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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 2013-2014)

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.

2013

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

June Squibb, Nebraska

Analysis:

This was a category that was 4/5 locked all the way through precursors. That I know for a fact. Sally Hawkins was the only surprise nominee. And it was purely because we knew the fifth nominee would be someone we weren’t expecting, we just weren’t totally sure it was gonna be her.

SAG’s fifth nominee was Oprah for The Butler, which just felt like a shrinking violet for the Oscars. BFCA had Oprah too, and also nominated Scarlett Johansson for Her, which was never gonna happen at the Oscars.

Though, to be fair, the Globes and BAFTA had Sally Hawkins nominated. The Globes matched 5/5, and BAFTA had Oprah instead of June Squibb. So really, it makes perfect sense that Sally Hawkins was the fifth nominee here.

As for the win, Lupita Nyong’o felt like the winner all throughout, even though she and Jennifer Lawrence evenly split the precursors (SAG and BFCA for Lupita and BAFTA and Globe for Lawrence. I think the BAFTA was a makeup and the Globe was because they’re the Globes). I’d say that it felt close going into the night, but I think we figured an easy 60/40 win for Lupita if not more.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen, who brings his own set of expectations. He also gets a shit ton of actors nominated for Oscars.

Cate Blanchett gets off a plane and shows up at her sister’s house. She pretends everything’s fine, but it’s clear she’s an emotional wreck. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Sally Hawkins is Blanchett’s sister. We see her in two different timelines. In the past, she has a simple, happy marriage to Andrew Dice Clay, and in the present, she’s dating Bobby Cannavale. Though also at one point she starts dating Louis C.K. briefly.

Woody Allen characters don’t really have arcs. Nor is it easy to really talk about the performances a lot of the time.

Hawkins is good. I registered her as being very solid in the role. The nomination felt… at the same time unnecessary and also, “Oh, that’s a nice way to single out a solid performance that no one was talking about due to Blanchett.” She’s fine, but I wouldn’t vote for it. I’m glad she got nominated because I like her as an actress and think she did a fine job with it, but she’s still fifth in the category for me.

American Hustle is the epitome of David O. Russell’s more recent style, after his brief disappearance in the late 2000s. His previous two films built to this one.

It’s a film about Abscam, where the FBI teamed up with criminals in order to take down city officials taking bribes. The film is presented basically like Goodfellas — wall to wall music, constantly moving camera, an air of glamour… it’s just a good time at the movies.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Christian Bale’s wife. They’re still married, because she believes marriage is for life, but they’ve been separated for years. He’s off with Amy Adams. But he still comes home to Lawrence. And she’s… a character. The part is perfectly written for Jennifer Lawrence, and it shows. She’s a delight.

Now, for those who didn’t think her acting was up to snuff when she won for Silver Linings Playbook… now you get the added bonus of the role being specifically tailored for her. So it feels like they’re trying to get her an Oscar. A lot of this film feels like it was trying to get Oscars. I went for the Silver Linings performance, I’m not sure I go for this one. Though admittedly in the category, she’s either a second or third choice. It’s not that strong around her. So I can see how she got so close to winning.

12 Years a Slave is an incredible film. The title tells you everything you need to know about the film, and at this point, if you’re a film buff reading this site, how have you not seen this yet?

Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, slave to Michael Fassbender’s character. She picks twice as much cotton every day a the others, so she pretty much gets to do what she wants. Though she’s also secretly being raped by Fassbender on an average basis. She gets a few really impressive scenes. The one everyone remembers is when she left to go get soap so she could clean, but to me the two more impressive moments were when Fassbender rapes her and when he forces Ejiofor to whip her for leaving to take the soap. She’s really impressive in this movie. She’s also an easy winner in this category. Gonna be hard to argue otherwise.

August: Osage County is based on a play, and it shows. A lot of angry people with family problems yelling at one another around the dinner table and in drawing rooms in the south.

A lot of complicated stuff going on here. But basically — a family is gathered together because Sam Shepard, the patriarch, has disappeared. The matriarch is Meryl Streep, a brash woman with cancer who doesn’t seem to care, and she sends for her daughters. And of course all the family shows up and a whole bunch of family stuff comes out while they’re there. You can’t really explain it, you just have to experience it.

