The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1998
I hate this category. It’s one of the weakest Best Supporting Actress categories ever. It’s so bad.
Also, 1998 — Shakespeare in Love, beats Saving Private Ryan. People have strong opinions on this. That about covers it. Fortunately, Steven Spielberg won Saving Private Ryan (which I talked about here), so I feel, as long as they got that category right, it doesn’t matter which way they went on Best Picture. Then, Best Actor was Robert Benigni for Life is Beautiful, which we can all agree, is the single worst Best Actor decision in the history of the category. It was just awful. Then, Best Actress was Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love (which I talked about here), which I like as a decision. I know it’s not the best decision, but — well, I explained it in the article. Then Best Supporting Actor was James Coburn for Affliction (which I talked about here), which I don’t like as a decision, but I like because I like James Coburn. Still, not a good decision in that category.
So that’s 1998. I like, two of the decisions of the six. Two I can go with, but I think they could have been better. Then two I think are just terrible. So it’s a mixed bag. Leading to this category…
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1998
And the nominees were…
Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice
Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
Rachel Griffiths, Hilary and Jackie
Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters
Bates — I love Kathy Bates. She’s an amazing actress, and has done a lot of good work in her career. But she should not have been nominated for this movie. This nomination feels like a requisite nomination for the film more than anything. The film is about topical material — it’s basically about Bill and Hillary Clinton (they don’t hide it) — and Mike Nichols is one of those directors, like Clint Eastwood, whose films must get at least one nomination by the Academy. So this was always going to happen. It helps that Kathy Bates is who she is and that this category is so fucking weak.
The film is basically about Bill and Hillary Clinton. He’s running for President, and all these scandals start popping up (mistresses and such), and he and his team deal with it. And Kathy Bates is the PR lady who helps out — the kind willing to dig up all the dirt and keep all the secrets quiet. She’s also a lesbian, and is very no-nonsense. That’s called bait, in Oscar terms. And she’s — she’s fine. She does the stuff, then eventually she does something illegal — ruin’s a dude’s career — and she realizes she can’t do it anymore, because she’d been with them for years and years, and they never deliberately fucked over anyone else, and here they are, willing to do it, and she goes away in her truck and kills herself. That’s the character. Oscar bait to the max. The film is pretty good, too. It’s major downside is how obviously it’s about Clinton and won’t cop to it. That feels week.
Bates’s performance — it’s good, spirited, but, I can’t vote for this. Not at all. Come on, now. Veteran nom, requisite nom for the film, and a product of a weak category. She gets high ranking, but no vote. Them’s the breaks.
Blethyn — Little Voice is a weird film. I’m not quite sure what it is. But I can tell that Brenda Blethyn’s performance is really, really great. So that’s something.
The film is about a girl who doesn’t speak. She can, she just doesn’t. She’s a lower class Londoner, and Brenda Blethyn is her mother. She’s gloriously low class. And she makes fun of her daughter all the time, she’s crude, and she sleeps with a lot of men. So she comes home one night with Michael Caine, who is a low-rent theater agent who manages really bottom-tier acts. The kind that do stuff at birthday parties. Really low stuff. And he comes home, and Blethyn throws her daughter upstairs so she can fuck Michael Caine, and the girl — whose name is LV (for Little Voice) — since she has all these problems, goes up to her room, blasts all these records, and as the songs go on, she sings along to them. And she has the ability to perfectly mimic all of the voices. Judy Garland, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” she can nail it perfectly. And Michael Caine hears this. Brenda Blethyn tells her to shut that bullshit off and puts on shitty pop songs. Caine hears her and is like, “I can make money off of this.” So they get her a stage show, and she goes on. The thing is, though, she’s so shy, she can’t do it. But, she gets confidence whenever she sees the ghost of her dead father. So he comes up and she does the songs. And Caine is now thinking he’s got a huge hit. And he invites a big-tier manager to come listen to her. And he comes, and, of course, a confluence of things happen, and she doesn’t go on, and the house catches fire, and burns down, and basically LV ends up with Ewan McGregor, and Brenda Blethyn ends up sad and alone.
The film isn’t that great, honestly. But — Brenda Blethyn’s performance is so fully formed that it’s really something to behold. She’s amazing here. However, there are two things in the way of her winning this category in a landslide. One is the lack of likability of the character, and two is Judi Dench.
Dench — Judi, Judi, Judi. Have I mentioned how much I love this woman?
I think we know the story of Shakespeare in Love by now, right? Shakespeare, young, in debt, writing a comedy about Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s daughter. Then he meets and falls in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, a noblewoman, engaged to another guy, and his affair with her turns his play into what will become Romeo and Juliet. And she wants to be an actress, so she pretends to be a man and acts in the play. You know all this.
Anyway, Judi Dench plays Queen Elizabeth. She’s a patron of the theater, and helps engender a bet between Shakespeare and Colin Firth (Gwyneth’s fiancé) over whether theater could give insight into the nature of love and human existence. And she’s basically there to be regal and condescending and funny (in that domineering way). And she shows up later, having seen Romeo and Juliet, and ends up saving Gwyneth’s ass, because they find out she’s a woman, and Judi’s like, “Woman? No, that ain’t no woman,” and everyone’s like, “Fuck, she’s the Queen.” It’s pretty great.
Now, Judi, as always, is really great in the role, and knocks it out of the park. The only downside to the performance is really that she doesn’t have much screen time. Based on performance, Brenda Blethyn is probably the better of the two. I get that. But, Judi is much more likable, her film is much better, and — she’s Judi Dench. So, I think we need to take that into account come vote time.
Griffiths — Hilary and Jackie is a film that’s so boring and pointless — it must have been made by Miramax. I don’t even have to look. I just know it inherently.
