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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1987-1988)

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.

1987

Norma Aleandro, Gaby: A True Story

Anne Archer, Fatal Attraction

Olympia Dukakis, Moonstruck

Anne Ramsey, Throw Momma from the Train

Ann Sothern, The Whales of August

Analysis:

Gaby: A True Story is a movie about a girl born with cerebral palsy who deals with her disability and ends up becoming an author. It’s kind of a female My Left Foot.

Norma Aleandro plays the maid of the family/caretaker of the girl. She’s kind of a confidant, the one who knows the girl best, being the one who spends the most time with her. She gets to be the devoted nurse and person who stands up for this girl.

It’s a solid performance, definitely one that worked because this was only her second English language film and they love nominating these types of performances. It might not seem like much, but there’s a lot of depth and complexity to her, and she’s definitely worth of the nomination. She’s bottom/middle of the pack.

Fatal Attraction is, as I like to say, the original crazy white bitch movie.

Michael Douglas meets Glenn Close at a business function. They hit it off and he starts an affair with her. Eventually, she wants it to be more serious, but he says he’s not gonna leave his wife. She then loses her shit and tries to kill herself. He of course breaks up with her, because nobody wants crazy. She then becomes obsessed with him and stalks him. The things she does to him and his family are pretty fucked up. (That poor rabbit.)

This movie was a surprise huge hit of 1987, and even managed a Best Picture nomination. Michael Douglas won Best Actor for Wall Street, but this performance also helped bring that about.

Anne Archer plays Douglas’ wife in the film, and honestly… she pretty much just came along for the ride. She’s the loving wife for the first part of the film. Then she gets a big scene where Douglas admits to the affair and she gets to be upset. Then she gets to be terrorized like Douglas is, and have the moment in the end where they fight back.

It’s a fine performance. She was nominated because of the film and for the scene where she finds out about the affair and where she tells Close to leave them alone. I could take it or leave it. She’s no higher than fourth or fifth for me.

Moonstruck is a film I used to not like, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like I disliked the film, I just disliked the idea of the film.

It’s about Cher, a middle-aged accountant in Brooklyn who’s a widow and is about to become engaged to a nice man she doesn’t love. He’s a momma’s boy and rushes off to Italy when he hears his mother is dying. He requests that she contact his estranged brother and get him to come to the wedding. That brother is Nicolas Cage, and of course she falls for him while doing this. And then there are these nice subplots with her parents and infidelity and all that. It’s actually a really nice comedy.

Olympia Dukakis plays Cher’s mother, who knows her husband is cheating on her after many years together. So goes through a bit of an existential crisis, but eventually calls him out on it. There’s not a whole lot of an arc here that I can explain, but the character feels wonderfully fully formed and Dukakis gives a hell of a performance. In a category like this, I understand why she won. She’s probably the right choice. I may not take her, but that has nothing to do with how great she is in the part and how deserving she is. It’s purely because…

Throw Momma from the Train. If seeing this movie doesn’t immediately bring out a response of, “OWEN!!!” then I don’t know what else we have to talk about here.

This is such an awesomely weird and wonderful comedy. Billy Crystal is a writer who teaches a class for people who want to write. So, weirdos. One of his students is Danny DeVito, who lives with his mother still. Crystal is pissed at his ex-wife, who stole his book and published it and became famous. DeVito resents his mother and thinks about killing her all the time. In order to help DeVito with his writing, Crystal encourages him to watch Hitchcock. He goes to see Strangers on a Train, and thinks that Crystal was proposing a similar situation to him: he kill Crystal’s wife and Crystal will kill his mother for him. And no one will be the wiser. DeVito then presumably fulfills his end of the bargain and makes Crystal live up to his. So the rest of the film is a hilarious comedy of errors as Crystal tries to kill DeVito’s mother.

Anne Ramsey plays DeVito’s mother. And holy shit, is this one of the most memorable performances you’ll see. It’s not that it’s such a great performance, technically. It’s just that she’s so memorable of a character. You won’t forget her after seeing this. It’s almost impossible to rate this against any other performance. There’s no denying she’s the most memorable character in this category. That’s for sure. As for a vote… no idea where anyone would go with this. She’s easily top two for me.

