The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2009-2010)
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.
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
All right, what we got here…
Mo’Nique, despite not campaigning was one of the biggest and easiest winners I have ever seen. Swept everything, and rightfully so. So that’s off the top.
SAG had 4/5. No Gyllenhaal, but Diane Kruger for Inglourious Basterds instead. (Because Harvey gets those stray SAG nominations.)
BAFTA had 3/5. Missed Maggie and Cruz.
Globes had 4/5. Missed Maggie in favor of Julianne Moore for A Single Man.
BFCA had 3/5. Missed Cruz and Gyllenhaal. Instead they had Marion Cotillard (who felt like a more appropriate nominee from the same film as Cruz), Julianne Moore and Samantha Morton for The Messenger (she was good in it).
This felt like a category with four definitive nominees and the fifth one being open. Which is how Gyllenhaal ended up on there. The same as 2014, with Laura Dern. And the same case of it not mattering, because there was such a clear winner, no one really cared about the extra nominee.
Nine is a musical based on 8½. Get it?
Same plot as the Fellini movie, but with songs. A director working on his new movie can’t figure out what to do, and has to deal with all the women in his life. The musical’s fine. Not great. Looks good, but overall just pretty good. Plus you get Daniel Day-Lewis, which is nice.
Penelope Cruz plays Lewis’ mistress. Mostly the role calls for her to be sexy. I feel like this nomination was both expected yet surprising at the same time. I think we all felt that if anyone should be nominated in this movie for supporting, it should have been Marion Cotillard. She has a big lingerie dancing scene and then a suicide attempt. Those are her two big moments.
Up in the Air is probably Jason Reitman’s best film. Which I didn’t think I’d be saying, based on how great his career started. But his last two films have been practically ignored and forgotten.
George Clooney is a guy whose job is firing people. He flies around the country going to businesses and “letting people go.” He lives a simple lifestyle, free of any emotional baggage. He is tasked with bringing a rookie (Anna Kendrick) around to learn the ropes, and also carries on a no strings attached relationship with Vera Farmiga, who lives a similar lifestyle to his. And of course his simple life gets tested over the course of the film, and so on and so forth. I really loved this movie. It was definitely one of my favorites from this year. Maybe even top five. This was before I was ranking movies. But now that I look… probably not top five. Just outside it though. 6-8 range.
Vera Farmiga plays basically the female version of Clooney in the film. They have a nice, easy relationship and they both seem to like it. Over the course of the film, Clooney starts to think he might want to actually settle down with her, even having her go with him to his sister’s wedding. Though, as he’s about to take that step and ask her, going to her house in a big romantic gesture, we realize she’s actually married.
It’s a solid character, but I don’t know if there’s really enough there to actually vote for her. And to be honest… she’s not beating Mo’Nique. So I’m not splitting hairs to figure out where she ends up in this category. She’s not winning.
Anna Kendrick plays a newbie to the company who has come up with a new plan to essentially fire people via Skype. She’s very professional, seems married to her work, and we see her start to come unhinged as she sees the reality of actually firing people (and seeing her personal life fall apart as well). It’s hard to explain the part, but Kendrick is really good in it. She has one scene where, suddenly, in the middle of the lobby of a hotel, she goes from zero to hysterical crying in three seconds. It’s hilarious. The character is really well drawn, and she’s terrific in it. I’d want to vote for her if it weren’t for a clear winner in the category.
Crazy Heart is a film that I liked a bunch when it came out, but was slightly prejudiced against because I was like, “Really, he’s gonna win an Oscar for this? Come on.” But honestly, over time, I love this film way more than I did even then, which was still a lot. This is a terrific film.
Jeff Bridges is a washed up, alcoholic country singer. His career’s in the shitter, and he wants his protege, who is now the biggest thing in country music, to cut another album so he can contribute some songs and get a nice paycheck. Otherwise he’s stuck continuing to play bowling alleys and shitty dive bars. On one of his stop, he meets a single mother, who might end up being a sort of redemptive woman for him. It’s a good film. It’s like Tender Mercies but modern day.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the single mother. And I’m trying to say something positive about the performance, but truth be told, this is a one-note stock character that she doesn’t really do or get to do anything particularly interesting. I think we were all shocked when we saw this nomination come through, because it came completely out of nowhere. I don’t like to say negative things, but this is definitely one of the weaker nominations I’ve seen, especially in the past 25 years. I have a hard time seeing her anything more than a fifth nominee who is lucky to be here.
Precious is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. But you already knew that.
