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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2003-2004)

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.

2003

Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog

Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River

Holly Hunter, Thirteen

Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain

Analysis:

Oh yeah, this category. The makeup win for Renée Zellweger (for a somewhat surprising loss for Chicago the year before) and what is generally regarded as a very average, bordering on hammy performance. But that’s all for later. Let’s get into how we got this category first:

SAG had 3/5, with one of the other two being Keisha Castle-Hughes who went lead in the end. The fifth nominee was Maria Bello for The Cooler. The two they didn’t have were Shohreh Aghdashloo and Marcia Gay Harden. (Wow, SAG really doesn’t seem to like her, huh?)

BAFTA only had Zellweger and Hunter. They had Laura Linney instead of Harden for Mystic River, and also nominated Emma Thompson for Love Actually. So that’s BAFTA. They’re typically off the wall for at least one of their nominees.

The Globes had 3/5 too, nominating Maria Bello and Hope Davis for American Splendor.

And BFCA, in their first year of relevancy for this category, had 4/5. Their fifth nominee was Scarlett Johansson for Lost in Translation. (Instead of Aghdashloo.)

Shohreh Agdashloo came out of nowhere, huh? Never realized that. And Maria Bello got a bit shafted. Or maybe just overlooked. Which seems to happen to her. I can think of at least one other time she was a presumptive nominee who ended up getting nothing.

Otherwise, this was an easy Zellweger win all around, since she managed to make everybody’s list and won them all. She was a lock. Holly Hunter was the only one to make every other list, who I wager is the performance most people would pick in this category. But we’ll get to that.

House of Sand and Fog is a drama about property. And race and class and all of that other stuff too.

Jennifer Connelly is a divorced drug addict who gets evicted from her home because she hasn’t paid taxes. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley is an Iranian immigrant working very hard to start a new life with his family, having fled his home country. He buys the (now auctioned) house for a fraction of its worth. Connelly, having no place to stay herself, begins feuding with the family, doing anything she can to get the house back. It doesn’t end well for anyone, really.

Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Ben Kingsley’s wife. It’s… the definition of a supporting performance. She works up the character over scenes, and never really overpowers any of them. She’s there to help her co-stars, and I like that they nominated her. That said, she was never going to win this. For a lot of reasons. The nomination was clearly the reward. They didn’t know who she was, a lot of the performance is not in English, and she doesn’t get any “big” scenes. Plus, it’s essentially the doting wife role. She’s mostly there to look concerned and try to calm her husband down.

But she does a lot with a relative little amount of screen time. She’s always around, but rarely does she have much to do in her scenes. Though she does manage to imbue the character with a lot of subtle facial acting. But still… I don’t know if it adds up to me wanting to vote for it. On its own. The category might back me into it, but on its own, I think it’s well worth the nomination, but not something I’d rush to take.

Pieces of April is one of those Sundance indies. Plays exactly like they all do. And I’m shocked this got anywhere near the Oscars, for acting or otherwise.

Katie Holmes is a woman estranged from her family who invites them over for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s quirky, and comedic shit goes down. This movie looks like it was a senior thesis film. It’s shot on camcorders. Which was a choice. Presented like home movies.

Patricia Clarkson plays Holmes’ mother, who is dying of breast cancer. She is played mostly for comedy. She’s constantly smoking pot and doing quirky things. She has a monologue about how a rapper’s songs are all about long-lasting relationships and true love. It’s kind of a ridiculous nomination for a respected actress who turns in good work. Even the dramatic scenes are played for a weird kind of comedy. Maybe some people like this. This just didn’t hit my wavelength. Not for me at all.

I think we’re all agreed here that Clarkson probably should have been nominated for The Station Agent, right? Granted, I haven’t (yet) seen The Station Agent, but I imagine that performance is much more Oscar-worthy than this one, and much more acclaimed and liked and pretty much everything else.

Mystic River is Clint Eastwood’s return to classiness. He had a six year stretch of middling movies, and then from this movie on, everything he made was prime Oscar contender.

