The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1993
I love how quickly you can get through 1993. Schindler’s List wins Best Picture and Best Director for Steven Spielberg (talked about here). Anyone want to argue? Exactly.
Tom Hanks wins Best Actor for Philadelphia (talked about here), which I’m very open about hating as a decision. Liam Neeson really should have won this. (Let’s not also forget that Daniel Day-Lewis was great in both In the Name of the Father and The Age of Innocence this year.) Then Best Actress was Holly Hunter for The Piano, which I’m cool with, since I love Holly Hunter and she was the best decision in the category. And then Best Supporting Actor this year was Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive (talked about here), which, despite my love for Tommy Lee Jones, was a terrible decision. It really was. Ralph Fiennes, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pete Postlethwaite gave better, and more vote-worthy performances (especially Fiennes). But, in all, in terms of who and what won, this is a strong year, and one I like.
Which brings us to this category. What happened here? I love Anna Paquin, and I love the precocious child role (as I’ve said many times in the past), but what did the Academy see that warranted a win here? (I also think her winning this caused the Academy to shy away from voting for these types of performances in the future, which can explain how Abigail Breslin didn’t win such a terrible category in 2006 and how Saoirsie Ronan didn’t win for her brilliant work in Atonement in 2007.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1993
And the nominees were…
Holly Hunter, The Firm
Anna Paquin, The Piano
Rosie Perez, Fearless
Winona Ryder, The Age of Innocence
Emma Thompson, In the Name of the Father
Hunter — The fact that Holly Hunter was nominated twice, and the fact that this was the second nomination tells you there was no way she wasn’t winning Best Actress. Don’t get me wrong, she was good here, but this isn’t something a person is normally nominated for an Academy Award for. It’s like Al Pacino getting nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross the year (before this, actually) he won for Scent of a Woman. It’s not that he was bad in the film, it’s just — Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemmon gave better performances, and were much more deserving of that nomination. Pacino got in because they really wanted to give him an Oscar. A similar thing happened to Jamix Foxx in 2004. In case it wasn’t already a given that he was gonna win Best Actor for Ray, they went and nominated him for Best Supporting Actor for Collateral, where he is the lead of the film. And when Tom Cruise was much more worthy of the nomination (since he is technically the actor in the film more worthy of the Supporting nomination. Of the two.) They’re statement nominations. They’re making it known — “Oh we’re voting for this motherfucker.”
There have been very few times where someone has been nominated for two Oscars in the same year (for acting) and has come away empty-handed. I’m going to recap this now, because I like trivia:
First was 1988, Sigourney Weaver. She was nominated lead for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting for Working Girl. Won neither. Mostly because Jodie Foster gave the best performance in the Best Actress category and should have won, and Supporting — I don’t even know why she was nominated. I really don’t.
Then was — actually — this year. Emma Thompson. She was nominated lead for The Remains of the Day (she was awesome in it), and in this category for In the Name of the Father, which I’m gonna talk about in just a little bit. But she didn’t win because she won Best Actress the year before this.
Then was 2002, Julianne Moore. She was nominated lead for Far from Heaven, and Supporting for The Hours. And, honestly, she should have won Best Actress this year. Nicole Kidman winning for The Hours is such a bullshit win because she’s a supporting character in the film. Julianne Moore was clearly the choice there.
And then was 2007, Cate Blanchett nominated lead for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Supporting for I’m Not There. She didn’t win lead because she’d been nominated for the same character in the first film back in 1998, and didn’t win there. Plus she was up against both Marion Cotillard and Julie Christie, who weren’t losing. And Supporting — I don’t know what happened there. Because both Blanchett and Ronan were clearly the best in the category, with Ruby Dee getting the veteran vote and Amy Ryan getting the “electric” vote (that flashy, “holy shit” character that pops up in films. Like Morgan Freeman in Street Smart). Makes no sense. But, these are all the people that were nominated twice and came away empty handed.
