The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1982

I love 1982, more for the films that were nominated more than the decisions that were made. Because, Gandhi wins a bunch of awards, and, while I don’t think it needed Best Picture (or was the best film in the category), you can’t really say it was that bad a decision. Ben Kingsley wins Best Actor for it (which I talked about here), which is the most acceptable of the Gandhi awards (despite being in as tough a category as he was in), and Richard Attenborough wins Best Director for it, which (as I said here) I have to like, because it’s Gandhi and I love Richard Attenborough, but, there was a better choice there. Then Meryl Streep wins Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice — case closed — and Jessica Lange wins Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie.

Now, this category in particular is kind of tough. All the nominees are good, but not great. They’re all 2s and 3s for most years with no 1. It’s strange. But the voting aspect is something we’ll deal with later. First, let me fill you in on a bit of trivia with this category. the 1982 and 1983 Best Supporting Actor categories are the only two times two very respected actors were nominated for Oscars. Those actors are John Lithgow and Charles Durning. Both legends in their own right. And the only two times those two were nominated for Oscars, they happened to do so in the same category as each other. How weird is that?


And the nominees were…

Charles Durning, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman

John Lithgow, The World According to Garp

James Mason, The Verdict

Robert Preston, Victor/Victoria

Durning — The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a huge anomaly. I’m not even sure how it got made. It’s a musical in 1982. A few musicals were made around this time. I guess it’s that brief period of nostalgia where they reaffirm, “No, we definitely are not interested in these right now.” The whole movie is just strange from top to bottom.

First off, it’s about — well, you know what it’s about — but what’s strange about it is that this place actually existed. It was kind of a thing that was just there in this town in Texas that no one spoke about, yet all of the men frequented, and the wives were pretty much okay with it. And the film is about this whorehouse, and there’s music and shit. And Dolly Parton runs it, and she’s sleeping with Burt Reynolds, and he’s the sheriff, and there’s singing and dancing, and the town, led by Dom DeLuise (who plays a huge attention-whore douchebag), tries to get the place shut down. And Charles Durning plays the governor or mayor or something — the dude in charge — and he’s barely in the movie. He is seen briefly early on, then he comes in with like twenty minutes left. He has a scene where he sings and dances, which is a lot of fun. But that’s pretty much it. It’s a fun number, but the film itself is just weird. Check the Durning number though:

Durning does have a lot of fun here, and I support the nomination. Plus, he was also in Tootsie this year and was great in that, so, he definitely should be here. As for a vote — nah. Not substantial enough for a vote for me. Then again — it is a generally weak category, so, maybe.

Gossett Jr. — An Officer and a Gentleman is a classic film, and I understand that. I enjoyed it immensely. A bit too melodramatic and sappy and chick-flicky for me — but I guess that’s the appeal.

Richard Gere is the son of Robert Loggia. That’s R, as in … never mind. He’s grown up around his father’s womanizing ways, and, deciding he needs some structure in his life, signs up to be in the Navy. Officer’s school.

He gets there, and befriends David Keith (who most people remember — at least I do — as Jack Parkman in Major League 2 and as Ben Affleck’s father in Daredevil) and some female recruit. And, he doesn’t take it very seriously. He meets Debra Winger and starts banging her. And I mean banging. There are some really long sex scenes in this movie. To the point of hilarity. (Ever see Watchmen?) And Lou Gossett Jr. is the tough, hard ass drill sergeant who immediately takes a disliking to Gere. And he makes his life hard, because he knows his type. And this all culminates in one weekend where Gossett makes Gere stay on base, and personally makes his life a living hell. He makes him do pushups and stuff to the point of exhaustion, and then for a couple hours more. He does all this, trying to force him to quit, because Gere has refused to do so, even though he’s not taking it very seriously. And eventually, there’s that great moment where Gossett is like, “Quit. Come on. Quit. Why won’t you quit?” and Gere is like, “Because I got no place else to go!” And this makes Gere realize his situation, and eventually he straightens up and becomes a good trainee.

