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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1983-1984)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1983

Cher, Silkwood

Glenn Close, The Big Chill

Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously

Amy Irving, Yentl

Alfre Woodard, Cross Creek

Analysis:

Silkwood is a strong 80s movie. Kind of a female China Syndrome.

Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher are all workers in a nuclear plant. Their bosses put them through hell. Long hours, no overtime, terrible pay. Eventually they get upset and start to think about unionizing. Specifically Meryl. And then, very suspiciously, she is exposed to a large dose of radiation. She thinks it was deliberate, and starts investigating the safety measures of the plant, which she thinks are being skirted for maximum productivity. And then it turns into a kind of thriller, since it seems like the plant bosses are out to get her. It’s a very strong film.

Cher plays Dolly, Meryl’s lesbian friend. She’s pretty much there for much of the film. Not a very showy part. But she’s quietly very solid. Impressive for a first-time nominee. She exudes a nice playfulness in the early parts of the film, even though she really doesn’t get a whole lot to do. She gets to say she’s in love with Meryl, which is a nice moment. It’s the perfect performance for someone who hasn’t really acted before, as it makes her look good without exposing any weaknesses.

She’s good in the part, but I don’t know if I like it enough to actually take it. Though who knows. She may end up near the top of the category by sheer virtue of me not liking anyone else.

The Big Chill is one of the great hangout films of all time. Very much of the 80s, yuppie, Brat Pack era. But still an awesome film.

A bunch of college friends reunite after not seeing each other for years at the funeral of one of their friends. They all stay at the same house over a weekend, and we hang out with them as they do this. We get to meet them, see who they are, see their problems, and it’s just great.

Glenn Close plays the wife of Kevin Kline. She had an affair with the friend a few years earlier, which cause them to have a falling out. The news of his suicide is hitting her the hardest. She’s the one who’s there for most of the scenes, seeing everything, saying little. She gets a good scene where she tears up at dinner, and her big moment is when she decides to let her husband impregnate her friend, whose husband can’t give her a baby, which is all she really wants.

There’s a lot of nuance here, and she’s good, but I don’t know if I’d vote for this performance. It feels like part of an ensemble where there’s no real standout. She just happened to get the token nomination for the film. Don’t think I’d vote for it for any reason other than to want to give Glenn Close an award. I think she takes what could have been a forgettable part and makes it work, and I also think she does a great job showing us what her character is going through without forcing it down our throats with full on scenes and dialogue, but I also don’t think there’s enough there for me to actually vote for. Though I do appreciate that this is a character who has to keep it together for the sake of everyone else and is quietly the one most having trouble and I appreciate them singling her out for the nomination over other choices from the film.

The Year of Living Dangerously is about that time I refused to hit eject on my flash drives before pulling them out of the USB drive.

Mel Gibson is an Australian journalist coming to Indonesia. He’s got no contacts there, and no one seems to want to help him. He meets Billy Kwan, a photographer, who knows his way around and is able to arrange interviews for Gibson. Of course with the caveat that he gets to take all the photos of the encounters. The country starts to get dangerous, and most of the reporters pull out. But Gibson doesn’t. He wants a big story. Hence the title.

Linda Hunt plays… wait for it… Billy Kwan. That’s right, she plays a man. It’s such subtle work that you don’t even notice it. She’s a very memorable character, even though, admittedly, a lot of the work is in finding out the character was played by a woman. Still, she’s really strong and it’s a great character. In another year, maybe she doesn’t win. Here, it seems like an open and shut case. I actually do think the fact that it’s a woman playing a male character detracts from the performance, but there’s no denying that Hunt is great in it.

Yentl is… Jewish. I’ll say that much. It’s very Jewish. The most Jewish musical since Fiddler on the Roof. (I think that was the tagline.)

Barbra Streisand is a girl who wants to study the Talmud, which is some Jewish book that I know nothing about that apparently only the men can read. Because hooray, sexism! Her father secretly teaches it to her, but then he dies, so she goes off to study, dressed as a man. She befriends a fellow student, who starts to fall for her, as a man, and he’s engaged, and his wife starts to fall for her, also as a man. It’s kind of like Mulan. Except with Jews instead of Chinese warriors. (There’s your tagline.) And then at one point they decide that Streisand should marry the woman instead of the guy, and she has to come out and tell her what the deal is… it’s one of those movies where I feel like it could have been amusing and kind of a comedy, but Streisand made it out to be a piece all about her.