It’s about three boys. One day, a car pulls up and tells them to get in. One of them does, and he’s abducted, raped and eventually escapes. Cut to thirty years later and we check in with their lives. Sean Penn is a small time crook, in with bad people, trying to stay straight. Kevin Bacon is a cop. And Tim Robbins, the boy who was abducted, is a construction worker. One day, Penn’s daughter is found murdered, and it sets of a chain of distrust and deceit among all of them. I like this movie, but I don’t love it, and I always felt it was somewhat overrated in terms of how many Oscars it was nominated for (and even won).

Marcia Gay Harden plays Robbins’ wife, who stands by him, but slowly begins to distrust him over the course of the film. The night of the murder, he had seen Penn’s daughter at the bar, and then later comes home with blood on his hands, saying some guy tried to mug him. Eventually she comes to think that he murdered the girl, and tells Penn this. Which leads to some not good things happening.

She’s… there. It feels like a tag-along nomination. Don’t think I’d take her over almost anyone else in this category. She gets her emotional moments, and it’s not a totally worthless nomination. It’s just one of those where… who takes her?

Thirteen is a film I didn’t take very seriously when it came out. I’m not sure why. Though, to be fair, it’s a movie written by a thirteen year old. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Evan Rachel Wood plays a (insert title here) year old girl who struggles with trying to fit in and be cool. Because, you know, middle school. And in starting to become “cool,” she descends into drugs and sex and all that fun stuff you get to in high school.

Holly Hunter plays her mother, who is a recovering alcoholic who just wants to be a good mother and a friend to her daughter. And in trying so hard to be a “cool” mom, she allows her daughter to do some crazy shit. She starts to feel hurt when her daughter no longer wants to be around her and has no idea what to do. It’s the hardcore version of what most parents go through and the extreme version of the nightmare all parents have when their daughter hits that age.

It’s a solid performance. I think she did a good job. I think it’s underwritten. So I feel like whatever she does with it is still gonna be hindered by the fact that the movie doesn’t give her character enough to work with. I’m always gonna view this as, “She overcome a weak-ish character (because it was written by a 13-year-old), so the nomination is the reward, showing how she made this someone you could believe and understand.” In a weak ass category like this, she almost becomes the vote, but in no other year would I put her any higher than third.

Cold Mountain is a crazy film. It’s just a parade of famous people, where in just about every scene after they set up all the characters, one famous person kills another famous person. It’s one of those Weinstein Oscar specials that didn’t get there in the end. Had like eight nominations and didn’t get Best Picture.

It’s a romance between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. Then he goes off to war, and ends up on this crazy odyssey, as prisoner, runaway, trying to get back to his love. And she’s at home, trying to care for the family farm. The film is okay. Buoyed by the crazy cast. Otherwise just decent.

Renée Zellweger plays a woman who shows up at Kidman’s farm one day to look for work. She’s brash, and loud, and knows how to put in work. So she convinces Kidman to hire her, and the two go about fixing up the farm. And she teaches Kidman how to work for a living.

It’s… look, it’s a makeup Oscar, pure and simple. This performance… sure, nominate it. I can be okay with that. But there’s no way you’re telling me she gave the best performance in the category. I… look… if you went back to this, some people might consider this borderline Razzie worthy. She chews about as much scenery as a young dog left on the set overnight. But I’ll just leave it at, no I would not vote for her, and while I understand why they decided to give her the win, and how she could win in a category like this, I do not think this was a very good choice, historically.

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The Reconsideration: This is, to me, one of the weakest Best Supporting Actress categories of all time. When a category like this, especially one so recent, is as weak as this, I like to at least glance at what could have been nominated instead to make me like it more.

Maria Bello in The Cooler would have been nice. Keisha Castle-Hughes going supporting instead of lead would have made this better. Emma Thompson was never going to happen but would have been a breath of fresh air. Patricia Clarkson for the other film would have helped. Scarlett Johansson isn’t supporting, so that wouldn’t have worked. I remember being really taken by Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men, but it’s been years since I saw the performance. Christina Ricci in Monster was unheralded at the time. No idea if the performance is worth being here. But this is all beside the point. This is all just to get me to work up the strength to make it through this category.