Then there’s this storyline where Keith and Winger’s friend get together, and he gets her pregnant, and there’s this thing with his parents, him coming from a big military family, and he drops out to be with her, and his parents disown him, and he goes and hangs himself. This causes Gere to quit, and Gossett is like, “Fuck you, you’re not quitting.” And by now, Gere has become the perfect officer, to the point where they have the training obstacle course and he’s about to break the record, but instead stops and helps the female officer (who has had trouble on the course the whole program) finish the course and graduate. And then the big moment at the end is, Gossett is at graduation, and the big thing is, if they salute with one hand, it’s normal, but if they salute with the other hand, it means they were special. And Gossett salutes with the other hand to Gere, and it’s symbolic and shit.

And then Gere goes and carries Winger out of a factory to end the movie, because there was that stupid plot where she’s like, “You don’t really love me, you’re just gonna fuck me and leave me.” And him coming to the factory is him being like, “No, I love you.” It’s sappy. Women should love it. It’s a good film, too, but, women should (and do) love it.

Gossett is really good here, but, my problem with it is — it shouldn’t have won an Academy Award. It just shouldn’t have. But — since they don’t give Oscars to black actors, it has to be acceptable. So it’s one of those situations where, “Yeah — but also — yeah…” So, I don’t know. I still don’t think he should have won.

Lithgow — The World According to Garp is a movie that surprised the shit out of me. Seriously. I was not expecting to love this as much as I did. I knew about the film vaguely, because of its very unique title, and because my mother had spoken about it a few times over the years. So I knew it was there, but for some reason I had some preconceived notion that I wasn’t going to like it. I don’t know why. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised.

The film is about Robin Williams, as Garp, who grew up in, interesting, shall we say, circumstances. His mother is Glenn Close, who had him when she was a nurse in World War II, and decided she wants a child (but not a husband). So she climbed in bed with a dying soldier and had sex with him. He died shortly after. Garp grows up, wanting to be a writer, and most of the first half of the film has him trying to do that, as well as getting with the daughter of his high school wrestling coach — and we get to see just what his ome situation is like. Glenn Close as his mother is very — interesting. Once she sees he is interested in sex, she offers to get him a prostitute, and literally picks up a hooker off the street for her son, telling her she’s doing so, and starts asking her questions. Then she decides to write a book on human sexuality. This makes her famous and a leading voice of feminism. She starts this halfway house for outcasts of sorts, which we’ll get back to in a second.

Meanwhile, Garp gets married to the girl he was romancing earlier, and they both have trouble being faithful to one another. One of Garp’s sons is killed in a car accident when Garp runs into a car where his wife is blowing another man. So they separate and Garp goes to visit his mother a lot to tell her about his problems. It’s there he meets a bunch of women who, in protest (or something) of a woman who was gang raped and had her tongue cut out so she couldn’t tell anybody, cut their tongues out. Solidarity, I guess. This disgusts Williams, who wonders why anyone would voluntarily do that. He even finds out they got a letter from the woman herself, who told them to stop. But they continue doing it anyway. (This is what I imagine religion to be.) And Garp writes a book about it, and, like his mother, becomes known for it, and also receives lots of death threats.

One day, Garp’s mother is killed during a rally. And the service is held by women, and men are forbidden to attend. Garp sneaks in anyway, and as he is fleeing (after being caught), he runs into the real woman he wrote the book about, who thanks him. Then he goes back to his old school and becomes the wrestling coach, and one day he is shot by one of the women he was critical of in his book, and the film ends with him hallucinating while being taken to a hospital.

It’s a very weird film, and yet, totally, totally engaging. I really loved this film. I thought everyone in it was absolutely wonderful. Now, John Lithgow, who I haven’t mentioned yet, plays one of the people that lives at Garp’s mother’s house. He’s a former football player who is also a transsexual. He finds solace among the other outcasts, and becomes Garp’s mother’s closest helper and a trusted friend of Garp as well. It’s a strong performance by Lithgow, and he did a really great job. In a category like this, I’d seriously consider him for a vote. But, given the circumstances of the category — it’s tough. We’ll see.

Mason — Oh, man, I love this movie. This is a wonderful, wonderful film. David Mamet did a great job with this script, Sidney Lumet directed it well, and Paul Newman just knocked this out of the part. It’s just a great, great film.

