The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1993-1994)
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.
Holly Hunter, The Firm
Anna Paquin, The Piano
Rosie Perez, Fearless
Winona Ryder, The Age of Innocence
Emma Thompson, In the Name of the Father
The Firm is based on a John Grisham book. Which is cool. He had a nice ten year period where his films were turned into films. And pretty much all of them are good. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, Runaway Jury — they’re all solid films.
This one is Tom Cruise as a young hotshot lawyer who can get pretty much any job he wants. But the one that intrigues him the most is the one that offers him the most money, but is the one that he’s heard the least about. So he takes it, moves there, and slowly finds out that there’s some shady stuff going on inside (insert title here) and that no lawyer has ever left the firm… alive. (Insert dramatic music here.)
The cast: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn, Diabeetus, Gary Busey, Margo Martindale, Dean Norris. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Entertaining as shit.
Now, Holly Hunter’s role in the film is as a secretary/lover to Gary Busey (maybe that’s why they nominated her). He’s a private investigator that Cruise hires to find out what’s going on with all these lawyers ending up dead. Busey gets murdered when he starts digging, and Hunter survives because she was under the desk about to blow him at the time. So then she helps Cruise take (insert title here) down. She’s brash, chain smokes, big hair… very 90s character.
Her nomination here is… you know what this nomination is? Jamie Foxx in 2004. She was such a huge frontrunner for Best Actress (the way he was clearly a lock in his year), and then the second nomination comes through for a mainstream film in which she’s very good, but not something that really needs to be nominated. No way you consider her anything other than fifth in this category. Unless you really hate some other performance.
The Piano is one of those films thats synonymous with the Oscars in the 90s. Pure Miramax.
Holly Hunter is a mute woman who ends up married to a New Zealander (Sam Neill, nowhere near Montana). She and her daughter are taken there, and he prized possession is her piano, which is basically what she uses to speak. So we watch her and the daughter adapt to their new life. And then she falls in love with Harvey Keitel, a white man who became maori, it’s a whole thing.
Anna Paquin plays the daughter. She’s precocious, lively, wants to be the center of attention, makes up stories, and acts as her mother’s interpreter, having a unique form of sign language they use to communicate. She’s good. I typically love child performances, but this one is just pretty good. It’s not an automatic vote for me. I like the performance more, seeing it again, but I still don’t think she’s an automatic winner.
Fearless is a strange film. Great director, loaded cast, feels like Oscar bait to the max. Doesn’t quite work overall, but it’s definitely interesting.
Rosie Perez plays a mother who was in the crash with her infant son. His seatbelt messes up and she has to hold him as the plane goes down. And in the crash, he dies. And she’s wracked with survivor’s guilt, because she let her son slip from her hands. There’s no way she could have held onto him, but she is destroyed by the idea that she killed her child. And she meets Bridges and starts a relationship with him.
Rosie Perez is terrific in this movie. She’s perfectly cast. I remember really loving this role when I saw it the first time, because I had zero expectations for her in it, and was really impressed by how real she made this woman.
Here’s the thing — and it’s strange that I’m about to say this because usually I have the opposite problem with performances — in the big scenes, she’s great. When she gets to lose her shit and be big and emotional, she’s terrific. It’s the smaller scenes that don’t quite work for me. Usually the actor is really great until they have to do the big scene, and it feels forced or overdone or they’re not quite skilled enough to pull it off. Here, I prefer her doing the big scenes. And when she isn’t, I want her to be. Plus I think the role falls victim to a weak script. The film is not all there. It’s like 70% of the way there, but something feels off about it. It doesn’t feel fully formed. So as much as I like the performance, it doesn’t feel fully there for me. Meaning that if I’m gonna take her, it’s gonna be because she’s the best of all the options. In a category like this, that’s gonna be tough. But we’ll see.
The Age of Innocence is Martin Scorsese doing a period piece costume drama. Seriously.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a New York lawyer engaged to marry a society woman. She’s not particularly interesting, but she’ll make a good wife. The usual costume story. The one who’ll be a good wife who there’s no real passion for. Then he meets Michelle Pfeiffer, and there is passion there. She’s also his fiancée’s cousin. So they start an affair, and as you can guess, it doesn’t end well.
