The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1985-1986)
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.
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
The Color Purple is a strong film about black people. Which there aren’t many of, all things considered. Also directed by Stephen Spielberg, which… maybe not the best choice, but all right.
It’s about Whoopi Goldberg. She’s abused by her father, then basically sold into marriage to Danny Glover, who also abuses her. And we watch her slowly come into her own over the years, eventually becoming an independent woman. And a lot of other subplots happen as well. It’s a strong film. Not an all-time great film, but a great film.
Margaret Avery plays Shug Avery, a singer who used to date Danny Glover. She comes to live with him and Celie. Eventually she and Celie become friends. She’s the daughter of a pastor and he disapproves of her singing in bars. And she eventually comes back to the church in the end to reconcile with him… it’s… fine.
She’s strong to start and then fades into the background over the course of the film. The performance ends on a somewhat ridiculous note, but she’s fine in it. Definitely not someone I’d have higher than even fourth, but strong. She’s ultimately not someone you could ever vote for, because she’s not even the best supporting performance in her own film. Due to…
Oprah Winfrey plays a feisty woman who marries Harpo, Glover’s son. She has an early scene where Glover tells Harpo to beat her to keep her under control, but she ends up beating him and having the big moment where she says she’ll kill him if he ever lays a hand on her again. She then disappears for a nice chunk of film. She then comes back for a big moment midway through where she’s walking through town and says something about the mayor’s wife and even punches the mayor in the face. She’s of course thrown in jail and beaten horribly, which disfigures her and leaves her basically despondent for the rest of the film. She’s stuck being a maid to the mayor’s wife. There’s a heartbreaking scene where she gets to come home for Christmas, but because the mayor’s wife is unable to control a car and nervous around black people, she’s forced to live within minutes of arriving. We see this woman utterly broken and then reborn, in a sense.
It’s a really strong performance. There’s no denying that, and I don’t think anyone would. She’s definitely feisty, and she’s definitely putting in the work. Most people getting into the Oscars hear how much she should have won and how much of a travesty it is that she didn’t. I… I don’t know. I don’t think I’m totally on board with that. I still may vote for her, but I don’t feel a complete performance here. Maybe it’s the film. She’s good, but I don’t think it all adds up. It’s not like it’s a technically brilliant performance. And I think Spielberg’s penchant for sentimentality actually hurts the performance. But in a category like this, she rises to the top. So she’ll be there in the end. I’m just not automatically voting for her the way some would.
Prizzi’s Honor is a crime comedy with some action in it, that’s actually got a terrific premise: what if two hitmen were married to one another?
Jack Nicholson is a mob hitman who isn’t too bright but is great at his job. At a wedding, he meets Kathleen Turner and becomes fascinated by her. He soon learns she’s a hitman like he is. He also soon realizes that not only is she married, be he’s been hired to kill her husband for stealing money. The husband is taken care of and they’re soon married. This then sets off a chain of hits being put out on different people, one of which is on Nicholson to be carried out by Turner. It’s an interesting movie. Tonally very all over the place, but very entertaining.
Anjelica Huston plays the granddaughter of the don who is on the outs with her father. She used to date Nicholson, and still has feelings for him, but he’s totally oblivious. To the point where he calls her up asking who the beautiful woman at the wedding was and if she knows who she is, without once thinking about how she’ll feel about it. They’re still good friends, and he calls her up to confide in her. She even tells him to go after Turner if he really feels that way about her. And then they sleep together, but he goes off to Turner anyway. She then uses this to start pulling strings. She taunts her father with the fact that Nicholson screwed her and left her (as a sort of fuck you to Nicholson and to her father), and also goes out to find information that Turner is actually the one who stole the money in order to get rid of her. It’s a very shrewd performance.
Huston’s good here. The strongest scene is the opening one at the wedding, where she goes to see her father and he calls her a whore, which devastates her. She’s the appropriately scheming for the rest of the film and does a good job playing the wild card. It’s a strong performance, and I get why she won. Not sure I take her over the other two, but it’s definitely a solid performance that is worth voting for.
