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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1995-1996)

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.

1995

James Cromwell, Babe

Ed Harris, Apollo 13

Brad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys

Tim Roth, Rob Roy

Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

Analysis:

SAG only had Harris and Spacey.

The Globes had 4/5. Missed Cromwell and had John Leguizamo instead. (For To Wong Foo.)

BAFTA had Roth.

BFCA gave to both Harris and Spacey.

A bit too early to gauge this one. Harris won SAG and BFCA. Pitt won the Globe. Roth won the BAFTA. So really, Cromwell comes out of nowhere as the token acting nomination for his film, and the win is between the other four. Roth seems like a no go, Pitt seemed unlikely, and Harris seemed like the favorite with Spacey right there. Way before me, so I’m just guessing on the precursors.

Babe is a pretty iconic movie, so I don’t much need to talk about it.

Pig, lives on a farm, wants to be a sheepdog, becomes a sheep dog, “That’ll do, pig.”

James Cromwell plays the farmer. It’s a nice role, and Cromwell is always a reliable actor and warm screen presence. I don’t think he does a whole lot here, and I think this is the film getting the requisite acting nomination to contend. No issues with the nomination at all, but I don’t consider him anything other than fifth here. Love him, but he doesn’t contend here.

Apollo 13. It’s Apollo 13. Space, things go wrong, astronauts need to get home. It’s great.

Ed Harris plays the mission control commander who works to get the men home. Mostly he stands in mission control and deals with all the issues inherent in getting the men home. It’s a great film and Harris is a great presence in it, but mostly it feels like a standard performance in one of these types of movies. Solid, but nothing I like enough to actually take. He’s the rock that needs to be the one who doesn’t lose his shit when chaos happens so that way we can feel like the men are gonna make it home. And it works. I just don’t know if this is a performance I actually vote for.

Twelve Monkeys is Terry Gilliam’s time travel movie. That is a remake, by the way. Of La Jetée. Just so we’re all clear on that.

A virus has killed most of the population and left the world in ruins. Bruce Willis is a prisoner sent back in time to help stop the virus from being released. They think an anarchist group were the ones responsible, so he’s sent back to learn about the virus so a cure can be found. That’s all you need to know. I don’t want to spoil anything, because it’s quite a good film.

Brad Pitt plays a mental patient who is suspected of being the leader of the anarchist group that supposedly released the virus. There’s not really a specific arc to him as much as he’s just memorable. At this point he was more of a heartthrob and a leading man, but I don’t think they particularly thought of him as a great actor. And this (along with Se7en, I imagine) helped turn him into a respectable actor. (I’m guessing. I was a child when this all happened, so I’m going purely by how it looks.)

He’s really good here and stands out in his role. He’s manic and all over the place and he’s very good in the role. Do I vote for him? No. He’d probably be a #3 or #4 more years. This category, he might end up closer to a #2. Still wouldn’t take him unless I had to, and fortunately I don’t have to. It’s a solid first nomination, and I like him in the movie, but this is not something that would ever really win the category.

Rob Roy is the lesser Braveheart. Damn shame it came out the same year. Liam Neeson plays basically Scottish Robin Hood. Whereas Mel Gibson played Scottish Joan of Arc.

Rob Roy is a guy who is trying to keep his village afloat by preventing the rich peoples’ cattle from being rustled. And he borrows some money, has it stolen from him, and has to flee into the forest as an outlaw. And, you know, wrongly accused, he starts stealing from the rich, etc. etc.

Tim Roth plays the villain. He’s an aristocrat who steals the money and frames Neeson. Then he rapes his wife and basically becomes the Jason Isaacs in The Patriot of this movie. He’s a sick fucker and Roth adds some nice flourishes to the character to make it stand out from what is otherwise a standard villain role. So that’s nice. But to me, he’s fourth in the category. He’s fine, but doesn’t really contend. This, to me, is like Malkovich in In the Line of Fire. It’s nice, and he does some good things with it, but ultimately it’s a standard villain made slightly better by the actor. These performances usually don’t get voted for.

The Usual Suspects is one of the great all-time thrillers. You’ve seen this, and if you haven’t, I can’t talk about it because the less you know, the better.

Kevin Spacey plays Verbal Kint.

You can say he’s the lead of the film. He sort of is. He narrates it, the framing device is him talking to the cops. I can see category fraud being the case here. But I also see a wonderful performance and a category that doesn’t have a clear winner, or a clear alternative to him, so he’s pretty much automatically the vote.

Category fraud or no, a great performance in a great film that is one of my all time favorite films and one of my favorite actors is pretty much always going to be my vote, especially if it won. I’d probably take him anyway, but knowing he was the choice makes me feel even better about the whole thing.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Spacey. I can’t see anyone else actually being the choice here. Cromwell is fine, Roth is good but not great, Harris is solid and Pitt is awesome but not good enough to require a vote. Lead or no lead, Spacey gives the best performance. Hate the game.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects
  2. Brad Pitt, Twelve Monkeys
  3. Ed Harris, Apollo 13
  4. Tim Roth, Rob Roy
  5. James Cromwell, Babe

Rankings (films):

  1. The Usual Suspects
  2. Apollo 13
  3. Twelve Monkeys
  4. Babe
  5. Rob Roy

My Vote: Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

Recommendations:

The Usual Suspects is such a pre-requisite level essential film that if you haven’t seen this already you should know how much you need to see it.