The Whales of August is another On Golden Pond. Throwing together more older actors and actresses. Except it stars Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern.

Two old sisters live by the sea. And they pretty much sit in their house and talk about the past and dealing with old problems. And they work through their problems. Meanwhile, Vincent Price is a potential suitor for Gish. It’s not as overly enjoyable as On Golden Pond, but it has its merits.

Ann Sothern plays a younger friend of the sisters who is lively and fun. That’s pretty much all she is. She sits there and provides advice and stuff, but mostly she was nominated for being a veteran who should some spunk.

She’s fine. Nothing I’d vote for. Nothing most people would vote for. But it’s nice to see her here.

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The Reconsideration: This category is so easily Olympia Dukakis’ there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s so unbearably weak. Sothern is charming, but it’s worth nothing more than a veteran nomination. Archer clearly came along with her film and I’d be shocked if anyone actually liked her enough to vote for her here. Aleandro is solid, but not many people have even seen her film, and a lot of the nomination stems from a previous film that she was not nominated for a few years prior. Maybe you could try to make a case for her, but I doubt anyone really would. (Especially since, if you asked three hundred people about this category, I’d say less than 20% will have even seen the performance.)

The only person you can say is maybe worthy over Dukakis is Anne Ramsey. Because she’s so memorable and so hilarious in her film. The performance isn’t better per se, but the character is more amusing and more memorable. So I’m taking her because I love the part, but that doesn’t mean that I thought she gave the best performance in the category. Dukakis was a deserving winner. This is one of those situations where I know who’s gonna win, but I’m gonna vote for my favorite because it’s pretty much a win-win for me no matter what happens.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Anne Ramsey, Throw Momma from the Train
  2. Olympia Dukakis, Moonstruck
  3. Norma Aleandro, Gaby: A True Story
  4. Anne Archer, Fatal Attraction
  5. Ann Sothern, The Whales of August

Rankings (films):

  1. Throw Momma from the Train
  2. Moonstruck
  3. Fatal Attraction
  4. The Whales of August
  5. Gaby: A True Story

My Vote: Anne Ramsey, Throw Momma from the Train

Recommendations:

Moonstruck is a great comedy. Great performances, a lot of fun. Highly recommended, and near-essential. Oscar buffs must see it because it won Actress and Supporting Actress. Also you should just see it because it’s awesome. Nicolas Cage is so great here. As is Cher, and everyone else, really. Also written by the guy who wrote the play Doubt. So there’s that.

Fatal Attraction is probably essential. Culturally pretty iconic. Crazy white lady terrorizing a family. They’ve remade this movie a couple of times over the years. This was the original. So let’s call it essential and say you need to see it.

Throw Momma from the Train is a great comedy. One of the underrated comedies. Anne Ramsey is incredible here, and it’s a bunch of fun. Highly, highly, highly recommended. I think you ought to see this one.

Gaby: A True Story is worth it if you really like My Left Foot and films about people overcoming medical conditions. It’s not as good as My Left Foot. It’s like… Up the Down Staircase to My Left Foot’s To Sir With Love. You know what I mean? Maybe not the best analogy. How about the Dangerous Minds to Stand and Deliver? Stand and Deliver is the iconic inner city teacher movie, and Dangerous Minds is a fine alternative that’s perfectly good but also not overly memorable. Also maybe not the best analogy, since people my age grew up with Dangerous Minds and remember it more fondly than history does. Plus it has “Gangsta’s Paradise” in it. You get the idea, though. It’s fine, not overly great, you don’t ever need to see it, but if you like that genre, you’ll like the movie.

The Whales of August is worth it if you like watching movies with gladiators old people in them. Old Bette Davis, old Lillian Gish, old Vincent Price. That’s what this is. The film is whatever. It’s really only worth it if you want to see them in it.

