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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1995-1996)

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.

1995

Joan Allen, Nixon

Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13

Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

Mare Winningham, Georgia

Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility

Analysis:

So we’re onto this SAG/BAFTA/Globe thing. (BFCA doesn’t help really until 2003. They announced winners, but there’s no real category until 2003.)

This year, SAG had three of the five nominees: Kate Winslet (who won), Mira Sorvino and Mare Winningham. The Globes did not have Winningham but did have the other two, along with Kathleen Quinlan. BAFTA is the one who had Joan Allen. So all five showed up somewhere in the precursors. Winslet and Sorvino showed up on every list, and the other three were split over each of the three.

The other people who got nominated, just to give you an idea of who seemingly “just missed” — Stockard Channing for Smoke (does anyone even remember that movie?), Anjelica Huston for The Crossing Guard (those were both SAG nominations). Huston also got a Globe nomination, as did Kyra Sedgwick for Something to Talk About.

It’s not cohesive enough yet to really say how we got to where we did, but I do like looking at how these precursors work when I can, since that’s always my favorite part of the year.

Oh, also, Winslet won SAG and BAFTA and Sorvino won BFCA and the Globe. So, in a way, it’s kind of surprising that Winslet lost this one. But not remotely shocking, since the precursors even out. It’s just the weight we now apply to them that would presumably tip the scale’s in Kate’s favor.

Nixon is Oliver Stone’s biopic of Richard Nixon. Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t think I really need to get into the plot.

Joan Allen plays Pat Nixon. And it’s basically a variation on the dutiful, supporting wife role. She stands by her husband through… well, everything. Specifically this movie’s run time. It’s a standard, solid Joan Allen performance. I’m not sure the film particularly cares about her character that much. Though to be fare, she does get a fair amount of screen time. It’s just that it doesn’t give her that “big scene” you’d expect out of this type of performance. So it’s a testament to the performance that the character comes off as three-dimensional as it does. I really think she did a great job here, though I’m not sure she makes it any higher than third for my vote.

Apollo 13 is one of the most famous films of the past thirty years. I think people know it. You know, space mission, “Houston, we have a problem,” etc. It’s great. One of the great space films of all time.

Kathleen Quinlan plays Marilyn Lovell, Jim Lovell’s wife. So, Tom Hanks’ wife. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do here, mostly just sit around and look worried for her husband’s safety. Now, while it’s not showy, it’s a testament to the performance that you like her, you remember her, she feels real, and in her big dramatic moment, she doesn’t say a line and every inch of emotion registers completely. So, yes, I understand and appreciate the nomination. But there’s not much there, because the film doesn’t seem to care as much about the character. So it’ll never get voted for. But at least we can appreciate the fine work she put in.

Mighty Aphrodite is Woody Allen again. This man knows how to get actors nominated. This is also a film that, while not as all-time Woody as Bullets Over Broadway is, is one of my favorites of his. And a lot of that has to do with Mira Sorvino.

It’s about a sportswriter who adopts a kid with his wife. He finds out pretty quickly the kid is incredibly smart. So he decides to track down the kid’s birth mother, who turns out to be a prostitute. He goes to see her and, rather than sleep with her, tells her she should start over a new life. Hilarity ensues.

Mira Sorvino plays the prostitute, and she’s absolutely hilarious in the film. It’s a great performance. She’s a ditzy hooker and everything she says is hysterical. I loved her in this movie. I totally get why she won. Is it the best pure “acting”? Probably not. But the character is definitely the most entertaining on on this list. That has to count for something.

Georgia is the one forgotten film on this list. It’s hard to find now, actually.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is an aspiring singer. She goes around, drinking too much, doing drugs, being irresponsible, living this carefree existence. She looks up to her older sister (insert title here), who is a famous folk singer. And we watch as Leigh continues to basically destroy herself chasing fame.

Mare Winningham plays Georgia, the sister. It’s not the flashy part. That’s clearly Leigh. It’s the steady part. She’s constantly seen in the kitchen, putting groceries away, cooking dinner, while Leigh sits there, a mess, talking about all these things she’s doing. The point of the character is that she’s this idealized being for her sister to strive to be like. Unfortunately she doesn’t really get any “big” scenes to punctuate the performance. So while I’m left finding it a solid, capable performance, there’s nothing that makes me want to put it anywhere near a vote in this category.

Sense and Sensibility is Ang Lee’s adaptation of Jane Austen. Even before I started this Quest, this was always that film that everyone feels was so utterly slighted at the Oscars this year. And even now, having seen it, I’m not sure I fully see it. But anyway…

It’s Sense and Sensibility. The Dashwood sisters, so on and so forth. I’m not going to get into a plot because, read a book.

