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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1981-1982)

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.

1981

James Coco, Only When I Laugh

John Gielgud, Arthur

Ian Holm, Chariots of Fire

Jack Nicholson, Reds

Howard Rollins, Ragtime

Analysis:

Only When I Laugh is Neil Simon. Some people hate this movie. I saw it very late in the fame because it was so hard to find, and I really liked it quite a bit.

Marsha Mason is an actress coming out of rehab for alcohol addiction. She’s trying to get a job and keep her shit together. And that’s pretty much the film.

James Coco plays one of her two best friends, a gay actor trying to get any part he can. He’s… good here. He plays almost a stereotypical gay man. It’s a very theatrical kind of role, and Coco plays it well. Not a performance that wins his category, and I think some people think the nomination is a bit of a joke. Do I hate it? No. Would I vote for it? No. Probably he’s a fourth choice in the category, maybe third. Fine, but not something I take.

Arthur is one of the most perfect comedies of all time. I was shocked when it took me 21 years to see this movie, because it’s so up my alley that, within two days of seeing it, I watched it another two times and it immediately became one of my favorite 25 movies of all time.

Arthur Bach is a millionaire playboy whose family has been rich for decades. He gets a huge allowance per month and pretty much spends the entire time drinking and chasing women. Now his family wants him to get his shit together and are arranging a marriage for him that he wants nothing to do with but is willing to go through anyway. But, by happenstance, he meets a working class woman who he really likes and falls for, which threatens the comfy life he’s about to inherit.

John Gielgud plays Hobson, Arthur’s butler. He’s basically a surrogate father for Arthur, and also cares for him in just about every way. We first see him as a proper English butler who is also sarcastic as fuck. He wakes Arthur up from a night of blackout drinking and picking up a random woman on the street. He gives him two aspirins, belittles the woman for her inferior intellect and sends her on her way, essentially insulting her the entire time in such a way that she doesn’t necessarily pick up on it. He’s the superior subordinate character, whose been caring for their employer so long there’s a certain level of authority there. And he’s hilariously sarcastic and deadpan the entire time as well. And he gets nice scenes in the last half of the movie where he’s dying and Arthur has to care for him, and in doing so learn how to grow up.

Because I love this movie and the character so much, I’m going to vote for Gielgud no matter what. Is he the absolute best performance in the category? I don’t know. But I love him, I love the character, I think he’s at worst a second choice, and I think the fact that it’s a veteran win for one of the most respected stage actors of all time makes it a win for everyone.

Chariots of Fire is an incredibly famous film, mostly because of its opening scene, with the guys running on the beach to the iconic music. But after that, how many people can really tell you what the movie is about? Okay, sure, guys who run. But after that, can they?

It’s about two different Olympic runners, one Jewish, one Catholic. And they train to compete in the Olympics. That’s really the film. It’s a sports film classic. It’s a solid film. Best Picture? We’ll get to that.

Ian Holm plays one of the runners’ coaches. It’s your typical coach role. You’ve seen it a bunch ,and the only thing that makes this novel is the fact that it’s Ian Holm playing it. It’s also the token nominee for the film, since he was really the only chance at an acting nomination. And you know how they love Best Pictures getting at least one acting nomination. So that’s pretty much what this feels like. He’s worthy, but I don’t really consider him strongly for the vote in this category. Easy solid but distant fourth for me.

Reds is Warren Beatty’s love letter to communism.

It’s a biopic of John Reed, who wrote ‘Ten Days That Shook the World,’ about the Russian revolution of 1917. It’s three hours, and it’s an epic movie about communism and romance. Seriously.

Jack Nicholson plays Eugene O’Neill. Yes, that Eugene O’Neill. Beatty and Keaton fall in love, and then he goes off to Russia to deal with this monumental change in the world and she stays behind and starts an affair with O’Neill. It’s the kind of thing where he really loves her, but it’s clear that she’s gonna go back to Beatty once he comes back in the picture. That’s pretty much it. Unrequited love.

Gonna be honest — never saw a whole lot out of this performance. He’s definitely acting. You don’t feel him slipping into the classic Nicholson mannerisms like he does in Terms of Endearment. But I never became endeared by the performance. I guess because it’s Eugene O’Neill and Jack Nicholson is playing him. Kinda like Jason Robards and Dashiell Hammett. This isn’t the person I’ve heard about, so I want more of them being them, rather than them in the context of this other story. For me, he’s maybe a third choice. Don’t love the performance, but I think it’s solid. I remember starting the Oscars and hearing people think Nicholson should have won this. I don’t share that opinion, but I guess I’m not overly opposed to it.