Amy Irving plays the fiancée. She’s the doting fiancée who starts to have feelings for Streisand. She doesn’t have a particularly big role in the film (no female seems to have a particularly big role in Streisand movies, when she’s on the screen. I wonder if that’s not coincidental.) There’s a scene where she and Streisand are having tea together, and she isn’t even allowed to get a word out, because Streisand is voiceover singing a song over it! Much of her scenes are her being demure. She brings a lot of warmth and an unwavering loyalty to the character, and you really get a sense of who this person is. She does a fine, fine job with it, but this is not a performance you vote for. She may even be a consensus fifth in the category.

Cross Creek is a movie that I was so utterly bored by the first time I did this Quest that I felt I had to give it another chance this time.

It’s based on the author who wrote the book The Yearling, and what led to her writing it. She goes to work on an orange grove in Florida and has to fix it up. So she meets and interacts with the local residents, and that’s what inspires her to write the book.

Alfre Woodard plays Geechee (seriously, that’s the name), a woman who comes by and offers to work for Steenburgen. Steenburgen says she can’t afford to, but Woodard needs the job badly. She disappears for much of the middle portion of the film after initially showing up. But then she gets her own little storyline in the latter portion of the film. Her husband is released from prison and shows up. And he’s pretty much an asshole, and she get a big moment to stand up for herself and decide she’s an independent woman.

Mostly she exists as comic relief, and then gets a big dramatic moment later in the film, including a big “Oscar” scene. It makes sense, but I don’t like the film all that much or think the performance is all that memorable.

Woodard is doing a lot. But then again, so was Renée Zellweger in Cold Mountain. More doesn’t always mean better. I mean, sure, she’s energetic in a movie that feels like a waking coma, but I feel like the performance is so one note, the nomination is only to reward her for making it more than it was written. I can’t vote for that. She adds depth to a stereotype, but it still feels like a stereotype.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category pretty much begins and ends with Linda Hunt. I need to find someone strong enough (that I like enough) to vote for instead of her. And honestly, I don’t think that person exists in this category.

Amy Irving has nothing to do. I do not like the Woodard performance enough to take it. Close is solid, but would be a #4 most years. And Cher, somehow going up to #2, is not stronger than Hunt.

So it’s Hunt. She’s playing a really fascinating character, even before the gender swap aspect. So it’s an easy vote for her.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously
  2. Cher, Silkwood
  3. Glenn Close, The Big Chill
  4. Alfre Woodard, Cross Creek
  5. Amy Irving, Yentl

Rankings (films):

  1. The Big Chill
  2. Silkwood
  3. The Year of Living Dangerously
  4. Yentl
  5. Cross Creek

My Vote: Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously

Recommendations:

Silkwood is an essential film. It is. It’s “important,” and it’s very good. Mike Nichols directs the hell out of it, and the leads are all really strong. Must see for film buffs.

The Big Chill is also essential simply because of what it means for the 80s. One of the biggest films of the decade, even though it doesn’t hold up and any attempts to repeat what this film does come out terrible. But you still need to see it, even if you end up hating it.

The Year of Living Dangerously is worth it for the Linda Hunt performance. Essential for Oscar buffs, and okay as a film, but otherwise not particularly essential for any other reason.

Yentl is kinda famous. Not a great movie. If you’re really into Jewish culture, you’ll enjoy it. Or musicals. Or Streisand. Otherwise, you can skip this and be fine. You only really need to know about the movie. Not that it’s a particularly big reference point, but you can get by knowing what it is without having seen it.

Cross Creek — honestly just watch The Yearling instead. It’s not that great. I can’t really recommend a movie I found boring twice.

The Last Word: It’s all Linda Hunt. Don’t see taking anyone other than her here. Cher is solid, but I don’t know. Close doesn’t feel like someone you vote for. I can’t see Woodard really being the choice either. This seems like an easy, deserved win for Linda Hunt without much fanfare.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1984

Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India

Glenn Close, The Natural

Lindsay Crouse, Places in the Heart

Christine Lahti, Swing Shift

Geraldine Page, The Pope of Greenwich Village

Analysis:

A Passage to India is a later David Lean film based on an E.M. Forster novel. So, for me, that means, “Just fucking kill me now.” It’s not a bad film, just… two hours and forty minutes of period British costumes and manners and staid direction from a guy whose best epics were long behind him. Not my idea of a good time.

