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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1989-1990)

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.

1989

Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing

Dan Aykroyd, Driving Miss Daisy

Marlon Brando, A Dry White Season

Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors

Denzel Washington, Glory

Analysis:

Do the Right Thing is Spike Lee’s masterpiece. One of the best movies ever made.

It’s about a day in Brooklyn during the summer. Temperatures are reaching the 100 mark and racial tensions between the blacks and whites are doing the same. And we follow the characters on a city block from sun up to sun down. It’s perfect.

Danny Aiello plays the owner of a pizzeria on the block, which he owns with his two sons. It’s clear that the script had a much more one-dimensional version of the character, where he’s clearly more racist, but Aiello creates a complex portrait of a man who built a business with his own hands and is trying to make his way in America. And while he’s not wholly prejudiced, he does have certain cultural biases. Aiello plays the man really well and it’s definitely the highlight of his career. His best scene is his final scene with Spike Lee outside the pizza place, where Lee demands he be paid. That’s where you see who this man truly is.

For me, this is the best performance in the category, and the one that should have won.

Driving Miss Daisy is the greatest movie ever made.

That’s how we all think of it, right?

Everyone knows this story. Jessica Tandy is old and can’t drive anymore, so her son hires a chauffeur for her. That’s Morgan Freeman. He drives her around. They become friends. She teaches him to read. It’s a good movie. Best Picture? Ehh, let’s discuss that when we get there. As a film though it’s great.

Dan Aykroyd plays Boolie, Tandy’s son. One of the great names in cinema history. Boolie. He hires Freeman because he sees some intelligence and strength in him. And — otherwise he’s just kinda there. He shows up and is the voice of reason when Tandy wants to fire Freeman, etc. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do and is a likable presence. He basically came along with his film. Nothing more. I like Dan Aykroyd and I like that he got nominated, but otherwise he’s fifth in the category. Not a whole lot going on with this one.

A Dry White Season is another Apartheid movie. More trial than Cry Freedom is.

Donald Sutherland is a South African teacher whose gardener’s son is beaten to death by the police, and he realizes how fucked up things are. So he goes to a lawyer and tries to get justice in the matter.

Marlon Brando plays a lawyer Sutherland hires to fight the case. Brando starts by saying, “You shouldn’t fight this. You can’t win,” but then when Sutherland says he’ll go elsewhere, Brando is like, “I’ll take the case.” He then goes to court and

Brando is awesome here in what is essentially an extended cameo. He gets two scenes. First in the law office and second in court. He’s grossly overweight and clearly isn’t trying very hard. But he’s so good at what he does he still delivers a good performance. He also has a deliberate way of talking, it’s almost as if he’s trying to sound like Hitchcock. Which is interesting as hell to me. Because I feel like that’s something he did on purpose just to have fun.

This isn’t something you vote for him for, but he is awesome in the role. Fourth choice here. We’ve all seen him be better, and this is basically a “Brando’s still got it” nomination. Like Anthony Hopkins in Amistad.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is a really interesting film, tonally. It’s half comedy, half drama. But like, legit drama. I’m pretty sure it’s existential and about how the universe is meaningless, but we’re only here to talk about the performance and not what it means.

The part we’re dealing with is the dramatic half. Martin Landau is an eye doctor who is having an affair with Anjelica Huston. He’s been telling her he loves her and wants to leave his wife, but it’s clear that he has no intention of doing so. So she starts losing her shit and saying how she’s gonna tell his wife what’s going on. He can’t have that, so he goes to his brother, who hires a man to kill Huston. Of course he ends up wracked with guilt, though in the end, winds up totally happy and at peace.

Landau is good here. Very solid and someone you can definitely consider. Not sure if I vote for him, but he’s definitely someone I rate solidly here.

Glory is Ed Zwick’s Civil War movie about the first platoon of black soldiers. It’s pretty great.

This was a movie I always felt was overrated in terms of Oscars, but now that I’m older, I don’t think people really see it as a masterpiece. I think it’s just a solid movie and is rated about where it should be. It’s good.

Denzel plays a runaway slave who joins the unit. He’s anti-authority and thinks the whole thing is bullshit. He gets on the nerves of his commanding officers and even the other men. At one point he runs away and is caught, so he’s flogged in front of the men, leading to the famous “single tear” scene, where he refuses to show pain. Also clearly reminiscent of things he’s gone through in slavery as well. Then later he has a scene where he earns the respect of his commanding officer, eventually leading to the battle scene, where the c.o. is killed and he takes up his place, holding the flag at the front of the line, refusing to let it fall even as he himself is shot and killed.

It’s — the kind of role that would win this Oscar. It’s fine, and Denzel is good in it. I don’t think he necessarily was the best performance in the category, but I get him winning. The performance for me is fighting for second with Martin Landau. We’ll see where I end up. Still wouldn’t take him though.