Twice in a Lifetime is a film that takes a pragmatic look at divorce.
Gene Hackman has a nice family and a marriage that has gone stale after thirty years, but there’s still affection there. On his 50th birthday, he meets another woman and falls for her. Pretty soon, he asks his wife for a divorce. And the rest of the film is the fallout to this. The wife has no real options because she’s already committed to him and “too old” to get another husband. And the kids now have to both see their mother be miserable and see their father with another woman, since it’s a small town. The key is that it never really paints anyone as right or wrong. Things just are. And characters deal with the reality of the situation.
Amy Madigan plays Hackman’s oldest daughter. She’s having the hardest time with the whole thing, mostly because her life isn’t going as smoothly as she’d like. She gets to be the one that gets on both sides, like, “Dad, seriously, that was a shitty thing you did,” and “Mom, are you really gonna just let him do that and not say anything?” She’s fine in the part. Some might see it as one-note. I get that. I think she does a good job with it and has a certain energy that translates well to the part.
I wouldn’t take her, but I think she’s a fine nominee.
Agnes of God is an interesting film. One night, the nuns in a convent hear screams, and find one of the nuns bleeding, with a dead baby in the trash can. (This is how most of my spec porno scripts start.)
The nun claims it was a virgin birth, which is beside the point that she may have killed this baby. So they bring in Jane Fonda, a psychiatrist, to talk to the nun to see what’s going on.
The nun, Agnes, is a very… “simple” girl. Think Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette. She says she has no idea how she got pregnant and doesn’t even have a real idea of how babies are conceived. Or of anything, really. She’s very child like. So much of the film is us hearing about things that happened to her in the past to make her this way, mixed with scenes of Fonda talking to her to figure out what the hell happened. It’s a really strong performance. Loses some steam when she recreates the night of the birth, but otherwise is very strong.
I love this performance. Others may not. Think it’s too simplistic. I understand that. I think it’s wonderfully layered. Definitely top two or three for me.
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The Reconsideration: This is always going to be a tough one for me because… I’m not sure if I automatically take Oprah. Which isn’t supposed to feel wrong, and yet, it always feels like you’re doing the wrong thing by voting the way you feel.
Straight off the top, I think this category is ultimately, for most people, between Oprah and Huston. For me, I like the Huston performance, but I don’t love it. I take Winfrey over Huston every time.
Now, that said, I really like the Meg Tilly performance. I know for some people, that’s an absolute no-go and a joke. I get it. But I really loved the performance and liked it more than Oprah’s. And essentially it comes down to: Oprah’s great and the performance is great. But I like Tilly’s performance better. That’s all it is. Yes, Winfrey is in the better film. Yes, you may not agree with me. But this is how I feel. I think the downside to Tilly’s performance is what happens in the late stages of her film. And I think the downside to Winfrey’s performance is that it doesn’t fully add up for me, and I could have used a little more to it. Put it this way, I see the Oprah performance and go, “Oh, that’s solid work.” I see the Tilly performance and I go, “Holy shit, this is great.” That’s me. And I can’t not vote for what I respond to because it seems wrong.
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- Meg Tilly, Agnes of God
- Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple
- Anjelica Huston, Prizzi’s Honor
- Amy Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime
- Margaret Avery, The Color Purple
- The Color Purple
- Prizzi’s Honor
- Twice in a Lifetime
- Agnes of God
My Vote: Meg Tilly, Agnes of God
The Color Purple is an essential movie. Just is. Spielberg, great film, very famous 80s movie, big in the Oscars. All around essential for film buffs.
Prizzi’s Honor is probably not essential, but highly worth seeing. The cast is insane, it’s John Huston, it’s Nicholson, it’s a great 80s comedy, lots of Oscars, won an Oscar. I say it’s essential, even if it’s not as essential the way The Color Purple is essential.
Twice in a Lifetime is a pretty good movie. Not great. Good actors you like with an okay plot and decently executed. You don’t need to see this. I think it’s worth a watch, but it’s not something you need to watch at all.