Kate Winslet plays Marianne Dashwood, the younger, impetuous sister, the kind who is carefree and makes decisions based on a whim. Like, she goes out, sprains her ankle and some dude carries her back home and suddenly she wants to marry him. It’s the performance that unleashed Kate Winslet onto the world, and I understand it. Now, twenty years later, it’s hard to see this with fresh eyes, having seen her give many wonderful performances. But still, you can see that spark that was there.

My big problem with this one. Well, two problems. The first is, I just can’t fully get behind acting performances in these types of movies. People speaking that type of language, it always sounds so forced, no matter how good the performances are. And two, I feel like a little bit of the performance is overdone. Just enough to make me think about not voting for it. We’ll see. This is an interesting one to take to the vote.

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The Reconsideration: I feel like Winslet would be the majority choice in this one for most people. I think Quinlan is an afterthought, Winningham, no one’s seen enough to really take, and Allen is underutilized and that most people will feel about the performance as I have — give me more of it and I’ll want to vote for it. But as it is… just solid. Sorvino could be hit or miss for some. Since she’s basically playing the same register throughout. But for me, that was the charm of the character. So, I want to take her, since I’m not head over heels in love with the Winslet performance enough to want to take it. So, while I get that many would disagree, my choice is Sorvino. I’ll be a sucker. But at least I’ll be a sucker for what I liked the best.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite
  2. Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility
  3. Joan Allen, Nixon
  4. Mare Winningham, Georgia
  5. Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13

Rankings (films):

  1. Apollo 13
  2. Nixon
  3. Mighty Aphrodite
  4. Sense and Sensibility
  5. Georgia

My Vote: Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

Recommendations:

Apollo 13 is essential and you should know that based solely on its title. What kind of film buff hasn’t seen this movie?

Sense and Sensibility is probably essential, but not like, all-time essential. More like, it crops up a bunch in different places (IMDB/favorites lists/Oscars/actors you love’s filmographies/Ang Lee) and because of that, it’s easier to see it because it crosslists so much you can kill a bunch of birds with one stone. Plus it’s one of the most famous novels of all time and it’s the best film version of it. So there’s really no reason not to see it. Oh, and people love this movie too. So there’s that.

Nixon is essential, even if it’s not perfect. It’s awesome though. Oliver Stone doing a president biopic, why would a self-respecting film buff not want to check that out?

Mighty Aphrodite is not essential Woody Allen, but for what it’s worth, it’s one of my five favorite films of his, and I generally don’t like his stuff. So what does that tell you? I think this movie is hilarious and think that if you’re not really into Woody Allen, you’ll enjoy it.

Georgia is fine. Worth it for bits and pieces, but on the whole, it’s just okay. I’ll give it a slight recommend. Check it out if you have the chance, just because it’s not the easiest film to find (which I’m sure is not a real thing anymore), and because why not? Jennifer Jason Leigh is great in it and it’s good enough to be worth a watch. I just wouldn’t recommend searching high and low for it. If it works out, go for it. If not, you’re still okay.

The Last Word: I kind of covered it up there. Most people probably take Winslet. Sorvino is love it or hate it. Winningham, no one’s really seen. Allen is the one we would like to take, but there’s not enough there for us to actually take it. And Quinlan could have not been nominated and we’d have also been fine. So, really, just make the case for whomever you like best and you’ll be okay. I could see all but Quinlan actually being the vote here. My choice is Sorvino, but I get the people who say she shouldn’t have won.

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1996

Joan Allen, The Crucible

Lauren Bacall, The Mirror Has Two Faces

Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

Barbara Hershey, The Portrait of a Lady

Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Secrets & Lies

Analysis:

SAG only had two of the nominees on their list: Juliette Binoche and Lauren Bacall. Which are exactly the same two people think of when they think of this category. It always felt like a heads up, and the big precursor backs that up. The Globes had six nominees and five of them were this category. BAFTA actually also had three of them out of a four person category.

People who were nominated by the others that didn’t make it on: Lynn Redgrave (BAFTA) for Shine, Marisa Tomei (SAG) for Unhook the Stars, Gwen Verdon (SAG) for Marvin’s Room, Renée Zellweger (SAG) for Jerry Maguire and Marion Ross (Globe) for The Evening Star.

Bacall won SAG and the Globe, Binoche won BAFTA and Joan Allen won BFCA. Though Binoche had a Best Picture winner and Harvey campaigning for her. This category is like Supporting Actor 1974. De Niro beating Fred Astaire, when people just assumed the veteran was going to win. Specifics are different, clearly, but the basics are the same.