Patricia Clarkson is a hard no. Marcia Gay Harden is a no. Zellweger I don’t want to vote for, but I almost had to consider her for a a second in this category. Holly Hunter is admirable, but I don’t like the film nor the performance enough to really want to take it. Which really only leaves Aghdashloo. Yet again.

Right there, I see how Zellweger won this category easily. And I can understand it and not hate on the decision that much. That said… the performance I’m taking is a performance that would be, most years… third, maybe. But that’s what happens. The category is the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog
  2. Holly Hunter, Thirteen
  3. Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain
  4. Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River
  5. Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

Rankings (films):

  1. Mystic River
  2. Cold Mountain
  3. House of Sand and Fog
  4. Thirteen
  5. Pieces of April

My Vote: Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog

Recommendations:

Mystic River is essential for Oscar buffs because of the two wins. Maybe essential as far as 2000s films go, given how acclaimed it is, and because of the actors in it. All-time, nah. Just a recommend because of all those reasons.

Cold Mountain is big and has a big cast and all that. Won this category, so Oscar buffs need to see it. Otherwise… it’s just a big sweeping epic with a great cast that doesn’t amount to all that much. We’re not dealing with an exact comparison, but relative to their filmographies, and irrespective of quality of the films in question… this is the Doctor Zhivago of Anthony Minghella’s filmography. However you want to put them, The Talented Mr. Ripley and The English Patient are Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. And this is the one that’s a bit too long, a bit too overdone, a bit too heavy on everything. But still pretty good. You know what I mean? (Like I said, not the best ratio, but I think if you’ve seen all six films, you have an idea of what I’m going for.) So, not really essential, but given the Oscar win and the cast, most people would see this for that alone.

House of Sand and Fog is a really solid film. Did you see 99 Homes? This is that but a decade ago. Really solid drama with great performances. I recommend this. A nice little gem for 2003.

Thirteen is, I guess worth it for some people. Shows how good of an actress Evan Rachel Wood is. And Holly Hunter puts in good work. I don’t much care for it. Whatever. See it, don’t see it. It’s not essential at all. I’ll leave it to others to recommend it.

Pieces of April is… not a film I recommend. It’s indie. It’s very indie. It’s quirky, and… yeah. It’s fine. But not one I recommend.

The Last Word: Yeah… I don’t like this category. But it’s easy to see how Zellweger won it. There was no competition. Harden never had a shot, they were never gonna vote for Aghdashloo, Hunter’s film had no profile, Clarkson was nominated for (arguably) the wrong performance. So now you have Zellweger, in a high profile film, in a scenery chewing performance, and thought to be overdue because of losses in consecutive years (one of which for a performance that’s actually deemed fairly win-worthy to a performance that arguably was in the wrong category and wasn’t the best of choices). So I get it. And given how weak the category is, it unfortunately holds up fine. Not sure who anyone really takes here. Good luck.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2004

Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

Laura Linney, Kinsey

Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda

Natalie Portman, Closer

Analysis:

This is an interesting category. Since everyone seems to have differing opinions on how this one turned out.

SAG had 4/5 of the category, missing on Natalie in favor of Cloris Leachman for Spanglish. (Seriously.)

SAG missed Okonedo in favor of Meryl for The Manchurian Candidate (of course they nominated her for that role).

BAFTA only nominated Blanchett and Portman. They also nominated Meryl, and then had Julie Christie (Finding Neverland) and Heather Craney (Vera Drake).

BFCA had 4/5, with Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland) instead of Okonedo.

So really, you could have easily figured all five of these pretty easily. Maybe Meryl threw you off because she was Meryl, but otherwise these five were all over the place.

And in terms of wins… Blanchett had SAG and BAFTA, Portman had the Globe and Madsen won BFCA. So really this looks like an easy Blanchett win. Though I remember a lot of people thinking Portman was a favorite, and then there was Sideways mania. Though I guess that was just people who really loved the film. I remember rooting for Blanchett, but that was really because I hadn’t seen all the films and didn’t really know much of anything. Not that my opinion when I wrote these categories up was that different, but I don’t think I really had an informed opinion when I made that choice.

