The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1985

I hate 1985 so much. Out of Africa is just not a film that should win Best Picture. Not over The Color Purple. And Steven Spielberg not winning Best Director — okay, not even being nominated for Best Director, despite winning the DGA for the film! — for it is also terrible. Sydney Pollack is a great director, and him winning Best Director is sort of okay, but, come on. Out of Africa? Really?

Best Actor this year was William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman. It was by far the best decisions they could have made. He was awesome, and this was the best year for him to win. He didn’t have any competition. Then Best Actress was Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful (talked about here), which is one of the worst Best Actress decisions of all time. Top five worst. Because Whoopi Goldberg really should have won that. I don’t even think people contest that fact. Then Best Supporting Actor was Don Ameche for Cocoon, which is cool. This, unlike Best Actress, was a good opportunity to reward a veteran.

So, in all, of the six decisions this year, I like — two of them. And even of the two, they’re not resoundingly good. Like, William Hurt winning is great, but the category is weak so it’s just, “Yeah it’s good, but, one in a decade of shit…” You appreciate them more than you love them. I like them and all, but it’s not like these were the 1987 decisions. Those are great decisions. So I hate 1985. Like most of the 80s, they fucked up.


And the nominees were…

Margaret Avery, The Color Purple

Anjelica Huston, Prizzi’s Honor

Amy Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime

Meg Tilly, Agnes of God

Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple

Avery — Double nomination. Score. Less work for me. Love it when we have these.

The Color Purple is a wonderful film made by Steven Spielberg. But don’t hold it against him. The film speaks for itself. It’s about a woman (played by Whoopi Goldberg) in the early 20th century, and — her experiences. Early on in the film she’s basically sold into marriage to Danny Glover, and he’s an abusive husband. He treats her like a slave, and really just abuses her. Through and through. And she puts up with it. There are brief moments of happiness. Like, her sister comes to visit, and teachers her how to read, but Glover kicks her out.

Here’s the part we’re interested in at the moment. Margaret Avery plays a former girlfriend of Glover’s. She’s a jazz singer, and Glover has been madly in love with her for a long time. And she comes to live with him, and at first, she hates Whoopi, but eventually, they become good friends (and lovers, sort of. It’s not as pronounced in the book, but in the movie, it is). And she acts to help raise Whoopi’s self-confidence. And she gets letters from her sister (hidden by Glover) which also help her stand up to him. And she ends up leaving him. She goes, starts her own shop, and eventually, after realizing he was an asshole, Glover helps pay for Whoopi’s sister to come back.

Anyway, it’s a fantastic film. The part we’re talking about here is Avery’s. And — she’s good in the movie, but — if you’ve seen it, you know — she was nowhere near as good as Oprah. And for those who haven’t seen it, just see it. Nothing I say is really gonna matter until you’ve seen it. Just know — Avery was nowhere near as good as Oprah was in this movie. She was never getting voted for. (Neither was Oprah, but that’s because the Academy is racist.)

Huston — Anjelica Huston. Yeah — I like her and all, but — she won this because of racism. And probably because of her father. I mean, she was good here, but come on. Really, now?

Prizzi’s Honor is about Jack Nicholson, a hitman working for the mob, who, at the wedding of one of the mobster’s children, meets a woman there (Kathleen Turner). And he is immediately smitten with her. And he tracks her down and asks her out. And they soon fall for each other. And meanwhile, he’s going out and doing jobs for the family. And on one of them — killing a dude who stole a lot of money — he runs into Kathleen Turner. She’s the dude’s wife. And Nicholson (who isn’t the brightest of guys. There’s a piece of trivia that John Huston would, before every take, turn to Nicholson and be like, “Remember, he’s stupid,” and then, “Action.”) continues to fall for her, even when he finds out that she’s actually a hitman herself (hitwoman). So the two of them, knowing they’re hired killers, fall in love.

