The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1993

1993. This recap will be quick. Schindler’s List. (See?) It wins Best Picture and Best Director for Steven Spielberg (which I talked about here). ‘Nuff Said. Then Tom Hanks wins Best Actor for Philadelphia, which, as I said here, I think is a terrible decision. Then Best Actor and Best Actress were Holly Hunter (which I agree with) and Anna Paquin (which I don’t agree with), respectively, for The Piano.

And then this category — it’s one of the most stacked Best Supporting Actor categories I have ever seen. It’s seriously incredible. And yet somehow, the Academy managed to pick the single worst performance they could have. Well, okay — second worst. Malkovich was probably the worst choice here (film-wise, not actor-wise). But, still — really? I love Tommy Lee Jones, I love The Fugitive, and I love his performance as Sam Gerard, but come the fuck on. Did you see what Ralph Fiennes, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pete Postlethwaite did this year? What the fuck?


And the nominees were…

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

DiCaprio — Here’s another film I avoided for a long time just because it was one that was brought up constantly at my house. My mother would always watch this movie when it was on and say, “My mother was the same way.” And, after years and years of hearing that, something inside me was like, “Don’t watch that movie.” Don’t know why, but it did. And then I finally saw it — Jesus, this is a great movie.

The film is about a family in a small town. The mother is about 600 pounds and has diabetes. She’s been a recluse for many years because of her weight. The father is dead. Hung himself in the basement. The oldest son is played by Johnny Depp (he’s Gilbert), and is lonely. He hates it in the town and wants to leave, but he loves his brother, Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s developmentally disabled, and DiCaprio plays it perfectly. Holy shit, DiCaprio hit this one out of the park. You completely believe in this character, through and through. And the film is about Depp living with all of this, and, I don’t want to give too much away, but he meets Juliette Lewis, and starts a relationship with her, and he ends up sticking by his brother, despite the burden he is. He realizes it’s not his fault. It’s a pretty great movie.

I’m serious when I say DiCaprio nails this. If this were any other year (and I mean that), he would have flat out won. (Well, maybe not the two on either side of this one. Though, maybe 1992…) Seriously though, the only thing that’ll prevent me from voting for DiCaprio here is Ralph Fiennes. That’s how good he is.

Fiennes — Speaking of Ralph Fiennes — holy shit, how good was he here?

I’m not gonna summarize the film. It’s Schindler’s List. If there’s a list of films you NEED to have seen as a human being — this is on that list. You not having seen it is your own damn fault. But holy shit is Fiennes incredible as Amon Göth. Talk about a villain for all time. Fiennes fucking nails this. He is genius. How he didn’t win baffles me. Seriously, just watch the movie. You’ll be amazed at how both Fiennes and Liam Neeson didn’t win.

Jones — This hurts me. Because this film is a gold standard of the action-thriller genre, and Tommy Lee Jones is an actor who deserves to have an Oscar. But, in this category, I can’t see how he won. I just can’t. I’m not against it, because Tommy Lee Jones is awesome and the performance is awesome, but, I’m just amazed that he won. How did it happen?

The film is about Harrison Ford as a doctor whose wife is killed. And he shows up and becomes the primary suspect. He says there was a man with one leg who did it, but all evidence points to him. And he is convicted and goes to jail. And he manages to escape and is out on the run, trying to figure out who framed him and why. And the film is exciting from start to finish. It’s amazing. There’s a reason it was nominated for Best Picture. But, Tommy Lee Jones plays the U.S. Marshal who is assigned to bring in Ford. And he’s basically a sarcastic son of a bitch. His character is best summed up by the exchange he has with Ford in the sewers, before Ford jumps out. Ford says, “I didn’t kill my wife,” and Jones says, “I don’t care.” Jones doesn’t care. He’s doing his job. And his job is to bring this man in. And he does his job. Well. It just so happens that he is smart enough to discover that Ford didn’t do it, and ends up being kind of a nice guy.

It’s a great film, and a great, fun performance. But, seriously, how did he win this? Is there anyone that would seriously vote for him in this category? (Aside from the majority of the Academy?)

Malkovich — In the Line of Fire — wow, what’s with all the action films this year? — is a Clint Eastwood film. And I guess it’s sort of a drama. In fact, it’s mostly a drama. But it feels kind of like an action film. It’s the type of film that Eastwood has perfected over his career. The Dirty Harry.

Eastwood plays a secret service agent who is haunted by his past — he was there with Kennedy. He feels responsible for not covering him and letting him die. He’s aging, and not really the best at his job anymore (it’s mostly for younger men), and is struggling with all of this. Then, a plot comes to kill the president. It’s Malkovich. He’s a crazy ex-marine or something, and basically calls Eastwood to tell him he’s gonna do it, and has all these philosophical conversations with him. And it’s the standard progression — Eastwood looks for information, follows up, has one encounter with Malkovich, who doesn’t kill him despite having the chance to (because it’s part of the game. It’s kind of like Se7en in that regard), and it culminates in the moment where we know Malkovich is gonna strike — and then Eastwood manages to beat him and reaffirm that he can still do it. You know the film. You’ve seen it many times.

Malkovich is good here. He does a good job of playing that sane/crazy character, who is clearly insane, but talks like he isn’t. The insane bad guy character. He’s lively here. I’m not completely sure what came over the Academy to nominate him here, but hey, I’ll take it. Malkovich is awesome. But, in this category, he’s clearly a #5. Even for a vote. It’s just way too strong. I’d love to see this man have an Oscar (and he probably will, one day), but this isn’t the year or the role.

Postlethwaite — Oh, Pete. How I wish you could have won this. You were such a respected actor, and only managed this single nomination. A shame.