 

Judy Davis goes to India to see her fiancée with his mother. Her fiancée is a judge. There’s a lot of tension between the Indians and the whites, because, you know… colonialism. David meets and befriends a local doctor, who is pretty much the nicest man alive. Though one day they go to see some caves, and something indeterminate happens, and Davis runs outside covered in blood, her clothes torn. She says the doctor raped her, and he’s put on trial. It’s a big deal, because, you know… colonialism.

Peggy Ashcroft plays the soon-to-be mother-in-law (lotta hyphens). She’s mostly just present for much of the film. It’s an old-women performance, but there is more to it. She’s clearly putting in work and not coasting on her age and gravitas. Her big moment is in the second half when she refuses to testify against the doctor, asserting that there’s no way he could have done what they’re saying.

The Natural is one of the most famous baseball movies of all time. Everyone knows this score and the final scene.

Robert Redford is a young phenom who plays with a bat made from a tree felled by lightning. He initially makes a name for himself striking out the film’s equivalent of Babe Ruth. Later that day, he meets a mysterious woman who ends up shooting him in the stomach, essentially derailing his baseball career. Cut to fifteen years later, and he’s 35 and coming up to the big leagues for the first time. And he’s a power hitting wonder, but no one knows who he is or where he came from. So we watch him on his rise to success. It’s a great sports movie.

Glenn Close plays Redford’s sweetheart. They’re together in the beginning and then after he gets shot he disappears and they lose touch. She disappears for a good hour of the film, and then shows up randomly in the stands at one of his away games, her presence helping him overcome a big slump. They reconnect, and we find out she’s a single mother. Of course the kid is his, which he finds out at the exact right moment to help him later in the movie.

It’s a pretty one-note, thankless part. She’s fine in it, but there’s nothing of substance there, and her nomination is clearly one of desperation. In a weak year, the Academy will go back to stalwarts. That’s how Meryl ends up getting nominated so much. Geraldine Page is gonna be the same way in a minute. The role is basically the pure woman there to help him in his time of need. She’s fine, but there’s really nothing here to want to vote for in terms of performance. The only reason I’d take her (and I think I did last time) is because it’s Glenn Close and because I don’t like the rest of the category all that much.

Places in the Heart is a film that must have seemed pretty great thirty years ago. Now, you put it on, and I’d say most people would go, “This got nominated for so many Oscars?” That’s not to say you won’t enjoy it, but it just feels… I don’t think it holds up as well as the Academy’s response to it would have indicated.

Sally Field’s husband gets killed one day and she has to support the farm on her own. The bank wants to buy her out for a fraction of the price, and she’s determined not to let that happen. So she starts planting the season of cotton on her own, with the help of a blind John Malkovich and drifter Danny Glover, and they fight to keep the farm afloat. That’s the story. And there’s a whole subplot that’s also going on that really just feels like filler and has nothing to do with the main narrative whatsoever. It’s that subplot that we’re going to talk about for the purposes of this category.

Lindsay Crouse is Sally Field’s sister. She lives on the other side of town, apart from all the action. She’s married to Ed Harris, who is cheating on her with Amy Madigan (who is Ed Harris’ actual wife, which explains why he has much more chemistry with her than he does with Crouse). She finds out and it’s bad. But they end up together anyway.

Honestly, the entire subplot slows down the film and feels utterly meaningless. She’s fine, but there’s not enough there to vote for and that’s even before you take into account how pointless the story is in the film. Feels like a pretty inconsequential nominee overall, and the result of her coming along with the film.

Swing Shift is a very strange movie. It doesn’t play as a comedy, but it feels like the actors want it to be a comedy.

Goldie Hawn is married to Ed Harris. He goes off to war. She then ends up working in a weapons factory. While working there, she meets and falls for Kurt Russell.

Christine Lahti plays a singer whose boyfriend owns a club. But he cheats on her constantly. She’s Hawn’s neighbor, and Harris used to make fun of her since she came across like a whore. But then we get to meet her when Hawn has to go to work, and we see she’s a complex woman who just wants to carve out a living for herself.

She ultimately steals the film from Goldie Hawn, which is saying something, since she has so little to do. It’s as if the movie is trying to downplay her part for fear that Goldie Hawn wouldn’t be the star. And she still manages to steal it.

She’s fine, and in a stronger year I’d have this as an easy #5. This year, I might consider her even fourth. I still wouldn’t take her, because ultimately the movie doesn’t give her enough to do, but honestly, in this category, there’s so many performances with so little to do that she might end up actually contending for a vote.

