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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2001-2002)

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.

2001

Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

Helen Mirren, Gosford Park

Maggie Smith, Gosford Park

Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom

Kate Winslet, Iris

Analysis:

Ah, this category. It’s hard to disagree with the caliber of the performance. The real problem here is category fraud. Most people figured Jennifer Connelly could have won BEST ACTRESS on this performance. Yet they put her here, making for one of the most lopsided categories ever.

Connelly won Best Actress for SAG, by the way. So that tells you how egregious this is as a supporting nominee. But that aside, SAG only had one of the five nominees, which was Helen Mirren. And of course she won.

The Globes had all five in their Supporting category, and had a sixth nominee too, which was Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky. Which, sure. Connelly easily won there too.

Connelly also won BAFTA (told you it was lopsided), who had 4/5 of this category on their list. They only missed Marisa Tomei in favor of Judi Dench in The Shipping News.

Tomei did manage a BFCA nomination, losing to, you guessed it, Jennifer Connelly.

So this was open and shut the minute the category fraud happened. (You could make parallels to 2015 with Alicia Vikander, but Vikander wasn’t such a slam dunk winner despite the category fraud. It was the other nomination she didn’t get for Ex Machina that sealed that deal.)

For fun, I’d also like to go over the other four nominees SAG had. Two of them were Cameron Diaz and Judi Dench. Which is interesting how Diaz made multiple precursor lists twice and still didn’t manage a nomination. That’s Jim Carrey territory. Maybe it’s the curse of The Mask.

The other two nominees at SAG were, first, Dakota Fanning for I Am Sam. Which I get. SAG does that from time to time. No real shock there. And the other, which is the reason I’m mentioning all four of them… Cate Blanchett, for Bandits. Which is a fucking great performance. Shouldn’t have come anywhere near an Oscar nomination, but man am I glad SAG nominated her. I mean, for this scene alone…

So yeah, this category was another easy one to diagnose.

A Beautiful Mind is a controversial film for Oscar buffs. Because it won Best Picture, when it probably shouldn’t have. And yet it’s a really great film, so there’s a lot of weird logistical stuff around it. (Ron Howard won Best Director, kind of making up for Apollo 13, but also not really, and then he beat other people… it’s a big mess.) But as a film, it’s quite good.

It’s a biopic of John Nash, brilliant mathematician, and also paranoid schizophrenic. That’s really all you need to know. All the leads are fantastic.

Jennifer Connelly plays Alicia Nash, John’s wife. A former student of his who marries him, and then she gets to be the suffering wife. She shows up around 35 minutes in and then is basically a co-lead for the rest of the film. It’s borderline lead. Most people would consider it a lead, and if you don’t want to vote for it on that basis, I understand that. But in terms of this category, she seems to blow the rest of the competition out of the water. Maybe you feel otherwise, but to me, this is a weak category and there aren’t that many other choices. Aside from the category fraud, I have no reason not to consider her absolute tops in the category. Her best work comes in the latter stages of the film, and honestly, I’m glad that she’s here because it gives me something to vote for. The category fraud is on the Academy’s head.

Gosford Park is Robert Altman’s last “great” film. I love A Prairie Home Companion, but no one else seems to. This was his last movie that got all the acclaim and attention. Oh, and yes, this is the movie that led to the creation of Downton Abbey. Same writer, and he used a lot of leftover material from this to turn it into that.

It’s about a gathering a country house for the weekend, and we follow both the guests and the servants throughout it. It’s very Altman, with a meandering narrative, conversations beginning and weaving in and out of rooms, building more of an atmosphere than a story. Strong performances, strong direction, and a murder mystery in the latter stages that adds intrigue as well.

Helen Mirren plays the head of the maid staff. She’s… stern. And Helen Mirren. She’s fine. Wouldn’t take her. Though in this category, she probably rates second. Which shows you how weak it is.

Maggie Smith plays… basically the same role she plays on Downton Abbey. The fussy dowager. She gets to openly disapprove of others and throw biting, sarcastic remarks their way. It’s wildly entertaining, and is the kind of role Maggie could play in her sleep.

In the Bedroom is a quiet drama. About people in a small town dealing with interpersonal issues.

Nick Stahl is a college grad who comes home for the summer to his parents, Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek. He falls in love with Marisa Tomei, an older woman with kids. Her ex-husband is pissed about this, and one day he kills Stahl. And the rest of the film is all of the characters dealing with their grief in different ways.

