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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2005-2006)

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.

2005

Amy Adams, Junebug

Catherine Keener, Capote

Frances McDormand, North Country

Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain

Analysis:

Ooh, interesting one. I remember Weisz being an easy winner, and me loving that, because I love her as an actress, but I honestly don’t even remember the precursors or anything with this one.

SAG had 5/5 with Weisz winning. So that’s a check.

BAFTA had 3/5, missing Weisz and Amy Adams. (Thandie Newton won for Crash. So there’s that.)

The Globes had 3/5, missing Adams and Keener in favor of Shirley MacLaine (In Her Shoes… clear veteran nod) and Scarlett Johansson, for Match Point. Which, oh yeah… I forgot about that film and how people loved that performance. Don’t think I’d have nominated her, but it was a very Golden Globes thing to do.

BFCA had all five nominated, with a fifth nominee, Maria Bello for A History of Violence. Three things to say there. One, I thought Bello was all over this race, based on what I remember. Two, piggybacking off of that, people were all over that performance at the time, saying how she should have been nominated. And yet, only the one precursor. (Though I guess Globes nominated her lead. So there is that.) And three… what an awesome list. This is why I typically like BFCA over the others, since their list feels really cool and like one you agree with. (Even though they do skew a bit… well, they nominated Charlize for Mad Max. They skew a bit mainstream for an awards show for my tastes sometimes.)

So yeah, Weisz won SAG and the Globe, with Michelle Williams and Amy Adams tying for BFCA. And BAFTA being a blank. Seemed like a walk in the park for Weisz. Not seeing a whole lot of competition for her, based on memory and on what I’m seeing here.

Junebug is a very indie film. It plays exactly like what you’d think (and know) a Sundance movie is.

Embeth Davidtz is an art dealer who goes to meet her new in-laws in the midwest. That’s really all you need to know for this one. You’ve seen the setup a dozen times.

Amy Adams plays the new sister-in-law. She’s pregnant, and really excited to meet her sister-in-law. Meanwhile her husband couldn’t care less that his brother is going to show up. The character got married just out of high school and is now pregnant at like, 20. The character is basically overly optimistic, naive and very talkative. The Amy Adams character she perfected before the David O. Russell days when she started to switch it up. What really works for me is how she goes from one-note and annoying to heartbreakingly naive. She has this conversation where she talks about how her husband has stopped showing affection for her, and how she just knows as soon as the baby is born, he’s gonna forget all about that and be in love with her again.

She’s really great here. Some people are gonna think of this as one-note and annoying, but to me, she’s the biggest force unto her film in the category. In terms of impact the character has, it’s pretty much only her and Weisz that warrant a mention in this category. I love her and I love her in this part. This rates top two for me.

Capote is a biopic of Truman Capote. Specifically during the period in which he wrote In Cold Blood. That’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s a really good movie that looks great.

Catherine Keener plays Harper Lee. Yes, that Harper Lee. I remember seeing the film at the time and thinking, “She doesn’t really have all that much to do here, does she?” And she doesn’t. Mostly she’s there to support her friend. Doesn’t get many big scenes. A lot of it feels like a tagalong nomination the way Maggie Gyllenhaal came along with Jeff Bridges when he was going to win. She’s fine, and she’s playing someone famous. But if this wasn’t nominated, I don’t miss it.

North Country is a film that feels derivative in a lot of ways, but it’s one of those genres that just seems to work, so it’s okay. It’s Norma Rae but in a coal mine.

Charlize Theron is a woman with kids who works in an iron mine. Because she’s a woman, she gets harassed constantly. Any time they speak up, it’s made worse. One day, she gets assaulted, and so she files a class action lawsuit. It’s good. It’s not like you haven’t seen it before, but it’s still a solid film.

Frances McDormand plays a woman who has worked at the mine for years and has steeled herself against all the harassment and has basically become one of the guys. So she’s brash, sarcastic, able to hold her own. That kind of character. Then, later in the film, she gets ALS, so she gets to have the illness, and make a big appearance in court later on.

She’s fine. It’s solid McDormand work we’re used to seeing from her. There’s not a whole lot here for her to work with, and it’s pretty much a by the numbers character. So she rates fine, but it would be a boring winner. She probably rates fourth for me. Maybe fifth. Wouldn’t take her, but she’s fine enough that I’m not opposed to the nomination.

The Constant Gardener is based on John le Carré. Which makes it an auto watch for me. I love his stuff.

