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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1993-1994)

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.

1993

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Analysis:

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is a wonderful film. This is another one of those I grew up being around all the time, seeing on the TV and basically thinking I saw it without actually ever sitting down to watch it. (Like World According to Garp.) And then when I watched it for real for this Quest, I was blown away by how good it is.

Johnny Depp plays a man who has to care for his family after his father dies. His mother is 400 pounds and can’t ever leave the house, his brother is mentally challenged. And he has to put food on the table and basically be the father the family doesn’t have. It’s wonderful, it really is.

Leo plays Arnie, the younger brother. And this is one of the most impressive teen actor performances I’ve ever seen. He’s disabled, and so many times you see actors take these roles and devolve into tics and mannerisms, but Leo never does that. It’s one of those roles that feels like he’s just flying free and giving it his all, and it totally works. I was blown away by this performance, because arguably it’s better than most of his later work. I was so impressed by this that I put him top two in this category. Many people might have him third, but there’s no denying that this is one of the more impressive performances you’ve seen out of someone his age. I really find it hard not to vote for him in this category. But, as always, it always comes down to this next nominee…

Leo plays Arnie, the handicapped brother. These roles are always the biggest bait for the Oscars, especially when played by teenagers, but they’re also capable of not working at all (“full retard”).

Schindler’s List is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece.

Now’s not the time to ask me to give you a synopsis. You should probably have seen it.

Ralph Fiennes plays Amon Goeth. And he’s unforgettable. He’s one of the most despicable human beings, and yet, you never feel like he’s a straight up villain. Which is perfect. You don’t want a villain. You want a guy who is so set to his principles and his job that all these despicable acts almost seem understandable. They’re horrific, but you see why to him they’re just commonplace. Is there anything more unsettling than the scene where he casually pulls out a rifle first thing in the morning and starts sniping Jews in the camp?

It’s almost unfathomable to me that he didn’t win this (and that Ben Kingsley wasn’t also nominated, but that’s beside the point). Maybe the man was just too despicable to vote for. Because fuck, is he so unsettlingly good here. This is just about too good to ignore.

The Fugitive is one of the great action films of all time. It’s perfect.

Dr. Richard Kimble comes home to find his wife murdered and that he is the prime suspect. He is convicted of murder and is being sent to prison when a freak bus accident allows him to escape. He runs back to the city, determined to prove his innocence. So he has to both investigate the murder and evade the federal marshals, who are out to bring him back to jail.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Sam Gerard, the lead federal marshal out to get Kimble. It’s a very Tommy Lee Jones performance. He’s dry, sarcastic, and good at his job. We see him constantly telling off the overeager young agents who think they know better. You see a more subdued version of this performance in No Country for Old Men. Take that and mix him with Theodore Bikel in The Defiant Ones, and that’s the character.

The character is that of a man doing his job. Evidenced by the famous scene where they meet inside the dam and Kimble says, “I didn’t kill my wife.” And Gerard’s response is:

Eventually he starts to realize that Kimble is actually innocent, which allows him to give him just enough leeway to prove it at the end of the film. Leading to the final line of Kimble saying, “I thought you didn’t care,” and Gerard responding with, “I don’t. Don’t tell anybody, okay?”

The character is really awesome, and Jones is great in it. Is this a performance that deserves an Oscar? Not particularly. Put this performance in 1991 and I’m more okay with it. My issue is that he won in this category. I like him, I like the film and I like the performance, but in this category, at best his performance is a fourth choice. If not outright fifth. There’s not a whole lot of acting he’s doing, and in terms of layering a performance, even Malkovich is doing a better job than he is. I’d probably give him fourth just because Gerard becomes a more memorable character than Malkovich’s. But even so, not a performance I can take just because the others are so strong.

In the Line of Fire is the least classy film on this list. But it’s still pretty good.

Clint Eastwood is a Secret Service agent who is still haunted by his inability to protect JFK thirty years earlier. He starts receiving phone calls from a mysterious man who starts telling him that he’s going to kill the president. So Eastwood, older and not at top shape, want to be put back on the job, so he can redeem himself. And he tracks down this crazy guy who, kind of as a precursor to Kevin Spacey in Se7en, keeps taunting him about what he’s going to do.

John Malkovich plays the assassin. And he’s appropriately creepy. He’s a former CIA hitman who has lost his mind and is now a domestic terrorist, essentially. It’s a really solid performance. He’s the psychotic who taunts the hero with what he’s gonna do, and he’s always one step ahead of the hero until the very end. John Doe, Howard Payne. He’s that guy. Solid performance, Malkovich is great, but he’s bringing up the rear in this category. Can’t take him over these other four. Maybe you want to put him fourth, but that’s about it. This category is strong.

In the Name of the Father is Jim Sheridan. It’s both a prison film and a trial film. And it’s fantastic.