Julia Roberts is someone who mostly has her life together and has a lot of shit going on, so she’s not ready to put up with her mother’s shit. She’s separated from her husband, and her whole thing is wanting to keep everything controlled around her, which is a problem, since everything in her life is falling apart. So she gets more crazed the crazier the film gets. I remember really loving Julia Roberts in this movie. I haven’t seen it since, but knowing how much I usually don’t like her in stuff, the fact that I really liked her in this should say something. Still, even if I like her (and I imagine not everyone else would), I still wouldn’t vote for her. At best she’s second or even third for a vote. Mostly because she’s a co-lead of the film. Maybe with screen time she’s actually someone who could count as supporting, she’s basically a co-lead.

Nebraska is Alexander Payne. Gorgeously shot in black and white. The premise is so simple that it’ll trick you into thinking it’s not about anything. But there’s a lot packed into this simple story.

Bruce Dern is an old alcoholic who starts walking up the highway to the next state over because he thinks he won a contest and is gonna be paid something like ten grand. His son finds him and tells him it’s not real, but since Dern is unconvinced, the two travel together, going on an emotional journey and all that stuff you usually see in indie movies. It’s good, though.

June Squibb plays Dern’s wife. She basically shows up and has a foul mouth and says what no one else would say. Her most famous scene is by the family gravesite, where she calls Dern’s sister a whore, and lifts up her dress to show her vag to someone who wanted to sleep with her but never got the chance to. It’s a very comic performance, is constantly hilarious, and is a good way to honor a veteran who put in solid, unrecognized work throughout the years. Wouldn’t vote for it, but love the nomination.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: There’s nothing to reconsider here. It’s Lupita Nyong’o and then there’s everyone else. Even if you’re not completely sold on the performance itself (which is a whole other discussion), who else do you vote for? It’s not Sally Hawkins. June Squibb is comic relief, albeit hilarious comic relief. Jennifer Lawrence is doing the same thing she did to win a lead Oscar a year before this. And Julie Roberts is really a lead. But even so, Nyong’o is so good in the part that it’s an open and shut case. She completely deserved this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
  2. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  4. June Squibb, Nebraska
  5. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Rankings (films):

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. American Hustle
  3. Nebraska
  4. August: Osage County
  5. Blue Jasmine

My Vote: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Recommendations:

12 Years a Slave is an essential movie. And I love that it won Best Picture to really cement its status as such.

American Hustle is an essential movie. David O. Russell’s recent films (at least that trilogy. Joy is not going to become essential) have all become essential, and this one is one that’s gonna be seen by so many people and loved the way Goodfellas is loved. Maybe in twenty years it won’t be as essential, but I kinda doubt that. So, for now, consider it something you need to see if you haven’t already.

Nebraska is Alexander Payne, which basically renders it essential. It’s terrific, and it’s very much worth seeing all around. Film buffs should consider this essential.

August: Osage County is not essential, but it’s really strong. Though a lot of people are gonna not like it because every character is so unlikable. And because it feels like an acting showcase for Meryl and Julia. I get that. But I liked it quite a bit and thought it was terrific. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t. Though it’s not essential outside of the cast.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen. Not particularly essential outside of the Best Actress win. It’s actually not bad. I respect it among his filmography. I don’t hate it the way I hate some of his movies. It’s a notch above indifference. He’s on his own scale of essentialness, so I don’t know how to rate it. If you’re into the Oscars you need to see it. Otherwise, put it on the Woody Allen scale. It’s solid Allen, but treat it against the other films he made. Most of those others are more essential than this one. So you don’t need to rush into it.

The Last Word: It’s Lupita Nyong’o. Clearly her. She’s so good here it speaks for itself. Plus, there’s really no one else to take. If it’s Jennifer Lawrence, I’d need to hear a compelling case as to why. I don’t know if it’s anyone else. I’m probably the biggest Julia Roberts supporter in this category, and even I wouldn’t take her. Sally Hawkins could have not been nominated and no one would have minded. And June Squibb is a comic relief performance that no one actually votes for. It’s clearly Nyong’o. They made the absolute right choice with this one.

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2014

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Emma Stone, Birdman

Analysis:

This was a category that I said at the time was decided the minute the nominees list came through. Because there was absolutely no competition for Patricia Arquette whatsoever.

It was a weak year, and the only real competition was in a nominee that didn’t get enough support to be nominated, so when you got this list, you knew who was winning, and the season played out exactly as you’d suspect.