Tomei is good here. She’s good when the material’s good. And in the early stages, she’s appropriately solid and charming. She doesn’t give in to the urge to overact when playing opposite the guy playing her ex-husband. And she plays the grief scenes really well. She does more by saying less. Everyone at the time was talking about the scene where Sissy Spacek slaps her, but really to me the crux of the performance is the scene in the hardware store with Tom Wilkinson.

The problem with the performance, at least in terms of the category, is that after the slap, she disappears from the film. We never see her again. There’s no real end note for the performance. The film just goes other places and then ends. So she’s left hanging. If there were more there, and the performance got a moment to wrap up on, I feel I could have legitimately considered her for a vote. But here… maybe third at best. She’s honestly gone for the entire third act of the movie and the film just forgets about her.

Iris is about Iris Murdoch, Irish novelist. We follow her through two time periods, first as a student, meeting her husband, and then her older, going through the early stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s a fine film. Kind of uneven, but overall good.

Kate Winslet plays young Iris. And she’s… Kate Winslet. Lively, energetic. She looks like Murdoch too. The real joy of the film, though, is the half with Jim Broadbent and Judi Dench, so I’m left feeling uninterested whenever Winslet is on screen. Hugh Bonneville does a spot on Jim Broadbent, which helps bridge the gap between the two, but Dench and Winslet are on two completely different wavelengths, making their halves of the film feel mostly separate. Winslet is perfectly adequate in the role, though I thought her turn in Quills was much stronger than this. It felt like a nomination that tagged along with the film. Weinstein, her being the “great” actress of her age. I get why they nominated her, but I don’t much care for the performance in terms of voting for it. I’d take pretty much everyone else over her here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: There is no denying whatsoever that Jennifer Connelly gave by far the best performance in this category. She honestly most likely would have won Best Actress if they put her there. But they didn’t. Shit happens. She’s easily the winner here. You can argue that Helen Mirren wins this if not for her being here. Fine. But she is here. And if you want to not take her because she’s lead, that’s fine. But I’m not even gonna break down the category and how I’d vote on it because Connelly is such a far and away winner 2-5 don’t even matter. I wish she was in lead where she belonged, but I can’t not vote for the performance because they fucked up.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind
  2. Helen Mirren, Gosford Park
  3. Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom
  4. Maggie Smith, Gosford Park
  5. Kate Winslet, Iris

Rankings (films):

  1. A Beautiful Mind
  2. Iris
  3. Gosford Park
  4. In the Bedroom

My Vote: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

Recommendations:

A Beautiful Mind is an essential film, because every Best Picture winner should be. It’s also pretty great. Great performances, great cast, great film… why not see it?

Gosford Park is arguably the last great Altman film. I don’t love it, but it’s good, and it’s worth seeing. And it brought us Downton Abbey. So if you like Downton Abbey, you’ll love this. Otherwise, consider it a high recommend and near-essential, simply because it’s essential Altman, which makes it borderline essential for everybody.

In the Bedroom is solid. A nice drama. Don’t love it, but it’s one of those solid four star movies from a year that you don’t really think of over time when you think of great films from that year. It’s a solid recommend, but it’s not essential at all. Though for Oscars, it’s close to essential, because of how people said Spacek should have won. Outside of that, you should just see it because it’s good (and because Todd Field has proven himself someone whose films you ought to see).

Iris is good. Worth it for the Oscars and because the central performances are great. Otherwise, the least essential of the category. But I recommend it. Judi and Kate are terrific in it, as is Jim Broadbent. Plus, if you want to talk about Broadbent beating McKellen and Kingsley, you have to see the performance. So there is that.

The Last Word: I know category fraud is terrible, but there’s no denying that Jennifer Connelly gave the best performance in the category. If you don’t want to vote for her because she’s really a lead, that’s your prerogative, but I say vote for the best performance and keep advocating for change in the system. Hate the game. She’s clearly tops in the category and she’s one of the most deserving Oscar winners in history no matter what category she ended up in. (Though, man, how much easier would Best Actress 2001 have been if she were there instead?)