(And for more trivia(l) purposes, the times when people were nominated twice and won were:
2004, Jamie Foxx and 1992, Al Pacino, as I said before. And for the women — 1938, Fay Bainter (won Supporting), 1942, Teresa Wright (won Supporting, though I think she should have won lead), 1982, Jessica Lange (won Supporting), and this year, Holly Hunter (obviously). And also, if we’re counting it, Barry Fitzgerald was nominated both lead and Supporting for the same role in 1944, and won Supporting.)
Okay, history lesson’s over. I like it when we do those. Breaks up the monotony of standard procedure. Plus it feels like an easter egg. You never know when I’m gonna do something like this in one of the categories. Makes it feel special. Like when the wife agrees to dress like a schoolgirl or something for your anniversary.
Anyway, let’s talk about The Firm, huh?
The Firm is one of those films that never gets nominated for Oscars. It’s a great film and all, but — not Oscar material. It’s a thriller. A popcorn thriller. Not an award-winner. And it’s based on a John Grisham book, which, typically has been fertile ground for good Hollywood films (The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker). It’s about a young lawyer who’s just graduation law school, and is getting offers from everyone. He’s like the #1 draft pick. And all these prestigious firms are lobbying for him, making him offers. And then, out of nowhere, this one firm comes in and offers him a shitload of money. Like, way more than anyone else is offering. And he’s never heard of them, and finds out they’re in Tennessee. And he goes there with his wife and starts working for them. And they give him a house and a car and all this stuff, and he thinks it’s great. But then he starts finding out about all this other stuff going on after two of the firm’s associates are found dead.
He finds out that the firm is embroiled in all these illegal activities, are mob connected, and kill anyone who tries to stop working for them. And Cruise starts getting contacted by the FBI, and then the firm starts becoming suspicious of him because he started inquiring about the dead lawyers. So he gets backed into a corner where he has to play all sides in order to find a way out. I won’t tell you what happens, because it’s entertaining. It’s a great movie.
Holly Hunter plays the secretary/lover of a private investigator (played by Gary Busey, which makes it infinitely more entertaining). Cruise goes to him to find out about the dead lawyers, which gets him killed. Hunter survives because she’s under the desk blowing him at the time. And she finds Cruise and starts helping him take down the firm (and she also ends up with Cruise’s brother, played by David Strathairn, but that’s another story).
Like I said, it’s not a performance that wins Oscars. Nor is it really something that should be nominated. But the film is awesome, and Holly Hunter is awesome, so we’ll go with it. But no vote. Come on, now.
Paquin — And, The Piano. The start of the Miramax.
The film is about Holly Hunter, a mute woman who is sold into marriage to a New Zealander (Sam Neill). She has a daughter (Anna Paquin), who speaks for her. They have their own set of sign language whereby they communicate. Otherwise, Hunter communicates through playing the piano. She meets Harvey Keitel, a white man who lives with the maori people, and she starts teaching him to play piano. She starts sleeping with him. And Paquin, who started accepting Neill as her father, tells him about the affair, and he cuts off Hunter’s finger so she can’t play piano. Then he sends her away. She ties herself to her piano and dumps it into the ocean, trying to kill herself. Then she decides she’s over it and comes back up. That’s it. That’s the film.
It’s not a bad film — I got through it. But I honestly don’t see the appeal of this as an Oscar film at all. Not even a little bit. Holly Hunter is great through. I’ll give it that. But we’re here to talk about Anna Paquin’s performance. She’s good, and likable, but — I really don’t see how she could have won past a huge vote split between three of the other nominees. The kind of thing where, she wins with 24% of the vote. Really, though — watching all the performances on this list, how can anyone really say she should have won? I don’t get it.
Perez — This surprised the hell out of me when I first heard about it. Rosie Perez? That Rosie Perez? Nominated for an Oscar? It made no sense to me. Then I saw the film. It makes sense.