Ralph Fiennes is a diplomat who finds out his wife has been murdered, and sets off to uncover the conspiracy that led to it happening. That’s all you need to know.

Rachel Weisz plays the wife. All of her scenes are in flashback. We see them meeting and falling in love, her being a feisty activist, and then her uncovering some shady things, and then being murdered. She’s very good in the role, and I love her as an actress. I was all for her winning this year. Some people consider this a co-lead, but I don’t. Once she gets murdered around 40 minutes in, it’s all Fiennes’ film. So that’s not a problem for me. The only question is if I take her over the other performance that I love in this category. That’s really what it’s gonna come down to.

Brokeback Mountain is kind of a famous movie. Even if you haven’t seen it, you know what it’s about.

Michelle Williams plays Heath Ledger’s wife. It’s very much a supporting wife role. She loves her husband, but she’s faced with the fact that her husband loves a man. It’s a complicated part. The movie doesn’t ask her to do much for most of it. It’s the scene where she confronts him about it that earned her the nomination. And, she’s good, but I don’t rate it as anything more than solid. Most years this would be a #4 or a #4, depending on the strength of the category. Don’t think I’d ever vote for it, but I do appreciate the work she put in.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: McDormand is by the numbers and way to on the nose for me. The nature of the role keeps her afloat from an otherwise average performance. Keener has nothing to do but has a famous person to play, which is most of why you’d want to take her. So both of those are out for me right off the top. Williams is solid, but the film doesn’t really care about her aside from her one big scene. She’s not going to get any serious consideration out of me with the other two performances there.

It’s either gonna be Amy Adams or Rachel Weisz. Weisz was, probably, the better choice in the category, and I’m fine with that. I love her and I want to find a way to vote for the role. But honestly, I don’t see a whole lot in the performance that makes me want to take it. She’s fine. Mostly she’s charming and looks great. She has an impact on the film, but the overall performance doesn’t blow me away enough that I have to vote for it. Meanwhile, while the Amy Adams performance is somewhat divisive, and very indie, I was charmed by it and it’s the one performance that I actually felt something about. So I’m gonna take it. Again. I know I did last time, and my opinions haven’t really changed. I’m cool with the Weisz win, but I love the Adams performance more.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Amy Adams, Junebug
  2. Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
  3. Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
  4. Catherine Keener, Capote
  5. Frances McDormand, North Country

Rankings (films):

  1. Brokeback Mountain
  2. Capote
  3. The Constant Gardener
  4. Junebug
  5. North Country

My Vote: Amy Adams, Junebug

Recommendations:

Brokeback Mountain is an essential movie. It just is. History has already deemed it as such, and it’s gonna hold up as one. No self-respecting film buff would leave this stone unturned.

Capote is a great film and has an Oscar-winning performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Plus Bennett Miller. Who is 3 for 3 so far, and pretty much all of them are essential. No reason not to see this movie. It’s great. Film buff essential.

The Constant Gardener is a great film and a very high recommend. Probably not all-time essential. But damn good and well worth seeing. Plus, Oscar winner, so essential for Oscar buffs. So really, you should see this all around. Its’ great.

Junebug is worth it just for Amy Adams. She’s tremendous here. Otherwise it’s just an indie movie. You’ve seen it. Outside of Amy Adams, there’s not much to recommend. But seriously… her in this movie. She’s awesome.

North Country is pretty good. one of those Oscar bait type of films that works for the most part and has a good cast. Otherwise there’s no real need to see it. But it is worth a watch. You’ve seen it before, but the cast makes it worth it at least the once.

The Last Word: Adams and Weisz seem like the only two choices here. I guess you could make a case for Williams if you really wanted to. But otherwise, it’s Adams and Weisz for me. And Weisz is a great choice. One day Adams will get her Oscar. They’re both solid choices here, and either would have been fine historically. But since The Constant Gardener is a film that’ll be remembered more than Junebug, I figure that’s probably the better historical choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2006

Adriana Barraza, Babel

Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal

Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine

Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Analysis:

Each time I go back to this category, I’m constantly saying mea culpa. Not that I really need to. I just, at the time, hated the Hudson nomination and thought it was a joke. The more I see the performance, the more I get it. But anyway…

SAG 5/5, Hudson winning. Globes 4/5, Hudson winning. BFCA 4/5, Hudson winning. BAFTA 2/5, Hudson winning. So this was a foregone conclusion all around.

And based on SAG, you could be pretty certain this was gonna be your category.