The Aviator is Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Howard Hughes. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

I think that about covers it. It’s pretty great.

Cate Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn. One of Hughe’s conquests and girlfriend for a while. The performance starts off a little bumpy. That golf scene makes it apparent that she’s trying to do an impersonation and is just unable to do it. Which says little about her acting abilities as much as it does that Katharine Hepburn is impossible to capture. But she settles in very nicely, and turns her into a full-fledged character. Which leads me to suspect the first scene is on purpose. Making her seem larger than life, much like her screen persona, and then peeling that away to reveal the woman that charmed Howard Hughes.

The problem with the role, as is the case with most Scorsese women, is that too much of the performance is defined by the man she’s playing against. Though fortunately, in this case, it’s Katharine Hepburn, so we have a built in knowledge of who this woman is, which allows him to get away with it in this case. Her best scene is when she and Hughes are arguing and he answers the phone. Great stuff. The scene where she breaks up with him is great too. And of course her final scene is pretty gut-wrenching.

This is a very capable, very solid performance that, perhaps, in a different year would be a #2 to a clear winner. But in a year like this, she becomes a pretty clear #1, and you have to find someone else to beat her. That’s really what this category is about. You can’t deny that she’s great, you just have to find someone who is good enough to beat her. If there is a person. That’s what we’re here to find out with the other four.

Kinsey is a biopic of, you know… that guy Kinsey. Who did the sex research. You know, that guy you’re tangentially aware of, but don’t really know anything about.

It’s a biopic. We follow how he became the person that he became. John Lithgow plays his father, basically repeating the part he played in Footloose, which is kinda funny. A lot of it is about him creating his sex studies and breaking through the taboo subject it was throughout history.

Laura Linney plays his wife. So, it’s that kind of role. We see them courting… you know, this whole business reminds me a lot of Jennifer Connelly just three years ago… then they marry. And after some difficulties, they get to have sex a lot. And then she gets to be the supporting wife. That’s the role. She’s good in it, but you can’t say it’s much more than the supporting wife role. Couldn’t take this because there’s not that much there for her. At best she’s a third choice.

Sideways is Alexander Payne. I’ve spoken, probably at length, somewhere, about this film in the past, and how, at the time, I hated it. Everyone loved it and thought it (and Paul Giamatti) was robbed at the Oscars, and I, having not particularly cared for it one way or the other, grew to hate it irrationally just because of everyone else. I’ve mellowed out since then, and actually watched it again specifically for this Quest reconsideration.

It’s about Paul Giamatti, a writer who is divorced and depressed. And he and his actor friend decide to go on a trip to wine country for his (the friend’s) impending marriage, as a sort of bachelor party, last stand being single kind of thing. And that’s pretty much the film. Giamatti finds romance with a waitress he’s had a crush on for years, that sort of thing.

The movie is fine. I enjoyed it well enough. I just don’t particularly love it the way everyone else does. So it always feels weird to hear people talk about how great this movie is and how much they love it. But such is life.

Virginia Madsen plays the waitress Giamatti has a thing for. She’s also divorced, and they both like wine. So they become close. She’s… fine. I don’t see how a dozen other actresses could have played this part the same as she could. But you know, people love it. So… I’ll leave it to them to argue why she should have won or at least be considered more than I am. I don’t see much of anything in this performance except an actress that’s coming back from not really being in the public eye for a while and being in a movie by a director who is an Academy darling whose actors they are predisposed to nominating.

Hotel Rwanda is a fucking intense film. I keep forgetting about it and then I go back and watch it and am reminded of how good it is. Not to get into things we don’t need to talk about right now, but it says a lot that the Academy nominated Finding Neverland for Best Picture over this. That’s so very Oscars.

