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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1999-2000)

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.

1999

Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense

Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich

Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown

Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry

Analysis:

To get it out of the way, Jolie pretty much swept everything this year and was a runaway winner in the category. But to break down how the nominees got here:

SAG had 3/5. Missing Morton and Collette in favor of Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich (they doubled up there) and Julianne Moore in Magnolia (kinda surprising when you realize that performance wasn’t nominated, isn’t it?).

BAFTA was still not in sync, so they had exactly zero of five nominees the same. They doubled up on American Beauty with Mena Suvari and Thora Birch, had Cameron Diaz and then also had Cate Blanchett (in The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Maggie Smith winning for Tea with Mussolini. So here’s one where we completely ignore BAFTA.

And the Globes had four of six. They had Diaz nominated too (which again, interesting she missed, but not really, since that happens a lot even now where someone of her stature will get both and be left off the list), and also had Natalie Portman nominated. For The Phantom Menace.

No, I’m fucking with you. For Anywhere But Here. But wouldn’t that have been hilarious?

So yeah. Toni Collette came completely out of nowhere, owing to the popularity of her film, as tends to happen. And Morton also came out of nowhere, but Woody Allen. So it’s not wholly shocking. Plus she came along with Sean Penn. That happens a lot too.

Still, I imagine no one thought anyone other than Jolie was gonna win this one.

The Sixth Sense is kind of a famous movie. “I see dead people.” Everyone knows the ending to this movie. So there’s not much to talk about there.

Toni Collette plays Haley Joel Osment’s mother. She loves her son, and even though he’s acting strangely, she doesn’t care. Others think she may be abusing him, but her behavior makes it very clear that it’s nothing but love for her child. And that’s… pretty much the role. She gets her big scene at the end where he convinces her that he really can see dead people and proves it to her. It’s one of those performances that you’d never think they’d nominate. It’s ordinary. She’s a regular woman. And it’s admirable that she’s here, because she’s really good in the part. I wouldn’t ever vote for it, but I do really like what she brought to this movie and think it’s a really solid nomination.

Girl, Interrupted is a fair movie with some great actresses in it.

Winona Ryder is a depressed youth (aren’t they all) who goes into a psychiatric hospital. And we watch her as she adapts to life in there and befriends the different patients.

Angelina Jolie plays one of the patients. You know, the loudest, most fucked up one who constantly disobeys authority and makes a show of herself. She’s the Randle McMurphy of the ward. This is a role designed to get this kind of attention and launch Jolie into the stratosphere. This is a star-making role clearly designed for this express purpose, and it’s hard to deny that she makes a clear impression.

Here’s the thing, though… there’s no subtlety or gear-shifting to it. She pretty much just plays the same level at all times. Her energy overwhelms the fact that there’s not much dexterity to the performance. She’s fine, but it’s more because she overpowers the screen than anything. It’s not the most skilled of performances. So she rates nicely, but I’m not sure I want to take it just because she’s more of a force than anything. We’ll see.

Being John Malkovich is a crazy ass film that I don’t know how to explain. But it’s Charlie Kaufman, and it’s brilliant. And I’m 95% certain if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it already, so I don’t have to

John Cusack is a puppeteer working in an office by day and discovers a portal that leads directly into the head of John Malkovich. And I will leave it at that. This film is fucking wonderful.

Catherine Keener plays a coworker of Cusack’s, on whom he has a crush. And she seems sexy and confident and mysterious, and also wants absolutely nothing to do with him. But then when she finds out about the portal, she uses it (and him) to her advantage. She starts a relationship with Malkovich (and by extension, Cameron Diaz, Cusack’s wife. And there’s a weird, wonderful relationship with the two of them, through Malkovich.

It’s a well-crafted performance. She enjoys Cusack fawning over her when it suits her, and when it becomes tedious, “Bye.” She dismisses him at the drop of a hat. She’s very much playing everyone and enjoying doing so. And it’s interesting watching her play all of the main characters. But for me, a lot of it is not subtle at all and very much on-the-nose. I like Keener as an actress a lot, but there’s something about her that makes me not interested in voting for her. I think the characterization is ultimately a little thin. And the character takes a bit of a weird turn at the end. But otherwise, she’s fine. Probably a fourth for me, but still, solid.