Paul Newman plays an ambulance chaser and a drunk, who hasn’t won a case in three years. And one day, along comes a case about a woman who went in to a church-run hospital for a routine procedure and ended up a vegetable. What happened was, you’re not supposed to eat for eight hours before going under anesthesia, and she ate two hours before checking into the hospital, and she told the doctors about this, but the doctor, not wanting to cancel a golf game, proceeded with the surgery anyway. And she ends up brain damaged and in a coma, and the doctor makes all the people involved forge the papers and say it couldn’t be helped. And Newman knows this is a big, big deal. This is the big, redemptive case he’s been waiting for. And he’s worried he’s going to fuck it up.

So he takes it, and the rest of the film is about him trying to overcome the odds to win. Because, the hospital being church-run, they have a lot of power and a lot of money at their disposal. So they hire a crack team of lawyers, led by James Mason, who are a well-oiled machine who are — it’s like when O.J. hired Johnny Cochran to be his lawyer. You know — it’s tough for them to lose. Anyway, Newman is this small, scrappy attorney, who repeatedly turns down lucrative settlements because he knows just paying someone off isn’t the right thing to do. And he’s worried it’s going to blow up in his face because they’ll lose and end up with nothing. And he goes about, trying to find witnesses, all of whom either get discredited or refuse to testify, and spends most of the film looking for the nurse who forged the papers (who has gone into hiding since it happened). And he meets Charlotte Rampling and starts sleeping with her, but discovers she’s working for the other side, and all these bad things happen, and eventually it leads to him making this brilliant closing statement at the end of the film — and of course they win and it ends happily, but, the rest of the film is just utterly captivating. It’s so brilliant.

Anyway, James Mason plays the powerful attorney hired by the defense. And he’s the guy that knows what he’s doing, knows how to win, and for him this is just — let’s get it done. He knows how to manipulate a jury without saying anything. The prosecution gets a black man to testify, they put two black people at the desk with them. They do what they can to discredit everything the prosecution throws at them. And Mason does a great job with it. He’s really good. But, like the rest of the performances on this list, it’s solid, but not quite good enough to stand out for a vote. But, the fact that he is James Mason and never won an Oscar does carry a lot of weight. So we’ll see what happens come voting time (which, as I can see, is very soon).

Preston — Robert Preston, aka Harold Hill from The Music Man, gets his last major role here. It’s a goodie.

Julie Andrews plays a cabaret singer who specializes in opera-type singing. And we see her first auditioning in the club where Preston works. And she’s turned down, and she’s poor and down on her luck (we see her tell her landlord she’ll sleep with him for a meatball — she’s that hungry). Preston, meanwhile, is an openly gay singer who does a lot of drag shows. And he meets Andrews as she is evicted from her apartment, is totally out of money, and is so hungry that she decides to go to a fancy restaurant, order lots of stuff on the menu (since she can’t pay for anything anyway. Go big or go home), and skip out on the check. And he shows up, now out of work himself, and joins her. And they have this huge feast, and try to get out by putting a cockroach in the food and getting it free. But what happens is — the roach is still alive, and crawls away into another woman’s food, and a big food fight ensues. And they escape.

Then Andrews goes back to Preston’s apartment and they become friends. The next day, Preston’s former lover shows up, and Andrews, wearing his clothes and looking like a man, throws the man out. And this gives Preston an idea. He tells her that she’ll go into the clubs, playing a drag singer. Essentially — a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. Only everyone won’t know about the first part. They’ll think she’s a man. So she goes and becomes this huge hit at the clubs. And James Garner, a gangster from Chicago hiding out, sees her and falls in love with him/her. He can’t understand why, and thinks it might make him gay, but he just loves this person. And the joke is that she’s really Julie Andrews and he doesn’t know. And the rest of the film becomes a screwball-esque comedy about her being a woman pretending to be a man who pretends to be women. And eventually, the movie ends with them sort of figuring it out, but everything working out in the end — it’s just fun. It’s a fun film.

Preston gets to play the gay best friend character who is very charismatic, and gets a great drag number at the end of the film. He takes Andrews’s place in the big number at the end. It’s a fun performance. Personally, I wouldn’t vote for him, based on all I’ve seen from the other four nominees, but he definitely should be on this list. He was awesome here.

My Thoughts: Okay, this category poses a problem. All of these nominees are solid entries, but there’s no number one. So, we have to figure out who is the best person to vote for based on everything that can be taken into account.

