The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1988

Love me some 1988, don’t love me this category.

I love 1988, mostly because it was the year I was born. Plus I love Rain Man, and while that film isn’t a strong film historically for Best Picture, it was probably the best (or at least my favorite) choice among the nominees. Barry Levinson won Best Director for the film (talked about here), which I understand, but don’t particularly like, since — what did he do? And Martin Scorsese, also nominated, hadn’t won yet! And Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor for the film, which — ’nuff said.

Best Actress for this year was Jodie Foster for The Accused (talked about here), which is an amazingly great decision. She was so great in that film. And Best Supporting Actress was Geena Davis for The Accidental Tourist, which — I guess is fine. The category wasn’t that good. Though, personally, actress to actress, I’d have given it to Michelle Pfeiffer.

And then this category — I hate it. One of the weakest Best Supporting Actor categories of all time. That’s not to say they didn’t make the best decision (they totally did), it’s just — how bad is the rest of the category? Wow.


And the nominees were…

Alec Guinness, Little Dorrit

Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda

Martin Landau, Tucker: The Man and His Dream

River Phoenix, Running on Empty

Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob

Guinness — Little Dorrit. It’s a six-hour mini-series. It’s based on one of the least of Dickens’s works. Taht is to say — it doesn’t hold the weight of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations or A Christmas Carol. But, most importantly — it’s SIX HOURS LONG!!! Who wants to watch a boring BBC mini-series for that long?

I’m not summarizing it. Fuck you.

Alec Guinness plays an old man in debtors prison who is confined to a small neighborhood that acts as the prison. And he eventually comes into money, and becomes a well-to-do man, but then goes crazy. Or rather, senile. He gets senile. That’s pretty much the arc.

Guinness is fine in the role. He’s always fine. Problem is — I can’t vote for him. I would never burden anyone doing this Oscar Quest with a six-hour mini-series. That’s too cruel. No one should have to go through this. Plus Guinness had this Oscar, and if he was ever gonna win Supporting, it was gonna be for Obi Wan, not this.

Kline — A Fish Called Wanda is a funny ass film. Wocka Wocka.

It’s about two gangsters who plan a jewel heist. One is the mastermind and the other is his stuttering, animal-loving friend. They bring in Jamie Lee Curtis, a con artist, and Kevin Kline, a weapons guy. Kline and Curtis are together, but the gangsters don’t know this. They think they’re related. And they pull off the heist, but are spotted by an old lady walking her dogs. Curtis and Kline give up the mastermind to the cops, pulling a double cross. Problem is, the jewels aren’t where they were supposed to be. Then Curtis, planning a second double cross of Kline, goes and starts sleeping with the mastermind’s lawyer (the great John Cleese) in order to find out where the jewels are so she can get them and run off herself. Then the stuttering dude is sent to kill the old lady, so there’s no case against them. He ends up accidentally killing the dogs (which causes him great pain), and the old lady ends up dying from shock after her dogs die.

Then, during the trial, Curtis gives testimony to get the mastermind convicted, and she and Cleese plan to run off together after finding the jewels. They find out the stuttering dude knows where they are. Kline tortures the guy by eating all his fish (saving the fish called Wanda for last) to get him to give up where the jewels are, and thus begins a mad dash to them, that leads to a sufficiently comic conclusion to it all.

It’s a really great film. And Kline is hysterical as Otto, the dumb as bricks dude who thinks he’s intelligent. He’s fucking hysterical here. Now, don’t get me wrong, in any other year he’d never win, but, with the weak category, and the fact that he’s Kevin Kline, I totally get the win, and am probably gonna vote for him, just because this category is like Michelle Pfeiffer’s womb in Scarface. (Note: Polluted.)

Landau — Tucker: The Man and His Dream is about Preston Tucker, who sought to create the perfect automobile. One that would never break down, and last for a long, long time. And he perfects his prototype, after no one thinks he’d do it, but then he faces great opposition from the auto industry, who don’t want a car that doesn’t break down. They want to make money selling cars after old ones break down. And the film is kind of like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where the idealist is put through the ringer by the corrupt (or at the very least, business-minded) machine in power. They concoct charges, and Tucker is put on trial, and he delivers what may be one of the best speeches ever put to film. Watch this. This is one of the most universally applicable speeches I’ve ever heard:

I loved this film for that speech. The film is very good, but this speech is just perfect.

