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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1985-1986)

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.

1985

Don Ameche, Cocoon

Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of Africa

William Hickey, Prizzi’s Honor

Robert Loggia, Jagged Edge

Eric Roberts, Runaway Train

Analysis:

Cocoon is such an 80s movie. That Amblin type movie of realistic level fantasy that makes you feel good.

A bunch of space pods show up in the pool at a senior citizen center and all the old people after swimming in there feel young again. That’s pretty much the film. It’s nice. A good way to get great older actors on the screen again and it’s just a likable movie. Really dated too, which is also appealing.

Don Ameche plays… one of the old folks. That’s really it. He doesn’t stand out much among the others and really doesn’t have a whole lot to do. There’s so little required of him that he’s basically just there. The only reason he won this is because he’s Don Ameche and I can’t really consider him anything higher than maybe fourth, and even that’s only on charm.

Out of Africa is one of the most disturbing movies to win Best Picture. Not that it’s bad. Just… it’s a movie about a white woman deciding to start a farm in Africa. We’re certainly not out of hubris.

Meryl Streep decides to start a coffee plantation. So she moves to Africa with her husband and goes about it. Then she falls in love with Robert Redford, a big game hunter, and romance ensues. It’s almost three hours long.

Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Streep’s husband. He’s — you know who he is? He’s the Christoph Waltz that wasn’t. He’s got that air about him. He never really panned out though.

In terms of the character — he marries Streep because she has money and he doesn’t, really. But he’s got the title. So it’s convenient for him. Eventually she warms up to him and actually does start to love him, only that’s when she finds out he’s been cheating on her. Oh, and he gave her syphilis. She then goes off for treatment and comes back, only to see that he’s still a scoundrel. So she divorces him.

The interesting thing about the character isn’t that he’s an asshole but rather that he’s just a fuck up. He can’t help but make bad decisions. Which makes him more interesting than just a villainous husband. You feel pity for him rather than hatred. He doesn’t really have a whole lot to do. The film is more focused on the romance between Streep and Redford than the marriage. In most years he wouldn’t be a #1. In strong years, a #3. In so-so years, maybe a #2. Here, he might be the only person worth voting for. This is one of the weaker categories I’ve seen. He’s solid in the role and creates what might be the most well-rounded character in the lot.

Prizzi’s Honor is one of the strangest, yet entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. It’s like they tried to make it weird.

Jack Nicholson is a mob hitman. He’s not too bright but good at his job. He used to date the don’s daughter, but has moved on and doesn’t see she’s still in love with him. While at a mob wedding, he meets Kathleen Turner and falls in love with her. Turns out, she’s also a hitman. And some shit happens, and they both end up with prices on their heads, and it’s a weird romance/action/comedy. It’s good though. Also very 80s.

William Hickey plays the old Don of the family. So like Brando after Pacino took over. He doesn’t really have a whole lot to do, but when you see how he plays the part, you can see why they nominated him.

Certain nominations require a video to explain them.

He’s certainly memorable. I’m not sure why the character is like this, but there’s no denying that you remember Hickey in this movie. Which, in this category, is enough to make him contend. He’s like Anne Ramsey in Throw Momma from the Train. I just love the performance because it’s so off the wall. Definitely a major contender for me.

Jagged Edge is a typical 80s mystery thriller. Very much fits the era. Famous guy, murder, investigation, sex, the whole thing.

Jeff Bridges’ wife is murdered and it sure looks like he did it. He hires Glenn Close to defend him. Though she hasn’t actually tried a case in a long time. And of course they start sleeping together and the whole thing. There are only two ends here — either he did it and he’s manipulating her or he’s innocent and she’s gonna prove it so they can go off to fuck in happiness.

Robert Loggia plays a former PI who is now an alcoholic who helps Close out on the case. It’s your typical alcoholic mentor character who gets to help out. Arthur O’Connell in Anatomy of a Murder, etc. Classic trope. He and Close stopped working at the same time, after a case where evidence was held back that kept an innocent man from going free. He drinks, he curses a lot, he has the occasional Robert Loggia outburst. It’s a solid performance. One of those that’s good, but unspectacular. He ends up as a #4 most years, maybe a #3 this year. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do and no particular arc, but it’s a solid performance that’s worth a nomination. Though it doesn’t exactly help to make the category any stronger. It just looks nice because it’s Loggia’s only nomination and he wa sa solid character actor for years with almost no recognition.

Runaway Train is a movie about a runaway train. Go figure.

Jon Voight and Eric Roberts escape from an Alaskan prison. They trek through the freezing cold onto a train. Only the train’s brakes end up failing, leaving them alone on a speeding train with a rail worker and no one driving. It’s a great movie. There’s a lot going on here and it works completely.

Eric Roberts plays the dumb sidekick character, basically. He’s not too bright, and he’s the guy who brings out the laundry, which is where Voight gets him to agree to smuggle him out. And he decides to come with Voight, which Voight isn’t too happy with. And they have a sort of up and down relationship. He comes to like him, but Roberts also annoys him a bunch — he’s the typical dumb southern boy who looks up to the main guy but also pisses him off a bunch.