It’s about an inner city black teenager. Overweight, can’t read, and has had multiple children by her father. (So it’s a comedy…) It’s a pretty bleak film, and it’s pretty good. I’m not sure it’s as good as people thought it was back in 2009, but it’s definitely solid and features some great performances.
Mo’Nique plays someone with two names. That’s why she won. Range.
She’s Precious’ mother, who hates her, mostly because she can’t stand that her husband prefers to sleep with their daughter instead of her. She’s both emotionally and physically abusive, and it’s a HELL of a performance. Just watch this performance next to the other four and there’s no way she’s not automatically the winner. This isn’t even worth a discussion. Mo’Nique wins this.
– – – – – – – – – –
The Reconsideration: Mo’Nique wins this by a clear mile. It’s not even close. I love the Anna Kendrick performance, but it’s not even close. Cruz and Gyllenhaal are just lucky to be nominated, and Vera Farmiga is good, but you’re not voting for that performance. Not over Mo’Nique. This is one of the biggest open and shut cases in the category’s history, and there’s nothing more that needs to be added because it’s so obviously one.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Mo’Nique, Precious
- Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
- Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
- Penelope Cruz, Nine
- Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
- Up in the Air
- Crazy Heart
My Vote: Mo’Nique, Precious
Up in the Air is a great, great film. Not sure I can call it essential just yet, but I say it is. So just see it. It’s fantastic.
Precious is essential for Oscar buffs. And a solid film. I say you need to see it for now. We’ll see what time says about it, but for now, it’s essential.
Crazy Heart is essential for Oscar buffs. And it’s a really solid movie. I’m a big fan. Not essential, but highly recommended.
Nine is a solid musical. Pretty much any Daniel Day-Lewis performance is essential. Plus, the stars in this movie… it’s worth it. Not essential at all, but fun.
The Last Word: It’s Mo’Nique. Not much needed to be said here.
– – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – –
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
This one felt like the category through and through in 2010. I was a bit nervous Jacki Weaver was gonna be left off, but outside of that, this felt like not only the right category, but also one of the stronger categories of all time.
SAG had 4/5, and missed Weaver in favor of Mila Kunis for Black Swan (who was never going to be nominated). The longer you follow the Oscars, the easier you can spot this type of nominee, who is never going to make it on the final list unless they have no other option.
BAFTA had only 2/5. Went totally off the board. Only Helena Bonham Carter and Amy Adams nominated. The only potential nominee at the Oscars was Barbara Hershey in Black Swan. Who felt like a fringe contender.
The Globes had 4/5, missing Steinfeld in favor of Kunis. Which makes sense for them.
BAFTA had the six main contenders, the five nominees plus Kunis. So this was an easy one to guess in the end. Take the big four nominees and then figure Kunis would never get the nomination and go with Weaver, who had BFCA and the Globes.
And then for the win… Leo swept everything but BAFTA, where she wasn’t nominated, and Carter won. And the category felt like Leo with a 75% advantage and Carter being there as a contender in case they really went all in for The King’s Speech. So no one expected it, but we saw it as a small possibility. Otherwise, this was an easy win for Leo. Bale actually felt like more of a threat to lose, even though he had the better performance than she did.
The Fighter is David O. Russell in his new incarnation. He had Huckabees, which was awesome, but still very much in his earlier, weird period. And then Nailed, which failed on every possible level, to the point where it never really ever came out and wasn’t entirely his project. So that, coupled with all those Huckabees set videos that got released, put him away in purgatory for a few years. And then he busted back out with this. And man, has he not looked back ever since.
It’s about Mickey Ward, a Boston fighter, and his crazy family. It’s not really about the boxing so much as it’s about the family. His brother whose claim to fame was having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard and is now a crackhead, his crazy, domineering mother who acts as his co-manager and might not be the best thing for him, and his new girlfriend who might help him get his career on track. It’s awesome. It’s got that new style that Russell has been using for his last few films (through Joy) that’s been a hit with everyone, especially the Academy.
Amy Adams plays the new girlfriend. She’s feisty. She’s strong. It’s a very solid performance that for sure deserved to be nominated. She gets great moments. The fight scene with the sisters, the scene where she confronts the family about being bad influences on him (“same thing you meant”), and the scene with Bale at the end. The scene with Bale at the end is mostly his, but she makes it almost even. Which is a testament to the performance. But she’s not as good as Melissa Leo, and when one performance in a film is markedly better than the other (no matter how good the second performance is), it’s hard to take it seriously for a vote. Some people might, but I see her as an unfortunately placed second choice in her own film.
