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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1997-1998)

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.

1997

Robert Forster, Jackie Brown

Anthony Hopkins, Amistad

Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets

Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights

Analysis:

SAG — 4/5. Missed Forster. Had Billy Connolly for Mrs. Brown.

BAFTA — only Reynolds our of four nominees. Didn’t even win.

BFCA awarded to Anthony Hopkins. No nominees.

The Globes had 4/5. Missed Forster. Had Jon Voight for The Rainmaker and Rupert Everett for My Best Friend’s Wedding as fifth and sixth.

This would have been rough. You have 4/5 pretty easy, but the fifth… who guesses Forster? This is also before we have so many precursors. So I guess you’d have to look at critics groups and stuff.

As for the win — Williams won SAG, Reynolds won the Globe. Hopkins BFCA.

So yeah, you figure Williams is winning this, probably. But it’s ’97. The stats aren’t totally locked in yet.

Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s followup to Pulp Fiction. Which is a strange decision for him that was of course gonna turn out like it did, which was — people really liked it, but it wasn’t Pulp Fiction, so the movie didn’t make all that much money, was overlooked for years, and it took people watching it later on when enough time had passed to realize how awesome it was. I think this is a wholly underrated movie as far as his films go.

It’s an adaptation of Rum Punch, the Elmore Leonard novel. He took the main character and made her into Pam Grier, because he grew up on blaxploitation movies. And she’s an airline stewardess who smuggles money for a gangster friend of hers and ends up getting caught by the ATF who is onto him. So they use her as bait to try to catch him bringing money into the country so they can put him away. It’s great. Trust me it’s great. But you don’t need to trust me. It’s Tarantino. You’ve seen this before you even walked through the door.

Robert Forster plays Max Cherry, a bail bondsman who gets Jackie out of jail and also falls in love with her. He ends up helping her in the scheme for money, but also because he likes her.

This nomination is one of those where Forster had been in obscurity for years and then came back in a solid part in a Tarantino movie. Which he has a habit of doing. It’s a low key kind of performance, but Forster brings a worn-in feel to it, that makes it feel fresh and authentic. I slightly overrate his performance because I love the film so much, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s in the top three in this category. Not sure I take him, but he’s definitely solid and deserved the nomination.

Amistad is Steven Spielberg’s slave movie.

Okay, that felt deliberately worded to get a response. It’s better than that. Though it does have all the trappings of Spielberg, which is why it’s not an all-time classic. Though it’s Spielberg, so it’s in the Hall of Very Good.

It’s about an uprising on a slave ship and all the slaves being put on trial when the ship gets to America. The notion is whether or not they are slaves or free. (They were captured from Africa to be sold into slavery, but this is the 19th century. And America. Logic doesn’t always win out.)

Anthony Hopkins plays John Quincy Adams. He’s old, semi-retired, and doesn’t give a shit anymore. (I’ll leave the jokes to others.) He becomes mentor to Matthew McConaughey, who is the lawyer defending the men. He ends up helping out when he’s reminded of what his father did to start the country and realizes these people are similarly just fighting for their freedom. His big scene is a big speech he makes to the Supreme Court. And he also has the requisite awesome character introduction when he’s first seen sleeping in the senate during another senator’s speech. And they question if he’s too old to do his job, and then he says some sarcastic shit like, “Well, if you said something less boring, maybe I’d still be awake.”

Everything about this performance screams Best Supporting Actor nomination. This is essentially Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln but with less of a character arc. Completely understand this on every level. Only — fifth for a vote. He’s awesome and he should be here, but no. It’s too obvious all around and Hopkins doesn’t really do a whole lot with it to warrant an actual vote. Let the nomination be the reward.

As Good As It Gets is a movie that is so Jack Nicholson it’s almost disgusting. Or wonderful, depending on your point of view.

Jack plays a misanthropic, O.C.D. author who learns how to deal with people, from his favorite waitress who becomes his love interest, to a gay painter who lives up the hall from him who gets beat up. It’s hard to explain without someone having seen it, but it’s awesome.