Winona Ryder plays the fiancée. And she’s good. Definitely one of those nominees where she’s an up and coming actress and they think she’s taken that next step into the “big time.” You see this a lot in this category. It’s a slow burn of a performance. At first she’s bland and uninteresting. Then we see a spark of something unique about this woman, as Daniel Day-Lewis’ character does, and we fall for her. Though then, by the end, we start to see that she’s actually way smarter and much more manipulative than we thought. Like, “Oh, you thought I had no idea about the affair? I did. And I told her I was pregnant, so now she’s leaving and you’re stuck with me.” I liked her. Though I also see limitations in the performance. So while I’d like for this to be an easy vote, it’s not. I have to see how this one turns out based on the competition.
In the Name of the Father is an awesome film. Jim Sheridan was the king of the Irish film in the 90s.
Daniel Day-Lewis happens to be in the area when a bomb goes off. He’s an Irish roustabout the British don’t like. They pin the bombing on him (even though he has an alibi) and throw him and his father in prison for thirty years. (Some fucked up shit happened to the Irish by the British.) So we see that happen, then watch them adapt to life in prison, and then the last third is Emma Thompson as a British lawyer crusading to get him released (along with many other falsely imprisoned Irish men and women). It’s a really terrific film.
Emma Thompson, as I said, is the crusading lawyer. It’s a good performance, but she doesn’t show up until the last quarter of the film and really only has one big courtroom scene. Otherwise it’s a fairly by the numbers performance. It’s good because she’s Emma Thompson, but otherwise most actresses could have played this just as well. Not something that needed to be here, especially next to hear leading work that she was also nominated for. This and the Holly Hunter nomination easily fall to the back of the category.
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The Reconsideration: What is it with the categories I thought were strong turning out not to be? I think it’s because this time, I’m actually focusing on performances and not films. Looking at this category… there’s no #1. Which seems to be a common refrain during this reconsideration.
The Holly Hunter nomination is a complete filler nomination. The movie’s awesome, and she’s fine in it, but there’s no one who thinks she was nominated for any other reason than because they really liked her this year in her other movie. Same with Jamie Foxx in 2004. The performance is fine, but most wouldn’t even nominate it, let alone vote for it. That’s an easy #5, making it both easier and more difficult to pick a winner.
Then there’s Emma Thompson. I loved this performance last time, and might have even voted for her (though if memory serves, I think I took Winona). But really, she shows up in the later stages of the film, and I’ve seen her do this kind of work before. I love Emma Thompson and really like the performance, but it feels perfunctory.
You know, I just came to a realization. I wonder if my voting this time has to do with me doing them all in order rather than last time, where I was all over the place, writing up categories as I finished them. This way, I’m only focusing on the present and the past, and not thinking, “Oh, she didn’t win for this other category I already wrote up (even if it was Best Actress and not Supporting Actress and was three years after this), and I don’t like the other choices, so I’ll take her.”
Anyway, given the choice between the other three, it’s a weird, almost even three-way race. The performance that made me go, “Oh wow, this is good,” is Rosie Perez. The performance I admired in a pleasure sense was Winona Ryder. And Anna Paquin was overall solid, not hitting any real highs or lows.
Now, the downside to Perez is that I feel her film (and character) were a bit underwritten and don’t quite land as hard as they could have. Nothing really against the performance, but that does factor into the overall product, whether she’s great or not.
The downside to Paquin is — I just didn’t love the performance. Seeing my track record, you know that I’m usually the first one to vote for a child actor in these categories. I love a strong performance by a child. I can think of at least three I’ve taken already in this category. So this isn’t a situation where I’m gonna say “she’s too young to take seriously amongst the others.” This one is simply — she’s good. I didn’t see anything there that made me go, “Oh man, I have to vote for her.” I think the strengths and weaknesses of the performance have to do with the fact that she’s a child. It feels like a child actor, but also, she’s supposed to be a child. So I think they did a good job shaping the overall performance and a lot of it has to do with the director and the writing and the editing, but on the other hand, she does feel natural. That, coupled with the category, it’s easy to see how she won. But I’ll get to that in a second, since that part of it does always fascinate me.
Now, the downside to Winona is — she’s good, but the type of dialogue in the movie, and the slow burn of the role… I think (and I hate to say this) that it really shows her limitations as an actress. She was 22 at the time, so I get it. It’s the kind of performance where I see that she’s bumping up against what the role requires and what she can do. She’s really charming and it’s hard not to like her, but I’m not sure it’s all fully there. I think she does a more than adequate job with the role, but I’m not sure if I like it enough to actually take her. Given the three, I’d take Anna Paquin over Winona, which basically renders her out at this point.