Apollo 13 is essential. Just is. As a film buff, you need to see this movie. And if you don’t want to, then:

Babe is also essential. Because what monster wouldn’t see this movie?

Twelve Monkeys is also essential. Terry Gilliam and the fact that it’s such an IMDB level popular movie. Everyone will see this early on because that’s how being a film buff works. And if not, see it anyway. Because you need to.

Rob Roy is not essential and is really only remembered for the Tim Roth performance. It’s the lesser Braveheart. That’s just what it is. It’s fine, and it’s enjoyable, but you don’t need to see it. Light recommend and really only slightly essential for hardcore Oscar buffs. Otherwise, just a decent movie that’s worth a watch.

The Last Word: It’s Spacey. He’s the only choice. And as much as he’s a lead, he holds up the best too. Pitt is good, but he’d be better later and the performance just isn’t something that wins. It wouldn’t have held up. Cromwell would have been a “meh” winner. Harris is solid, but would the performance have held up as a winner? And Roth, I don’t see it, but some might. I think Spacey is the all around choice here.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1996

Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

William H. Macy, Fargo

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine

Edward Norton, Primal Fear

James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

Analysis:

SAG only had Gooding and Macy.

BAFTA only had Norton.

BFCA gave it to Gooding.

The Globes had Norton, Gooding and Woods.

Paul Scofield hit a couple precursors for The Crucible. Noah Taylor got SAG for Shine. Two Birdcage nominees at SAG. No idea how to have guessed this one.

Gooding won SAG, BFCA. Norton won the Globe. Weird how Macy seemed like an afterthought.

Jerry Maguire is Cameron Crowe’s Bridge on the River Kwai.

Okay, that’s a bit much. But what I mean is, this is his near masterpiece before he makes his actual masterpiece in Almost Famous.

Everybody knows this movie. Tom Cruise, sports agent, has an epiphany that agents should really have less clients and take less money and really focus on the athletes and not the business. Which of course gets him fired. And he ends up with only one client, and we watch as he tries to get his life back together, be a good agent for his one client, and falls in love. Great, great stuff.

Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Rod Tidwell, Jerry’s only remaining client. He’s great in this role, and everybody loves Rod.

Everybody remembers the famous “Show me the money” scene, but he’s got lots of great moments in this movie. He’s a perfect supporting performance, and most people would agree with that. The only question is whether or not you vote for him. That’s it.

Fargo is a perfect film, and I think we all know this. Because we’ve all seen it. You don’t make it to this article without having seen it.

William H. Macy plays Jerry Lundergaard, who is, in a way, the main character of the film. He’s your catalyst and he’s basically the lead, even after Frances McDormand shows up. It’s incredible the way Macy paints the portrait of this guy. How he’s trying to be the picture of success, but is completely emasculated in every way, and just keeps getting shit upon until he can’t take it anymore. And then he tries to change his own fortunes, and it just goes horribly, horribly wrong.

There are moments of true comic brilliance out of Macy, where they’re both hilarious, sad and perfectly encapsulating of who this guy is at the same time. Like this one:

It’s a fully realized performance, and the only real vote against Macy is the fact that this could be category fraud. Otherwise, I don’t see how he’s not top two for nearly everyone in this category.

Shine is a film where my opinion has always been, “Very solid, but I’m mad because it won an Oscar it shouldn’t have.” So it means I’m due to see it again. But really, that’s for Geoffrey Rush in lead. This one, I have a handle on.

The film is about David Helfgott, a pianist who had a mental breakdown. And we follow him at three ages to give us an idea of who he is and how he ended up as he did.

Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Helfgott’s father, who is you typical overbearing sports parent. He wants his son to be the best at all costs, and is cruel and emotionally distant toward him unless he achieves that goal. It’s a solid performance, but that’s just it. It’s nothing more than solid. This is the performance you think is good, but no one actually takes it. He ends up a distant fourth choice for me, even though the performance is well worth the nomination. Mueller-Stahl has a history of solid work, and this was his one chance to… shine.

I regret nothing.

Primal Fear is a great little trial film. Nobody really remembers it that well, but the nomination and Edward Norton get a fair amount of people to go back and watch it. Though I think there should be more, because this movie is awesome.

Richard Gere is a hotshot lawyer who pretty much always wins his cases. And he ends up taking a pro bono case of a simple, stuttering altar boy accused of murdering a priest. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Edward Norton plays the boy, and he. Is. Great. Here. Full stop great. It’s hard to explain without getting too much into all the twists of the plot. But I’ll give you one — we find out pretty early on as Gere is defending him that Norton is actually bipolar and has a split personality. So he gets to play this sweet boy and also a murderous psychopath at the same time. It’s a star-marking performance. Between this and The People vs. Larry Flynt, you’d think Norton would have won this category. Though there are three really great performances in this category and this, unfortunately, is the least iconic of the bunch. Does that make him any less worthy? No. But it explains (somewhat) why he didn’t win. He definitely contends.