Ragtime is a famous novel and a mostly forgotten movie. This film has a gigantic cast on it, and I bet if you weren’t into the Oscars, you probably wouldn’t really have heard of it.

It’s a big, sweeping epic about turn of the century New York. Lots of intertwining stories and conflicts and things. Hard to really get into unless you’re talking specifics about roles.

Howard E. Rollins plays a pianist who is very cocky. Which — a black man who didn’t act subservient to whites in this era was not something that went over well. One day, some white guys put shit in his new car. He’s not okay with that. He goes to a cop, who says, “Look, these guys are locals and you’re not. I’d let this slide because it’s not gonna end well for you.” He doesn’t, and eventually he gets arrested for causing a scene. Later, he tries to get revenge with some of his friends, but they end up killing some people. So he becomes this activist, saying he’s gonna keep attacking whites until the guy who put the shit in his car is turned over to him. Eventually he and the guys barricade themselves in a library, which becomes a whole standoff and shootout that, as you can imagine, doesn’t end well.

Rollins is good and the role is a great one. It’s a strong performance and he definitely sticks out. The ultimate lack of greatness in the picture hurts his chances a bit, but he definitely contends here.

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The Reconsideration: Not gonna lie, John Gielgud is the vote, and will always be the vote. I love Arthur, and I love his work as Hobson. I will never not take him in this category, and that’s that.

For everyone else — I doubt anyone actually votes for Coco. Rollins might get a few votes, and probably places second or third in the category in terms of pure performance. Nicholson I rate as solid but wouldn’t vote for him. Some might, and I can respect that. Holm feels like he came along with his film and don’t think he’s the vote for anyone. And Coco won’t get any votes from anyone, even those who love his film.

This one’s an easy Gielgud vote for me, and I don’t even have to feel guilty about it.

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Rankings (category):

  1. John Gielgud, Arthur
  2. Howard Rollins, Ragtime
  3. Jack Nicholson, Reds
  4. Ian Holm, Chariots of Fire
  5. James Coco, Only When I Laugh

Rankings (films):

  1. Arthur
  2. Reds
  3. Only When I Laugh
  4. Chariots of Fire
  5. Ragtime

My Vote: John Gielgud, Arthur

Recommendations:

Arthur is one of the great comedies of all time and a hilarious, hilarious movie. I say everyone needs to see it, even though I am inherently very biased toward it. Objectively, it’s probably only essential for Oscar buffs, comedy fans, and anyone interested in seeing really good movies.

Reds is an essential movie for film buffs. Not all-time essential, I don’t think, but it’s close. I’d say if you just kinda like movies you don’t need to see this, but if you’re firmly in the film buff camp, then yes you should definitely consider it something you have to watch. This is an unofficial Best Picture winner, Best Director and Supporting Actress winner, and constantly listed somewhere on those Best Film lists. So most people should check this out if they’re serious about movies.

Chariots of Fire is an essential movie. The score alone is known by everyone alive. But that aside, this is one of those situations — wanna complain that it won Best Picture? You gotta see it. That’s it. So I’d say, on that alone, it’s essential to about 75% of film buffs. And most people reading this probably don’t want to be in that other 25%.

Ragtime is a recommended, but not essential, movie. Based on a famous novel, big and classy, and James Cagney’s last film. Worthwhile, but if you didn’t see this it wouldn’t be horrible. I feel like many film buffs don’t even know about this movie as it is. And it’s not as if I love it enough to say that needs to change, but it’s good enough to where more people should check it out.

Only When I Laugh is Neil Simon, making it essential for fans of his work. Otherwise, it’s not well remembered and not really essential in any way. I recommend it, because I think it’s good, but I can’t think of any reason this would ever be considered essential.

The Last Word: Gielgud holds up pretty well, all things considered. Nicholson as a winner would have held up just as good. He’d look the best when glancing, though I’d be curious to see if he’d have won in ’83 if he won here (though all things considered, this one is the better performance). Holm might have held up okay on paper, but the performance isn’t all there to seem like a strong winner. Coco would have been a terrible winner, and Rollins would have looked okay, but the film is forgotten and I don’t know if that was the right choice. The performance warrants it, though, so on that level, he’d have been deserving. I’m cool with Gielgud here all around.

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1982

Charles Durning, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Lou Gossett, Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman

John Lithgow, The World According to Garp

James Mason, The Verdict

Robert Preston, Victor/Victoria

Analysis:

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a musical about (insert title here).