Gerry Conlan happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he is arrested for bombing a pub, which was an IRA attack. He and his father are thrown in prison after being forced to sign phony confessions. At first they rebel against the bullshit charge but eventually start to get used to prison life, at which point a crusading British attorney fights to get them freed. It’s a terrific film.

Pete Postlethwaite plays Conlan’s father. It’s a strong performance. He doesn’t have an arc so much as he’s the father. Because he’s in prison with his son, he become a major guiding presence. It’s a wonderfully subtle performance, and Postlethwaite is absolutely terrific here. He is the moral center of the film. The steady presence that keeps his son from going too far off the deep end, which is why you start to really worry for him after Postlethwaite dies later in the film. This is a performance that contends for top two, even. Though, given the strength of the category, he might end up as just a solid #3. This is a good year.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s hard not to take Fiennes automatically. DiCaprio makes a really compelling case for himself, Postlethwaite is really solid too, and Jones is entertaining and Malkovich makes more of what could be a thankless role. Still… Fiennes is pretty impossible to beat. And as much as I’d want to take DiCaprio here, I think this is Fiennes all the way. Still can’t believe he lost this.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  3. Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father
  4. Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive
  5. John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Rankings (films):

  1. Schindler’s List
  2. The Fugitive
  3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  4. In the Name of the Father
  5. In the Line of Fire

My Vote: Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

Recommendations:

Schindler’s List. If I need to tell you, you shouldn’t be reading this site.

The Fugitive is essential because it’s one of the greatest and most perfect action movies of all time. The end.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? should be considered essential for any film buff. DiCaprio, Depp, the nomination and the fact that it’s just wonderful. Plus, also, sorry to say — in order to reference it (and trust me, this is one of those movies that’s always helpful for a joke) you should see it. No one should skip this, and I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t skip this. I’m here to tell you, don’t skip it. It’s wonderful. See it.

In the Name of the Father is fantastic. Jim Sheridan made, in my mind, three perfect films and two really good ones. This, My Left Foot and In America are perfect films for what they are. The Boxer and The Field are the really good ones. This, while not all time essential, is probably 90s essential, and all time very high recommend. It’s great, and you really shouldn’t need a reason to see a Daniel Day-Lewis performance.

In the Line of Fire is really solid. Eastwood, Malkovich, Wolfgang Petersen — recommend it pretty highly. Not essential, but really should be seen because it’s a great 90s thriller.

The Last Word: Jones is entertaining and the Oscar is what it is. He holds up fine, but the performance, in this category, does not seem to have been the best choice. Fiennes clearly would have held up. Postlethwaite proably wouldn’t have. DiCaprio would have been interesting. That’s a hard call to make. Malkovich wouldn’t have held up at all. I think Jones is probably second best historical choice over DiCaprio, who really deserved a leading Oscar. Though this would be the supporting role to win for. Fiennes still seems like he would have been the best choice though.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1994

Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction

Martin Landau, Ed Wood

Chazz Palminteri, Bullet Over Broadway

Paul Scofield, Quiz Show

Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump

Analysis:

First year of SAG, so we’ll start looking at that stuff, even though it won’t really be helpful to guess how the category came about until 2000 or so.

SAG actually had 4/5. No Scofield, but Turturro for Quiz Show instead. I’d have loved that category.

BAFTA had Jackson and Scofield.

The Globes had 3/5. They had Turturro and Kevin Bacon in The River Wild instead of Scofield and Palminteri.

Landau won SAG and the Globe and Jackson won BAFTA. Seems like Landau probably always had this in the bag.

Pulp Fiction is Pulp Fiction. You’ve seen this.

Samuel L. Jackson is Jules Winnfield. I’d put a gif here, but I don’t even know which one to pick.

Of course he’s great and of course he was good enough to win. The key to this category isn’t simply saying Samuel L. Jackson should have won, it’s understanding why he didn’t and being okay with that. You can still take him — and I probably will too — we just need to understand that the Martin Landau win is not only an understandable one, but actually not that terrible a choice. At least the performance is awesome and memorable and not something like Jack Palance in City Slickers. Things could be worse.

Ed Wood is perhaps Tim Burton’s best movie. It’s such a perfect entity.

It’s a biopic of (insert title here), known as the world’s “worst” director.

Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi. Ed comes across him — in a perfect character introduction — trying out a coffin in a funeral shop. And then he befriends him, even though Lugosi is all but forgotten, addicted to heroin and a shell of his former self. And he gets Lugosi to be in his movies, even though Lugosi really has no idea what the hell they’re about. There’s a wonderful character here — the way he loses his shit whenever people bring up Karloff, and the sadness of where this guy has ended up. Nothing is funnier than hearing him start cursing at people out of nowhere, and he balances it perfectly with real great dramatic work.

Gonna be honest with you — I love Samuel L. Jackson, but I think Landau gives the best performance in this category. It’s hard to argue with it when you see it.

Bullets Over Broadway is Woody Allen’s best 90s movie, in my mind. It’s so wonderful.