Sweet and Lowdown is a Woody Allen movie. One of the ones I actually like. In terms of his oeuvre, it’s probably just okay/pretty good, but I like it.

Sean Penn is a guitarist in the 30s. He’s talented, but his life is a mess. And we follow him through a typically Woody Allen kind of plot.

Samantha Morton plays a mute woman who goes on a blind date with Sean Penn. At first he’s upset because she doesn’t talk, but eventually moves past it to find a connection with her. A lot of it is because he’s constantly talking and making stuff up about himself, and she’s not there to refute him, so he likes that.

She’s basically playing Harpo Marx here. A lot of wide, expressive faces. It’s easy to do two things with this performance: dismiss it entirely, and overrate it. I feel a lot of people would do the former, and I know I did the latter last time I went through this category. This time, I appropriately like the performance. I think the film doesn’t do it much service, and what she brings to it transcends what is there for her to work with. It’s one of those performances where… I like it better than the quality of it in relation to the other performances, but I also think she’s worthy of being here. Ultimately she’s probably back of the pack in terms of quality, but I like it enough to consider it within the top contenders for a vote. But that’s because of personal preference.

Boys Don’t Cry is a film that seems way before its time in terms of subject matter.

Brandon Teena is a transgender man born as a woman. Of course this makes life difficult, especially in the midwest. No one understands his condition, and he’s constantly getting beat up and threatened. He moves to another town and befriends some ne’er-do-wells. He falls in love with a woman, and she with him. We’ll leave it at that. Mostly it’s about the problems facing transgender (and really all LGBT) individuals in America, specifically in more conservative and prejudiced areas of the country.

Chloe Sevigny plays the woman Brandon falls in love with. She doesn’t care if he was born a woman. It’s a really sweet portrayal of a character with no chance of a future, but sees something for once that feels real. I could honestly see taking this performance and wouldn’t begrudge anyone for doing so. I’m not sure I love the performance enough to take it, but it’s definitely grown on me throughout the years. And in a category like this, she’s probably top two.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: To start, I’m surprised at how this one turned out. Because when I was younger, I allowed certain influences to alter my opinions on categories. And now, I’m finding that I’m just not interested in pretense. So, five years ago, Being John Malkovich was by far my favorite film in the category, so I told myself that Keener was terrific and was near the top in the category. But honestly… I put her performance fifth now. It seems too on the nose. Though the entire film is absurdist, so it fits. Just, for a vote, I wouldn’t take it.

Now, Toni Collette, who I barely thought registered a nomination last time, I’m much more high on than I was. However, I still wouldn’t take her, so she comes off next. I may rank her higher than fourth (still figuring all that out), but in terms of a vote, she’s not making it that far. Just don’t love the performance enough.

Oh, and I guess now would be a good time to mention… not a single nomination in this category from Magnolia. One wonders how Julianne Moore would have fared in this category were she nominated. But that’s beside the point and is not what we’re dealing with here. So it’s irrelevant.

So now… I love the Morton performance. That’s gonna rate highly for me no matter what. Jolie is great, but it’s one of those performances that’s relentless in energy more than any sort of technique or skill. And then, splitting the difference between the two is Chloe Sevigny. And you know what? I think I’ll take her. I love the Morton performance, but I feel like Sevigny had the more difficult part. And rather than play it like Jolie, she actually made a quietly well-rounded, tragic character. So I’ll stick with that. Jolie is fine as a winner, but I’ll vote for Sevigny this time.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry
  2. Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
  3. Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown
  4. Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
  5. Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich

Rankings (films):

  1. Being John Malkovich
  2. The Sixth Sense
  3. Sweet and Lowdown
  4. Girl, Interrupted
  5. Boys Don’t Cry

My Vote: Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry

Recommendations:

Being John Malkovich is essential. And if, as a film buff, I needed to tell you that, you should probably look into whether or not you are a movie buff and where you’re getting your idea of “essential’ from.

The Sixth Sense is essential because it’s such a huge film for the past fifteen years. Shit, twenty years now. Fuck, I’m old. Though everyone knows what happens. So it’s weird to go back knowing that. It’s way better if you know nothing about it. But still, you need to see it whether you know or not.

