The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1986

1986 is like a buoy to me. It’s what keeps me afloat in the vast sea of shit that is the Academy Awards in the 80s. Almost all the Best Picture choices from the decade were either bad (Ordinary People, Chariots of Fire, Out of Africa, Driving Miss Daisy), boring (Gandhi, The Last Emperor), or good, but a little on the weak side as Best Picture choices (Terms of Endearment, Rain Man). Only Amadeus and Platoon (which won Best Picture this year), are the lone strong choices of the 80s. And I’m glad, because they’re what keep me from disowning the decade completely.

Platoon also won Best Director for Oliver Stone, which — of course that was gonna happen. Talk about Blue Velvet all you want, but, you know why that didn’t win. There is no way you can’t understand the Academy going the way they did there. Paul Newman finally wins his 25-years overdue (though, for my money, 28 years) Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money, which, as I said here, is a perfect decision and oddly fitting as well, given that he should have won it the first time he played that character. Best Actress was Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God (talked about here), which I love as a decision, since I really can’t buy into Sigourney Weaver winning for Aliens.

Best Supporting Actor was Michael Caine for Hannah and Her Sisters (talked about here), and that, along with this category, are really the only two weak links I find for 1986. And since they’re the least of the major categories, it’s really not that bad.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1986

And the nominees were…

Tess Harper, Crimes of the Heart

Piper Laurie, Children of a Lesser God

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, The Color of Money

Maggie Smith, A Room with a View

Diane Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters

Harper — Crimes of the Heart is a strange film. It’s billed (at least on Netflix) as a dark comedy. I — still don’t know what to make of it.

It’s about Sissy Spacek, who kills her husband. She shoots him. And this reunites her other sisters, who are Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton. And Keaton’s the homely one, the spinster of sorts, Lange is the beautiful one who left to be a movie star, and Spacek is the crazy one. She’s just a bit — off. And now she’s dating a black teenager. And she often says things that are a bit, outlandish. She’s actually the most interesting part of the film. And the film is mostly about them dealing with the situation. That’s realyl all it is.

Tess Harper plays either one of their cousins or neighbors or sister-in-law. My memory is telling me cousin. She’s the bitchy cousin who they hate, but keep seeing because she’s family. And she’s pretty much a stuck-up bitch, and they’re always talking back to her, and she’s acting all entitled, like — like that cousin who’s like, “You guys shouldn’t go play in the lake, your mom said you shouldn’t do that,” and then when you all get caught later, she’s standing with the parents (probably having told them), like, “Told you you shouldn’t go down there,” and you’re like, “Jesus christ, shut the fuck up.” That’s what she’s like in this film.

She does a good job. She plays the part well. I just don’t see (aside from the weak category) why she needed to be nominated. Still, it’s fine, I guess. Certainly not something I want to vote for though. It just didn’t strike me as the kind of thing I want to vote for.

Laurie — Children of a Lesser God is a damn good film. It’s about William Hurt as a dedicated teacher at a school for the deaf — the hip young teacher everybody loves. And he meets Marlee Matlin, a former graduate of the school who works there as a janitor, and he begins a relationship with her. And the film is about their relationship, and also about him trying to help her get over her problems. His big thing is, he wants the deaf kids to talk. Use their voices. They can’t hear their voices, so they don’t want to. And he starts out trying to get her to do it, but then it evolves into the relationship, and that has its own problems — it’s a really good movie. Hurt and Matlin are fantastic in it.

Piper Laurie plays Matlin’s mother. She only shows up for like one scene in the film. Matlin and Hurt have a fight and she leaves, and she goes back to her mother, from whom she’s estranged. And she goes there, and the two of them make up and fix their problems. And if I’m not mistaken, she might show up again and talk to William Hurt. I can’t remember specifically. All I know is, she’s barely in the film, and her winning would be nothing more than a veteran Oscar. Which I’d be okay with, just because she was terrific in The Hustler. (And in Carrie, but I wouldn’t have voted for her for Carrie. At least with The Hustler, there was a chance I might have thrown her a vote.) So for me, given the weak category, I say she’s in contention. Certainly over Harper so far.

Mastrantonio — The Color of Money is a film I’d wager a lot of people know. It has a lot of avenues by which people would discover it. I actually saw this film before I knew it was a sequel to The Hustler and before I knew that Martin Scorsese had directed it. Those are the two main reasons people will have seen this movie. The other two — Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.

I assumed at first that Cruise was the main reason why I saw this film. But I think the real reason was that, back in 2002, a film was released called Poolhall Junkies, and it was a film I enjoyed very much. I still own the DVD. I really enjoyed the film. Back then, we had an illegal cable hookup, and I was able to see all the films that were on Pay Pew View. And since the way it worked was, for a couple of weeks, the same five or six films would be on Pay Pew View (or they’d rotate throughout the day, like, one would be on Mondays and Thursdays at 2, 5, 8 and 11), so I’d cycle through and watch them all, or the ones I thought looked interesting. It’s almost exactly like what I do now, and furthers my belief that everything we are or do has its roots in an earlier time. (Mostly because, when I go back and see all the stuff I started doing as a kid and a teenager, I can see a natural progression to how it wound up being what I do now. I like that.)

So anyway, I’m thinking the reason I saw this film for the first time was because I’d seen Poolhall Junkies and looked on IMDB for other billiards related films. That, and I’m sure the fact that Cruise was in it was also a reason for me to be excited. (I’m not sure how cognizant I was of Paul Newman at that time. Give me a break, I was 14.)