The Pope of Greenwich Village is about two cousins, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. (That sounds a lot different now than it did in 1985, I’ll tell you that.) Rourke has ambitions, and Roberts is the lovable fuck up.

They get involved in a robbery, which goes badly, and a cop is killed, and then there are problems with the mob… a whole thing. It’s more about the relationship between the two men than anything.

Geraldine Page plays the mother of the dead cop who is questioned by the police to find out how he ended up at the location of a robbery. And she’s basically like, “Why the fuck are you coming here, bothering me? He wasn’t corrupt, he was a saint, and stop harassing me, because if you make any claims against my son, I’m gonna go on the news and tell everyone about it, and how’s that gonna look for you?” She makes an impact.

The problem is, as good as she is, and as three-dimensional she makes the character, she’s really only on screen for about six minutes total. Two short scenes. Now… other years, no way. This year… I could make a case for it. It’s actually the kind of performance, like Glenn Close’s, where they clearly nominated the actress because they had nothing else.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This may be the weakest Best Supporting Actress category of all time. Now that’s out of the way, let’s figure out what the hell we’re gonna do with it.

Glenn Close has nothing to do and nothing to work with. Can’t vote for her as much as I like her. Lindsay Crouse also has little to do (though more than Close) and has a plotline that is completely inconsequential to her film. So she’s out too.

Lahti wouldn’t make it above fourth for me in any other year, but here makes third by virtue of having no one else to vote for. I wouldn’t take it, but here, she’s the nominee with the most life to her, so in a way, I kinda want to take her, even though objectively I realize she’s not the best choice.

Geraldine Page is someone I might consider taking, only she’s really only in the movie for about five minutes. That’s tough. And then, there’s the issue of her winning the year after this, and me thinking that maybe if she won here, she wouldn’t win the year after this, but that’s specious logic and is not the purpose of what I’m doing here. So I can’t take that into account. I like the performance, but don’t love it enough to take even though she might be the lesser of all evils in this one.

Objectively, the vote is probably Ashcroft. I can see a solid performance there, she has a lot to do, the character feels like she has an arc and is fully formed. I don’t love the performance, and I’m only taking her because I have to. I blame the category for me having to take her even though in most years she might not be more than a #3. It is what it is.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India
  2. Geraldine Page, The Pope of Greenwich Village
  3. Christine Lahti, Swing Shift
  4. Lindsay Crouse, Places in the Heart
  5. Glenn Close, The Natural

Rankings (films):

  1. The Natural
  2. The Pope of Greenwich Village
  3. Places in the Heart
  4. A Passage to India
  5. Swing Shift

My Vote: Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage to India

Recommendations:

The Natural is the most essential film on this list. It’s not the most overtly entertaining, but it’s famous, and its a sports movie. So it’s worth it on that alone. It’s not gonna rouse you the way Hoosiers or Field of Dreams will. But it’s good. You should see it. More essential than not.

The Pope of Greenwich Village is a good movie but not an essential one. Worth seeing, but you could skip it. I recommend it though. It’s entertaining. Very 80s, though.

Places in the Heart is probably worth seeing. It’s good, if strange and dated. It won Best Actress, so Oscar buffs need to see it. It’s… I’ll call it a definite recommend. I enjoy most of it, and it’s a decent movie. And it got a lot of nominations and it generally regarded well. Not an all-time essential movie, but not something to immediately discard and never see either.

Swing Shift is fine. Not great, not terrible. Can easily be skipped. Most people don’t even remember this movie. It’s also very uneven. Not gonna say don’t see it but also don’t love it enough to recommend it. This one’s on your to decide if you think you want to check it out.

A Passage to India is David Lean. Won Supporting Actress. Based on a famous novel. Some people will need to see it. But outside of that, not particularly essential. Overly long, not great. If you’re into it (or the Oscars), go for it. Otherwise, you can skip it. Casual film buffs are not obligated to see this.

The Last Word: I don’t like this category, and while most people would see Ashcroft as a slam dunk winner that deserved to win easily, I consider her a compromise. Still voting for her, but I don’t really like any of the choices here. Can’t see anyone really taking Close on the merits of performance alone. Can’t see Crouse being the vote. Lahti I can see based purely on how entertaining she is in such a dull category. And Page, yeah, I can see her being the vote too. It’s probably one of the veterans. Those seem like the obvious choices. I really have no opinion on this category and think it’s really quite boring. So good choice, bad choice, doesn’t matter to me. It’s a historical blank.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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