Don Cheadle owns a hotel in Rwanda. There’s a political uprising, and genocide start to happen to the Tusti people by the Hutus. Cheadle hides everyone he can inside his hotel, and bribes everyone he can to keep them safe. It’s basically an African Schindler’s List, to speak in broad terms. It’s a much different movie, but is just as powerful. It’s great.

Sophie Okonedo plays Cheadle’s wife. It’s a doting wife role. She’s really good in it, and I support the nomination wholly. But there’s not much for her to do except to be scared and emotional. Makes me wish there was more there, and I’d think about taking her. But otherwise there’s not a whole lot here. It’s a typical “wife” character, only the circumstances are more extreme.

Closer is a film that got a lot of buzz when it came out. I guess because Mike Nichols directed it and you had Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman in it. All I remember is people going nuts about how much of an Oscar contender this was going to be. Didn’t see it for years after that, too.

Natalie Portman is a stripper who gets hit by a car one day. Jude Law is there and brings her to a hospital. They soon start dating. Then there’s Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, who become a couple through some weird circumstance (Jude Law is stalking Roberts… doesn’t mater for our purposes), and then Law and Roberts do sleep together, and then Owen and Portman… you get the idea. It’s four people intertwined. Based on a play, naturally.

So Portman plays the stripper. It’s hard to describe her character without going wholly into the plot. But she’s very good in the role. It’s a mature performance out of her. For much of the film, she’s the most innocent character. And then… a weird fucking turn out of nowhere. I think… I think this is an appropriately mature performance, and she does a good job with it. I think that as far as nominated performances go, it’s fine. I think, in terms of this category, she might rate pretty highly for me just because of the rest of the category. And I think that for most people, she’s middle of the pack at best. That’s what I think.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category gets easier every time I go through it. Madsen is a performance I will never vote for. Sincerely don’t get it. Two “wife” performances, one with sex research, one with genocide. I’m more apt to take genocide. Either way, don’t love either performance enough to want to take it. Natalie is good, but in most years, she probably wouldn’t end up higher than third. Honesty… give me Kate Hepburn any day. It’s the latter stages of the performance that makes it worth voting for than the earlier ones. You put this performance in next year’s category, and I don’t know that she wins. Here, though… easy winner. Every time.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
  2. Natalie Portman, Closer
  3. Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda
  4. Laura Linney, Kinsey
  5. Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Rankings (films):

  1. The Aviator
  2. Hotel Rwanda
  3. Closer
  4. Sideways
  5. Kinsey

My Vote: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

Recommendations:

The Aviator is Scorsese. And it won an Oscar. Really no reason for anyone to not see this movie.

Hotel Rwanda is an essential movie. Everyone should see this just because it’s one of those… it’s worthwhile for everyone to see. Just to get an idea of history. Movies like this help because even though they’re not always accurate portrayals of history, they help you remember it. See this.

Closer is solid because of the cast and the director. Otherwise… no particular need here. Good for Oscar buffs, given the acting nominations. Pretty good film overall. I’ll give it a recommend.

Sideways is Alexander Payne. So, objectively, it’s probably essential. All his stuff is. And I will leave it at that.

Kinsey is… fine. I like it because it deals frankly with sex, which so few films actually do in a clinical sense. That interests me. Otherwise it’s a standard, decent biopic of average quality. See it, don’t see it. If you don’t see it it’s not like you’re missing a masterpiece. But it’s also not something to deliberately skip either. I recommend it enough to the point where you should at least see if it’s something you might want to take a look at.

The Last Word: Blanchett seems like an easy winner here, and a great choice, historically. Who else is the choice? Not Natalie, I don’t think. Okonedo could work as a choice, given the film. But I don’t know if the role is all there. Linney — meh. And Madsen, some people say she should have won. I’ll leave that one to them. Otherwise, Blanchett seems like an all around good choice here.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. You’re wondering what performance would have improved the 2003 Supporting Actress lineup? I’m surprised you didn’t mention Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo.

    In fact; I did a whole post on that.

    https://conmanatthemovies.com/2016/05/31/best-supporting-actress-2003-better-than-degeneres/

    May 30, 2016 at 9:27 pm

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