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The Reconsideration: This is Danny Aiello all the way for me. Not even a moment of hesitation. Brando is basically a cameo, Aykroyd is lucky to be nominated. A lot of people will take Landau, and I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t take him over Aiello, but I get it. He’s probably second best performance, third for a vote for me. And Denzel is third in performance, and he’s the alternate to Aiello. I still take Aiello though, since I think he creates the most fully realized character in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing
  2. Denzel Washington, Glory
  3. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
  4. Marlon Brando, A Dry White Season
  5. Dan Aykroyd, Driving Miss Daisy

Rankings (films):

  1. Do the Right Thing
  2. Driving Miss Daisy
  3. Glory
  4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
  5. A Dry White Season

My Vote: Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing

Recommendations:

Do the Right Thing is one of the 100 most essential movies ever made. Must see is an understatement. You are not a film buff if you haven’t seen this movie.

Driving Miss Daisy is essential. Lot of reasons there. Best Picture winner, gotta see it if you want to be able to complain, culturally essential because everyone should see it in order to reference it, and simply, it’s a really good movie. It’s troubling and very light in the way it deals with some stuff, but it’s a really good movie and is flat out essential for all film buffs. It just is.

Glory is probably essential. It comes up enough in a lot of areas that film buffs should see it. Most do pretty early on, at least from my experience. So that’s not so much of a problem. But if you haven’t come across it on your own, you should see it. Won an Oscar, important subject matter, great cast, great film. Needs to be seen.

Crimes and Misdemeanors — if I were ranking the ten most essential Woody Allen movies (and given his stature as a filmmaker, ten of his films are essential), this would 100% be on that list. We can argue about the other nine.

Probably… Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Match Point, Midnight in Paris. That’s seven. The last two are more open to interpretation. You probably want at least one early comedy like Bananas or Love and Death. Maybe Sleeper. And then probably something like Zelig would be the last one. The rest are varying degrees of “should” see. I’m taking the ones you have to see. But it’s debatable. This is all hypothetical.

The point is, this movie is essential for Woody Allen and basically becomes essential for all film buffs. So just see it. Not top tier essential, but eventually essential.

A Dry White Season is okay. I like it, don’t love it. Apartheid movie. I liked Cry Freedom better. Light recommend. Brando is in it, so there’s that. Otherwise, ehh. Can be ignored and you’ll be fine.

The Last Word: Denzel is worth an Oscar, and the film is good, and the role makes sense, but I can’t help but feel like it’s not a performance that really should have won. He was better in Cry Freedom. And I thought Aiello was better than him. I’m okay with the win and it holds up on paper, but I still feel Aiello gives the better performance in the category. Does he hold up any better than Denzel? I think maybe. I mean, Denzel having two works for me completely. But Aiello, in Do the Right Thing — I think that holds up best here. We also can’t totally discount Martin Landau either. He’s terrific in Crimes and Misdemeanors, even though I don’t think he holds up as well as the other two if he wins. Though that’s just me. I think they made a good choice here though I think — and I’m willing to talk this one out — Aiello would have been better.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1990

Bruce Davison, Longtime Companion

Andy Garcia, The Godfather Part III

Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves

Al Pacino, Dick Tracy

Joe Pesci, Goodfellas

Analysis:

Longtime Companion is a film about the AIDS epidemic among gay men. Which means its very much late 80s, early 90s, has a limited audience and has basically been forgotten by everyone because it’s not Philadelphia.

The film basically details the epidemic through the lens of a bunch of different characters. I don’t particularly love it, but it is a pretty good film. I imagine it was thought of much more highly at the time. For me it felt dated and is just a world that I just can’t engage with because it’s very much a particular group of people during a particular time that I know so little about. For me, this time period was about cartoons and shit.

Bruce Davidson plays a man with a trust fund living with a writer for a soap opera. The bulk of his performance comes when his partner gets AIDS and becomes unable to work, so he does the work for him and cares for him. And eventually he has the big memorable scene when the guy dies and he tells him it’s okay.

Really strong performance here out of Davidson. Quietly this might be the second best performance in the category. Still wouldn’t take him over Pesci, but it should be known that Davidson is actually quite terrific in this movie.

The Godfather Part III is the third film in the trilogy, the one everyone shits on. It’s actually not that bad. Quite good in its own right. Just not the masterpiece the other two are. When that’s your biggest fault, that’s not a bad life to have.

Michael Corleone is older and guilty for all the things he’s done in the past. He’s actually gone and made his family mostly legitimate and is trying to use his money to buy his way into heaven, essentially. But of course everything around him is in ashes, and eventually he gets brought back into the family business once again, etc etc.

Andy Garcia plays Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone. Remember the woman he sleeps with at the wedding? And then later we see him coming out of her apartment? He had a kid with her, and that’s Andy Garcia. Now he’s a small time hood and we see that he has the same type of temper his father had. And we see him eventually ascend to head of the family over the course of the film.

It’s a good performance. Garcia is strong. Can’t say I’d vote for him or that anyone would — because come on, of the two crime performances in the category, are you really gonna take him over Pesci? So it’s nice that he’s here and rates third or even second best on a preference vote, but there’s no way he beats Joe Pesci.