SAG had 4/5, with Naomi Watts for St. Vincent (for an awesome performance) being the outlier (over Laura Dern). The Globes had Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year instead of of Dern. As did BFCA, though they also nominated Tilda Swinton for Snowpiercer for good measure. BAFTA had Rene Russo for Nightcrawler and Imelda Staunton for Pride instead of Meryl and Dern.

Chastain and Russo felt like the two that should have been nominated, but neither got enough support anywhere to make it on. And then you had Laura Dern sneak on out of nowhere, coming along with Reese Witherspoon, which was something we all saw as a possibility but still made us sit up and go, “What?” on nominations morning. I personally don’t see how either Chastain or Rose weren’t nominated (especially over Meryl or Dern), but hey, that’s what happened. And the minute Chastain wasn’t nominated, Arquette walked away with the category.

Boyhood is an incredible film. One that went into the ranks of essential almost immediately upon release. That’s what happens when you make a film about a boy’s life, shooting a little at a time over a 12 year span.

That’s what this film is. Twelve minute short films over twelve years. We watch a kid from six to eighteen grow up, and we check in with him where his life is at each year. It’s wonderful.

Patricia Arquette is the boy’s mother. And while not enough time has truly passed to really analyze this performance, I will repeat what I said during the entire Oscar season when she was sweeping every award — I appreciate the performance, I think she did a great job, but I also don’t think she was anything particularly special in this movie. She pretty much benefitted from a weak year. To the point where, even I’d probably take her, with the category the way it is.

Wild is a movie that I don’t think is gonna hold up particularly well. It might come off like a vanity project, but it’s not. It’s just a movie that looks worse because it felt like an Oscar grab.

Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who decides to go hike a 1200 mile trail, even though she’s never done it before. (Robert Redford made a similar movie to this the year after, A Walk in the Woods.) That’s… pretty much the movie. I didn’t think it was all that great.

Laura Dern plays Witherspoon’s mother. She’s really only in the film for like ten minutes, and entirely in flashback. There’s not a whole lot to the performance, and most people were surprised to see her get nominated (the big contender who got left off in favor of her was Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year). Even if you do love the performance, I have a hard time thinking you consider her any higher than fourth or fifth in the category. Nomination is one thing, but voting is a completely different thing.

The Imitation Game is the big, classy Oscar picture of 2014. A very solid film, at that.

About Alan Turing and the cracking of the Enigma machine. So you get your nice wartime movie, character piece, spy/mystery movie all wrapped up in one. Great stuff.

Keira Knightley plays a woman who solves a specially placed crossword puzzle in the paper, designed to weed out those who would be good codebreakers at Bletchley. And she gets the (fairly cliche) scene where they’re given a test to type something, and they say how it can’t be done in under a certain amount of time, and she manages to beat the time by several minutes. You know the drill. And then she becomes a codebreaker, but it’s tough because she’s a woman, and they don’t treat her equally, even though Turing trusts her more than anyone else. She becomes engaged to Turing, just so he can keep her on, hiding the fact that he’s gay. It’s a whole thing.

Most people agreed, when this performance was getting nominated, that the role was 80% of the performance. Most actresses could have pulled this off. But it was also agreed that Keira was apt in the part and did a great job with it. So the nomination feels wholly earned. But I also don’t know of many people who loved it enough to think it was the choice in the category. She’s fine, but also… it’s mostly the role. I don’t know what time is gonna do to this, but even now, two years later… it’s still mostly the role. And I say that loving Keira Knightley as an actress. I’d want to take her, because this is a perfect storm for me. But I still think it’s mostly the role more than anything

Into the Woods is a big Sondheim musical. Fairy tales gone bad.

It’s a weird, twisted take on all the fairy tales, where the prince is trying to rape Cinderella, and the Baker and his wife are having affairs, and the wolf is doing horrible things to Little Red Riding Hood, who is more than complicit in said activities. It’s pretty crazy. Sondheim is also the best. Now… it’s not worth really getting into the plot of the movie. It’s a musical. We’ll deal in the specifics of the performance. Either you’re gonna be into the plot or you won’t.

Meryl Streep plays the Witch, who places a curse on the Baker and his wife from something his father did years prior. And she shows up and is like, “Look homies,” (actual dialogue) “I’ll lift the curse if you get me these things.” And she pops up here and there, and in a way, is really the only decent character in the entire movie.