Girl, Interrupted is a film I recommend. Not essential. But Jolie did win, so Oscar buffs need to see it. Otherwise, good to see, solid film, and a lot of good actresses from the 90s are in it, and it’s got that teenage girl, disaffected youth thing that’s prevalent on social media now, so that leads me to believe a good section of you youngins are gonna like it. But otherwise it’s just a solid film.

Boys Don’t Cry is worth it purely because of the pop culture references. Everyone (though it’s dated as shit now) references this movie. Also won Best Actress, so that makes it quasi-essential. So let’s call it a solid recommend that you should probably see, but by no means is it tier one essential. It’s not on the level of Being John Malkovich or even The Sixth Sense. Just feel like you should see it at some point. That seems appropriate.

Sweet and Lowdown is an amusing Woody Allen film. Most people who are fans of his think it’s weak. I enjoy it mostly because of the two nominated performances. As I said up there, it’s probably middling for his filmography but I enjoy it more than most of his stuff. Not essential, but I enjoy it, so take that for what it’s worth.

The Last Word: Jolie holds up fine, and it’s easy to see why they’d vote for her. Sevigny also would have worked, as she’s Swank’s equal for much of the film. Morton, I love in the film, but I don’t know if her winning would have worked. Keener wouldn’t have worked as a winner. And Collette would have came out of nowhere and really been surprising to go back to, even though it would get more people to go back and appreciate the solid work she put in there. I think they did a good job with it, though now I’m much more aware of how the Jolie performance is more size than skill. I think there were two good choices in the category, and the one they made was solid.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2000

Judi Dench, Chocolat

Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Kate Hudson, Almost Famous

Frances McDormand, Almost Famous

Julie Walters, Billy Elliot

Analysis:

Okay, now we can kinda get BAFTA involved, but not really.

SAG nailed 4/5. They hate Kate Winslet for Quills (who is quasi lead, but I’ll allow it) instead of Marcia Gay Harden, which is going to be a trend.

The Globes had 4/5, nominating Catherine Zeta-Jones for Traffic as the fifth (what?). Also missing Marcia Gay Harden.

BAFTA had 3/5, missing Harden and Kate Hudson in favor of Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger) and Lena Olin (Chocolat).

This one was across the board. Judi won SAG, Hudson won the Globe, McDormand won BFCA and Walters won BAFTA. And Harden, whose only precursor was, I think the New York Film Critics Circle, sneaks in to win in what I imagine is one of the tightest races ever.

I was really interested to go back and do this one again, purely to try to figure out how the hell this happened. I don’t know if it’ll ever be explained.

Chocolat is, you know… the Weinstein special. Oscar bait to the max, perfectly pleasant, but otherwise one of those movies whose enjoyment factor does not match its overall quality and how many major Oscar nominations it gets. This is Harvey at the height of his powers.

It’s about a woman who opens a chocolate shop in a small town essentially run by the church and slowly awakens all the spirits of the town and breaks them away from all the values of the church. There are a lot of different stories and things running through it, and it’s a pretty good movie. Very Oscar bait.

Judi Dench plays an old, cranky woman who is one of the first to come into the shop. And it’s exactly how you’d imagine, she’s dismissive of everything until she tries the chocolate, and suddenly she loves it and it’s like she’s a child again. And she strikes up a friendship with Binoche and it’s like her youth is reawakened. Her big story is that her daughter won’t let her see her grandson, because she’s Judi and doesn’t give a fuck about the church and the daughter is super religious. So Binoche arranges it for Judi to see the grandson in the shop. As an act of kindness. And they develop a relationship. Oh, and she secretly eats chocolate even though she’s diabetic and isn’t supposed to. But Judi don’t give a fuck. And she gets a big scene where everyone comes to celebrate her and then she dies.

This is the perfect kind of role for the Oscars. It’s a Judi special. This is like the Maggie Smith performance. You’ve seen Judi give this a bunch. This is one of the early ones. I get the nomination. And she’s great in the part. It’s just… you’ve seen it a bunch and it’s one of those roles perfectly written for someone like her to deliver and be memorable in. I wouldn’t vote for it just because it’s so by the numbers, but I do like the performance a lot, as far as entertainment value goes.

Pollock is a biopic of Jackson Pollock.

Yeah.

Ed Harris directed and stars.