First, I take off Preston. Loved the performance, but he wouldn’t be more than a #3 in most years. Then, I take Gossett off. I know he’s a black actor, and they don’t win, but that only makes him winning acceptable, it doesn’t mean I have to vote for him. I liked the performance a lot, but, you’ll see in a minute why I can’t vote for him.

Now, Charles Durning — I love the man. I wish he had an Oscar. The problem is, he’s really only in the film for that one five-minute musical number. It’s a great five minutes, and I’d love to be able to vote for him (and he was also in Tootsie, which was a more substantial part, but I kind of have to stick to what was nominated. Like the year Kate Winslet was nominated for The Reader and not for Revolutionary Road. I’d have voted for her for Revolutionary Road, but based solely on the Reader performance, I didn’t vote for her. She should have won, but, I didn’t vote for her). But I can’t vote for Durning here, just because the other two nominees have just as much reason to win and have more substantial parts than he did.

Now, Lithgow and Mason are the two left. Both very solid actors with long and distinguished careers. (You should already see where this is heading.) Clearly, between these two — you have to take Mason. You just have to. How, in a category where there’s no clear #1, and no real downside to it, can you not award the veteran Oscar? It’s James Mason? Who will call that a bad decision? So, I vote Mason, just because, even though Lithgow and Durning also deserved Oscars, and Preston and Gossett were awesome, it’s James Mason, and sometimes the veteran Oscar makes the most sense.

My Vote: Mason

Should Have Won: Mason (and probably also Lithgow and Durning)

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s fine because so few black actors have won, and this was a big win. I’m actually surprised they did it, to be honest with you. From a purely objective standpoint, Mason should have won. Here’s a category with no clear cut winner. And Mason has a good supporting part, and is a veteran. This is historically a category to award the veterans who haven’t won. And after a career that includes Lolita, A Star is Born, North by Northwest, Julius Caesar, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth (okay, maybe not those two, Oscar-wise), Bigger Than Life, Georgy Girl, Heaven Can Wait, etc., you’d think they’d jump to give the man an Oscar. That’s why I think this was a bad decision. But knowing the amount of racism that went on (and still does, to a degree) in the Academy, this was a good decision.

Performances I suggest you see: The Verdict. It’s a perfect film. You need to see it. Sidney Lumet, Paul Newman, David Mamet, the fact that it’s so classic (and the fact that courtroom movies are always interesting), it’s a perfect storm of “must see.” You need to see this if you’re even remotely serious about loving film.

The World According to Garp is such a great film. Completely unique in almost every way, and also directed by the great George Roy Hill. I think you need to see this movie. It’s just so engaging. I speak strongly for the film because I went in not expecting to like it, and here I am, 75-80% of the way through this Oscar Quest, and here I am, watching a film that I like so much, you’d think it was something I’d have watched in the first 15% (I tended to watch the ones I thought I’d like the best first, as one does). So the fact that I fell in love with this movie really makes me want other people to see it, because, even though it might not sound totally interesting, you never know when you’re gonna fall in love with a movie. And trust me — this is a great movie.

An Officer and a Gentleman is a classic film. I personally don’t think it’s “essential,” per se, but it is a classic film and you probably should check it out. I’m mostly interested in the scenes with Gere and Gossett and him becoming a better officer. The parts with him and Winger and the friend killing himself just felt tacked on and melodramatic. But I guess that’s why women love the film. It’s still a solid film, though. You should probably check it out because it’s so well-known within the culture.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas — honestly — only watch it if you love musicals, love Burt Reynolds, love Dolly Parton, or want to see a weird ass movie. Charles Durning is really only in that one scene, and, if you’ve seen that (the clip is up there), that’s really all you need. Seeing Reynolds sing and dance, though, is fun. You may want to give it a shot based on that.

Victor Victoria is a fun film. I recommend it. It’s a big overly long, and there are a lot of musical numbers that aren’t that great (I did fast forward a bit through some of them, just because they seemed so generically staged), but it is a fun film and a well-made one. Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren (aka Miss Scarlett from Clue) are all great, and Blake Edwards directed it. If you’re into any of those people (or think the film sounds interesting), check it out. It’s a solid flick.


5) Preston

4) Durning

3) Gossett

2) Lithgow

1) Mason

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