Martin Landau plays a financier who helps bankroll Tucker and his dream. And he basically shows up, and acts as the sounding board, telling Tucker of all the issues and helping him work them out. Landau’s good here, but it’s nothing spectacular. I thought he was stronger the year after this in Crimes and Misdemeanors and especially when he won in ’94 for Ed Wood. That’s the performance he should have won for, not this one. But I love the nomination, because it gives this film some recognition, and I like that very much.

Phoenix — Running on Empty is a film — first, that hits a pet peeve of mine, which is, films that use song titles as their titles. I hate that — about a family of fugitives. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch are former activists who bombed a building during the Vietnam War. And they’ve been on the run ever since. And they’ve had two children. So they’ve been on the run, moving from town to town whenever the police get on their trail. And the film is about their oldest son, played by River Phoenix, who is now 18, wants to settle down and have a normal life.

The family is in this new town, and Phoenix is in school, and he discovers that he has a gift for music. And his music teacher wants to cultivate his talent and get him into Juilliard. And through having the interactions with the teacher, and courting the teacher’s daughter, he decides he wants to stay in this town and not go traveling whenever the police get too close. And the film eventually leads to the parents having to leave again but leaving him behind.

The film is okay. I found it watchable. I didn’t love it, but I got through it just fine. Liked it just fine. My problem with Phoenix being nominated here is the fact that he’s really the lead of the film. I hate that. Category fraud. You know they only pushed him to Supporting because he’s young and isn’t established as an Oscar nominee yet. Kind of the way how Richard Burton’s first nomination was in Supporting for My Cousin Rachel, meanwhile he’s the ‘My’! Phoenix is fine here, but I can’t get behind this type of category fraud. Plus, even with him being the lead, he still wasn’t good enough to win for me. So that’s even less of a reason for me to vote for him.

Stockwell — Married to the Mob is a mafia comedy. But also kind of an action film. It’s weird. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, in a way. Still, though, good film. Good performances by Michelle Pfeiffer, Mercedes Ruehl, Dean Stockwell and Alec Baldwin.

The film is about Pfeiffer as a mob wife who isn’t friendly with the other mob wives. She’s married to Alec Baldwin, a hitman. Baldwin gets killed because he was caught sleeping with the Don (Stockwell)’s mistress. And she wants to get away from the whole thing with her son, but Stockwell, at the funeral, tries to get with her. And to make things even more complicated, the FBI sees this and starts contacting her. And they get her to snitch for them. And she starts sleeping with the head agent, played by Matthew Modine (who has one of the strangest first scenes I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what the fuck that scene with him and Oliver Platt in the car was supposed to be). And eventually there’s this big shootout at the end.

It’s a pretty good film. Not amazing, but good. Stockwell plays the mob boss who is called “Tony the Tiger.” He’s cocky, he does a good job, it’s a fine performance. Not voting for it at all though. No way. Not good enough to beat Kevin Kline for me. If I’m voting for a comic performance, it’s Kline all the way.

My Thoughts: It’s Kline all the way. Even if you don’t like the performance (which, who are those people? Who will not wear the ribbon?), who the hell else are you gonna vote for? Landau won one, Stockwell wasn’t that good, Phoenix wasn’t that good, and Guinness had one already (plus the film is like, eight hours long). And Kline is such a respected actor, I don’t see how a person could think there’s any other choice but him here.

My Vote: Kline

Should Have Won: Kline

Is the result acceptable?: It’s Kevin Kline!

(Yes, in case you can’t pick up on that.)

Performances I suggest you see: A Fish Called Wanda. Great film. Classic comedy. Why wouldn’t you see it? It’s fucking hysterical.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a great movie. I didn’t love the film — that is to say, for the majority of it, I just liked it. It went by smoothly, I was almost always engaged, and it was fun. But I probably wouldn’t recommend this film as highly as I am were it not for its ending. Jeff Bridges makes a speech at the end of this film that’s so wonderful, so universal, and so appropriate to real life that I think everyone should see this movie (or, if you want to be a douchebag, just the speech) in order to experience it. It’s beautiful.

Married to the Mob is an entertaining film. Not great, not terrible. Standard 80s movie. Not quite comedy, not quite action — not sure what it is. Another of Jonathan Demme’s films that just doesn’t know what it wants to be. But Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty solid in it, and you could do worse for 100 minutes.


5) Phoenix

4) Guinness

3) Stockwell

2) Landau

1) Kline

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