The Last Word: Dukakis is one of the more deserving winners of the category, and that can’t be argued against. My personal favorite performance was Anne Ramsey’s. So for me, it’ a win-win. Either my favorite wins, or the deserving betting favorite wins. Either way, I’m happy and it feels like a good choice. I think Dukakis is the consensus here, and I think she was a great winner historically.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1988

Joan Cusack, Working Girl

Geena Davis, The Accidental Tourist

Frances McDormand, Mississippi Burning

Michelle Pfeiffer, Dangerous Liaisons

Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl

Analysis:

Working Girl is a fairly typical 80s comedy. I’m surprised it was such a hit at the Oscars. It’s very commercial, not overly surprising. I’m guessing it’s because Mike Nichols made it.

Melanie Griffith is an ambitious woman working as a secretary. She ends up working for a new, up and coming executive who, unlike other bosses, is willing to treat her as an equal and listen to her ideas. She proposes an idea (a merger for another company), but is told it was rejected. Then her boss breaks her leg skiing and is gone for a couple of weeks. It’s during this time that she discovers her boss is going to steal her idea and claim it as her own. So she takes it upon herself to try to meet the other company’s executive to pitch the idea. That executive is Harrison Ford. Romance ensues. And the idea actually starts gaining traction. And then her boss comes back, threatening to tear it all down. It’s a solid film.

Joan Cusack plays a fellow secretary who is friends with Griffith. She’s barely in the movie and has so little to do, but she’s such a unique comic presence that she makes an impression. So in a way, the nomination is a triumph. But there’s no way you vote for her.

Sigourney Weaver plays the boss, who is sweet, albeit clearly fake, superficial and self-centered. She seems nice, but then we see just how cutthroat she is, and then when she shows up again in the latter stages of the movie, we see how much of a liar and a phony she is. Then when she sees that Griffith is trying to assert herself and won’t let her idea be stole, she turns into a full on bitch and a villain you want to see fail.

It’s a strong performance, but I don’t see it as anything more than a fine comic performance. I don’t see anything here that makes me want to vote for her. I know she had the double nomination, and that almost always leads to a win, but I just don’t like the performance enough to take it.

The Accidental Tourist is based on a Pulitzer Prize nominee. So there’s that. Otherwise it’s a very 80s movie.

William Hurt is a travel writer whose son has been murdered and whose wife leaves him. Depressed, he goes back to the house where he grew up in order to put his life back together. There, he meets Geena Davis, a quirky dog trainer. Romance ensues.

Davis plays basically a manic pixie dream girl. She’s quirky, talks a lot, and actively pursues William Hurt even though he’s not looking for a relationship. She’s fine. It’s a likable performance. Not sure I vote for this on its own. Might be the product of a weak category.

Mississippi Burning is a terrific film. Three Civil Rights activists are murdered in the deep south, and the FBI is sent to investigate suspected Klan activity. Gene Hackman is the southern-bred boy who knows these people, and Dafoe is the northerner who is idealistic but doesn’t quite fit in. It’s a really great film.

Frances McDormand plays the wife of the guy they suspect actually murdered the boys. She accomplishes a lot with a relative little. You get a full sense of who this woman is, what her backstory is, and how she really feels, even without much dialogue or screen time.

Her big part is that she knows her husband did it, but dutifully stands by him even though he’s awful to her. And Hackman sees that she’s really lonely and just needs some attention, so he flirts with her to get on her good side and get information out of her. She gets the appropriate monologues and Oscar moments. There’s a great scene where she gives him some information, but it’s shot from the outside of the store window, so we only see the information being exchanged. Then Hackman leaves and we see the look on her face change to, “Oh Jesus, what have I done?”

I’m not sure it all adds up to something I want to vote for, but all the tools are there and the role is one that definitely fits the category. We’ll see.

Dangerous Liaisons is about all the fucked up things aristocratic French people did in the 18th century.