The film starts with a plane crash. Jeff Bridges is on a plane that crashes. And as it crashes, he makes peace with the fact that he’s gonna die. And after that, he loses his fear of death. Which he finds freeing. And afterward, he starts living in this alternate state of consciousness, where he’s totally without fear. He starts eating strawberries, which he was formerly deadly allergic to, without any problem. He starts rethinking his life and thinking about the questions of life and death. And he ends up being sent to a PTSD counseling session with the rest of the victims, and he’s the only one there without any aftereffects. And there he meets Rosie Perez, whose infant son died on the plane. She feels guilty for having survived when her son didn’t, and is having a real tough time because of it. And the two become friends, and Bridges helps her get past her guilt (by almost getting them both killed in a car accident). And then eventually he almost dies again by eating a strawberry, and then overcomes the whole thing and returns to normal. It’s an interesting film. Very interesting. I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it.
Rosie Perez, though, is by far the best thing about this movie. Her performance is fantastic. You actually do feel like this woman lost her child. The material lets her down a bit, ultimately, but her performance is still really good. I totally get why she was nominated. Though, honestly, I wouldn’t put her any better than fourth for a vote (over Paquin), and fifth in the rankings, just because I liked the film the least. She was good, but, not for a win.
Ryder — Oh, Winona. In a Martin Scorsese film. How great is that?
The Age of Innocence is perhaps the least Martin Scorsese picture Martin Scorsese has ever made. This and perhaps Kundun. It’s a period piece based on an Edith Wharton novel. It’s a costume drama. Set in New York in the 1870s. And it’s about Daniel-Day Lewis, who is engaged to Winona Ryder but ends up falling for Michelle Pfeiffer, her cousin. Pfeiffer is a woman who is divorcing her husband (a big no-no), and that makes her both a social outcast and a free woman. And as he falls in love with Pfeiffer (whom he, as her lawyer, convinced to not go through with her planned divorce), he starts to become disillusioned with high society and starts questioning his planned marriage to Winona. And the film is about whether or not he’ll do what society wants or what he wants.
Now, Winona plays Day-Lewis’s fiancé, and does a fine job in the role. A really good job. You really feel sympathy for this character. Her big scene in the film is when Day-Lewis is about to tell her he’s going to leave her and go to Europe to follow Pfeiffer (who had announced she was leaving), and she preempts him by telling him she’s pregnant, and that she informed Pfeiffer of this two weeks earlier. And the whole time she heavily implies that she knows about the affair, and deliberately told Pfeiffer she was pregnant so Pfeiffer would leave for Europe. And Day-Lewis ends up having to stay with her for the sake of the child. It’s a really good performance. And she was actually the favorite of this category, if I remember it correctly. And personally, I’d have voted for her. I’ll explain why in a minute, but, I think she’s the vote.
Thompson — In the Name of the Father is just an amazing, amazing film. It’s about Daniel-Day Lewis, a rebellious Irish teen of sorts, who gets wrongly imprisoned (along with his father) for a pub bombing he didn’t commit. And the British know this, but keep him locked in jail anyway. And the film is about the two of them being stuck in jail for almost twenty years. It’s amazing. Just watch it. You’ll see.
Emma Thompson plays a British lawyer who thinks Day-Lewis and his father are innocent. So she goes about trying to get him freed. And he goes along with it at first, but after his father dies, he stops helping her, so she has to look for the evidence on her own. And she has to deal with the place where all the records are kept, which is deliberately hiding evidence. And she goes there every day, poring over all these notes and stuff, and eventually finds the evidence when a new guy is in, filling in for someone who’s sick, and lets her go get the file herself. And there she sees stuff that’s supposed to be hidden. And she gets a retrial and Day-Lewis is set free.
