’s Fool, in which she played Paul Newman’s landlady. Anywho, it’s pretty clear she was never gonna get voted for here. The film isn’t good, she’s just there — never gonna vote for it. And yet, she honestly rates as #4 because the category sucks so bad, and I think she might have even finished second in the voting. This category just really sucks.

My Thoughts: Ruehl is really the only person you could vote for. She plays the most fully realized character in the bunch. None of these characters factor that much into the main plots of their films. At all. Juliette Lewis is really the only one. And maybe Kate Nelligan, but — fuck that. So in terms of fully realized characters, Ruehl is the only vote. Then Lewis. In terms of actresses who deserve the award, it’s Ladd.

The reason I think Diane Ladd got nominated here was a lingering hangover effect from the year earlier. You see, she got nominated in this category in 1974 for playing a wonderfully foul-mouthed waitress and friend to Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. And honestly, she might have been good enough to win there. Personally I’d have voted for Talia Shire or Madeline Kahn, but, she’d have been a third choice, and a better choice than Ingrid Bergman, who was barely in her film and didn’t need the Oscar. Still, she was memorable. I still remember that performance fondly. Then, she was also nominated in this same category in 1990. There, she played a wonderfully batshit insane mother who is really just — it’s the mother from Wild at Heart. It’s a David Lynch road movie with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. And Diane Ladd is so fucking crazy in this movie. Actually, just watch. She’s just insane, as only David Lynch can think up. And then she just disappears midway through the film. It’s fucking brilliant.

I think she’d have won the category if Whoopi Goldberg weren’t in it. I mean, I wouldn’t have voted for Whoopi (I’d have voted for Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas), but if Whoopi weren’t in there (since she’d earned an Oscar after The Color Purple. I’m amazed she didn’t win one there), Diane Ladd would have walked away with that category. So, with the ’74 performance providing good memories, and the 1990 performance probably just missing (and maybe being too batshit to win), they clearly remembered her. You know? Those are two performances that stay with you. And since she hadn’t won, they probably thought, “We should look to give her one of these,” and then, with the weak year, and them already nominating the film — boom, she got right in.

I call it the hangover effect, because I believe that once someone gets nominated the Academy likes, and they don’t win, there’s like a three year period where they can get nominated for just about anything they do as long as it’s remotely within the Oscar wheelhouse. My go-to example for this is Johnny Depp. Depp comes out in 2003 with Captain Jack Sparrow and gets nominated for Best Actor. Now the Academy is like, “Oh, fuck, this guy is awesome, why haven’t we been embracing him all this time?” Meanwhile before this they probably thought he was too weird to embrace. So then, after 2003, he had a three year window where he could do just about anything and get nominated for it. That includes his 2004 nomination — Finding Neverland, which, are you fucking serious? Nobody gets nominated for that. And then his 2007 nomination — Sweeney Todd. After the fact it seems much more obvious that he only got nominated because he’s Johnny Depp, doesn’t it? I know. That’s the hangover effect.

So I think Diane Ladd got nominated because they were looking to give her an Oscar. Problem is, they don’t really think past the nomination process. It all evens out once the ballot is full. And only once they prove to be the clear choice or a mass brainwashing happens, and everyone convinces themselves they need to vote for this person (see: Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, and to a lesser (but not much lesser) extent, Colin Firth), that’s when the person actually wins. You know when it happens. People suddenly are talking up someone they didn’t give a shit about a year earlier but now are like, “Holy shit, how awesome is Colin Firth?”, and everyone else who sees what’s going on is like, “Bitch you didn’t even know Colin Firth’s name a year ago. He was just that dude speaking Portuguese in Love, Actually.” So that’s why I think Diane Ladd got nominated. They were looking to give her one, and she was within the window where she could get nominated for anything, and did something vaguely within the wheelhouse (which, this year the wheelhouse was seemingly to have a pulse. Shame about Jessica Tandy).

So, Ladd and Ruehl were really the only two that were ever going to win this. And since Ladd’s performance was barely anything to write home (or anywhere) about, Ruehl was the only person to vote for here. She really was.

My Vote: Ruehl

Should Have Won: I have no preference here, but, out of these nominees, the one that gave the best performance was Ruehl, so I guess that makes her the one that should have won.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. She was really the only person to vote for in this category. There wasn’t even a popular vote, so it was just a matter of picking the best. It was her. Simple as that. Don’t blame the actress, blame the category. It was weak.

Performances I suggest you see: The Fisher King is a really great movie, and, if you don’t believe me, read that whole story I told you up there. When I go into a movie expecting to hate it, it takes a lot to get me to like it. And I love this movie. That alone should make you want to (or need to) see it. So get on that shit and see it. It’s a great movie.

And Cape Fear is a Martin Scorsese film. That alone makes it essential. That along with the fact that it’s such an iconic story in cinema, that you should see one version of it. And since people skew toward more recent films, because they just can’t watch old movies (fucking idiots), this one would be the more likely of the two to see. Plus it’s just great. So see it, or else you’re a douchebag.

I like my way of recommending things.

And, Rambling Rose, as I said, is not particularly good outside of Laura Dern’s performance. I will give it a recommendation based on that and that alone. You get Bob Duvall as a bonus.

That’s it, really. Everything else you see only if you want to. I cannot be held responsible for the result of your watching them. (Though both are wholly watchable. Fried Green Tomatoes more so. But still — why would you want to?)


5) Nelligan

4) Tandy

3) Ladd

2) Lewis

1) Ruehl

One response

  1. My rankings:
    1. Mercedes Ruehl
    2. Diane Ladd
    3. Jessica Tandy
    4. Juliette Lewis
    5. Kate Nelligan

    August 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

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