Greg Kinnear plays the gay painter. At first he’s just a foil to Nicholson, the brunt of gay jokes and insults. But then he gets beat up, and Nicholson learns to see him as a human being. And we get him and Helen Hunt going on the road trip with Nicholson to see Kinnear’s father, which provides him an emotional hook as well.

It’s a fine performance. It’s honest, it’s emotional, and he gives what is perhaps the best work of his career. Don’t know I give him anything higher than fourth here. It’s a solid nominee, but never contends for a vote in this category. The epitome of a #4.

Good Will Hunting is Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s movie about a genius kid living in Boston and overcoming childhood trauma with the help of a sympathetic psychologist.

Man, this movie sounds like shit when you say it like that.

Robin Williams plays the psychologist, and he’s terrific here. He’s so much Robin Williams that it can be hard to notice how well he’s doing within the scope of a character, but he really does a fantastic job with this one. He may have given better performances elsewhere, but with this performance, in this category, I say he’s easily top two. You might disagree, which is fine. But I think this is an easy contender for a vote in a category like this, which looks strong but isn’t all that strong.

Boogie Nights is Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout film. One that pretty much everyone’s seen before they get to me, so it’s not something I need to go into too much detail about.

Dirk Diggler, porn star, 70s, music, great cast — we’ve all seen it. It’s great.

Burt Reynolds plays Jack Horner, the guy who runs the porn company Diggler works for. I always felt this performance was overrated. I think Reynolds is great in the role, but I never felt the character had that much to do in this movie as to require a win. He’s the guy who directs the movies, and he holds out for a dying way of life, disliking the idea that films are going to be shot on videotape and refusing to give in creatively, even though the times pass him by, and eventually he resorts to becoming the thing he hates. I get it, but I always thought it was just a really good performance and never loved it enough to vote for it. I still feel that way. I get that most people would take him here, and I’m not opposed to it in the least. I just — don’t see it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: For me, this is Robin Williams. Robert Forster contends for second, and while Burt Reynolds is also up there, I just never saw the appeal of actually voting for that performance. Kinnear is a solid nominee and nothing more, and Hopkins is awesome, but I can’t seriously consider him.

Forster makes a good run at it, but it’s always gonna be Robin Williams for me. I think he’s too good to not take.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
  2. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
  3. Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights
  4. Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets
  5. Anthony Hopkins, Amistad

Rankings (films):

  1. Jackie Brown
  2. As Good as It Gets
  3. Good Will Hunting
  4. Boogie Nights
  5. Amistad

My Vote: Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

Recommendations:

They’re all essential.

Good Will Hunting is essential in name alone. It’s a perfect film in its own way and everyone sees it pretty early because of that. It’s hard not to love this.

Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino. His films are essential.

Boogie Nights is Paul Thomas Anderson. His films are essential.

Amistad is Steven Spielberg. I think you see where this is going. It’s lesser Spielberg, but still essential. Just… not immediately.

As Good As It Gets is another film everyone sees because it’s so awesome. Essential because it’s great, because Nicholson won for it and because everyone sees this movie. It’s great.

The Last Word: As I said up there, it’s always Robin Williams for me. For some, that will be Burt Reynolds and they won’t get the appeal of Williams having won. Totally get it. Either is a decent choice. I think Williams holds up better and was the best choice. Him and Reynolds were the two here. Forster wouldn’t have really held up all that well, and less so Kinnear and Hopkins. Williams and Reynolds were the two options, and while they’d both have been fine, Williams seems to have been the best choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1998

James Coburn, Affliction

Robert Duvall, A Civil Action

Ed Harris, The Truman Show

Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love

Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

Analysis:

SAG had 4/5. Missed Harris in favor of David Kelly for Waking Ned Devine.

BAFTA had Harris and Rush. Rush lost to another of his own performances.

BFCA awarded Billy Bob. No nominees.

Globes had 4/5. Other two nominees (of six): Bill Murray in Rushmore and Donald Sutherland in Without Limits.

Well, four were easy. Harris I guess with BAFTA and the Globe win becomes most likely. Doubt Murray makes it or Sutherland based on their films.

For the win — Duvall wins SAG, Thornton wins BFCA, Harris wins the Globe.

No fucking clue here. You had to think Duvall was the choice. Coburn comes out of nowhere. Had to be a big surprise, right?