The Crucible is one of the most famous plays ever written. You really should know what it is and what it’s about.

Joan Allen plays Elizabeth Proctor, wife of John Proctor. She… she is very solid, in a very Joan Allen way. But the way Joan Allen performances seem to work especially at the Oscars, you always feel like she’s solid but there’s never anything that makes you go, “Oh fuck, I need to vote for her.” She doesn’t get too many “big” moments here. Which isn’t to say it’s not a great performance, because it is. I just feel like I want more moments to rally around in order to vote for her. Though, here… there’s a dearth of a #1, so she might end up doing fairly well. But the performance on its own ends up #4 most years, maybe #3 this year. I liked her better in Nixon when she had less to do. Here she has more to do but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to really vote for it. At least for me, anyway.

The Mirror Has Two Faces is Barbra Streisand directing. First Yentl, then Prince of Tides, now this. She hasn’t directed since (though allegedly this Catherine the Great movie is happening).

Streisand is a single professor at a college who meets Jeff Bridges, a man who decides he wants to marry someone he isn’t attracted to because sex has led to all his problems. So he marries her intending not to have sex with her. But then she wants to, so she cleans herself up and gets in shape so we’ll want to sleep with her. I’m not kidding, that’s the plot.

Lauren Bacall plays Streisand’s mother. She’s… basically playing the Lauren Bacall role you’d expect her to play. She shows up to her daughter’s wedding in a bright purple pants suit. That’s the kind of woman she is. She’s glamorous, and she overshadows her children willingly.

Most people look back at this and go, “Lauren Bacall was such a huge favorite and she lost.” Well, the reason she was such a huge favorite wasn’t that she gave a great performance, it’s because she’s Lauren Bacall and she’s a veteran. That’s it. The performance itself doesn’t come close to meriting an Oscar. Take away the fact that she’s Lauren Bacall, and this performance is either ignored, nominated for a Razzie or both. Take away the fact that this is Lauren Bacall, and this is fifth in the category. Even if it is her, maybe it’s fourth. There’s no way you take this on performance alone. No way.

The English Patient is a film we all know about. Somehow it’s endured within the pop culture landscape and all film buffs seem to know all about it.

Ralph Fiennes goes down in a plane crash and is treated by Juliette Binoche. She’s a nurse who’s got her own shit to deal with. And while caring for him, he tells her his story. Which is this whole sweeping romance of forbidden love and such. But since we’re only dealing with Juliette Binoche, that part of the story doesn’t matter. So for those looking to hear all about the Ralph Fiennes makeup that looks like Boo Radley got into a fire and had testicle skin grafted on his face, sorry, you’re gonna have to wait until Best Actor.

Juliette Binoche plays Hana, a nurse. She cares for Fiennes and also has an affair with a soldier. Her big thing is that she thinks she’s cursed and that everyone around her is doomed to die. It’s not a performance that automatically wins here. It’s perfectly capable and she’s charming and very likable in it. The performance doesn’t scream Oscar, but it does scream “compromise choice.” You take her because, while there are no real highs, her lows are not as low as the other options, all things considered. I get how she won. Would I take her? Maybe. Would I take her before we even get to the next section? No. But after weighing my options, she’s someone I would theoretically take in the right situation.

The Portrait of a Lady is a forgotten 90s British costume drama. There are a lot of those. Definitely, if I had to go through and pull out the acting Oscar nominated films that have been forgotten, this would definitely be on that list.

Nicole Kidman is an independent woman in an era where that didn’t happen who gets manipulated by Barbara Hershey and, the man who seems to love swindling women, John Malkovich. It’s a costume drama. Standard issue. I wasn’t a particularly big fan of it. Jane Campion directed this. So it looks nice. But otherwise meh.

Barbara Hershey is the Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons of this movie. Though here, she’s had a daughter with Malkovich and basically tries to get Kidman to marry Malkovich and raise the daughter for her (because Kidman has money, you see). That’s Playa Hater of the Year shit right there.

She gets to be nicely manipulative in the film, but I don’t think the character has all that much to do. She’s good, but there’s not much in the performance that makes me go, “Oh yeah, I want to vote for this.” Might just be my bias against these kinds of costume dramas. I need a performance to blow me away before I want to take it. This one doesn’t really do that for me.

Secrets & Lies is Mike Leigh. The one that most people end up seeing. Because it’s the one with one of the most incredible single scenes in it. Anyone in film school is gonna come across that coffee shop scene at some point.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a woman who wants to find out who her birth mother is. So she does. She tracks the woman identified as her mother down to find out more about her. The woman is Brenda Blethyn, a lower-middle class woman. And we follow the two stories until they converge in one electrically charged scene in a coffee shop. And then we see them after that scene, trying to build a relationship together. It’s quite a film. Some people might not like it because it’s very… it looks very BBC TV, but the acting in it is superb.