I’m surprised both men got nominated here, because this is essentially a more mainstream Midnight Express kind of movie. But sure. Roberts is fine here, and I’m guessing this was their way of bringing him along with Voight, announcing him as an up and coming actor to watch (I’m thinking Star 80 and Pope of Greenwich Village were major stepping stones to this nomination)

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is one where you end up taking the lesser of five evils. I don’t particularly love any of the five performances, so we’ll just eliminate them one by one.

Ameche has nothing to do and is basically just your veteran. I get why they gave it to him in the category but absolutely would not take him. Roberts is solid, but I don’t see a whole lot going on in his performance. It feels more mainstream than anything. Which is to say — it doesn’t feel like something I’d even nominate. So it being here just feels very “ehh.” Loggia is solid but shouldn’t be more than a #4 or #5. So the fact that he gets to 3 for me shows how weak this year is.

Hickey is the most memorable, but mostly it’s just him doing weird shit. I wouldn’t want to vote for him, but I almost have to. But then there’s Brandauer, who creates what I feel is the most well-rounded character and the most interesting character. Not necessarily the most entertaining, but definitely the most interesting. So I guess I take him. He seems like the best choice. It’s a forgettable category, so the choice really doesn’t matter historically, but as far as who I thought did the best job, that would be Brandauer.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of Africa
  2. William Hickey, Prizzi’s Honor
  3. Robert Loggia, Jagged Edge
  4. Eric Roberts, Runaway Train
  5. Don Ameche, Cocoon

Rankings (films):

  1. Prizzi’s Honor
  2. Runaway Train
  3. Cocoon
  4. Out of Africa
  5. Jagged Edge

My Vote: Klaus Maria Brandauer, Out of Africa

Recommendations:

Out of Africa is probably essential. Just because — it won Best Picture, is thought of as a classic, and should probably be seen for both those reasons. Plus, if you want to complain it shouldn’t have won, you have to have seen it. So there’s that too. So probably consider this essential, even though you don’t need to rush into seeing it.

Prizzi’s Honor is essential just because it’s John Huston and Jack Nicholson. And it’s entertaining as all hell. Plus Anjelica Huston won for it. So at worst it’s a high recommend. But let’s call it essential because what film buff would skip a movie starring Jack directed by John?

Runaway Train is an awesome movie, a lot of fun. Highly recommended. It’s a mainstream action movie, but it’s more Midnight Express than Unstoppable. Still, lot of fun, great performances and thoroughly entertaining. This is the kind of movie you love having on an Oscar Quest, because it’s so not an Oscar movie. It’s just pure entertainment.

Cocoon is essential. Just culturally. Worth it for the old actors. Plus it won an Oscar and was directed by Ron Howard. Should be seen, but doesn’t need to be seen early. Eventually you should see it just to be able to reference it. The best part is that Wilford Brimley is playing 80 even though he’s only like 50. Which is awesome. The dude was always old.

Jagged Edge is an 80s thriller. Pretty standard. If you like that sub genre of film, like Basic Instinct, those neo noirs, part trial, part sex, part mystery, you’ll like this. Plus it has stars in it. Solid, but not something anyone ever really needs to see.

The Last Word: Because the category is so forgettable, Ameche holds up fine. Because it’s a veteran/career Oscar and none of these performances were gonna be remembered over time. So as far as choices go, totally acceptable. In terms of what was the best performance, definitely wasn’t Ameche. Loggia doesn’t have enough to do and the film is the most forgettable of the bunch, so he wouldn’t have been great. Roberts — no. Just can’t see that holding up on any level. Hickey would have been interesting, but I can’t see that holding up. Only certain films actually win both supporting categories. This isn’t one of them. And Brandauer — to me he was the best, but it’s not like that would have been a great win. It just would have been, “Sure, he won with the film.” So Ameche probably does hold up the best, even if his performance was probably the weakest in the category owing to him having nothing to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1986

Tom Berenger, Platoon

Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters

Willem Dafoe, Platoon

Denholm Elliott, A Room with a View

Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers

Analysis:

Platoon is Oliver Stone’s war masterpiece.

Charlie Sheen enlists in Vietnam and we see him go from overeager young kid to hardened man over the course of the film. He ends up in the company being torn between two sergeants, one good, one evil. And I’ll leave it at that because either you’ve seen this and you know or you know you need to see this and probably should rather than listen to me explain it.

Tom Berenger plays Sgt. Barnes, the evil staff sergeant. Willem Dafoe plays Sgt. Elias, the kind staff sergeant. You pretty much have to deal with them both at once because they’re basically a yin and a yang. They’re perfectly balanced. Elias and his men are more laid back, smoke pot and relax. Barnes and his men drink bear and sit in tension. And they’re basically opposing factions within the same unit. And of course the two sergeants hate one another. And everything builds to the moment where Barnes shoots Elias and leaves him for dead, pretending the Vietnamese did it. And there’s that famous moment where Elias is shot down in full Jesus pose. And then the rest of the film is about Sheen working up the courage to stand up to Barnes and finally face him.

