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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1997-1998)

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.

1997

Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential

Joan Cusack, In & Out

Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting

Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights

Gloria Stuart, Titanic

Analysis:

SAG almost had this category cold. Four of the five were on their list. They only missed Joan Cusack. Their fifth nominee was Alison Elliot for The Wings of the Dove.

BAFTA went completely off the board, so we’ll ignore them for the moment. Though there is one tidbit regarding them we’ll bring up in a second.

The Globes had four of the five as well, though they missed Julianne Moore in favor of Joan Cusack.

Now, the person who won the BAFTA this year (who also was nominated at the Globes) was Sigourney Weaver for The Ice Storm. And, all things considered, it’s slightly surprising that she didn’t make it on this list. Sure, who gets knocked off, with three Best Picture nominees here and two other respected actresses? But still… Sigourney Weaver in an Ang Lee movie that was hugely respected. People must have talked about that snub at the time, I’ll wager.

So anyway, Kim Basinger and Gloria Stuart tied for SAG. Basinger won the Globe. And Joan Cusack won BFCA. This seemed like a pretty easy win for Basinger, if we’re going based on how the season played out. It’s always fun to look back at this one though, because as much as I love this movie… is she really the one to vote for? We’re gonna find out.

L.A. Confidential is such an awesome film. A neo noir. Every decade needs a good neo noir. Chinatown for the 70s. This for the 90s. Is there an 80s noir? There probably is, but I’m not gonna waste time now thinking of it. Oh, Blood Simple. Never mind. Don’t have to. This is the neo noir of the 90s. All the tropes, plus evocative of the decade it was made.

It’s about three cops: Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, and the aftermath of a bloodbath at a diner on Christmas Eve, which leads to the uncovering of a giant conspiracy involving cops. Great shit.

Kim Basinger plays a prostitute who has been given plastic surgery to look like Veronica Lake. She… gets saved by Russell Crowe and he starts a relationship with her. That’s, really about the gist of the role. Can anyone really name one big scene she has where she’s really memorable? She’s just the redemptive woman who also gets to be a hooker with a heart of gold. To me, there’s really not all that much to the performance, even though the character is an integral and great part of the film. Do not get this win at all and never have. I like her, I love the film, I like the role in the film, I just don’t like the performance as an Oscar winner.

In & Out is one of my favorite comedies of the 90s. And maybe of all time. But definitely of the past 30 years.

Kevin Kline is a high school English teacher. He’s engaged to be married to Joan Cusack, also a teacher. One of their former students, Matt Dillon, is about to win Best Actor at the Oscars. For playing a gay soldier in one of the most Oscar bait roles of all time. He wins, and he goes up on stage and he thanks Kline in his acceptance speech. Which is awesome…. until he says that Kline is gay. Which throws Kline, Cusack, his family, his students, and his entire small town into chaos. Everyone starts to wonder, “Well he does sort of…” rationalizing how he could be gay without them really knowing it. And he keeps trying to deny that it’s true, but then the news cameras swarm in the town and the spotlight is turned on him, to the point where even he starts to question whether or not he’s gay. It’s fucking hilarious. I love this movie.

Joan Cusack is Kline’s fiancée, and man, is she fucking hysterical in this movie. It’s the kind of performance you want to see win the Oscar because she’s so fucking good. I get why she didn’t win, because I’m sure not everyone saw the movie and because of the bias against comic performances. But man, is she really good in this film. And given that I don’t love the winning performance and toss off at least one other one right off the bat, she’s gonna make top two for me, and I might still vote for her after that. I think the performance is that good. Watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean.

Good Will Hunting is self-explanatory. I mean, who hasn’t seen Good Will Hunting? How do you get to reading this article without having seen it?

Minnie Driver plays Skylar, who is the reason for the “How do you like them apples?” scene at the bah. She’s a Hahvahd student getting hit on by the guy quoting Vickers, who’s gonna be regurgitatin’ Gordon Wood next year. She eventually gives Will her numbah and they start dating. There’s not much else to say about the character arc, but Driver is really solid in the movie. I watched it again recently and paid attention to her performance (not even for this, just because), and I thought she was well worth the nomination here. Though I wouldn’t vote for it. She’s probably with Basinger in that, “Yeah, I liked it, but I wouldn’t vote for it” range. I totally support her being here though.

Boogie Nights is fucking Boogie Nights. I love this category. I don’t have to say anything in the way of plot for almost all of these movies. It’s funny because this is one of those movies I saw right at the beginning of getting into movies, and I loved it, and I still love it, but I’ve barely gone back to watch this in years. Anderson keeps coming out with more movies, and it’s just one of those I always took for granted, even though it’s fucking great.