There’s really not much more I need to say to explain the film.

Marcia Gay Harden plays Lee Krasner, a fellow artist who strikes up a friendship with Pollock. And then a relationship. And then she becomes his wife. So it’s the suffering wife role. For the first two-thirds of the film, she’s a co-lead. Not to mention, this is a pure supporting performance. She doesn’t get very many big moments. It’s all quiet stuff that adds up. You know who she reminds me of here? Lee Grant.

It’s a capable performance, and I have a problem with it seeming so much like a lead for much of the film, and the lack of “wow” moments makes me less likely to want to vote for it.

Almost Famous is a masterpiece. It really is. If you’re within five years of my age, you’ve seen this movie, and you probably love this movie.

It’s about a high school student who starts writing for music publications who ends up on tour with a “mid-level band” to write an article about them for Rolling Stone. It’s so great.

Chances are you know this movie.

Kate Hudson plays Penny Lane. She’s a groupie who has feelings for the guitarist of Stillwater. She’s created this insular existence where everything is great and “it’s all happening,” as if this isn’t yet the real world. And slowly, over the course of the movie, it all peels away. She’s having fun and she’s in love with Crudup and creates this fantasy for it all, but then when reality sets in, and his wife shows up on tour, it all comes crashing down.

She’s charming. Does the mysterious thing, but there’s not that much there, performance wise. It’s a well-written and a well-crafted performance. I can’t help but get the feeling that a dozen other capable actresses would have been just as good in the part. I still want to vote for it and still will have her near the top. But I don’t know if this is the best performance, acting-wise, in the category.

Frances McDormand plays William’s mother. She’s overprotective and wants what is best for her son. A lot of her scenes are her overdoing that and freaking out everyone else. A lot of her great scenes come off screen. Like when they get to the hotel and the clerk says, “I have a message from your mother. She’s a handful.” And you just know. Because she sets up the character in such a way that you totally understand her, even when she’s not on screen. It’s not the flashy performance of the film, but it’s the backbone performance. In a way, it’s actually better than the Hudson performance. But we’ll see. This is an interesting category, historically. I’ll reserve any judgment until the end.

Billy Elliot is a movie about a boy who wants to dance. That’s it.

His father wants him to box, he wants to dance. He joins a ballet class. Everyone makes fun of him, but he doesn’t care. And then he proves them all wrong and it’s a cheery, uplifting film. This is one of those British films that’s hard not to love. It’s so enjoyable and it’ll win even the coldest hearts over.

Julie Walters (Molly Weasley, for those bad with names) plays the teacher of the ballet class he takes, who secretly teaches him once his father forbids him to go to the class anymore. She’s the stern teacher who is hard on him but believes in him and is his biggest supporter. It’s basically Molly Weasley. When you see it, you’ll see what I mean. Tough, but you know there’s nothing but love there.

She’s great in the part. Wouldn’t vote for her, probably, but I love the performance. That’s what makes this category so difficult. All the performances are solid. Which is why there was probably such a logjam come voting time.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration:

I hate having to go back to this category. Because they’re all really solid. I know right off the top that I wouldn’t vote for Walters. And then, Dench, while I love the performance, I would take either of the Almost Famous nominees over her, so she’s out. I deliberately waited on Harden because I wanted to give the performance the benefit of a complete reconsideration, having won. Very rarely do I straight up not understand a winner.

Though here, I think this is one of those situations I can explain intellectually rather than trying to understand the performance. All the precursors went across the board, so there was no consensus. Add the split vote factor for Almost Famous, and you have something akin to: older voters likely taking Dench (SAG), with some Brits taking Dench as well. That sect that likes to take the ingenue voting for Hudson (Globes). McDormand getting a bit of the popular vote (BFCA) mixed with the veteran vote. Walters gets the Brit vote (BAFTA). This had to be a situation where all the percentages were like 23%, 22%, 20%, 19%, 16%. Or maybe something a little closer. They had to all be right there.

Now, regarding Harden… I think she put in very solid work. I don’t love the performance enough personally to want to vote for it, but I can see how a case could be made. I’m not as anti this performance as I probably was last time. However, I think her being a co-lead and me not really being in love with the performance is going to rule her out for me. The strength of the performance is greater than where I’m rating it due to personal preference.