Melissa Leo plays the mother. And from the first moment you see her, she commands every scene. And she’s so utterly authentic. The scene where she’s arguing with her husband and then one of her daughters speaks up and she goes, “Don’t you talk to me. You owe me $200.” What a perfectly succinct example of who this character is. She’s really great here. The downside to the part is she kind of disappears toward the end of the movie. It peters out, which might hurt her in the eyes of some people. But outside of that, I think she’s the class of the category.
The King’s Speech is such an awesome film that shouldn’t have to recover from the fact that it won Best Picture. But in the eyes of many, it does.
King George VI ascends to the throne through happenstance, and now he has to lead a country despite having a horrible speech impediment. He’s tried to get over this for years, and nothing’s worked. But now he meets unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue, who actually manages to help him. And the king has to overcome his disability in order to rule, which is tested by the oncoming of World War II. It’s a great great movie. Truly.
Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen Mum. She’s the dutiful wife who stands by her husband through thick and thin. So you know the role. But there’s such subtle work being done here, and when Carter is on, she’s really on. And her work here is nothing short of astounding. She doesn’t really any get those big “Oscar” scenes, but she’s quietly the backbone of this movie. And I completely understand her being a top two choice in this category and voting for her. I’m actually considering it now, just as I was back in 2010.
True Grit is one of my favorite Coen brothers films. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s Deakins’ cinematography. I don’t know. But I love it.
It’s a remake of the John Wayne version. Rooster Cogburn, one-eyed marshal, is hired by Mattie Ross, 13, to find the man who shot her father in cold blood, Tom Chaney. So they track him down, and she comes with him, determined to see the man. They’re tailed/joined by LaBeouf, a Texas Ranger, also out to look for Chaney. It’s just a wonderful movie and might be my favorite film of that year, in terms of the nominees.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, and it’s basically a lead role. I don’t necessarily condone the category fraud, but I was okay with it because she was great and deserved the recognition and because I loved the film and this was the only way it was going to happen. She’s really strong in the role, and I understand the nomination, although I wouldn’t take her.
Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime film that not many people have seen. I didn’t know what it was until I saw it. I only knew that people loved it, and usually when a movie gets the kind of word of mouth this movie did, it’s worthwhile. And man, by the time that opening scene finished, I was 100% in with this movie.
It’s about an Australian crime family. A 17-year-old ends up moving in with them and gets thrust in the middle of all the shit they do. And suddenly things start to go south for them, and they quickly realize he can get them in trouble and might give them up. So they decide to get rid of him.
Jacki Weaver plays the matriarch of the family. In the first half of the film, she’s the lovable, caring grandmother who looks after everyone and doesn’t seem to know or mind what her family does. And then, once the shit goes down, she turns. She’s determined to keep the family together, by any means necessary. Even if that means the murder of her own grandson. The character takes a real dark, cold turn, and Weaver is terrific in the way she sets it up.
I love that she got nominated. It’s a great character and she really brings it to life. That said… wouldn’t vote for her. She doesn’t get any big moments to really warrant a vote. It’s almost like Silver Linings, though much more pronounced. It’s solid supporting work, but there’s no real moment that you can rally around for the vote.
– – – – – – – – – –
The Reconsideration: I love every inch of this category. And I almost wish it was harder for me to vote than it is.
Adams is out because I’d take Leo over her, even though I’d rank Adams solidly in the end. Steinfeld is good, but I wouldn’t vote for it. Same for Weaver. That leaves either Leo or Carter. And I could make a solid case for both. But there’s something about the Leo performance that just feels perfectly authentic to me. So I’m gonna stick with her. I might need more distance from this category to really put forward a vote. But now, I think it’s still Leo for me.
– – – – – – – – – –
- Melissa Leo, The Fighter
- Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
- Amy Adams, The Fighter
- Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
- Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
- True Grit
- The King’s Speech
- The Fighter
- Animal Kingdom
My Vote: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Oh, this one’s easy. True Grit is essential because of the Coen brothers. The Fighter is essential because of David O. Russell. The King’s Speech is essential because of the Best Picture (and Actor, and Director) win. And if you want to talk about the category, you need to see it. And also because it’s a terrific film.
And then Animal Kingdom is not essential, but it’s very, very, very good and I think people should see it. So it’s a high recommend from me, which, if you trust my opinions in any way, should be something you consider essential. But do what you will. I’m here to recommend. It’s up to you whether or not you see fit to see anything.
The Last Word: I think you could make a case for most of these actresses. Not sure Adams or Steinfeld is the choice in the end, and Weaver… maybe. I think Leo or Carter are the best two choices, and I think you can’t go wrong with either of them. I also think they made a solid choice here whichever way they went.
– – – – – – – – – –
(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)