I have to tell you — I’m normally a person who won’t vote for someone if they won too recently. I like to spread the wealth. But, here, midway through this movie, I was ready to hand Emma Thompson this statue. She was fucking great here. Really. She gave the best performance out of everyone. But, I’m not sure if I’m gonna vote for her. Let me explain…
My Thoughts: While Emma Thompson was my favorite performance here, I love Winona Ryder as an actress very much. And, honestly, while I think both of Emma Thompson’s performances from this year were better than her Oscar-winning performance, I’m willing to give up the difference in performance quality between her and Winona in order to give Winona an Oscar. It’s a personal preference. But either way, you see how Anna Paquin is nowhere near this equation. That’s really all I want to make clear. I don’t care if Winona or Emma is your vote, as long as Anna Paquin isn’t. As long as we’re arguing the right things, I’m happy. So I vote Winona.
My Vote: Ryder
Should Have Won: Ryder, Thompson
Is the result acceptable?: I don’t know, is it? I can’t call this one. I don’t think it’s a good decision, but, are we gonna deprive a kid of an Oscar? She turned out to be a pretty good actress. But still, I say Emma gave the best performance and Winona should have won. Is it acceptable? You tell me.
Performances I suggest you see: In the Name of the Father is a film that gets the highest recommendation I can give for a film that isn’t essential. You don’t need to see it as a human, but I highly recommend you see it, because it’s incredible. Great performances all around, and utterly engaging through and through. It’s like an Irish Shawshank.
The Firm is also a great, great film. I bet — because I think most people are like this — that when you see a lot of the films I’m recommending on this list, you think, “work.” That is, when I recommend a film that seems like an Oscar film, you think you need to be in a certain frame of mind to see it, that you have to give it your full attention, that you need to make sure you take it all in, which in turn feels like you have to put in effort to watch it, unlike something like Transformers, which you can just sit back and watch. I know. I know how you think. Trust me — this film is one that you don’t need to put effort into. You can just watch it. It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a thriller. Honestly, when have you needed to put effort into a Tom Cruise movie that wasn’t directed by Stanley Kubrick? This is an awesome film, and you should check it out. That is, if you haven’t already seen it one of the million times it’s been on TNT or TBS on Saturday afternoon.
The Age of Innocence is a Martin Scorsese film. And that alone pretty much makes it essential for anyone seriously interested in film. Now, in his entire oeuvre, this is one of the lesser works, but that shouldn’t matter.
Here’s the Martin Scorsese scale:
Everyone: Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Casino
People even remotely interested in movies: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Aviator, The King of Comedy, Mean Streets
People interested in movies who love Martin Scorsese movies/people actively seeking out the works of certain actors: Bringing Out the Dead, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Music fans/people in the above category: The Last Waltz, Shine a Light, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.
Hardcore film people: The Age of Innocence, After Hours, New York, New York. And even then, most film students would probably only see these films because they love Martin Scorsese.
Wesleyan Film Students/Real hardcore film people: Kundun, Boxcar Bertha, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, American Boy, My Voyage to Italy, etc.
(Our senior seminar was based around Scorsese, and always is. So, everyone who’s graduated from my school has all seen everything the man’s ever made.)
What I’m saying is, even if you love Martin Scorsese, this is in that range where, most people probably wouldn’t see it. These categories aren’t hard-and-fast, but they are pretty accurate for most people. Most people haven’t seen The Age of Innocence. So I consider it a film that tests your dedication to movies. Not as much as Kundun does, but this will work. It’s a great movie, and it’s a Martin Scorsese movie that stars Daniel Day-Lewis. You should have been sold before I started recommending it to you. So, maybe you should think about where you stand as a movie lover based on that.
The Piano is a good film. I don’t love it, but I do recognize it as a good film that some people may love. So, because of that, I have to recommend it. But my recommendation won’t be anything more than — if you think you’re gonna like it, go for it. Or, if you’re looking to see Oscar winners. Then you need to.
Fearless is also a pretty good film. Moderate recommendation. As in, the rule here is, if I don’t say anything about it, you’re on your own. I don’t like it enough to throw a recommendation its way. You’ll have to see it because you want to and not on my suggestion. Plus, my suggestions have to do with my liking the films. So, here — I was gonna leave it off, but, on the other hand, I did like it to an extent. So, moderate recommendation. It’s not terrible. Don’t discount it, is all I’m saying. It’s a decent film.