Meanwhile, Anjelica Huston is the don’s daughter. She’s had a thing for Nicholson for years. They dated once, but broke up. But she still wants him. And basically, she puts up with him, even as he talks about this other woman, because she stil loves him. And basically, what she does throughout the film is, first, she works her way back into the graces of her father (he disowned her and called her a whore after her and Nicholson broke up), through her grandfather, who always loved her. Then, she starts pulling strings. One night, Nicholson goes and sleeps with her because he doesn’t know what to do, and she tells her father that Nicholson raped her, which basically gets them to put a hit out on Nicholson, and basically hire Nicholson and Turner to kill each other. This is all a comedy, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear. Or rather, it’s a lighter film. Not balls to the wall laughter, but, it’s humorous. And basically Nicholson and Turner have to deal with being married and being hired to kill one another. And eventually Nicholson brokers a deal where he kills Turner and gets back into the family’s good graces, and ends up back with Huston. It’s a great movie. A lot of fun.

Now, Huston does a very good job with the role. I’ll give her that. But honestly, from what I saw out of this category, she’s no better than third. And that’s by default. There are two performances that are so good they automatically go 1 and 2. She cannot, no matter what she does, go higher than third for me. That’s all there is to it.

Madigan — Now, Amy Madigan. I always liked her as actress. To me, she’s very unique and interesting. She played Kevin Costner’s wife in Field of Dreams. She’s also Ed Harris’s actual wife. So when I saw that she got nominated here, it made me very happy.

Twice in a Lifetime is about a marriage coming apart. Gene Hackman and Ellen Burstyn are married. It’s not a very eventful marriage. They fell in love, had a bunch of kids, and raised a family for thirty years. Their kids are all of varying ages (Amy Madigan is one, Ally Sheedy is another). And the love has pretty much gone out of their marriage, even though she still loves him. He’d rather watch his football games, go out drinking with the boys once a week, that sort of stuff. And they throw him a big birthday party for his 50th. And there, he meets Ann-Margret, the bartender of the bar they have the party at. And he talks to her, and starts to like her. And then he meets her again, and eventually they start having an affair. And it gets to the point where he decides he wants to leave his wife. And the film is about everyone coming to terms with this. Obviously Ellen Burstyn is devastated, because what’s she gonna do now? And Hackman is oblivious. He’s got this woman and is happy. And then the kids have to see their mother feeling really shitty, not to mention, it’s a really small town, so they have to see Ann-Margret places. And eventually Burstyn redoes herself. Changes her hair, her clothes, gets over it, in a way. And everything sort of settles down, and then the film ends with Ally Sheedy’s wedding, and Hackman coming, but then some of the tension is brought back to the surface, and things get — testy.

This is a film that’s a very realistic look at divorce. You get a lot of perspectives here. And what’s great about it is that it doesn’t paint anyone as good or bad. The characters are just here. Hackman, at first, he’s your protagonist and you like him, but then after a while you start to see him as acting a bit selfish, but in a way, he isn’t, but is, and who’s right who’s wrong, and the whole thing is very realistic. I really liked how they did that. That said — this was a tough watch. Not to say it was a bad movie — it’s just — very realistic films tend to be the kinds of things where, they put you through a lot. So you don’t exactly want to go revisit them unless you really liked them. Be prepared for some difficult shit.

Anyway, Amy Madigan plays Hackman’s oldest daughter, and she’s kind of the one that has to be the one to tell him, “Look, you’re acting really selfish, look what you’re doing to Mom!” Because Ellen Burstyn loves him. She’s all like, “Whatever makes him happy.” And Madigan is like, “Mom, what the fuck? Are you really gonna do this?” And she does a really good job with the role. She seems like a no-nonsense woman with kids who has to deal with all this shit. You totally buy her character. Thing is — can’t vote for her here. I’d put her — fourth, for a vote. She was never winning here, because there are three legit people ahead of her. Usually it’s “Well I like these better, and these actors should get Oscars…” No. Here, it’s “These people take priority.” So she’s fourth, at best. And that’s just because I like her as an actress. Either way, fourth or fifth — she wasn’t winning here.