Agnes of God is not a great film. I don’t love it. I think Fonda overdoes it and Bancroft is fine, and Tilly is the best thing in it. But as a film, it’s not essential by any stretch. I’d really only recommend it for the performance.
The Last Word: Huston is not an undeserving winner. Oprah would have been a terrific choice. Maybe a better choice, maybe not. I have no real stake in it, and I’m not gonna cry about the result. They’re both fine. Me, I prefer Meg Tilly’s performance, and she’d be my vote. Her career has been the lesser of the three, sure. Her film is definitely the weakest of the three. There’s no denying that. But I liked her performance best, and after all, that’s what matters. I think you can’t go wrong with any of the three. All deserving. I don’t think the choice was wrong, and perhaps there could have been a better one, but that’s up to each person picking to decide, not me. I’m okay with it.
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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
Dianne Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters
Crimes of the Heart is a fucking crazy movie. If you think of the Oscars as a list of movies Hollywood recommends, this is one of those you’re gonna go, “What the fuck is this?”
Reminds me of my senior year, we were doing our last film class before graduation, and it was all about Scorsese and his influences. And as everyone knows, one of his influences is Powell/Pressburger. So we had to watch I Know Where I’m Going. Which is one of those movies people watch and go, “What the fuck?” because it’s so strange. Great, but strange. This is like that. Only without the great part.
Three sisters reunite after one of them shoots her husband. It’s very southern, very strange, and very over the top. The sisters are Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek. So there’s that. But you have to realize a plot point in this movie is that these girls’ mother hung herself and the family cat. This is either a black comedy that doesn’t do the comedy or one of the strangest camp movies ever made.
Tess Harper plays one of the sisters’ cousins who lives next door. She’s the annoying cousin who everyone hates but they put up with because they have to. It’s very one-note and over the top. And also really small. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t put any of the sisters as supporting. Would have made sense. Anyway, Harper’s the villain of the film, basically. But more annoyingly villainous than actually villainous. There’s literally a scene where Diane Keaton chases her around the house with a broom. I honestly don’t know what the hell this is, but I’m not voting for it.
Children of a Lesser God is a really wonderful film. So very 80s, but I still love it. It’s one of those teacher films. Teacher films are generally interesting.
William Hurt is a new teacher at a school for the deaf. He’s the new cool teacher with innovative methods. You know the type. He meets Marlee Matlin, a former student at the school who now works as a janitor. He starts a relationship with her. He tries to get her to speak (not sign, but actually speak). It’s actually a really great film. One of the more underrated films of the 80s.
Piper Laurie plays Marlee Matlin’s mother, from whom she’s estranged. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but is a veteran and a professional. Add to that a weak year (hell, a weak decade) and you get a pretty easy nomination.
As for the performance, she’s fine. It’s solid work. Not something that wins, and something you can take or leave as a nominee. She was always a very interesting actress, making different choices from most others, which helps her to stand out. She gets a nice scene where she reunites with her daughter, and she’s definitely respectable, but I wouldn’t take this. I probably have her fourth in the category.
The Color of Money is a sequel to The Hustler. It’s best not to compare the two. I consider it more of a spiritual sequel. But it’s definitely interesting, even before you consider that Martin Scorsese is directing Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.
Fast Eddie has stopped hustling and is now teaching hustlers. Mostly he flirts with waitresses as his proteges play. He barely cares. Though one day his guy gets hustled by Tom Cruise, who is clearly very talented. He strikes a deal to bring Cruise in hustling people. And that’s really all you need to know. I really like this film. It’s weak by Scorsese standards (artistically), if only because it’s the most mainstream thing he’s ever done.
Mastrantonio plays Cruise’s girlfriend, who is almost like his manager. She sits dutifully by during all his games, and is quietly the wily one of the pair. While Cruise is being cocky and not doing the thinking, she’s the one asking the questions. Getting all the information. She’s more of the student than Cruise is. She’s the one who actually listens to Newman.