The two are really, really great. They are, to me and to most people, the class of the category. And clearly, of the two performances, Barnes is the more complex of the two. There’s such great stuff here that’s not on the surface. The best moment being after Elias’s death and the men talk about killing Barnes, and he’s there, listening to them. And he gives this great speech about how they should just fucking try. But when you watch him, you see that he actually wants them to do it. It’s such a great role. I’m shocked Berenger didn’t win this. I can see how he didn’t, but still, I’m surprised he didn’t take it regardless of the vote split. He’s great here, as is Dafoe.

Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen. Most people think this is one of his best films. I’m mixed. I think it’s okay, but don’t love it.

It’s about… well, look at the title. The story of a woman and her two sisters. It’s Woody Allen, so you can guess half of it. Mostly we’re only dealing with one of the stories, so that’s what we’ll focus on.

Michael Caine plays Hannah’s husband, who starts an affair with her sister. That’s pretty much the role. There’s a lot of narration here, which basically spells out what his character is thinking at all times. We see him lusting after his sister-in-law, awkwardly pursuing her. Much of it is him trying to subtly tell her how he feels, the voiceover planning teh whole thing out, and then he ends up just kissing her out of nowhere and saying he’s in love with her. It’s a well-timed comic performance and Caine is great in it. I completely get him having won this, and by this point, he was deserving of an Oscar. But no way do I think he wins over the Platoon performances. Not for me. Shame, but that’s how it goes.

A Room with a View is Merchant Ivory. Everybody’s favorite.

Helena Bonham Carter goes to Italy with her cousin and falls in love. And it’s mostly about British manners and society and all that. The book is famous. Many people have read this in school at some point.

Denholm Elliott plays one of the men staying at the hotel. He’s likable, and also doesn’t adhere to the code of manners that the other Brits do. So he’s unrestrained and does things that enamor him to the audience because everyone else is so goddamn boring. It’s a fun performance. I’m not opposed to the nomination. I like Denholm Elliott a lot. Don’t think he does enough to warrant any higher than fourth, maybe fifth, but he’s fine here.

Hoosiers is the most famous basketball movie ever made and one of the five most famous sports movies ever made.

Gene Hackman shows up in a small town to coach high school basketball after being thrown out of college coaching after hitting one of his players. He takes over the team and turns them into champions. That’s all you need to know. It’s a perfect sports movie.

Dennis Hopper plays one of the players’ fathers. He’s an alcoholic, but he knows everything about basketball. Hackman brings him on as an assistant on the condition that he stay sober around the players. Which allows him to redeem himself and see that he’s still worth something. There’s that great scene where Hackman deliberately gets himself thrown out of a game just so Hopper has to coach. And he proves to everyone that he can do it. It’s a very redemptive kind of role, and I get why they nominated him, because this was a redemptive kind of year for Hopper.

That said, it’s clear the Blue Velvet performance was his better of the two, and were he nominated for that, not only would this category have been way stronger, but this is fine too. The only problem is, because it’s this performance and not the other, he can’t contend for a vote. Which is a shame.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Berenger, Dafoe, Caine. They’re tops here. Imagine if we had Hopper in Blue Velvet on top of them. Ooh boy.

Anyway, of the three — I put Dafoe third, even though I think he’s second on performance. I just — I like Caine as a winner over Dafoe. Even so, I take Berenger in this category every time. Most people couldn’t really tell you what Caine’s arc was in this movie. If you had to pick out what the most memorable performances here were, it’s Berenger and it’s Dafoe. And it’s much more so Berenger. Clearly he’s the vote. I don’t even hesitate.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Tom Berenger, Platoon
  2. Willem Dafoe, Platoon
  3. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
  4. Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers
  5. Denholm Elliott, A Room with a View

Rankings (films):

  1. Platoon
  2. Hoosiers
  3. Hannah and Her Sisters
  4. A Room with a View

My Vote: Tom Berenger, Platoon

Recommendations:

Platoon is essential. Best Picture winner, all time classic, war movie classic, Oliver Stone — must be seen by all film buffs. No exceptions.

Hoosiers is arguably more essential than Platoon. It is one of the three most essential (and best) sports movies ever made. Must be seen by all film buffs because it transcends genre. It’s perfect.

Hannah and Her Sisters is essential Woody Allen, which makes it essential for film buffs. This is part of your film buff education. You need to see it. You don’t need to like it, but you need to see it. Plus it won two Oscars for acting, so there’s that too. No reason not to see it.

A Room with a View is solid. Merchant Ivory. Recognizable faces doing proper British things in a classy movie. That’s all. It’s fine. Don’t love it, recommend it moderately. Can be skipped 100% and you wouldn’t be missing a thing. Though I will say — Daniel Day-Lewis is in this. So for those who are completists, it’s worth seeing for his filmography. Otherwise, ehh.

The Last Word: Caine holds up because he’s Michael Caine. But he wasn’t the best choice in the category. Tom Berenger was. And I think Berenger should have won this and would have held up because the performance and the character hold up. Much more so than Caine. Caine literally only seems okay because it’s Woody Allen and because Michael Caine deserves to have an Oscar. Otherwise, Berenger blows him out of the water in every respect. He was the best choice, but they made a decent one that wasn’t the best they could have made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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