The film is a sequel to The Hustler, which you don’t need to see to watch this one (as I am a testament of — I hadn’t seen The Hustler when I saw this, and wouldn’t for several years after). “Fast” Eddie Felson, now older and a liquor salesman, now does what George C. Scott did in the first film. He backs upstart pool players in exchange for a percentage of their earnings. And the film begins as he is backing John Turturro, but we see Turturro get hustled by Tom Cruise, who is this young, cocky player. Newman immediately sees something in Cruise, so he brokers a deal to stake him and teach him how to hustle. And he does this, and Cruise goes along for the ride, and eventually they have a falling out, and end up facing one another at a World Series of Pool type tournament. It’s a really great film. Amazing from top to bottom.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (who most people — well, all people, really — would best remember as Gina in Scarface) plays Cruise’s girlfriend. Most people probably wouldn’t consider the performance Oscar material, but I felt she was really strong, and honestly, in a category like this, my love for her and the film will probably carry her to a vote. Just because you know I’m not voting for a Woody Allen performance unless I love it and/or the film. And I didn’t particularly love it or the film.

Smith — A Room With a View is another shitty Merchant-Ivory film. This one, though, is much lighter than the rest of them, which makes it a touch more watchable. I say touch, because — barely. If you’re not into this sort of thing, then you’re not gonna like this one at all. It only really has three things going for it. I’ll explain in a second.

The film is about Helena Bonham Carter on vacation with Maggie Smith, her chaperone in Italy, or some exotic place where people meet and fuck. There, they meet other Brits. The older dude is eccentric, and the younger dude falls in love with Helena. And the film is about them falling in love. That’s really all it is.

Now, the three things the film has going for it. 1) You get to see Helena Bonham Carter when she was younger and playing all the costumed British roles. For people who only know her from the ‘weird’ roles she’s been taking the past decade, this is something worth seeing. 2) Denholm Elliott. He’s far too eccentric for a film like this, and actually manages to give it a pulse with his performance. As I said — very strange. 3) Maggie Smith. She does a good job with the role.

Maggie Smith plays the chaperone, and she’s proper and British and very manipulative. Though, the manners tend to conceal all of what she does. She does a good job in the role, and is enjoyable. And honestly, if she didn’t already have two, I could see why one would vote for her here. I wouldn’t, simply because I refuse to give these films any Oscar recognition, because I feel they’re what’s wrong with the Oscars today. But I could see where one might. I will not be voting for her at all, though. She has two — leave it at that.

Wiest — Hannah and Her Sisters is a film I am not ashamed to say I do not care for at all. It’s a Woody Allen film, and I’ve documented how I feel about Woody Allen films.

This film is about — basically — Michael Caine is married to Mia Farrow. He meets her sister, Barbara Hershey. He becomes smitten with her. Over the course of the next year, he begins following her, courting her, and having an affair with her. Then, Diane Wiest, plays Farrow’s sister, who is a recovering cocaine addict who is trying to get her life back in order and goes to Farrow for some money to fund whatever she’s doing this week. She goes on a blind date with Woody Allen, who plays another neurotic version of himself. And the film ends with Wiest writing a script based on Farrow and Caine, and all of them having different relationships than when they started.

I don’t like the film, as is the case with many Woody Allen films. I do, however, like the performances of Caine, Hershey and Wiest. And to a lesser extent, Farrow. Mostly Caine, though. I enjoyed what he did here, and I always say, I’m more interested in what the actors in a Woody Allen film do with the material more than I’m interested in the material itself.

Wiest, I felt — didn’t really give that exemplary a performance here. She was fine, and I get why she won (the Academy loves voting for Woody Allen, and there was really no other choice here). But I wouldn’t vote for her. I just wouldn’t. I love Mastrantonio and her film more, and I’d give Laurie a veteran Oscar over her. So to me, she’s no better than a #3.

My Thoughts: What a weak category. No runaway winner here.

So, based on what I’ve said, to me, my vote comes down to either the actress/film I like the best (Mastrantonio), and the veteran who was good enough to win earlier and was in a good film, even though the performance was only so-so (Laurie). I understand why some would vote for Wiest, but I can’t. That’s that. Don’t care that she won, but I’m not voting for her.

So, in that case, having hindsight, and knowing that Wiest won (and that she had to have been the favorite going in), I’m just gonna vote for Mastrantonio. I probably should vote for Laurie, since it would be sweet to see both her and Newman win the same year for performances they gave in the same movie 25 years earlier, but, honestly, I just want to vote for Mastrantonio. Sexiness goes a long way with me.

My Vote: Mastrantonio

Should Have Won: No preference, really. Weak category.

Is the result acceptable?: Uhh…I guess. This one wasn’t so bad. The second one was a bit much, though. When the category is weak the result is usually acceptable. I like Diane Wiest. She’s a good actress. So yes, this is acceptable. I hate the film, but I like the actress. So, it’s acceptable. (As long as it wasn’t Tess Harper or Maggie Smith, this would have been an acceptable decision. It’s a blank category. So as long as it’s not glaringly bad, it’s usually fine.)

Performances I suggest you see: The Color of Money is a nice companion piece to The Hustler, is directed by Scorsese. And you get a young Tom Cruise pre — or rather, same year as — Top Gun, and you get Paul Newman. Total package. Why wouldn’t you see this movie? The amount of major elements it has for film people pretty much makes this an essential film. And it’s entertaining as fuck. Just watch it. Don’t be a schmuck.

Children of a Lesser God is an awesome, awesome film. Really great performances by William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, and it’s just a great film all around. I highly recommend this. It’s one of the best films of the 80s. Check it out. It’s great.

And that’s it. I don’t like enough or outright hate the rest of the films on the list. So, stick with those two.

Rankings: (Do I have to?)

5) Harper

4) Smith

3) Wiest

2) Laurie

1) Mastrantonio

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