Here’s the thing — yes, this is 100% a “Meryl Streep” nomination. If this is anyone else, they don’t nominate this. They didn’t even like the film all that much. But it’s Meryl, and she’s pretty much apt to get nominated for anything and everything she does. Not to mention, check this out:

She’s doing her own singing, and it’s really impressive. On the singing alone, I will support the nomination. I won’t vote for it, because no goddamn way. The character’s not even as complex as it is in the musical. But on the nomination, I can be okay with it. But no way in fucking hell would I vote for it.

Birdman is a film that I’m really curious about. I really want to see what happens to its reputation over the next ten to fifteen years.

It’s hard to talk about the film without discussing the conceit that the film is shot to look as though it happens in a single take. And it’s hard to explain what the film is really about. Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor best known for playing a superhero years ago, who has sunk all his money into a comeback effort, a play. He really needs this to go well for him, and all signs are pointing to disaster. And he slowly loses his mind, bit by bit, in the process.

Emma Stone plays Keaton’s daughter, who is his personal assistant. She’s recently out of rehab and trying to stay off drugs. She starts a romance with Edward Norton over the course of the film.

There’s not much of a defined arc to the character, but she does get a few big and memorable scenes to play. Obviously the one everyone remembers is when Keaton comes in and catches her with some pot and they have an argument where she completely takes him down harder and more to the bone than anyone else has.

Here’s the thing about this performance — she’s great. Two negatives. First, she completely disappears in the second half of the movie (as does Edward Norton). Second, even in her big scene, with her monologue, a lot of her performance feels like an acting student delivering a monologue. Which can go either way. Because it feels like someone delivering a big speech in a play. Which plays right into the fiction vs. reality aspect of the film and could be argued that it’s meant to blur that line deliberately. On the other hand, it could feel forced and false keep you from wanting to vote for her. If it makes any sense, I felt both at the same time. Leaving me perplexed as to what I ultimately want to do in this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is a really weak category. To the point where, the minute the final category was announced, it was a foregone conclusion that Patricia Arquette would win. And in a way, rightfully so.

There’s really not a whole lot to love here. Dern barely registers as something that even qualifies for a nomination, let alone a vote. Streep is solid, but are you really gonna vote for that role in that film and that performance? Meryl’s always good, but really?

The category is either Arquette, Knightley or Stone. Knightley feels too much role over performance. Stone… I don’t fully feel the performance enough to want to take it. I wasn’t overly blown away by it, plus she literally disappears for the latter parts of the film. Arquette, meanwhile, did a great job staying true to the character over twelve years, and was a steady presence with a couple of really strong moments throughout (with that final monologue that really hits home). In another year, I’d argue she wasn’t the choice, but in this year, she’s the only choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  2. Emma Stone, Birdman
  3. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  4. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
  5. Laura Dern, Wild

Rankings (films):

  1. Birdman
  2. Boyhood
  3. The Imitation Game
  4. Into the Woods
  5. Wild

My Vote: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Recommendations:

Birdman and Boyhood are, currently, essential films. Boyhood will remain one over time. Birdman will be one for a while purely because of the Best Picture win and all that. I don’t know if it’ll end up as essential as Boyhood in the end, but for now, both are essential.

The Imitation Game feels like a movie that won’t end up essential but will end up as very good and worth seeing. Which is where we’re at right now. You don’t need to see it, but you should, because it’s great.

Into the Woods is worth it if you love Sondheim (and if you don’t, why don’t you?), love musicals, and love the cast. Otherwise you can skip this and not be missing anything. Rob Marshall has made three musicals now (four if you count the Annie TV movie): Chicago, Nine and this. They’re getting less essential as we go along.

Wild is not essential in the least. This is actually gonna be one of those movies people forget about in ten to fifteen years. It’s fine, but it’s not all that great. It’s very formulaic, and almost cringeworthy in how cloying it’s trying to be at times. See it, don’t see it, doesn’t matter.

The Last Word: Even over time, I don’t see how this isn’t Arquette’s category all the way. You can’t take Dern, or Streep, really. Knightley.. ehh. And Stone… ehh. I’m too close to this category to give a completely objective opinion. For now, it feels like an easy Arquette category where they made the only good decision they could make. Maybe over time, I could say that Knightley or Stone are acceptable alternatives, but not at this moment.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. So which category comes next?

    June 18, 2016 at 12:53 pm

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