So, for me, the choice is between Anna Paquin and Rosie Perez, which I don’t think was the case when this category was going down in 1993. Holly Hunter and Emma Thompson were both nominated in lead and supporting. It was clear (at least I assume it was) that Holly Hunter was winning lead. And Thompson had just won the year before this, so I don’t think they felt a particular need to give her anything. And I think Rosie Perez, given her ethnicity, her unique screen presence… I truly think they thought the nomination was the reward and that a fair amount of people (for race and for just how she sounds on screen) weren’t gonna vote for her and be turned off by the performance. So really, the category seems to have been between Paquin and Ryder. And I think Ryder, who won the Globe (this is the year before SAG, so we don’t really have much in the way of knowing), seemed like a big favorite, and that Paquin, whose performance kind of goes hand in hand with Holly Hunter, being campaigned for by Harvey Weinstein, and the fact that Winona probably had some sort of backlash (I have no idea, I’m guessing), makes it understandable how this turned out the way it did. Because I can’t imagine Paquin was considered a favorite at all.
Anyway, that’s just stuff that interests me. As for the vote… I don’t particularly love either performance, and am okay with both of them. So, in the interest of not loving the one that won, and being a natural contrarian at heart… I’ll take Rosie Perez. Since I’m not gonna take Winona, and between the two, I felt for Perez’s character. So sure. Paquin is probably the choice, I’m sure, but ehh. Rosie is the vote for me this time. Let’s see what happens in five years.
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- Rosie Perez, Fearless
- Anna Paquin, The Piano
- Winona Ryder, The Age of Innocence
- Emma Thompson, In the Name of the Father
- Holly Hunter, The Firm
- The Firm
- In the Name of the Father
- The Age of Innocence
- The Piano
My Vote: Rosie Perez, Fearless
In the Name of the Father is Jim Sheridan. And the man made a string of great movies from ’89 to ’02. My Left Foot is the big one. This is the one that got more Oscar love. It’s a great film. Great performances, great subject matter. I say it’s essential, even if it’s not the most essential film on this list.
The Piano is the big Oscar film of 1993. Doesn’t feel like an essential film, but having won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, it’s essential for a certain group of people. And, if we’re talking 90s, it’s one of the essential films of the 90s. So let’s call it essential for your film buff education. I admire the film very much, but I don’t love it. So I’m not gonna heap loads of praise on it. I think it’s a very solid movie that you should see as someone who loves film.
The Firm is an awesome movie. Based on John Grisham, which usually lends itself to entertaining films. It’s more of a popcorn movie than an Oscar movie, and it’s got a loaded cast. Highly recommended all around.
The Age of Innocence is Scorsese. Why would anyone not willingly see any Scorsese movie? It’s also him doing a costume drama. Which is awesome. And the cast and performances are all top notch. It’s a film I highly recommend that any real film buff should consider essential.
Fearless doesn’t quite work, but it’s Peter Weir, and the cast is really solid. Lot of familiar names in this one. I recommend it, even though it’s very 90s and doesn’t totally come together in the end. I don’t downgrade for failure, but I also say that it’s not something you need to run out and see. Maybe you get to it, maybe you don’t. But I think you should check it out at some point.
The Last Word: The category feels strong, but really, there’s only three performances you can vote for. You can’t take Hunter, and the Thompson vote feels like a generic type of “Oscar” vote based on the performance and her being nominated twice. You either gotta take Ryder, Paquin or Perez. And based on that, I assume most people would take Paquin, many would take Ryder, and few would take Perez. Which I understand. I think they’re all good choices in their own way and I think as long as you make a solid case, you can take any of them. I also think they did make a good choice and perhaps the best choice they could have made with this one. Which is not something I thought I’d say.
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Rosemary Harris, Tom & Viv
Helen Mirren, The Madness of King George
Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction
Jennifer Tilly, Bullets Over Broadway
Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway
So now we’re firmly in the era of SAG. So now I can do what I actually prefer to do now, which is break down the category and how we ended up here. As best I can, since I obviously only started paying attention to the Oscars in the past decade or so. I was six when this category happened.
At SAG, only Dianne Wiest and Uma Thurman were nominated. Two of the other nominees were Sally Field and Robin Wright for Forrest Gump. Which is interesting. Field has the obvious Oscar bait mother role, and one would assume she for sure got nominated for it, even though Wright is easily the better role. But neither got nominated. Which is interesting. And then the other nominee was Jamie Lee Curtis for True Lies. Which is interesting as hell.