Jean-Baptiste is terrific in this film. Really terrific. A lot of what she does is underplaying while Blethyn… she doesn’t overplay. But it’s a class thing. Jean-Baptiste is a well-off educated woman and Blethyn is a lower class woman. So Blethyn gets to do the Eliza Dolittle (at the beginning) thing, while Jean-Baptiste gets to be even keeled. It’s just as impressive as Blethyn, but in a different way. I don’t want to give the wrong idea, but for me, the performance feels too even-keeled to vote for. I don’t get to see her get upset or have a moment I can connect with. So much of it feels blank and internal that I want her to just feel something. Which is why ultimately I don’t think I can vote for this performance. Which sucks, because she’s great in the film. But that’s why voting is subjective.

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The Reconsideration: I do not like this category, because there’s no performance I like enough to vote for. Which is how we end up with Juliette Binoche winning.

I’m not taking Lauren Bacall just because she’s Lauren Bacall. I love her, but I intensely dislike her film and don’t think she does a particularly good job in it. I don’t love her enough to vote for her regardless of her film. That’s not how this works. So she’s out right off the top, and I’m actually glad they didn’t just give her this award. People accuse the Oscars of doing shit like this all the time, but there are quite a few occasions where they had the chance to blatantly do it so far where they haven’t. Typically when they do it, there’s actually some semblance of a performance there. Which is nice. (Though that Ingrid Bergman win in ’74…)

Joan Allen, I don’t love the performance enough to take it. Jean-Baptiste, I also don’t think there’s enough there that I like to actually vote for it.

So without much thought, we’re left with Hershey and Binoche. I don’t love either performance. But at least Binoche is likable. Which is why, yet again, I’m taking Binoche. Not because I want to, but because it seems like the most pleasant option that doesn’t leave me feeling compromised. This is a category where people will likely be going wildly in different directions, and honestly, you’re not wrong. I’m arguably taking the easy way out. But you know, I’d rather do that than do something I don’t really want to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Barbara Hershey, The Portrait of a Lady
  2. Juliette Binoche, The English Patient
  3. Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Secrets & Lies
  4. Joan Allen, The Crucible
  5. Lauren Bacall, The Mirror Has Two Faces

Rankings (films):

  1. The English Patient
  2. The Crucible
  3. Secrets & Lies
  4. The Mirror Has Two Faces
  5. The Portrait of a Lady

My Vote: Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

Recommendations:

The English Patient is essential. 90s essential, Best Picture winner… you should just see it. It’s not like it’s one of the greatest films ever made, but within the film landscape, it’s something you need to see.

The Crucible is one of the greatest plays ever written and this is the best film version they’ve made, which makes it a certain degree of essential. You should see it just to be somewhat cultured, if you’re not gonna read the play. Plus, the actors in this… you should really see it for them. There’s great shit here.

Secrets & Lies is not essential on its own. But… it’s Mike Leigh, and at least one of his films is essential just so you can see how he makes films. You should ideally see a few of his films, but one is fine. And this is probably either his best, most well known, most evocative of his style, or some combination of the lot. And the performances… Brenda Blethyn is so good in this movie. So it’s a kind of essential movie that you should check out as a film buff.

The Mirror Has Two Faces is a film whose only real purpose for being seen is to talk about this category. Otherwise almost no one would go back and watch it. It’s Streisand directing, but of the three films she’s made… well, not really any of them are essential, but at least you’ve heard of Yentl. The other two… the only reason people bother with Prince of Tides is because of the Oscars. And this one even less so. It’s not that great. So only if you want to talk about this category should you see it. Otherwise, no real need to ever go back to it unless you’re really into Streisand, Lauren Bacall or Jeff Bridges.

The Portrait of a Lady — ehh. Costume drama. Whatever. Not a huge fan of it, can’t really recommend it all that much, and it’s not even remotely essential. Basically all but forgotten. You’re not missing out on all that much if you don’t see it.

The Last Word: I took Binoche because she had the least going against her. I can see taking Hershey. A lot of people would. I could see taking Jean-Baptiste. A lot of people would. I could even see taking Allen. That makes sense. And Bacall, if you wanted to take her because she’s Lauren Bacall and because the category is just whatever, cool. Just don’t say she truly gave the best performance there. I don’t think you could get that one past the goalie. But other than that, whatever you feel best about. There aren’t really any bad decisions here.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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