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– – – – – – – – – –

2002

Kathy Bates, About Schmidt

Julianne Moore, The Hours

Queen Latifah, Chicago

Meryl Streep, Adaptation

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Analysis:

This was my first Oscar ceremony where I was actively picking winners. So I’ll say that, for what little I knew at the time, it felt like Catherine Zeta-Jones was gonna be the easy winner. And Kathy Bates felt like a contender, but not a serious contender. Let’s see if I was right based on precursors…

SAG had 4/5. Missed Meryl (what?) in favor of Michelle Pfeiffer for White Oleander. Zeta-Jones won. So there alone, I was right.

Meryl won the Globe (she was double nominated there), and only Bates and Latifah were also Globe-nominated (no Zeta-Jones, wow). They also (of course) nominated Cameron Diaz and also Susan Sarandon for Igby Goes Down (okay).

Zeta-Jones won both BAFTA and BFCA. So that was a clear and easy win for her all around.

BAFTA had 4/5, missing Julianne Moore (as did the Globes. Interesting. I guess because she was nominated lead?) in favor of Toni Collette for About a Boy.

So yeah, Zeta-Jones pretty much had this one in the bag all around.

Also, two double nominees here. So only three films to deal with. That’s nice. Less writing for me.

About Schmidt is my favorite Alexander Payne film.

Jack Nicholson is an actuary who is retiring. So now he’s home, having been steadily at the office for the past forty years, and has no idea what to do with his time. Shortly after retirement, his wife dies, and he then faces an existential crisis. So he decides to take a mobile home his wife bought for them to travel in and decides to go visit his daughter before her wedding. And most of the film is him traveling and then the latter half is him at the home of her future in-laws, trying to get her not to marry her fiancée, because he thinks he’s a tool. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it’s Nicholson’s (possibly) last great dramatic performance. He’s wonderful in the film.

Kathy Bates plays the mother of the groom. She’s brash, says whatever she wants, and doesn’t think about how it’ll come across. So, the opposite of Nicholson in this movie. It’s a very Kathy Bates role. Usually when Kathy Bates gets nominated now, it’s for the type of role you’d expect out of her. Some people will be charmed by this. Those who didn’t care for the Primary Colors role or the “Kathy Bates” role aren’t gonna like this much. Her famous scene in the film is when she casually gets into the hot tub with Nicholson, totally naked. She’s fine, she’s amusing. There’s not a whole lot to the performance. She didn’t really need to be nominated, but I get it. Wouldn’t rate very highly for me in this one. She’s actually down at the bottom of the pack, fighting for fourth.

The Hours is a film about women. Three women in different time periods.

First is Virginia Woolf. Suicidal author. Second is Julianne Moore, closeted lesbian housewife in the 50s who can’t express her sexuality openly and struggles with being unable to do so in an era of political correctness and, you know… Douglas Sirk values. (A nice pair with her Far from Heaven performance.) And the third is Meryl Streep, who is basically the embodiment of Mrs. Dalloway.

Julianne Moore’s segment of the film is the most interesting. On the surface, she has a perfect life. But she’s deeply unhappy and takes solace in Mrs. Dalloway. We watch her on an afternoon as she and her son make a birthday cake for her husband, she confronts a neighbor who gets bad news and kisses her, and goes to a hotel to kill herself. But instead, she decides not to, and (pregnant) goes back home to an unsatisfying existence. We then see her in the third act, the Meryl story, as it’s revealed that she’s Ed Harris’ mother, and Ed Harris was the son in her section. We find out she later abandoned her family to live freely, but feels it was the right choice to let her other child be born than kill herself and the child.

It’s a solid performance. I much prefer the younger segment, but she does admirably as the older version of the character. I think she’s clearly the choice in this category if not Zeta-Jones. It’s always felt like a two-person race.

Adaptation is Charlie Kaufman. And probably my favorite Charlie Kaufman, even though Eternal Sunshine is the one that puts it all together.

The film is about Charlie Kaufman. So Charlie Kaufman writing about Charlie Kaufman trying to write. He wants to adapt Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief into a movie. But he’s trying to do it pure. No car chases or drug deals. He wants to write a movie about flowers. And it’s killing him, because it’s impossible. And the movie goes crazy from there. And it’s wonderful.

Meryl plays Susan Orlean, who exists within the narrative of the book, meeting John Laroche and narrating her meeting with him, etc. Then she exists within the reality of the universe, as herself, the author of the book, with whom Kaufman goes to talk to in the hopes of getting some inspiration, and then she exists within the realm of the film, where she’s all of these things, and the character that she becomes in the last act of the film, where she’s secretly having an affair with Laroche, is a drug addict, and is trying to keep this life a secret from everyone else.