Julianne Moore plays Amber Waves, a porn star. She fucks, she does drugs, oh, and she’s also locked in a custody battle with her ex-husband for her daughter. But naturally she’s an unfit mother because of all the other stuff. It’s a one-note character trying to be made two-dimensional by the script that Moore does her absolute best with. A lot of people would take her here. I can see that. Not sure I’m fully on board, since I’m not sure it love the entire performance enough to take, especially over Joan Cusack (which is probably just a personal thing), but we’ll see.

Titanic. Well, this will be easy.

Gloria Stuart plays Old Rose.

She’s literally credited as Old Rose. That says a lot, doesn’t it?

She’s your pseudo-narrator of the film. Gives some voiceover, shows up the way Jessica Tandy shows up in Fried Green Tomatoes. Sure, we like her, and she’s an awesome old woman. So we’re cool with the nomination. Is there a performance here? Not really. But we accept it, because she’s great in the movie.

Did she deserve to win? No. She’s the fifth ranked in the category. Maybe sentimentally you put her a little higher, but it’s clear if you vote for her it’s for reasons other than the performance. Which, with a veteran like this, and if you really love the film, I could be persuaded to understand. But for me, no way.

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The Reconsideration: This is an interesting category. Because this is one of those rare cases where to me, the winner goes down without even an effort. Usually I’m at least considering the winner for the vote. Here it’s just, no. And Gloria Stuart doesn’t rate at all for me. So that’s two. Minnie Driver is solid, but no as well. And Julianne Moore… also kind of a no for me. I think it has more to do with the writing than it does the performance. The way the entire performance is structured, it feels like, as I said, a one-dimensional character that was written to be surprisingly two-dimensional, that ends up being two-dimensional and shot to seem like the kind of character to vote for, and her performance does what she can, but I just don’t see it all there. I didn’t last time, still don’t. Maybe I will in another five years.

So that leaves Joan Cusack. Fortunately I love the performance, even though it’s very comic and kind of over the top. But fuck it. Vote for what you like. Honestly, if I’m not voting for Cusack, Minnie Driver might be the vote. So it’s not like Moore automatically is the alternate for me. Still, I love the Cusack performance, so I’m taking it. Makes my life easier, since now I don’t have to think about taking performances I don’t really love.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Joan Cusack, In & Out
  2. Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights
  3. Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting
  4. Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential
  5. Gloria Stuart, Titanic

Rankings (films):

  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. Good Will Hunting
  3. In & Out
  4. Boogie Nights
  5. Titanic

My Vote: Joan Cusack, In & Out

Recommendations:

Titanic, L.A. Confidential, Good Will Hunting and Boogie Nights are essential. Which should be readily apparent by their titles. If you’re even remotely into film you need to see those movies.

In & Out is one of my all-time favorite comedies. I love it so much and it seems like no one even remembers it. I think it’s utterly hilarious and perfect and that everyone ought to see it. I say it’s essential. But you know what, if you don’t want to see it, that’s fine. One less person who will understand the greatness of this movie. I’m gonna keep showing it to people regardless. You can do what you want.

The Last Word: Do you know how many times I’ve had to watch Funny Lady?

It’s Cusack for me. It’ll be Moore for a lot of people, Stuart for some, maybe even Driver or Basinger for others. I don’t see how Basinger was a great choice for them. Though, on the other hand, none of the other choices really would have been that much better historically. So it’s fine. Take what you will. I love the Cusack performance and will pretty much always take that. But this category isn’t overly important historically, so you can really go almost any way with it.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1998

Kathy Bates, Primary Colors

Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice

Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

Rachel Griffiths, Hilary & Jackie

Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters

Analysis:

This is a fun one. This is one of those categories where a slight surprise seems to have happened come Oscar night. Or maybe not? Maybe it was just wide open.

SAG nailed the category 5/5. So not much to say there.

The Globes had 4/5. They missed Rachel Griffiths and instead had Sharon Stone for The Mighty. Seems hard to imagine that would have happened. And BAFTA only had four nominees, but all four were nominated. Griffiths was the fifth that was left off.

We have an interesting split across the three, though. Kathy Bates won SAG, Lynn Redgrave won the Globe and Judi Dench won BAFTA. And then Bates and Joan Allen (for Pleasantville! I’d have loved to see that performance here) won BFCA. So when you look at it, it makes sense in hindsight that Judi, in the Best Picture winner, would sneak away with this category. But man, it sure must have seemed like Kathy Bates’ category to lose. This was the year before I watched the Oscars for the first time (and two or three years before I actively started caring about what happened at them), so I have no idea. But it’s sure an interesting one to look back at.