Tilly — Okay — this will be interesting. Because — I didn’t really like this film at all. Like, at all, at all. And yet, Meg Tilly’s performance in it was fucking phenomenal. Like — holy shit good. That good. The kind where I was like, “Where the fuck did she come from?” Because really, I didn’t even know Jennifer Tilly had a sister. Then early on in the Quest I saw The Big Chill and noticed her because she looks exactly like her sister. Then I saw this and was like — “Jesus Christ, why wasn’t this woman in more movies?”

The film is about a young nun, played by Tilly, who is very simple minded. She’s very, very innocent, and is just one of those people — one of those people you want to protect from the world because they’re just not intellectually able to handle everything. And she ends up giving birth to a baby (nobody knew she was pregnant) and strangling it after giving birth to it. And she claims it was a virgin birth. Considering that’s kind of big news, there’s an investigation, and they appoint Jane Fonda to go talk to her. Fonda is a psychiatrist. And Fonda goes there and talks to Anne Bancroft, who is the mother superior of the convent, and Bancroft really wants to protect Tilly, and Fonda wants to help her, but in a very different way. They have very differing opinions. And the film plays this up, but that’s all irrelevant and uninteresting. The really interesting part of this movie is Meg Tilly’s performance. I have to tell you — I don’t even remember what happened in this movie. I don’t remember how it ended, who did what — none of it. What I remember are two things:

First, I had the thought midway through like, “Did Anne Bancroft kill Meg Tilly’s baby and is covering it up in order to protect her? Is she the one behind all this?” And then I’m having all these thoughts like, “Mother Superior Soze” and shit. But then the film didn’t go that way at all and I was like, “Oh, too bad, that was the only way this would have been interesting,” and then I remembered nothing else about it except that they should have done it that way.

The other thing I remembered from this movie was Meg Tilly’s performance. Because holy shit does she do a perfect job with this role. She seriously paints this woman perfectly. You totally believe in this character. You believe that she’s simple minded, you empathize with everything she’s going through — because she just doesn’t understand what’s gong on — and you also completely believe that she had no idea what she was even doing, that it wasn’t the right thing to do. It’s just fucking brilliant. People might not feel as I did, but when I saw this, I was like, “Fuck Oprah. She was great and all, but this is the performance that should have won this year.” I don’t know about anyone else, but here’s my vote. I’m willing to accept Oprah as an alternative, but that’s really it. I don’t see how anyone goes for Anjelica Huston after seeing Meg Tilly’s and Oprah Winfrey’s performances.

Winfrey — Okay, our other Color Purple nominee. I didn’t tell you about this part of the film yet, but you should have seen it already, so it’s your own damn fault.

Oprah plays Sofia, a woman who is very similar to Whoopi Goldberg’s character in that the two of them were both abused growing up. The thing is, Oprah is very strong about it. She’s a strong woman. She won’t let anyone try to demean her anymore. She don’t take no shit. “I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead ‘fo I let him beat me.” That’s her.

And she marries Danny Glover’s son, Harpo, and pretty much dominates him in every way. But she loves him. And eventually, her spirit is just a bit too strong, and her inability to take any shit from anyone gets her in trouble. Because one day she says some shit to the mayor’s wife, and she tells him and he has her thrown in jail and has them kick the shit out of her. And she comes back from jail, and looks ten years older, just completely beaten and broken — they just killed her spirit entirely. She’s basically catatonic, that’s how badly they broke her spirit. But then, at the end of the film, after Whoopi Goldberg stands up to Danny Glover and tells him to go fuck himself, Oprah snaps out of it and goes back to being her old self.

It’s a great performance. Really. I would not even contest a little bit if someone said she should have won the Oscar here. Because she totally should have. I just, like I said, prefer Meg Tilly’s performance. I think either of them should have won, and would have honestly taken either of them.

Really though, neither Oprah or Whoopi winning Oscars this year is about as openly racist as the Academy got. Especially when they chose to give Best Picture to the whitest film out there — that was fucking called Out of Africa!!! How much more racist can you get?

My Thoughts: It’s no contest, Oprah and Meg Tilly gave by far the best two performances. It’s between those two. I personally prefer Tilly, but either way, one of those two should have won.