John Cusack is a Barton Fink type playwright who thinks he’s hot shit. He needs funding for his new play, and gets it in the form of a mobster, who demands that his girlfriend be put into one of the roles. And he also gets a colorful cast around her as well, which leads to comedy ensuing. But we’re mostly dealing with the mobster portion, so let’s stick with that.

Chazz Palminteri plays a mob hitman who is tasked with making sure the mobster’s girlfriend is treated properly during rehearsals. He mostly sits in the back and any time they start to cut the girlfriend’s lines or tell her how shitty she is (because she’s not a good actress), he’s there to remind Cusack they’ll break his fucking legs. But then, as Cusack starts losing his shit, Palminteri shows up to suggest a brilliant fix for his problems. And it turns out, Palminteri is a good writer in his own regard. And he starts helping Cusack rewrite the play. And Cusack of course starts taking credit for it.

It’s a funny performance. The idea is he’s a mobster who is secretly an artist. Very entertaining. Like most Woody Allen performances, there’s not so much a complete arc as much as it feels like he’s complete character in the realm of the story being told. It’s more of a solid nomination than anything else. He doesn’t contend over at least two of the other nominees. If he’s not a fifth choice, he’s definitely a fourth choice. Solid, but you don’t take him. Like seeing him here though.

Quiz Show is as perfect a movie as the others on this list. It somehow always slips under the radar but is one of the best movies the 90s has to offer.

It’s about the quiz show scandal of the 50s, where Twenty One is revealed to have been basically gaming the system. We start with John Turturro, who has been rampaging through the show for over a month, and eventually loses on an easy question. Which is shocking to the public. And then we find out that they basically give people the answers and set them up to lose in dramatic ways for ratings. And then we get Ralph Fiennes, who is a whiz kid who pretty much knows all the answers and at first refuses to get any help, but eventually gives in, which leads to the whole bit of corruption becoming exposed. Great, great film.

Paul Scofield plays Fiennes’ father. He’s a famous poet whose shadow Fiennes desperately wants to live up to. Scofield does a great job showing how indifferent his character is to his son’s attempts to impress him. And then when he starts winning, you can see that Scofield is proud of his son, but it’s almost superficial in a way. Like, “Oh, yeah, great, that was wonderful!” and it’s almost if he doesn’t really feel what he’s saying. And then the scene when the truth comes out, and Scofield is devastated that his son would shame the family name like that. Great acting by Scofield, even if he isn’t given a whole lot to do.

He was never going to win this, and it’s partially a veteran nomination, but also a terrific performance. I like his performance better than Palminteri’s but would probably take Palminteri over him, if that makes sense. Either way, they’re #4 and #5 for me, so it doesn’t really matter. The category is overly strong and stuff like this happens in really strong categories.

Forrest Gump is Forrest Gump. You’ve seen this too.

Gary Sinise is Lieutenant Dan.

We all know Lieutenant Dan. We all love Lieutenant Dan. Gary Sinise is great here, utterly believable, and somehow never over the top. Despite many, many opportunities to be so. Put him in just about any other year (well, actually, the mid 90s were all really strong), and he’s top two. I’m not sure he wins, but he’s definitely right up there. Here, he’s a distant third. The performance feels a bit too on the nose for the category, compared to the alternatives. So I doubt anyone actually takes him, though I feel like we all love that he was nominated.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration:

When you think you got the Oscar won but then you lose:

This is a great, great category. Palminteri is the weakest performance but a solid character. Scofield is a great performance but doesn’t hold up over the other three. Sinise is very solid but doesn’t contend because the other two are so, so good.

This category will almost always come down to Samuel L. Jackson and Martin Landau. And I fluctuate all the time as to which one I take.

Honestly, I think Landau gives the best performance all around, and as much as I still want to take Jackson despite all that, I think I need to take Landau. This go-around is a lot about me admitting to thinks I’ve always really known. And for me, this category is about admitting that Landau really did deserve this Oscar. And I’m gonna vote for him to show that I really do feel that way. Because as much as I want to take Jules Winnfield, Bela Lugosi was the best supporting performance of 1994.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
  2. Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction
  3. Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump
  4. Paul Scofield, Quiz Show
  5. Chazz Palminteri, Bullet Over Broadway

Rankings (films):

  1. Forrest Gump
  2. Pulp Fiction
  3. Ed Wood
  4. Quiz Show
  5. Bullets Over Broadway

My Vote: Martin Landau, Ed Wood

Recommendations:

How have you made it to this article without having seen Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction?

Ed Wood is essential. It just is. All film buffs need to see it, and pretty much will without my saying so.

Quiz Show is 100% essential. I’m hopeful you’d get to it without my help, but consider this a public service — you need to see this movie because it’s perfect.

Bullets Over Broadway is essential Woody Allen, which makes it an essential movie. Simple as that. Less essential than the other four, but still essential for film buffs.

The Last Word: Landau was the best performance and Landau was a perfect choice. Jackson would have also been a good choice and would have held up just fine, but Landau really should have won this. They made the right choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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