Primary Colors is a fun political movie. About the Clintons. Basically. John Travolta doing Bill and Emma Thompson doing Hilary. And a great cast around them

It’s pretty much about their rise to power, and the things they resort to in order to win. That’s really all you need. It’s good.

Kathy Bates plays campaign strategist whose job is to basically make sure all of “Bill’s” past antics (namely cheating) don’t come to light.

She’s big, she’s boisterous, she’s Kathy Bates. That’s what this character is. Her first scene is her saying “I want that one,” referring to one of the female staffers, basically meaning, “She’s mine to fuck as long as I work here.” She then tracks down the person who can get them in trouble and basically threatens him at gunpoint not to release the information (which was doctored anyway). And that works. She then later uncovers some crazy dirt on their opponent, which she doesn’t want to tell them, since her job is to protect them, not ruin others. But she tells them, and they use it anyway (because they’re basically the Underwoods). She’s then irreparably disillusioned about them and kills herself.

It’s an awesome performance. It’s a great character and a memorable role. She gets a great monologue near the end where she completely dresses them down about how sanctimonious they are. It’s the end of the character that really makes the performance work. I don’t know if I like it enough to take it, but she’s definitely in that conversation.

Little Voice is a weird little British film that no one in America really ever watches or knows about unless they’re into the Oscars.

Here’s the cast: Jane Horrocks (who I’m guessing most people in American know from Absolutely Fabulous, if they even know what that is), Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent. The three leads are great here. Really terrific.

Jane Horrocks plays a woman who is really shy (hence the title) who really only comes out of her shell when she sings. She likes to mimic all the singers she loves, and has a terrific voice. Her mother starts dating a (low rent) talent agent, who hears Horrocks sing and realizes she can become a star. And the rest of the film is her coming out of her shell, sort of thing.

Brenda Blethyn plays the mother. She’s overbearing and crude and the exact opposite of our main character. She’s basically a mix between her Secrets & Lies character (lower class) and Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue (though not racist). She’s big and domineering, and is a hell of a character. Surprisingly she didn’t win any precursors, which is crazy, since she might ultimately be the best performance in the category. She gets to be the ultimate foil to her daughter, and it works perfectly. She both dislikes her daughter but wants to exploit her. Some people might find the character a bit much, but I think she rounds it into a fully three-dimensional character, and the only real problem is she’s a borderline lead in the film. I love this performance, and I for sure will have her top two for a vote. Everyone in the cast should have been nominated for this. Horrocks, Blethyn and Caine. (Especially Caine. Holy shit. How did he win an Oscar for The Cider House Rules and not for this?) What an underrated movie this is. And I know people absolutely hate this movie too. But I don’t care.

Shakespeare in Love is a perfect movie. I’m not even gonna pretend like I’m that mad that it won Best Picture. Because I’m not. I just ultimately prefer a different movie. But holy fuck is this movie incredible.

Judi Dench plays the Queen. And she’s… good. I mean, she has literally no screen time to speak of. She’s in about three scenes. But she’s very good in them. The first scene is her watching plays in her palace, loving the comedies and falling asleep during the drama. Then, later on, she’s giving her blessing to the marriage of Gwyneth and Colin Firth (who seemed to be the guy who got fucked over by women in all these 90s costume dramas), and she sets up the bet about whether a play could or could not show us the true nature of love, and then she gets to show up in disguise at the end to be a total boss.

It’s Judi Dench. She’s awesome, and the character gets a really great scene at the end of the film. That said, I don’t know if she really had to do all that much here and if the character really rates a win. But I do love it. So she’ll be there in the end.

Hilary & Jackie is a movie about sisters. Guess what their names are.

They’re musicians, and we follow them from a young age through music school, etc. One takes it seriously, the other does not. The one who doesn’t take it seriously becomes a huge prodigy and master player. The other lives a quiet, simple life. And the first one has a breakdown and gets MS and all the big meaty dramatic stuff. Don’t love the film, kinda boring. The performances are fine, but I don’t much care for the film as a whole.

Rachel Griffiths plays Hilary, the steady one of the two. Clearly. Because the other, more interesting one, was gonna get billed lead. She’s pretty much a co-lead in the film and isn’t really supporting. But whatever. She’s fine in the movie, but there’s no way I consider her anything other than fifth in this category. Maybe you can put her fourth, but there’s not much here I’d want to vote for over anyone else.