My Vote: Tilly

Should Have Won: Tilly, Winfrey. No one else.

Is the result acceptable?: No. And the fact that I say that despite how respected Anjelica Huston is should tell you something. Okay — Huston beating Meg Tilly, I can accept that. Because Huston’s stature as an actress makes up for what I consider to be the difference in performance between her and Tilly. Fine. But Oprah? No fucking way! There is nothing you can say that will convince me she should have beaten Oprah here. None. Vote split? Fuck you. You know which one of those performances was going to win. This is pure racism. No matter how you look at it, this result is not acceptable at all.

Performances I suggest you see: The Color Purple. You need to see it. I could play the classic movie card, or the “should have won Best Picture” card, or the “it was directed by Steven Spielberg before 2005 so you know it’s good” card, but somehow, I feel as though those cards won’t work. Call it intuition. Something tells me that despite all that, you’re still gonna be like, “Yeah, sure,” and put it at the bottom of your Netflix queue and will never get to it. So, in that case, I’m playing the — if you don’t see this movie, you’re a fucking racist. Okay? And you know what? As penance for not seeing this movie, go watch Do the Right Thing as well. This will be like church. Those are your “Our Father”s and “Hail Mary”s.

Prizzi’s Honor is a great film. It’s a lot of fun. It might not translate to everybody — it’s very 80s, and it’s not quite comedy and not quite drama, and drags a bit in the middle. But, it’s a great film, and I highly recommend it. It’s John Huston and Jack Nicholson. Is there any reason not to see it?

How about a story, then? This is humorous.

Kevin Pollak told a story about being on the set of A Few Good Men with Nicholson. And it was the day when Magic Johnson announced that he had AIDS. And everyone was kind of shocked, because it was Los Angeles, and no one’s a bigger Lakers fan than Nicholson. And Pollak painted it like Nicholson that day was like the neighborhood priest in the 40s on the day of Pearl Harbor. Like, “Father, what will we do? Will the world end? Can I still eat canned food because of this?” This was like the end of the world. And Nicholson was consoling everyone and talking to them, and then he’s walking back to his trailer, and Pollak (who said he was too nervous to actually talk to Nicholson directly. He always did the, slide in while other people were talking to him and be like, “Hey guys, how’s it going?”) is walking with him, in complete silence, and Nicholson keeps going, “It’s surreal,” talking about Magic.

And then he gets to his trailer and goes,”You wanna know what’s surreal? I’m doing this picture, Chinatown, and I’m rehearsing a scene — I don’t know if you’ve seen the film,” (like fucking really), “a scene with John Huston. And behind him, about fifty yards away, I see, walking toward the set, his daughter Anjelica — who I’d started banging about six weeks prior. And I saw her, and I realized I hadn’t figure out a way to tell him that I was banging his daughter. Mind you, had he told me, “Jack, I need you to kill her for me,” I would have done it. That’s how much I worshipped the man. And during all this, I realize I’m in the middle of the scene, and we’re rehearsing, and he’s saying his line of dialogue. So I get back into the scene just as Huston says a line from the film, “Mr. Gittes, are you sleeping with my daughter?” … that’s fucking surreal.”

I felt that had enough connection to Prizzi’s Honor to tell you that you need to see it.

Agnes of God — as I said, I don’t really like the film all that much. Some might, but it’s not for everyone. However — Meg Tilly’s performance is so good, I recommend you see the film just for that. Seriously — don’t think about trying to say with any definitiveness who should have won this category before you’ve seen Tilly’s performance along with Oprah’s and Huston’s. I bet you’ll be impressed with it.

And, Twice of a Lifetime — it’s a good movie. Definitely not for everyone, but very real. One of those movies that feels very real. Like Kramer vs. Kramer or Pete ‘n’ Tillie. It just feels real. I don’t love it, but some people might really like it. So I will recommend it if you think you’re gonna like it. Plus, look at the cast — very rarely do you get this kind of a cast for a film that’s not worthwhile.


5) Madigan

4) Avery

3) Huston

2) Winfrey

1) Tilly


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