Dolly Parton runs a whorehouse and they keep trying to shut her down. And no one can figure out why it never happens. And it’s because the sheriff of the town has been sleeping with her for years and lets things slide. And the film is about a do-gooder who campaigns to have the place shut down, and tensions arise, etc.

Charles Durning plays the state governor. He’s really only in about two scenes, the crux of the performance being this:

The idea being he avoids actually taking a stand on any issue until he sees what everyone wants. So he says things that sound good, but ultimately mean nothing. And they put it to a great musical number.

It’s a great little cameo. Not substantial enough to vote for him, but man is Charles Durning the best. I completely support the nomination despite it not having a whole lot to it. Sure, were I voting for nominees, I might not choose this. But this being here — all for it. Fifth for a vote though. Nothing here to push him above the others.

I will also say — his part in Tootsie also probably led to him being here. Not sure which is the more awards-worthy performance, but you do have to take into account that both performances were given this year when thinking about why he was nominated.

An Officer and a Gentleman is one of those movies that appeals to both guys and gals. It’s half military stuff and half romance.

Richard Gere is the son of a navy man who has no idea what he wants to do with his life. So he joins the navy officer training program because, why not. And the film is about him going through training, not really taking it seriously until eventually he realizes — “I got no place else to go” — and begins to actually work at it. And meanwhile he starts a romance with Debra Winger. Good shit all around.

Lou Gossett Jr. plays the drill instructor. He starts as the guy who spouts the usual shit, and takes a disliking to our main character, making him an antagonist for a while, until they come to an understanding and our main character shapes up, and then in the end, when our main character succeeds, he gets to be the biggest supporter of him. There’s no way you can’t smile when Gossett puts the coin in his right pocket instead of his left. And then he gets that scene of breaking in the new set of candidates with the same schtick we saw at the beginning.

It’s a great character and Gossett plays him well. It’s pretty much everything you’d want in this category and he’ll easy contend for top two. Only question is whether or not I take him.

The World According to Garp is a weirdly perfect movie. I always say when I talk about this how I’d always seen this movie on TV growing up but never actually sat down to watch it. Not until I did this Quest. And then I did and was blown away by how good it was.

Glenn Close is a nurse during World War II and rapes a dying male soldier. His face was blown off and he died over the course of a week, but while he was dying, all the blood in his body seemed to be put right into his penis, so she, wanting a baby, had sex with him and then he died. So she raised the baby, named Garp after the only sound the soldier was capable of uttering, and we follow Garp’s life. It’s terrific. Not a masterpiece, but also really, really good.

John Lithgow plays a former NFL star who is now a woman. She’s staying at Close’s house (she opens it to all sorts of boarders) and is sort of a co-helper around there. She and Garp end up becoming good friends. There’s not really an arc here, but Lithgow has a lot of screen time and gives a really great performance. There’s something very sweet about Roberta, and Lithgow makes her a calming, normal presence in the film. Which is great. The minute we’re introduced to her, Garp calls her “the only normal person in the place,” which is so wonderful on a lot of levels. I really, really like Lithgow here, and he’ll definitely contend for a vote.

The Verdict is one of the best trial films of all time.

Paul Newman is an alcoholic ambulance chaser looking for a case. He is given one, which is a free payment for him. A woman went into a church hospital for delivery of a child, and you’re not supposed to eat anything within a certain number of hours before going under anesthesia. She didn’t do that, and rather than send her home, the hospital fudged the paperwork and put her under anyway. And she ended up in a coma. Now, the church is gonna settle for a nice amount of money, and all Newman has to do is ease the thing in and he’ll get a nice payout. But he gets struck by the right thing to do, and takes the case to trial anyway. So now he’s up against the endless funds of the church, who will do anything to make this go away.

James Mason plays the lawyer for the defense. He’s a complete contrast to Newman in that he has a complete team of lawyers with him, runs things on a tight and efficient ship, and doesn’t lose. For much of the film, we see him running his machine and preparing to crush Newman. And then the trial happens and Mason methodically goes to work. The best scene is where you think Newman has the whole thing won, with the woman who filled out a document that was later forged and kept a copy of it, and Mason calmly gets up and goes, “That form isn’t admissible because of x, y and z and since her testimony is based solely on this form, her testimony should be stricken from the record.” And then it is. It’s a fucking checkmate.

Mason is terrific in this part, and I’m kind of surprised he didn’t win here on the veteran vote alone. But I also get why they went the way they did. He’ll be in there for the vote for me.

Victor/Victoria is a great idea and a very solid movie. Not sure I love it, but it’s very well made. Maybe it’s just a decade too late is what it is. Shot like a studio system movie, made in the 80s. There’s a bit of a disconnect there.