Glenn Close is a man-eater whose lover dumps her to marry a young girl. So, pissed off, she decides to fuck him over by convincing a notorious playboy, John Malkovich, to sleep with the girl, thereby ruining her virtue before the marriage. Malkovich, meanwhile, is trying to sleep with Michelle Pfeiffer. But that’s not going well, so he decides to go for the challenge, only if Close sleeps with him if he succeeds.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays the woman Malkovich is after. She’s married and religious, and finds all her virtues becoming corrupted as she slowly allows herself to be seduced by a guy she knows to be an unscrupulous cad. We watch her resist, then struggle, then give in, and ultimately get fucked over because, once Malkovich succeeds, he actually falls in love with her. What was once a game is now serious. Only now Close, as part of her game, tells him to end it. So rather than be exposed for all the shit he’s done, he has to break off the only fulfilling relationship he’s ever had.

Pfeiffer cries a lot in this movie. She does a good job with the part. But mostly when I think of her in this movie, I think of her crying. I really like her, and I think she’s solid in the part. I’m not sure I can really vote for this performance unless I have no other choice. Good news though is that I might not have another choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t like this category. It feels weak. A lot of 2s and 3s and no #1. I don’t love the Working Girl nominees. Cusack has no screen time and has little to do. And if you’re gonna take anyone from the film, you’re gonna take Sigourney Weaver. For both the performance and the fact that she was also nominated lead this year. I don’t like the performance enough to take it. It’s appropriate for the film, but not something I’d vote for at the Oscars.

Michelle Pfeiffer is solid in her part, but she doesn’t feel like a complete fit for the role and it doesn’t feel as organic as say, Geena Davis. So I won’t vote for her. And between Davis and McDormand… McDormand has the part that fits, and Davis has the liveliness. I don’t particularly like my options, so, if it really came down to it, I’m gonna go the way they did and just take Geena Davis. I enjoyed her character more. Ask me tomorrow, it may be McDormand. Here, at least Davis was lively in an otherwise dour film. McDormand is solid, but it’s too much of a one-note role that I don’t love enough to actually vote for. And Pfeiffer, as I said, just doesn’t feel like the right fit for the role enough for me to take over Geena Davis. So, despite not loving the performance, I’ll take her.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Geena Davis, The Accidental Tourist
  2. Frances McDormand, Mississippi Burning
  3. Michelle Pfeiffer, Dangerous Liaisons
  4. Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl
  5. Joan Cusack, Working Girl

Rankings (films):

  1. Mississippi Burning
  2. Dangerous Liaisons
  3. Working Girl
  4. The Accidental Tourist

My Vote: Geena Davis, The Accidental Tourist

Recommendations:

Mississippi Burning is the most essential film on this list. Maybe not all-time essential, but I’d say it’s something you need to see. It’s a great thriller, great performances, and just one of those movies most people will like. I feel it’s one of those movies they should show in high school history class to both give you an idea of southern institutional racism in the civil rights era and also entertain you in the right way. Like Inherit the Wind. Certain movies are best seen when growing up. This feels like one of them, therefore, I call it essential.

Working Girl is a big film from the 80s. A nice romantic comedy, directed by a legend, with great performances all around and a lot of great actors in smaller parts. I recommend it strongly. It’s 80s essential but not all time essential.

Dangerous Liaisons is a costume drama, but this one is different because so many of the characters (specifically Glenn Close and Malkovich) are such assholes. It’s more bearable to me when the characters aren’t all mannered and following societal protocols but are instead secretly fucking each other over. So that’s a plus. Otherwise, it’s a solid film that you don’t need to see. I recommend it, but it’s not essential.

The Accidental Tourist is… fine. It’s a decent movie. Doesn’t hold up overly well. Some people will love it. Most people will think it’s okay. It’s essential for Oscar buffs because of the win. Otherwise not essential at all.

The Last Word: No idea what to do in this category. Depending on how you feel, you could easily take four different people. Not sure Cusack is the right choice, but the other four all could easily have cases made for them. And given the lack of a clear #1, they’re all legitimate choices as long as you can state your case effectively. I think they made a fair choice, and I’m not sure there was a particularly better one to be had. So it is what it is. They had one of four fair choices in the category, and I’m cool with the one they made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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