The fifth Globe nominee was Emily Blunt for The Devil Wears Prada (which was never happening). The only real other option was doubling up on Little Miss Sunshine and going Toni Collette. Which could have been a possibility (one I’d have wholly supported too). But otherwise this was straightforward with an easy, easy winner.

Babel is an ensemble film with four different stories all over the world.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are an American couple on vacation in the Middle East. They’re having some marital problems. One day, she accidentally is shot by a stray bullet while on a tour bus, and it causes an international incident. The second story is about two young boys who borrow a rifle that’s for chasing away jackals who prey on the family’s goats and how they accidentally fire the bullet that hits Blanchett. The third story is about a deaf Japanese girl dealing with being both deaf and a teenager. The fourth story is about Pitt and Blanchett’s Mexican nanny who is caring for the kids while they are away and sneaks the kids into Mexico for the wedding of her son.

Adriana Barraza plays the nanny. She has to care for the kids longer than expected, and is worried that she’s gonna miss her son’s wedding. So she takes them with her, and everything goes fine… until they try to cross the border back. They have the passports and everything, but there’s no letter from the parents saying she’s allowed to bring the kids with her. Her son, drunk, speeds off over the border with them, and races away, leaving them in the desert by themselves. So now they’re completely stranded in the middle of nowhere. She freaks out and looks for help. Eventually she’s arrested, only when they get to where the kids were, they’re no longer there. So she appropriately freaks the fuck out. And then, later on, she has to deal with the repercussions of everything, namely being deported, despite all her years of caring for kids.

She’s terrific in this part. Honestly, she might be the vote. I think she was the vote last time, and I think she’s still worth one now. I’ve come around on the Hudson performance, and I feel like I’ll probably end up taking her, but if I don’t, Barraza seems like the likely alternative. She is great in this part.

Rinko Kikuchi plays the deaf Japanese girl. She’s dealing with her mother’s suicide, and has trouble conversing with the other, non-deaf kids her age. She has no way to really communicate with people, and she’s in high school, so she’s sexually frustrated on top of all of that. She has a great scene where she takes ecstasy and goes to a club. Which is just a wonderfully shot sequence. She then is questioned by detectives who want to know about her father, and tries to seduce one of them. Eventually she and her father come to an understanding.

She’s very good in the part. She does a great job with her facial expressions and conveying so much without being able to speak. I was very, very impressed by her work here, and think she’s just as vote-worthy as anyone else in this category.

Notes on a Scandal is a film that I feel casual Oscar fans won’t know anything about. It’s actually pretty good.

Judi Dench is an old teacher about to retire. Cate Blanchett is a new teacher loved by all the students. Dench quickly becomes attracted to her. But then she finds out Blanchett is having an affair with one of her students. So she uses it to blackmail her. But not openly. She ends up getting her fired (and herself), but through another teacher. So she continues to be her friend, with her not knowing that she’s the reason for the affair becoming known.

Blanchett is fine in the movie. Not her best work, I feel, but solidly done. She’s also kind of a co-lead. She gets her big, shouty scenes with Dench and more than holds her own. And the performances go hand in hand, so I get the double nomination. But this is not something I’d vote for. Feels too “actorly.” Too theatrical for me. It’s not bad acting, I just wouldn’t vote for it.

Little Miss Sunshine is such a delightful movie. It’s kinda crazy that it came so close to winning Best Picture. But it’s just so goddamn charming I understand.

It’s about a ten-year-old girl who is obsessed with beauty pageants. All she wants is to win one. She just won a local pageant and has qualified to be in the regionals. So now her family, in order to allow her to live her dream, must go on a road trip together. Hilarity ensues.

Abigail Breslin plays the girl. And she’s adorable. You immediately feel for her and love her and want her to succeed, even if her goal is kind of unattainable and really fucked up (as we later find out). She adds a lot of pathos to the character. The scene with Alan Arkin in the motel room is heartbreaking, and that’s the crux of this nomination. It’s impossible not to feel for this little girl in that moment. And then there’s the dance scene at the end, which, because everything was done correctly up to that moment, works completely, even though it should not whatsoever.

This is a very deserved nomination, and while I don’t know if I’d vote for her, she’s definitely someone I’m going to consider just because she’s so goddamn charming in the part.

Dreamgirls is basically a musical about Diana Ross and the Supremes. They updated it and all, but that’s loosely what the story is based on. They’re this Motown group, and they get famous, and pretty quickly one of them is pushed as the star, and the others are left at the curb. Good stuff.