It’s an adequate performance. She’s Meryl. She got nominated because she’s Meryl and because she had two worthy performances this year. This and The Hours. This made the category look more fresh, though I’d say The Hours is the better performance, if you want to nominate something. Though to be fair, I didn’t go back and study this one this time, since I’m more than familiar with it, the amount of times I’ve seen this film over the years. Either way, both are fine performances, but I wouldn’t take either.

Chicago is a great musical and a really famous one. Choreographed by Bob Fosse, and it shows.

Roxie Hart is a showgirl who cheats on her husband with a man who says he’ll get her into show business. He’s lying. So she shoots him. She then gets thrown in prison, and it’ a huge story. She hires Billy Flynn, the top defense attorney, who helps turn the trial into a giant circus and get loads of press for her. Which is what she wants. Fame.

Queen Latifah plays Mama Morton, the matronly prisoner who basically runs the cell block, trading money and cigarettes for favors. She’s… there. You know. She sings well, and that’s the crux of the role. Hard to want to take her over Zeta-Jones, who has the juicy role of the film. But nice that they gave her a mention.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Velma Kelly, a singer who shot her sister and husband after catching them in bed together. She was the talk of the town until Roxie showed up. At first she’s dismissive of Roxie, but then once Roxie gets all the press, she gets jealous, and conspires to take her down.

The performance is larger-than-life, yes. But when you factor in all the effort she put into the singing and dancing, she really earned this one. It’s not an all-time kind of performance, like Rita Moreno, but it’s definitely strong enough to be top two in this category, and a decent winner historically. Really the question comes down to whether or not you take her over Julianne Moore.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: While she’s not exactly sweating in the method, Zeta-Jones has so much energy and life in her performance that it’s hard to deny her in this one. I’d argue the best “acting” in the category was done by Julianne Moore in The Hours. And that raises other logistical questions of — are you gonna vote her for both lead and Supporting in the same year? I mean, if the performances are both worth it, it’s not wrong, is it? I don’t know. I wouldn’t take Latifah. She’s a good actress, but mostly this one’s all about the singing. And Zeta-Jones to me gave the better performance. Bates is amusing, but no. And Streep, two performances that add up to some consideration, but I don’t love them enough to take her. I’ve seen her give better performances and she wouldn’t rate anything better than third when you add everything up. This seems like a case where you take either Moore or Zeta-Jones. Moore gave the better performance, but she’s actually more of a lead in her movie than Nicole Kidman is. Plus I’m more than likely to be taking her in Best Actress

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago
  2. Julianne Moore, The Hours
  3. Kathy Bates, About Schmidt
  4. Meryl Streep, Adaptation
  5. Queen Latifah, Chicago

Rankings (films):

  1. Adaptation
  2. About Schmidt
  3. Chicago
  4. The Hours

My Vote: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Recommendations:

Adaptation is Charlie Kaufman. And every Charlie Kaufman movie is essential. Plus it’s just fucking wonderfully written. It’s one of the best written movies of the past thirty years. Pure essential all around.

About Schmidt is Alexander Payne, and his films are all essential for film buffs. You should see them all. This is the one that seems to have gotten the least amount of love over time, yet it’s probably my favorite of his. I love it so much. And Nicholson is just something else in this. So just see it because if you love movies, you’ll like this.

Chicago is also essential, because it’s a Best Picture winner. You should see them. That’s it. Plus it’s an awesome musical with great performances and great songs.

The Hours is also probably essential, because of the amount of great actors in it, and because it won Best Actress (even though arguably that performance should have been here…), and is just a film from the 2000s that feels like one everyone ought to see. So we’ll call that essential too.

The Last Word: I could see either Zeta-Jones or Moore being the two right choices in the category. Latifah was solid, but she wasn’t better than Jones, even though some might have liked her over her. And no way was Streep the choice over Moore. I’d argue (as I have at least twice now) that Kidman should have been here over Streep in this category. And then, Bates. Sure. She’s enjoyable, but do you take her? I guess some could. I wouldn’t be opposed to it. But I feel like she’s more of the performance you like but don’t vote for. As is the case with all the supporting actresses in Alexander Payne films (looking mostly at the June Squibb performance). So I think it’s either Zeta-Jones or Moore, and both were good choices. And all things considered, I think they made a good one, even though there was more than one good choice to be made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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