So, for me, it comes down to McDormand and Hudson. I love the film and love both of the performances. And, as I figured would happen all along, the older I get, the more I gravitate to the McDormand performance. I know how easy it is to disagree with that, and I understand completely. But still, I think she accomplishes so much with relatively little screen time, and the more I see the film, the more I think she was more impressive to me than Hudson. So I’m gonna vote for her. I love the Hudson performance, but I think it’s what we don’t see with the McDormand performance that puts her over the top. With Hudson, I don’t think there’s much that’s not there. Which is part of the role, and I do like seeing the layers and the facade peel away to reveal the broken interior underneath, but I just think McDormand accomplished so much more with her role.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Frances McDormand, Almost Famous
  2. Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
  3. Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock
  4. Julie Walters, Billy Elliot
  5. Judi Dench, Chocolat

Rankings (films):

  1. Almost Famous
  2. Chocolat
  3. Billy Elliot
  4. Pollock

My Vote: Frances McDormand, Almost Famous

Recommendations:

Almost Famous is an all-time essential film. Ask a lot of people around my age and they’ll tell you that Almost Famous is one of their favorite films of all time. Because it’s absolutely great and was such an important film in our lives. This is a big film for the IMDB crowd too. As a film buff, you need to have seen it, because this is a film that’s impossible to dislike.

Chocolat is a good film. It is. It’s just a film that needed time to get the stink of “Oscar” off of it. Because you know, Harvey over-campaigns. So people felt this was an undeserving nominee. Even though it’s a fine film. It’s good, it’s likable, it’s solid. I recommend it. Not essential at all though. Just helpful when discussing the Oscars. And responsible for one great, random Simpsons joke:

Billy Elliot is a fun film. Very beloved, for some reason. I like it. It’s a charming movie. In the vein of Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Full Monty. You can’t help but like it. Not essential, but definitely worth seeing. I’d say close to essential for film buffs just because of the likability factor. See it not because you need to, but because you’ll probably love it.

Pollock is fine. Decent film. Kind of a vanity project, but otherwise okay. Oscar buff essential because of the win, otherwise you can skip this and be fine.

The Last Word: The Harden win makes sense. She’s really a lead, the suffering wife role, it’s similar to Jennifer Connelly the year after this, though less obvious a case of category fraud than that. It’s the lack of a precursor nomination that makes it seem strange. But otherwise, I get it. You could take her, I just wouldn’t. Otherwise… I doubt, especially this far removed from the category, that anyone would take Dench, given that it’s so reminiscent of the roles she’s played in other years. And Walters is awesome and will merit consideration. I get that. And then McDormand and Hudson… definitely understand a vote for those. So it’s really a wide open category, evidenced by the way all the awards went that year. All five went to all five actresses. Honestly, pick your favorite, make a good case, and you’re fine here. And I think the Harden win holds up okay, all things considered. Dench might have seemed weak, coming off a similar win two years prior. McDormand and Hudson would have been fine. Walters… I feel like she might have seemed okay at the time, but I’m not sure she’d have held up as a winner.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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3 responses

  1. Jake

    Also, regarding Harden’s win, remember that she was actually being campaigned for lead. And since SAG has to oblige the campaign, Harden missed out on a leading nod rather than a supporting one. Similar to what happened with Waltz a couple years ago. So had she been campaigned in support, she may have beaten Dench for SAG. Which also means, similar to what happened to Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Dench may have been the runner-up for Oscar.

    I also think the fact that Harden was both acting opposite and being directed by Ed Harris may have had something to do with her victory. I can easily see a major sect of the actors branch voting for her for that reason alone.

    May 21, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    • This is before my time. I have no earthly idea what happened this year at the Oscars. I didn’t start really paying attention until 2002, and really didn’t start watching how the precursors played out until closer to 2005. So everything I’m guessing is based purely on looking back and nothing else.

      May 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

  2. Suada

    While I don’t entirely disagree with your point about the lack of nuance or subtlety in Jolie’s performance, could you not make the same point about many other Best Actor winners that are often praised?

    The one I have in mind is J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. The lines he delivered had little to no nuance about them at all. The role itself is basically a big-bodied domineering monster that projects outward and downward at both the students and the audience.

    April 24, 2017 at 8:35 am

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