This film is pretty amazing. Jim Sheridan movies have a habit of being like that. (At least, up to In America. After that…) It’s about Daniel Day-Lewis, as a twenty-something in Ireland, who’s pretty much a good kid. He fucks around a bunch, but not anymore than most people. We first see him, standing on a rooftop, playing air guitar to “Voodoo Child.” And the British troops stationed in his town (it’s that British/Irish thing) chase him and stuff. He’s that kind of troublemaker. And he goes out to Belfast with his friend, and they end up going into this one apartment (I forget why), and end up being there when the cops come raid it. Turns out — the occupants are the people who bombed a pub (in a very famous bombing — this is based on a true story). And they arrest Daniel Day-Lewis and his friend, and thy basically beat a confession out of the friend, and frame Day-Lewis for the crime. And to make it worse, they go and arrest Postlethwaite, his father, for the crime as well. And it’s clearly a trumped up charge (they basically tell him as much, even though he knows it, because obviously he didn’t do it. But they tell him they know he didn’t do it but are framing him for it anyway). And the two spend like twenty years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. And the film is about their time in prison. And Postlethwaite dies at one point, and then Day-Lewis ends up meeting Emma Thompson, who is investigating the case, and ends up finding evidence that’s used to acquit him. It’s a great, great movie.

Postlethwaite is really good as Day-Lewis’s father, as he always is, and, honestly, while I’d probably consider him third for a vote based on performance, this is a category where, an actor’s stature is clearly something to take into account (how else could Tommy Lee Jones have beaten these other performances?), so, with that in mind, he’s definitely a strong contender here. Because he’s great and he’s got stature. Then again … all of these actors do. Fuck, this is a tough category.

My Thoughts: Tough decisions have to be made. Here goes nothing….

All five of these actors deserve Oscars. Strangely, only one has one, and it’s because of this category. So judging based on that is out. Then, there’s stature. All of them deserve to have Oscars. So that’s out. See what I mean by tough?

Malkovich is off first. Clearly. The performance is not substantial enough to win in this category. And honestly, in the same vein, Tommy Lee Jones has to come off, too. He just does. All he does is say sarcastic shit all movie. We’re dealing with what might be the strongest Best Supporting Actor category of all time. That’s just not gonna cut it.

And, then, Postlethwaite has to come off, just because — I liked the other two performances better. And then, DiCaprio, while I loved his performance — Fiennes was just too damn good. I know I could have led with that and saved us time, but, I really needed to be sure about it. The category is too strong to just be making blanket statements like, “He’s the best, he’s the vote.” It’s just too strong. But, Fiennes was the best, and since the playing field is mostly even here (nobody won one after this and all are actors who deserve awards), it’s coming down to the best performance, and his is clearly it.

My Vote: Fiennes

Should Have Won: Honestly, for performance, Fiennes. After that (a long way down), then, in this order: Postlethwaite, DiCaprio. (Dicaprio gets the short end because he was like 18 here.) But no matter how you look at it, Ralph Fiennes clearly deserves this.

Is the result acceptable?: That’s tough. Based solely on the performance — this is a terrible decision. Tommy Lee Jones was at best fourth here. At best. That’s not to say his performance wasn’t entertaining as all hell. It’s just — did you see what everyone else did? Fiennes is clearly your winner based solely on performance. DiCaprio has the youth factor and the performance going for him, but, he wasn’t gonna get enough votes in a category this strong. Postlethwaite gets veteran/respected actor votes plus performance votes. And Malkovich is just there, kind of the way James Woods was just there in 1996. Great actor, always good, just, not gonna win for that role. Not an Academy Award-winning performance. The only thing Jones had going for him was the fact that he was a veteran and was fun in his performance. Still, no better than fourth. Almost every way you look at it, it’s a poor decision. And yet, he’s Tommy Lee Jones and he’s awesome, so, him having an Oscar is great. And yet….

So, I can’t call this one. Too tough. (The answer is yes, but, I like Tommy Lee Jones, so I want him to have an Oscar, so, I’m gonna keep delaying a decision and eventually end with a non-answer so we can just move on and leave it as is.)

Performances I suggest you see: Schindler’s List. The word “essential” is not strong enough to convey how much you need to see this.

The Fugitive. There are five godfathers to the modern-day action film. They are: Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Speed, The Matrix and this film. I think, based on the company, you understand how much you need to see this one. (I know most people would say Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s not. That’s the godfather to these films.)

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is a great film that I highly, highly recommend. DiCaprio is so fucking good here it’s beyond words. And you get Depp. There’s no reason not to see this one.

In the Name of the Father is also a brilliant film that I cannot recommend highly enough. If you’ve seen My Left Foot, In America or The Boxer — you’ll understand how much you need to see this. This film is so incredible. Jim Sheridan has a perfect way of approaching a story, which is to completely ground it in intimacy. It’s like how Coppola approached The Godfather. This (as well as that) is a film that’s a much bigger film. That’s a big crime epic, and this is like an Irish version of The Hurricane. And yet, it’s deeply rooted in its culture and in family, and it’s just as interested in little things as it is in the major story. And that makes it special. This is a great, great film, and I think you should see it to see how great films are crafted.

And In the Line of Fire — it’s a fine film. I enjoyed it. But, it’s not essential. You don’t need to see this. Honestly, I barely remember it past Malkovich’s performance and the general structure. Good film, worth checking out because of all involved, but definitely not essential by any means.


5) Malkovich

4) DiCaprio

3) Postlethwaite

2) Jones

1) Fiennes

One response

  1. MovieFan

    Thanks. Loved your analysis, Fiennes should have clearly won this but I would not have minde if Leo or Pete won. Jones win was a joke in my opinion

    August 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

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