The Globes also only had the Wiest/Thurman pairing. They nominated Robin Wright as well. But instead of the others, they nominated Sofia Loren for Pret-a-Porter (veteran nomination) and Kirsten Dunst for Interview with the Vampire (they love them a young, up and coming actress, don’t they?).
BAFTA went totally off the board. They’re not particularly helpful until 2000 onward. So we’ll leave them alone for now.
But it’s interesting how three of these nominees came from completely out of nowhere. I guess that’s because BAFTA still announced after the Oscars and couldn’t help guide the way they do now. That also helps you learn just how much of a favorite Dianne Wiest was, having won SAG and the Globe and being the only person to pop up on the (at this point) major lists.
Tom & Viv is a British period costume drama. Hooray!
It’s about T.S. Eliot and his marriage to his first (and in a way, only, since they never divorced) wife, who had a history of mental problems.
Rosemary Harris plays the wife’s mother. I’d also like to point out, before we get into the rest — Rosemary Harris and Willem Dafoe would later also star together in Spider-Man. So picture that as you watch this movie.
Harris’ performance — perfectly adequate. I think is the proper way to talk about this one. We see her over the course of many years, as evidenced by the fact that in each new scene she’s in, her hair gets grayer and grayer. She doesn’t have an arc so much as she’s just there in a lot of scenes and puts in solid work. She’s there to play the sensible, calm foil to Miranda Richardson, who gets to play nuts during her scenes.
The Madness of King George is another British period costume drama. Though more period. And more costume!
King George is crazy. So we watch him be crazy and the people around him try to get him help. That’s pretty much the film.
Helen Mirren plays the queen. She has no real relevance to the plot except that she’s the wife. So she’s there. She gets scenes. She does a good job with it. It’s Helen Mirren. We know she’s capable of putting in good work. I just don’t see anything in the performance that makes me want to vote for her, especially with the lineup of characters we have coming up.
I’d say the performance is solid, the role is fair, and the character is just okay. If that makes sense. At a certain point, you kind of have to look at how her character in the film relates to other characters. And when it comes down to it, is she a better actress than Uma Thurman? Yeah. Is her acting better than Thurman’s? Can be argued. Is the character more memorable? Absolutely not. So with that in mind, can you really take her in this category? I don’t think I would.
Pulp Fiction is kinda famous. If you’re reading me, there’s a 99% chance you’ve seen it. Which makes my job easier.
Uma Thurman plays Mia Wallace. She pretty much does a lot of coke and dances in this movie. And then gets stabbed in the heart with adrenaline.
I mean, yeah, she’s worth the nomination. Wouldn’t vote for her, despite my love of the film. The character is iconic the way the film is iconic. People would take her based on that, but the performance is just okay. Nomination worthy but I don’t think win worthy.
Bullets Over Broadway is Woody Allen, and for my money, one of his absolute best films. And that’s coming from someone who really only likes about a quarter of his stuff.
John Cusack is a wunderkind playwright who’s just written a new play. In order to get it bankrolled, he goes to a mobster, who wants to put his girlfriend in it. Feeling like he’s sold out, he enlists two heavy hitter actors to play the other lead parts. One is a constant overeater, and the other is a fading, alcoholic leading lady whose days are about to be past her. And we watch as the entire play spirals out of control, until the mobster’s henchman, designed to make sure the girlfriend is treated with respect, turns out to be a gifted writer who helps Cusack fix the play and make it great. It’s an awesome movie all around.
Two nominations here. First, Jennifer Tilly plays the mobster’s girlfriend. It’s a long line of dim-witted molls and actresses, going back to Lesley Ann Warren, Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday. It’s that exact same kind of character that you know. And she does a fantastic job with it. Because she’s vain, she’s dumb, but she’s also got a heart to her, and there’s an intelligence and an energy to this character that comes through, the way she plays it. I’ve always been really impressed with her performance and think she’s the underrated contender in this category that people too easily toss aside next to the other two big nominees.