Dances with Wolves is Kevin Costner’s Civil War epic that’s big and classy, but I’m not quite sure what it’s all about.

He’s a guy who gets hurt in the war and they’re gonna chop his leg off. But rather than have that be done he rides into battle to be shot. But him doing this confuses the enemy to the point where his side is able to win the battle. And this allows him to get the proper care he needs to save his leg. And then they transfer him way out west to the furthest outpost in the country. So he’s living essentially on open country. And we see him watch the native tribe that’s by there and slowly befriend them, and then become one of them… until the whites come and say, “Hey, you can’t do this,” and then he goes back home. That’s pretty much the movie.

Graham Greene plays the medicine man of the tribe that Costner befriends. And he becomes his closest friend. It’s basically the wise Indian role that you’ve seen all throughout history, going back to Jeff Chandler as Cochise. There’s no substance to the role whatsoever. Greene is the noble native who is friendly to the white. Oh, and his adopted (white) daughter is the one Costner fucks. It’s almost like he’s there to make it okay for the white man to do all this stuff.

Not a huge fan of the performance, even though it’s nice to see a Native American get nominated for an award. I’d rate him fourth for a vote (just because Al Pacino should not win for that performance in the grand scheme of things), but really there’s not a whole lot to this performance that makes me think he’s anything more than fifth.

Dick Tracy is awesome. It’s a legitimate comic book movie. The colors are astounding, the characters are larger than life, and it’s just fun all around.

It’s Dick Tracy. Not much more needs to be said. Warren Beatty stars and directs, and the cast is insane. It’s just a great, great movie.

Al Pacino plays the villain, “Big Boy” Caprice. He looks like this:

He is playing a literal comic book villain. Nothing more. He’s big and broad and it completely works, but it’s nothing more than a comic villain. At that level, this is basically Jack Nicholson being nominated for The Joker, but lesser. Mostly he’s here because after Scarface, he disappeared from movies for seven years. Between 1983 and 1989, he appeared in two movies, Revolution, which no one remembers, and Sea of Love. And then he came back with this and Godfather III in the same year. This was their way of saying, “Oh we love you, come back. We want to give you an Oscar.” There’s no way he was ever going to win for this. It’s them not being able to nominate him for Godfather III. He’s maybe fourth for performance in the category and fifth for a vote. Objectively, he deserves an Oscar, but how would it have looked if his first Oscar was for this? That’s my only point.

Goodfellas. It’s fucking Goodfellas.

Joe Pesci plays Tommy DeVito. If you don’t know this movie or this character, I don’t know what to say to you.

Clearly Pesci wins this by a landslide and I’m really not even gonna waste time getting into it. We all know this.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Pesci, and it’s a no contest. No one argues against this.

I’ll use the rest of my time to mention that Pacino is really amusing here and this was basically their way of bringing him back into the fold after what was basically a seven year absence from movies. He went away and they said, “Oh, no, no, no we love you,” and nominated him for everything until he won. Still, even though he’d never have won for it, it’s a fun comic performance (emphasis on the comic part). And also Andy Garcia deserves props as well. He does a fantastic job too. And Bruce Davidson — I know nobody remembers the film, but he’s terrific. One of the more underrated performances in this category’s history. He might have won this in a different universe. Wouldn’t have held up, but he’d have been deserving.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Joe Pesci, Goodfellas
  2. Andy Garcia, The Godfather Part III
  3. Bruce Davison, Longtime Companion
  4. Graham Greene, Dances with Wolves
  5. Al Pacino, Dick Tracy

Rankings (films):

  1. Goodfellas
  2. Dick Tracy
  3. The Godfather Part III
  4. Dances with Wolves
  5. Longtime Companion

My Vote: Joe Pesci, Goodfellas

Recommendations:

What? You made it here without having seen Goodfellas?

The Godfather Part III is essential. It is. Most people say, “I hear it’s shit so I don’t want to see it.” No, that’s precisely why you see it. Because it’s actually a really good movie and because it’s not tonally what the first two are and not as all-time, top 20 films ever made level perfect does not mean it’s a terrible movie. Plus, if you really want to complain about it, you gotta see it. No excuse to not see this except ignorance.

Dances with Wolves is essential because if you want to complain… you know the drill guys. Plus it’s a great movie. Not an all-time great like Goodfellas, but it is great. Every film buff needs to see this. You just do. No need to rush out and see the four hour cut. You can see the theatrical. That’ll suffice. But you do need to see it.

Dick Tracy is essential for my money. The first legitimate comic book movie ever made. Warren Beatty directs, which makes it borderline essential as-is. It looks great, the cast is insane, and it’s just a fun time. No reason for any film buff to not see this.

Longtime Companion — ehh. I think it’s fine. Very dated, very 90s. Decent movie, but I don’t love it. Light recommend for most, but if the subject matter really appeals to you, go for it.

The Last Word: It’s Joe Pesci. Does anyone even argue this? This is probably a top five decision for all time in the category. The actor, the role, the film, the performance — iconic all around. Completely deserving and was the best possible choice they could have made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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