Ghosts of Mississippi is a completely forgotten film all around. This was one of the first Rob Reiner decline films. He had that crazy run of — well, let’s just get into it, because I love bringing up the crazy amount of GREAT movies Rob Reiner made to start his career.

Here are Rob Reiner’s first nine movies: This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, Misery, A Few Good Men, North and The American President.

I haven’t yet seen The Sure Thing, and North is what it is (it’s not bad, but it is admittedly a disaster), but the other seven are great movies. The “worst” one of the group is The American President, which was written by Aaron Sorkin. The next worst is Misery. And it’s fucking MISERY.

And then after The American President, this was his first movie. And pretty much from here on out, he was relegated to forgettable schlock. Or at the very least, “Oh, that was cute,” and then you forget he even made it. Like The Bucket List.

This movie is about the murder of Medgar Evers. It’s suspected that a particular man was the one who killed him, but it was never proven in court, despite Evers’ widow trying many times over the years. Now, 25 years after the murder, she thinks she has the evidence to put the man away.

James Woods plays the murderer. It’s a southern white supremacist role, and much of it is Woods in old age makeup. Kind of a strange role for him to be nominated for, but it’s not like that isn’t a recurring theme throughout this category’s history. So much of the supporting categories are Oscar contenders that fail and the Academy giving a respected actor a nomination for them to both show the movie and the actor some love even though they don’t really like it all that much.

But yeah, he’s basically a smirking villain. He isn’t given a whole lot to do, but is effective in what few scenes he does have. Most people would rightly consider him fifth in his category. I like James Woods, but I don’t think he has enough to do here to consider him remotely for a vote. The film itself just being so-so also hurts. But while the performance is solid, I put him fifth here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Woods is clearly a fifth, Mueller-Stahl is a fourth. The other three are all worth voting for. I’m torn as to which to take.

Macy is a lead, and that hurts. Norton is the least iconic, and when you have two very memorable roles, that does hurt him a bit. And Gooding is the kind of role — he’s very good and energetic, but what’s really there? You know? It’s almost a one-note role he injects with some life and energy. And typically I don’t vote for those. So each person has their negatives.

Strengths — Norton is just superb. Utterly convincing in every moment, and his awesome turn in The People vs. Larry Flynt gives him two pluses toward this. Gooding is completely charming and just makes you love him. The performance is the weakest, but does it matter? Apparently not to the Academy, and possibly not to me either. And Macy is just great all around.

This is really tough. I’m doing all I can to not factor in each actor’s future career, since it’s really only about this performance and nothing else. Which is why this is so difficult for me. It’s almost a three-way tie. Gooding has the slightest performance but has the most entertaining character. So he’s right up there with the other two. Still, I think he’s the weakest, so I would take the other two over him. Ultimately this category is about me accepting his win without necessarily voting for it.

Between Macy and Norton… fuck, this is difficult. Here’s how I think I’m gonna do it. It’s a cop-out, but I think I need to do it this way…

I think Macy gives the best single performance, but he’s also kind of a lead. So with Norton having two performances I loved, I’ll rate Macy one but vote for Norton. It’s 1 and 1a for me. I really don’t know what I’d take. So I’ll use straight logistics as the tiebreaker. Plus I like the idea of taking Norton this time. So there we are.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. William H. Macy, Fargo
  2. Edward Norton, Primal Fear
  3. Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire
  4. Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine
  5. James Woods, Ghosts of Mississippi

Rankings (films):

  1. Fargo
  2. Jerry Maguire
  3. Primal Fear
  4. Shine
  5. Ghosts of Mississippi

My Vote: Edward Norton, Primal Fear

Recommendations:

Fargo and Jerry Maguire are films you should have probably seen by now. And if not, I think you know how essential they are to people who love movies.

Primal Fear is not essential, but is highly, highly recommended. Trial film, great performances, and seriously one of Edward Norton’s best roles of his career. As a film buff, I’d consider it essential, but at the very least, I think you ought to see it because it’s just great.

Shine is a very good film. This feels like a solid 4 star film all around, and it has good performances and it won an Oscar, so it’s essential for some, recommended for all, and just a really good film. Thumbs up. Check it out.

Ghosts of Mississippi is ehh. Not great, not terrible. Just there. Southern trial movie. I prefer A Time to Kill over this. This is clearly a movie they thought would go over better than it did. You can skip it. See it for the cast and maybe if you’re into the Oscars and want to look at this category. Otherwise it can be easily skipped. You’re not missing all that much.

The Last Word: Gooding is a fine winner on the role and the performance, but over time, he hasn’t necessarily held up all that great because he’s had such a forgettable past twenty years, compared to Norton and Macy. Both of them also would have been terrific choices and have held up as winners. Another category where they couldn’t have fucked it up if they tried. They may have made the weakest historical decision, but on its own, it’s really not that bad a choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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