Jennifer Hudson plays Effie White, who is the best singer of the group, but is pushed to be a background singer because they think her full figure won’t appeal to white audiences. Plus she’s got a crush on their manager, who spends all his time focusing on the lead singer. So she starts rebelling, culminating in the “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” which is the fucking showstopper of the movie. Then she ends up a few years later as a single mother on welfare, trying desperately to restart her career.

It’s a strong performance. Much of it is the singing, and holy fuck, does she destroy that song. Watch these four minutes and tell me that’s not worth an Oscar by itself:

The big knock against her is that she’s a singer and not an actor. But holy fuck, that song. And in a category like this, it’s easy to see how she took this home. When watching this movie again in the past year or two, I did a complete 180 on this performance. She’s fucking great in this, and I wholly support the win. Now the question is, having seen the other performances again as well, do I switch my vote to her or not?

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Sneakily a very solid category. I could make a case for up to four different people here. I wouldn’t take Blanchett at all, so she’s the first one off. But the other four… all of them could be the vote. Probably not Breslin. It’s the least on pure acting, but the most on pure likability. That does count for something. But I still would take other performances over her. Then… Rinko Kikuchi is terrific. Truly great. But, I’d probably end up with Breslin over her just because she’s so damn cute in the part. So that pretty much rules both of them out. Though on another day, I might have them higher or even vote for them.

Really, for me, this one is gonna come down to Hudson vs. Barraza. Barraza is quietly great in her role, and Hudson is all singing and no acting. The singing is good enough to be worth the Oscar and the acting is bad enough to hurt me wanting to vote for her. I feel like, in a situation like this, knowing Hudson is gonna run away with the category, I’ll take Barraza, just to give credit to an actress who is totally committed to making this character three-dimensional, and making it feel realistic even when it strains the bounds of credibility. I will also say that Kikuchi was just as impressive and if you asked me tomorrow, she could have also easily been the vote. So honestly this is just the result of where I’m at this second.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Adriana Barraza, Babel
  2. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  3. Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
  4. Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  5. Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal

Rankings (films):

  1. Little Miss Sunshine
  2. Babel
  3. Dreamgirls
  4. Notes on a Scandal

My Vote: Adriana Barraza, Babel

Recommendations:

Little Miss Sunshine is an essential movie, because I refuse to believe that if 100 people see this, 95 of them aren’t going to love it. It’s so fucking charming and likable. And it’s a big movie from the 2000s that won an acting Oscar. It’s essential for most people at this time.

Babel is essential because it’s Inarritu. By now, he’s proven himself well worthy of an essential filmmaker. And if it’s not all-time essential, it’s a high recommend.

Dreamgirls is a really solid musical. Essential for Oscar buffs because of the win, but for film buffs, it’s just a solid recommend. I can’t see you must see it, but it is a very good musical. If you really hate musicals and don’t care about the Oscars, you probably have no need to see this. But otherwise, it’s solid and is worth seeing for the music and the performances.

Notes on a Scandal is a fine film. Not essential at all. But decent. I like it well enough to say you should check it out if you think it’s something you’ll like. But otherwise, you’re good if you choose not to.

The Last Word: This category… honestly, outside of Blanchett, I think they’re all worth a win. Make your case for whomever and don’t slight the other nominees and you’ll be fine. Historically, one winner is as good as another, since they’re all people who seem unlikely to have other wins/nominations in the future. So really, they’ll all hold up fine. Breslin would probably be the weakest winner of the four. The Babel nominees would have been fine, and then Hudson holds up okay and probably is the strongest just because the performance of the song will be more likely to be seen by people. So I think she’s a fair winner. Which is something I definitely did not say five years ago. But I want to specify… the Oscar is for the singing, not the acting. Because those acting scenes are not great. But given the category, I could let the singing be enough.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. Nope, the Jennifer Hudson nomination and win is still a joke. That song doesn’t change anything. She over sings everything and this isn’t American Idol. Every other nominee that year is better by leaps and bounds and unfortunately the Academy was swayed by really awful singing. And that’s all her performance has going for her. She can’t act to save her life. Breslin should have won. She gave a really honest yet mature performance. Barraza was fantastic and heartbreaking, Kinkuchi was strong without speaking and full of so much pent up frustration that I became frustrated for her. Even Blanchett was worth a win over Hudson and she didn’t even give her best performance.

    Hudson is in the top 3 for worst individual acting wins in Oscar history.

    May 25, 2016 at 12:04 pm

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