Gods and Monsters is such a wonderful movie. The one that really announced him to the world as one of our great actors. He’d bounced around for a while, and made an impact with Richard III, but this was his real coming out party (pun ridiculously intended). This and Apt Pupil really put him in the stratosphere. After those two, five out of his next six movies were Lord of the Rings and X-Men.

It’s a biopic of the later years of James Whale, who made Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Gay director haunted by his past, particularly of his time fighting in World War I. And we watch him in his final days. And it’s fucking great.

Lynn Redgrave plays Whale’s Hungarian maid. She cares for him faithfully, even though she doesn’t like him being gay. It’s a very low key kind of role. A lot of her scenes are coming in and going out of rooms. Very small moments that add up. Very fine stuff. She’s the crusty old maid character who gets a lot of sarcastic lines and small, heartfelt moments. Very solid stuff. Definitely one to consider. This is a tough category though, so I don’t know how much headway she’s going to make for me in the end, though for others she’ll be the clear vote, which I totally understand.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I feel like the reason Kathy Bates lost this was because people didn’t really love her film, or the same thing that happened in ’96, where the Best Picture winner just took down an acting category because of Harvey’s campaigning. Hard to know for sure. It’s before my time. But anyway…

Griffiths is a no. Redgrave is a no simply because I wouldn’t take her over the other three. Dench, I’d vote for over Bates, even though I feel Bates ultimately gave the better performance. And Blethyn… it’s reminiscent of other performances, but she definitely does a great job with it. It’s also wildly over the top, which I know turns some people off.

I don’t know what the hell to do.

For the record, I’d like to say that I would strongly consider Joan Allen for Pleasantville for a win were she nominated. But she’s not, so here we are.

So now I’m left with Judi Dench, who is great, but only has about ten minutes of screen time. But she’s a boss. Then there’s Kathy Bates, who is big and showy and the role is written to be here. And then Brenda Blethyn, who goes over the top and makes the character as brash and annoying as possible. And you know what? Fuck it. I’m going for it. This also can act as a makeup of sorts for Secrets & Lies. Plus I really like the performance. I’ll use that as a tiebreaker over Judi Dench, who is also deserving, but really has ten minutes, non-consecutive, and it’s not as though she has that Beatrice Straight kind of screen time. So Blethyn works for me. I like that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice
  2. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
  3. Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
  4. Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters
  5. Rachel Griffiths, Hilary & Jackie

Rankings (films):

  1. Shakespeare in Love
  2. Gods and Monsters
  3. Primary Colors
  4. Little Voice
  5. Hilary & Jackie

My Vote: Brenda Blethyn, Little Voice

Recommendations:

Shakespeare in Love is essential. Because it’s great, because it won, because of all of that. You need to see it, and before I bother to get into specifics for all of the reasons, just fucking see it. Every facet of being a film buff has this film in it somewhere. So it’s essential.

Gods and Monsters is a great, underrated, hidden gem of a film that more people ought to see. So I’m calling it essential. Ian McKellen is so good in this that you should see it based solely on that. A real gem of the 90s that you should definitely check out.

Primary Colors is awesome but very specific to its era. It’s 100% about the Clintons and you need to understand that in order to enjoy it fully. Maybe you don’t. But it’s definitely of its era, albeit very solid with great performances and a clear precursor to House of Cards. Mike Nichols film at that. Highly recommended, though not essential.

Little Voice is fine. Not essential, and you can totally skip it. But Blethyn is great here, as is Jane Horrocks and even Michael Caine. Solid little British film.

Hilary & Jackie — take it or leave it. Good performances, but otherwise not essential. Standard overcoming disability to play music kind of movie. Fine, but I don’t love it enough to really recommend it.

The Last Word: Lot of choices here. Can’t see Griffiths. But Redgrave, sure. Blethyn, I voted for her. Dench, I can see it, if you can get over the screen time thing (also worthy of a sort of makeup Oscar like Blethyn is). And Bates, clearly you can take her too. So they’re all solid choices. I feel like Dench holds up just fine as a winner, given that she’s awesome in a great film, commands her scenes, and has well earned an Oscar through all her performances. So she’s a fine winner, and there were other good choices too. Pretty solid category, overall.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. I think In & Out is such a god awful movie. Mostly nominated because of that kiss, Joan Cusack is so boring and basic and garbage. A top comedy for you? Ha! Even in a weak year it’s pretty boring.

    1998 is a terrible year for this category. They are all meh, which is why Dench won. Who else could get the win?

    May 20, 2016 at 9:11 pm

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