Affliction is a movie that I’d wager no one would have seen if not for this win. It’s Paul Schrader, but without the win, this would be more forgotten than it already is.

It’s about a small town cop, played by Nick Nolte, investigating a possible murder and dealing with all this personal shit that happened to him when he was a kid.

James Coburn plays Nolte’s father. He shows up in flashbacks and in present. He’s an abusive, mean drunk. He physically abuses his kids in the past and emotionally abuses them in the present. He sinks his teeth into the role. He’s a satisfactory villain in a mediocre film. He definitely does a good job, but I’m not sure this is something I like enough to take. Then again, with this category, I can see how he won. Or at the very least, contends.

A Civil Action is a trial movie. But a trial movie unlike other trial movies I’ve seen. Mostly because… well, I won’t get into specifics. But it’s definitely very solid. Steve Zaillian directs, and he’s really only made three movies. This is the middle one of the group. Very good but not great.

John Travolta is a hotshot rich lawyer who ends up taking a pro bono case for a class action lawsuit against two companies that are polluting the water in a small town and killing residents. It’s your typical kind of class action lawsuit movie, except with the twist that all the plaintiff’s futures are resting on the outcome of the case. It’s really good. As far as trial movies go, they’re all watchable, but this one is particularly solid.

Robert Duvall plays the attorney for the defense. He gets your typical veteran opening scene, where he roundabout scares the shit out of someone, and then pretty much just plays the opposing attorney for the rest of the film. James Mason in The Verdict. He’s the pro who knows how to do in one stroke what the protagonist does in three. He comes off as humorous and aloof in many scenes but then when he’s in the court, he’s sharp as a tack.

Solid performance, still just a veteran nomination. Not something you take.

The Truman Show is one of the most brilliant concepts for a film. It also pretty much foresaw the state of television fifteen years early. In a weird way, it’s kind of like Network.

Jim Carrey is a man whose entire life is a reality television show. From birth, his life has been carefully controlled and broadcast to the entire world. Everything about his life is a giant sitcom. Everyone around him is an actor, and he lives in a giant soundstage in Hollywood. And the film is about him starting to realize everything around him is fake and wants nothing more than to get out. It’s a perfect film.

Ed Harris plays the director of (insert title here). He carefully manipulates everything so as to seem real, and deals with all the incidents of Truman starting to figure out the artificiality around him. The thing about this character is that he’s come to love his subject. He wants what’s best for Truman, and in his mind, that’s staying within this controlled reality. And he wants that so much that he almost kills Truman.

It’s a fine performance. Some people have always maintained that Harris should have won. I — am not sure I totally agree with that. This always felt like a solid performance and a role that doesn’t really have enough to it to warrant anything more than a nomination. This is an interesting category, so he might factor highly, but I don’t think I take this. He’s good, but… there’s not enough there for me.

Fun fact — Dennis Hopper was the original choice for the role and backed out, and Harris jumped in with almost no prep time whatsoever. Pretty good reward for a role he wasn’t planning on getting.

Shakespeare in Love is a really great movie. It’s a shame it went up against Saving Private Ryan, because I’d be really happy with this as a Best Picture winner most years. I’m still even not that upset about it, because this is a really great movie.

It’s a comedy about how Romeo and Juliet was written. It’s perfect. It’s hilarious, it’s romantic, and it gets emotional at the end. It’s terrific.

Geoffrey Rush plays the owner of the theater Shakespeare puts on his plays. He’s deep in debt and the film open with his feet being put to the fire over what he owes. And he’s the one that needs to get Shakespeare to write his play, “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,” so that they can make the money back and he can not be killed. And most of his role is to be exasperated as the whole thing spins out of control and becomes something different, and then when he has to hide the fact that his lead actor for Juliet is actually a woman (women were not allowed on the stage at the time). He gets a lot of laughs and is really terrific to watch in the film. In terms of a supporting performance, this is the one I’d have nominated.

If he hadn’t have won Best Actor in ’96, he might have won this category. But since he didn’t, he ends up about middle of the pack. Might go as high as second. Not sure yet. This is a weird category. I definitely really like the performance and would consider voting for it if I needed to. But I might not need to.