Julie Andrews is a singer who can’t get work. And somehow she ends up becoming a male female impersonator. Got that? She is a woman, pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. And that works. And complications ensue when a mobster starts to fall in love with her, but as the male version, but not really. There’s a fun little dynamic there.

Robert Preston plays a gay performer who befriends Andrews. He’s the one who has the idea of turning her into a man. He’s — good here. It’s Robert Preston, and it feels like Robert Preston doing his thing. Nice to see him nominated, but there’s not much here to make me like the performance any more than fourth in the category. Solid, but nomination is the reward kind of solid. More of a career nomination than anything.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’m torn with this one. I think the best two performances are James Mason and Lou Gossett Jr. but I’m not sure which I actually prefer.

To deal with the others — Preston is there because he’s good in a high profile movie, but otherwise is not doing anything particularly outstanding. A veteran getting a career nomination for a solid performance. That’s the reward. Durning is terrific but he’s only in one scene. He actually didn’t even need the nomination, so it’s more than a reward. No way I can take him. Lithgow is solid, but I don’t love it enough to take it. The epitome of a #3 for me. Definitely someone you can vote for and consider highly for a vote, just not someone I’m going to take.

So between Gossett and Mason — Gossett has the character arc, Mason has the veteran status. Gossett’s character is the one that makes the most sense here — the tough as nails sergeant who warms up to our character and has the emotional moment at the end (even if he doesn’t outwardly show the emotion). Mason, on the other hand, is extremely consistent throughout his performance and a guy who has put in years of great work with little to no recognition. I can make a case for both of them.

My gut says just take Mason because I want to see him have an Oscar, and were this 1982 and were I actually casting a legitimate ballot, that is probably the way I’d go.

But in this case, in a hypothetical exercise where the goal is for me to vote for what I think is the actual best performance, I think I have to take Lou Gossett Jr. Because to me, he delivers the most memorable performance in the category. You remember Mason in the movie, but not as much as Newman or others. Gossett is an integral part of his movie and he makes his character almost iconic. I have to make that my tiebreaker here. As much as I’d want James Mason to win this, and as much as I probably would take Mason on a real ballot, I’m gonna stick with Gossett here because I think that performance stands up over time best in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Lou Gossett, Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman
  2. James Mason, The Verdict
  3. John Lithgow, The World According to Garp
  4. Robert Preston, Victor/Victoria
  5. Charles Durning, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Rankings (films):

  1. The Verdict
  2. The World According to Garp
  3. An Officer and a Gentleman
  4. Victor/Victoria
  5. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

My Vote: Lou Gossett, Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman

Recommendations:

The Verdict is an absolute essential film. This is in that early grouping of films where, when you get into movies, you see this within the first 100-200 movies. This is one of those IMDB 250 crosslisted movies. You’ll get to this early and with good reason. It’s incredible and an all-time classic. Must see.

An Officer and a Gentleman is probably essential. A lot of it is iconic and referenced within the culture. The theme song is one of the more memorable film songs of all time, and the final scene with him and her in the factory, plus “I Got No Place Else To Go!!!” And the Oscar win to boot — film buffs should consider this borderline essential, which means self-respecting film buffs will just consider this essential and get to it at some point.

The World According to Garp is probably not essential, but I recommend it very, very highly. It’s great on so many levels, and it’s just weird, which is also great about it. Really love this movie and I think all film buffs ought to see this.

Victor/Victoria is great, fun and a lot of other adjectives. Just not essential. Blake Edwards, Julie Andrews, musical, woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. There’s a lot to like here, but I can’t say anyone must see this. At a certain point it’ll become essential, but I can think of a lot of other films you should see before it. So, we’ll just leave this as a solid recommend.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is an amusing film. I can’t say it’s a particularly good film. But I enjoyed it. Big stars, fun music, and great sequences like Charles Durning’s number. Not something anyone really needs to see, but it’s fun.

The Last Word: Gossett and Mason were the best choices, and either winning looked good. You can’t discount the black actor winning the Oscar aspect of this, even if that shouldn’t be the reason for the vote. But it happening is a big deal and is something that should be mentioned. Plus, he’s legitimately worthy of the Oscar, which is also good. Mason as a veteran delivering a great performance would be worth it too, but I’m not sure he’d have held up any better or worse than Gossett. So to me, either of them were the choices that would have held up. Lithgow to me might also be in that category of having held up, since the role and the actor would have carried that win to a place where it would seem to be fine, even if I don’t think he really has enough going on within the film to warrant the win. But he’d have held up too. So probably three choices here, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses and would have been fine choices.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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