Scorsese typically has a problem with underdeveloped female characters, and that’s somewhat the case with this movie as well. But she quietly does a fine job with the role, almost despite the fact that it’s underwritten. There’s more going on than there seems, but there’s also not a definitive arc to the character to really make the case that she could have won. I love her as an actress, and really like her in this movie, but unless I have no other option, I doubt I’m actually gonna vote for her.
A Room with a View is a Merchant Ivory film based on an E.M. Forster novel. Which just sounds like fucking death to me. But this is actually a decent film. I don’t hate this one.
Helena Bonham Carter is on a trip to Italy with her cousin, Maggie Smith. They hang out with other Brits, and she finds romance. It’s British period costume stuff. The plot doesn’t matter. It’s all manners and shit.
Maggie Smith plays the same role that Maggie has basically been playing for the past thirty years. Proper, fussy, sardonic, the whole bit. The role you picture Maggie Smith playing, that’s what she’s playing here. It’s more sarcastic than fussy, owing to the fact that she’s younger here. She’s amusing, as she always is. But I’m not voting for this. Come on. This is typical Maggie Smith. Sure, in 1985, she didn’t play this role a hundred times, but still. No. Is someone really gonna vote for this? I know we’re thirty years removed from the category and can’t pick it as purely as we could have then, but… really?
Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen. One of those movies that is generally regarded as one of his best. I used to think I hated this movie, but also kind of enjoyed the performances. It’s been five years, and I was overly due to watch this one.
The film begins and ends at Thanksgiving, and we follow the characters over the course of a single year. The characters are (insert title here). I’m not gonna get into all the stories here, since it’s only one that matters.
Dianne Wiest plays an actress who can’t seem to keep a job. She also used to do a lot of cocaine. She starts a catering business with Carrie Fisher, and the two of them eventually start fighting for both parts and men. So she gives up that job and moves onto another one, which is writing. And everything she writes about is so clearly inspired by her and her family that it’s barely even hidden. She also starts dating Woody Allen, a hypochondriac, forming a wonderfully neurotic pair.
She’s awesome in the movie. And in this category, it’s easy to see how she’s such an easy winner. Even despite my not loving the film, I’m still conceding that there’s no other choice but her.
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The Reconsideration: It’s pretty much Dianne Wiest and then everyone else. I really like the Mastrantonio performance, but I can’t really find a reason to actually vote for it. Maggie Smith is doing the typical Maggie Smith thing, and the other two are definite nos. Wiest is an easy choice.
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- Dianne Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters
- Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, The Color of Money
- Maggie Smith, A Room with a View
- Piper Laurie, Children of a Lesser God
- Tess Harper, Crimes of the Heart
- The Color of Money
- Children of a Lesser God
- Hannah and Her Sisters
- A Room with a View
- Crimes of the Heart
My Vote: Dianne Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters
The Color of Money. The sequel to The Hustler, Martin Scorsese directs, Paul Newman, Tom Cruise. If that doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what to tell you.
Children of a Lesser God is one of the great dramas of the 80s. Very 80s, but very solid. Highly, highly recommended. Essential for Oscar buffs because of the win.
A Room with a View is Merchant Ivory. British period costume drama. All good British actors, not totally boring, but it is what it is. I only really recommend these if I love them, so you’ve gotta decide if this is for you. I will say that I don’t dislike this one, so there is that.
Hannah and Her Sisters — don’t love it, don’t hate it. Middle of the pack Allen for me. Generally considered one of his best. One of the few to get a Best Picture nomination. Probably essential for him? I don’t know really how to rate these. If you like typical Woody Allen, you’ll probably like this. Also essential for Oscar buffs.
Crimes of the Heart is not a particularly great movie. I don’t love it. Not sure what it’s supposed to be, tonally. So, we’ll leave it at — I can’t recommend it, but the cast is solid, so maybe you want to see it because of that.
The Last Word: Wiest takes this one quite easily. I don’t see too many other choices. Maybe some people take Maggie Smith? Mastrantonio maybe gets a few votes because people like her and the film (which is what I did last time). Outside of that, this seems to be a landslide category in favor of Wiest, and one of the better decisions of the 80s.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)