A Simple Plan is a Sam Raimi movie. Which is interesting. Because it reminds me that after starting off with his fun horror movies, Sam Raimi actually became an interesting mainstream filmmaker, dipping his hand at all the different genres before becoming the Spider-Man guy, which completely derailed him.

The film is about three guys who stumble upon a crashed plane, in which they find a bag with a couple million dollars. Rather than be stupid about it, they agree to hold onto the money until they can be sure no one will come after it and them. Which proves to be much harder than it sounds.

Billy Bob Thornton plays one of the three men. He’s the main character’s brother, who is kind of slow and socially awkward. He’s caught in the middle of the other two, with his brother wanting to be cautious and his friend wanting to just spend it. This is easily a role that could have been played mentally challenged or with overt mannerisms, but Thornton never resorts to that. He stutters, but only slightly. He’s dim, but not stupid. He creates a real human being out of this man, and it really helps the overall film.

This is a really complex and layered performance, and seems like it might be tops in this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is a weak category with great actors in it giving amusing, but not particularly great, performances. Duvall is a veteran scene stealer of the Anthony Hopkins variety from the year before this. Harris is a solid presence in an important role that doesn’t really add up to much more than three days worth of work for him. Rush is really fun and one of the most likable characters in his movie, but he doesn’t really have all that much to do and was basically singled out because he was so fun and because he was still in that three year period after a win/nomination where people get nominated again. Someone was gonna get it and he makes sense.

I don’t know if I take any of those three. Harris has the slightest performance with the most important character. Duvall has a by-the-numbers, obvious type role with all the quirks to make him baity enough for the Academy. But he does steal scenes and does a good job with the role. And Rush is fun, and that means a lot, but ultimately he’s just hamming it up. I like him, but I’d only vote for him if I absolutely had to.

So that leaves Coburn and Thornton. Coburn is nice and evil, and I like him as an actor, but this feels like a performance that ranks well but doesn’t get the vote. But without even trying, he’s already top two. And to be honest, I think he’s just pretty good. Thornton, on the other hand, I think is great. So he’s automatically the choice for me. This character is so well-handled, from beginning to end, and so much of the other performances feel like tropes or types, with the actors doing fun stuff with them but nothing overly great. He’s the only character that feels real. So he’s my vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan
  2. James Coburn, Affliction
  3. Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love
  4. Ed Harris, The Truman Show
  5. Robert Duvall, A Civil Action

Rankings (films):

  1. Shakespeare in Love
  2. The Truman Show
  3. A Civil Action
  4. A Simple Plan
  5. Affliction

My Vote: Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

Recommendations:

Shakespeare in Love is essential. Great film, Best Picture winner, and in order to complain about it having won, you need to see it. Plus, it’s just a movie most people watch because it’s so good.

The Truman Show is essential for film buffs, and almost even for people, because it can be watched and enjoyed by everyone, not just people who are “into” film. Clear cut essential movie, and most people will recognize that by the title.

A Simple Plan is a good, but not great, thriller. Mostly I recommend it for Thornton’s performance. Otherwise it’s a fairly predictable thriller that doesn’t hold up all that well. Thornton elevates it. Not essential, but a definite recommend.

A Civil Action is a solid trial movie. Not the best, but it’s a trial movie, and those are always interesting. Plus the cast is loaded with great character actors. I recommend it for that alone. Solid thumbs up here.

Affliction is only essential for Oscar buffs, and even then it’s one the lower end of Oscar movies. Really only worth it for the performance. Otherwise it’s just decent.

The Last Word: Coburn looks weak as a winner because no one remembers his film. He’s a good actor and it’s nice that he has an Oscar, but if he didn’t have an Oscar, no one would really be that mad either. I don’t think he was the best choice and I don’t think he holds up all that well. Thornton, I feel, gives the best performance and should have won. Harris is the other person deserving of an Oscar. And while the win wouldn’t have been great, considering the performance, I think he’d have held up fine as a winner just on his stature alone. Duvall didn’t need another one, and Rush had just gotten one and is basically just entertaining but not all that great. Would have looked like overkill, him winning for this one too. I think Thornton all around would have been a great winner, but I can’t complain all that much about Coburn, given the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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