Dianne Wiest plays the fading actress. She’s big and everything she says is delivered like a great monologue. She gets the big lines, like when she invites Cusack for a drink and orders two martinis. And he goes, “How did you know that’s what I drank?” And she goes, “Oh, you wanted one too?” And then she starts manipulating him to get more lines in the play and more monologues, etc. It’s one of those characters you immediately understand and definitely is big and enjoyable and worthy of an actress like Wiest who constantly seems to be the best thing in her films. I completely get why people would vote for this, and I think ultimately this category ultimately comes down to her, Tilly and Thurman. So without further ado…
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The Reconsideration: This is a fun one to see how people vote, because there’s a clear delineation between people of certain ages. If you’re under 25, you’re probably taking Uma Thurman, because Pulp Fiction shaped so much of how you view movies. If you’re over 25, there’s a pretty good chance you’re probably going to take Dianne Wiest. I feel like you have to be more mature (exceptions abound, of course) in order to appreciate her as an actress, always doing something different in her roles. It’s actually fun, seeing myself appreciate certain performances more now that I’m older, and also seeing way more clearly, “Oh yeah, this is what most adults and critics etc. think are the best performances in the category.” At 22, you want to just go, “Pulp Fiction is awesome, so I wanna take Uma.” And at 27, now I’m like, “Dianne Wiest is great, and she’s clearly the one everyone was gonna vote for.” But I’m still somewhere in between. And, when you see how I’m gonna vote, you’ll also see, not much has changed with me and I’m still who I am.
So, Rosemary Harris is a no. She does solid supporting work, but I don’t like the performance enough to treat her as anything other than a fifth nominee. Helen Mirren also does admirable work, but otherwise also doesn’t particularly need to be here. I like her, so I’m fine with it, but she doesn’t register as anything other than fourth for the category. Maybe third for performance, fourth overall because her character isn’t as memorable or iconic as Uma’s.
Now, between Uma and the two Woody Allen nominees, many people would go, “Vote split, take Uma.” But I don’t. Because honestly, Uma is fine, buts let’s not really pretend she’s that great in the movie. She’s good, and the character is iconic. But a lot of that movie is iconic, and a lot of that is Quentin. I honestly thought both Allen performances were quantitatively better than her, so she’s going to remain a third choice for me.
This category has always, to me, come down to which Bullets Over Broadway performance one likes better. Most people would take Dianne Wiest over Jennifer Tilly, which I understand. She’s got the showier part, she’s the kind of actress that makes something like this work to her full advantage, and she doesn’t have the negative aspects that Tilly has, namely coming off as annoying or shrill or whatever. And I made sure to watch the performances again closely to see if I felt that way. But I’m gonna be perfectly honest… as I was watching the movie again, one thought in particular struck me, and I think that’s what will guide how I vote in this category. And that is: it’s much harder to play stupid than play smart.
Dianne Wiest is big, bold, self-absorbed and manipulative. And that all comes across and it’s hilarious. But Tilly has to not only play stupid, but play stupid in such a way that you both are annoyed by this woman, understand her, feel for her, and laugh at her. It’s a fine tightrope to walk, and I think she does it without crossing over into the territory where you just can’t stand this character. I think it’s a wonderful performance, and I feel she was more impressive than Dianne Wiest was. So I’m gonna take her. I thought I might change the vote this time, but no, I don’t. I still like Tilly over Wiest.
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- Jennifer Tilly, Bullets Over Broadway
- Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway
- Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction
- Helen Mirren, The Madness of King George
- Rosemary Harris, Tom & Viv
- Pulp Fiction
- Bullets Over Broadway
- The Madness of King George
- Tom & Viv
My Vote: Jennifer Tilly, Bullets Over Broadway
Pulp Fiction is beyond essential, and almost no one reading this hasn’t seen it. So there’s an implicit statement in there if the case is otherwise for you.
Bullets Over Broadway is one of the great Woody Allen films. If I had to pull five of his films that I think everyone needs to see, this would be on that list. But that’s ones I think everyone will like. Not the most essential. It’s probably 6-10 on his “essential” films. But in terms of the ones that are just amazing that the most people will love, this is one of them. So consider it essential but not all-time essential. See this, though, because it’s awesome.
The Madness of King George is fine. It’s good. Don’t love it, don’t dislike it. You don’t need to see it. But if you’re into these kinds of films, you get to see a king with mental illness. That’s fun.
Tom & Viv — whatever. Romance, costumes, mental illness. It’s fine. I don’t love it. It’s fair. Not gonna recommend it in any particular way. Not essential in the least.
The Last Word: In this category, I think it’s really between the two Bullets Over Broadway nominees. Some people are just always gonna take Uma, and that’s fine, if that’s what you want to do, but I don’t know if she’s ultimately the vote. I’m not gonna say you can’t, but I’m also not gonna say I feel like it’s a great choice. I think Wiest or Tilly make the most sense. And while most people would take Wiest, I always think Tilly is better every time I see the movie. So, the choice is fine. I disagree, but not wildly. This is a category I’m willing to get into a discussion about, because I do think there are a lot of pitfalls with it, despite the fact that it’s pretty easy at the same time.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)