The film is about two sisters. As children, Hilary is the talented one. She’s the one people say is going places. Then, after a certain age, Jackie becomes the talented one. Both are musicians. Then, in their 20s, Jackie is going around to other countries, playing in major halls, and is well known as a cellist. And Hilary is playing in orchestras, trying to get her own gig, and isn’t doing as well as Jackie is. But, she gets married. And the film is about how Jackie sort of edges onto her sister’s life, and how both sort of want the lives the other one has. Like, Jackie comes over and asks Hilary to sleep with her husband, and Hilary agrees, because — well I don’t know why. She just does. And they have this sort of weird relationship, because Hilary can’t say no to Jackie, and Jackie is sort of a free spirit, and kind of borderline personality disorder, but — none of it matters, because Jackie gets MS or something and slowly dies. That’s the film. It’s sick, how badly this film is set up to win Oscars. It’s based on real people, but, just watching it, it’s clearly chum for Oscar votes. It’s not even enticing chum either. It’s just — boring, and generic, as bait goes.
Anyway, Griffiths plays Hilary. And — she’s just kind of, there. I don’t understand this nomination at all, and, honestly, she shouldn’t have gotten it. Well, in a stronger year. Here, whatever. Let her get nominated. Clearly a #5, though. I don’t think anyone in their right mind, having seen all five of these, could even think about voting for this performance.
Redgrave — Gods and Monsters, is a fascinating film. It’s about James Whale, who directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. He was one of the few openly gay directors working in Hollywood, and we see him as an old man, played by Ian McKellen. He has flashbacks to World War I, and spends his days mostly luring attractive young men to the house and making them take off their clothes. And then he meets Brendan Faser, who reminds him of the creature from Frankenstein, and he sort of, befriends him. He starts sketching him, and they become friendly, and it’s sort of uneasy at first, because Fraser is unnerved by this gay dude who is vaguely coming onto him. But then they become friends, and it starts to become this thing where — Whale is trying to make it like the film. He wants Fraser to kill him the way the creature killed Frankenstein. It’s very fascinating. I highly recommend the film. McKellen is terrific in it.
Lynn Redgrave plays McKellen’s maid. She’s the kind of maid that’s been working there for a long time. She’s Eastern European, and is very no nonsense. She doesn’t approve of Whale’s — proclivities — and makes her displeasure known. And she acts as kind of the comic relief of the film — the crusty old maid. It’s a fun performance, she does a good job with it, but — she’s not really more than a #4 here, and a #3 for a vote. At best. This category is really Dench’s and Blethyn’s. It was always between those two.
My Thoughts: Right off the bat — Rachel Griffiths didn’t really do anything and I’m not sure why she’s nominated. She’s out. #5. Lynn Redgrave was good, but, no better than a #4 here, 3 for a vote. Kathy Bates — entertaining, but, never gonna win. Stature nomination. She’s #3, 4 for a vote. This category really comes down to either Judi Dench or Brenda Blethyn, and I think we all recognize that.
Now, both are very respected actresses. Both should have won Oscars at various points. Blethyn was amazing in Secrets & Lies, which is a film I dislike outside of her performance. She was amazing in it. and Judi — well, we know just how reliable Judi’s been the past 15 years. So either one is a good decision here.
The differences between the two — the deciding differences — for the Academy, at least — are, first, Judi is in the Best Picture winner. That counts for a lot. The Academy will jump at the chance at giving a Best Picture winner acting awards whenever they get the chance. That’s one. A Best Picture film vs. a film not nominated anywhere else — the Best Picture wins every time. The other thing — likability. This should all be second-hand by now. It should be like when a coach talks about effort. You’re like, “All right, Jesus, we get it.” Judi plays the much more likable character. Sure, she’s stern, but she’s likable. That’s just her outside demeanor. She does the right thing. She admits she was wrong, she overlooks the fact that something illegal is going on because it was something beautiful. Blethyn, on the other hand — her character is a bitch. A real bitch. She’s not nice at all. And that’s the difference for them.
For me? I look at it and go — it’s Judi Dench. Judi wins every time. How do you not vote Judi? Not only that — over their careers, Judi has also been the more reliable actress, of sorts. She’s been in the Oscar mix a lot, and, were it not for this category, she might never have won one. Or worse, took one from someone else she was up against. This was a perfect category for her to win. And, like I said — it’s Judi. I always vote Judi.
My Vote: Dench
Should Have Won: Dench, Blethyn
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Between her or Blethyn, both were good decisions, I consider this one the better of the two. They were really only going to make one of two acceptable choices here (and for my money, they were only gonna make the one), so it was gonna be acceptable no matter what. This one, I feel, is better. Because look what Judi did after this. Isn’t it nice knowing she has an Oscar? Yes. Yes it is. I answered that question for you.
Performances I suggest you see: Shakespeare in Love is a film you need to see. Not only is it a great film — it’s a controversial Best Picture winner. So, if you want to complain that it won over Saving Private Ryan, you need to see it. It’s only fair. And on top of it — it really is a great film. It’s entertaining as all hell. You may not think it should have won, but god damn it will you respect the hell out of it as a good movie. See it.
Gods and Monsters is a great film. A really great film. I highly, highly recommend this film. It’s a fascinating look at a man deeply rooted in Hollywood lore. Ian McKellen’s performance is so great here. It’s really, really great. If you want good movies to watch — look no further. You got one right here.
Primary Colors, despite the on-the-nose nature of it, is actually a good film. The film is engaging, the performances are strong, and it’s a good watch. I do recommend it. Plus it’s a Mike Nichols film. You rarely can go wrong with one of those.