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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1999-2000)

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.

1999

Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

Tom Cruise, Magnolia

Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile

Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense

Analysis:

SAG had 4/5. No Jude Law and they had Chris Cooper for American Beauty instead. (LOVE that nomination.)

BAFTA had 2/5. They did have Jude Law (who won) and Caine. And Wes Bentley for American Beauty.

BFCA awarded to Duncan. No nominees.

Globes had 5/5.

This one seemed cut and dry. With Law winning the BAFTA — yeah, this was an easy five to pick.

Caine won SAG, Law won BAFTA, Duncan won BFCA and Cruise won the Globe. So wide open, favoring Caine with the SAG win and the veteran/Brit vote. Makes sense.

The Cider House Rules. Yeah it fucking does!

Honestly, I always have to remind myself that the title actually stands for something. It’s like Good Will Hunting. You realize that, “Oh, that’s his name,” and it makes the title seem weird. This one is about the list of rules posted inside the — you know what, never mind. This metaphor works a lot better in the book than it does in the film.

The film is about orphans and apples. Tobey Maguire is an orphan in New England who grew up in an orphanage and helps out Michael Caine, the doctor who runs the place, as a sort of apprentice to him. Caine secretly performs abortions and Maguire helps him. Caine wants Maguire to take over for him, but Maguire wants to go out and see the world and stuff. So he does. And he ends up picking apples on Charlize Theron’s father’s farm. And he gets involved with a black family of pickers who live in the house where they make the cider (hence the title), and some shit goes down and all that.

It’s a pretty good movie. Very much a Miramax Oscar contender. From 1993 to 2003, you can spot a Miramax film from a mile away.

Caine is pretty good in the role. He narrates the film, and has a dodgy New England accent. He clearly cares for Maguire, and starts teaching him medicine from a young age, becoming a father to him. He’s a surrogate father figure who narrates the film, is the lead for the first act, performs abortions and is an addict. This is everything the Oscars love wrapped into one. I like him and he’s certainly solid in the role, but he doesn’t really have that difficult a role to pull off. The vote for him was a vote for Michael Caine and nothing more. I get it, but I certainly wouldn’t go this way.

Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most ambitious, and maybe most pretentious, work. It’s great, but it’s also really, really ambitious.

It’s an ensemble movie where all the stories are related in some way. There’s no real way to explain it without getting into specifics.

Tom Cruise plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a motivational speaker. He gives seminars about how to pick up women. He gives these incredibly charismatic and misogynistic monologues that are incredibly well done. He plays the guy with complete conviction, which goes a long way to making you forget that this is Tom Cruise, by far the biggest star in this movie.

The scene with him and Robards is of course, great, but I also really like the scene where he’s losing his shit at one of his seminars. It’s really well done. And of course, in the interview, you see both the show this guy puts on and the vulnerability he has inside.

This is a film full of great performances. Jason Robards is beyond perfect and probably also warranted a nomination alongside Cruise, not to mention a handful of other great performances in the film (Philip Seymour Hoffman, anyone?), but Cruise really breaks through the mold of his star persona and crafts what might be his most fully realized character on the screen. This is his category all the way for me. I don’t see how you take anyone else.

The Green Mile is Frank Darabont’s Stephen King adaptation followup to Shawshank.  It’s basically Shawshank but with magical realism.

The film is about Tom Hanks’ life as a corrections office on death row. We follow him as he gets to know the guards, the inmates, etc. The film is mostly focused around one particular prisoner —

Michael Clarke Duncan plays John Coffey, a hulking, slow-witted black man convicted of raping and killing two white girls. Over time, he shows he has some weird powers, namely the ability to heal, when one day he fixes Tom Hanks’ bladder infection by essentially “eating’ all the bad… stuff. Or something. He’s also innocent, but there’s no way (through the contrivances of film) to prevent him from being put to death. So he basically goes around — a literal magical negro — being the purest thing in the film, and then the film kills him for sympathy in the end. It’s not as manipulative as I’m making it out to be, but it’s also not completely innocent.

Duncan is great here and this is clearly a role that’s gonna be nominated. He’s perfect for it, and he’s perfect in it. Not sure I consider him higher than third for the vote, but he’s really solid in this movie. You feel for this character and he certainly makes an impact. That said — magical negro. Kind of fucked up when you consider it in the grand scheme of things. That’s really what keeps me from wanting to vote for him. The nomination alone is a great reward. A win might have looked pretty terrible, given the character.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a forgotten film, yet it’s really good and has a great cast on it.

Matt Damon is a con artist who is hired to bring Jude Law back to America by Law’s father. He then starts pretending to be Law. Until he randomly actually meets Law, at which point he ingratiates himself into Law’s life and becomes real close to him, learning any and everything he can about him. He’s also sexually attracted to him. And eventually he murders him and takes his place. Don’t worry, this happens fairly early on in the film.

Law plays a playboy. He sails around the world, living the rich life on his father’s dime. And that’s the role. Eventually gets wise to Damon’s lies and is killed when he confronts him about it. This is definitely a star-making type of performance. (Granted, his Gattaca performance was really the one, but it takes one of those plus the one that everyone sees in order to put him on the map.) Law is charismatic, lights up the screen, and makes such an impression that you miss him when he’s killed. Completely understand this. He might make third for me on this list. Don’t think I’d take it, because it feels like it’s missing that added edge that would make me vote for it, but I definitely really like this performance.

The Sixth Sense is sadly a film everyone knows the ending to before they go into it. Which renders a lot of the film moot. It’s actually really well-put together. When Shyamalan is good, the twists at the end of his movies are almost superfluous.

Bruce Willis, child psychologist, kid, sees ghosts, yada yada yada. We know the story.

Haley Joel Osment plays the kid, and he sees dead people. He’s a weird little kid with no friends who is socially awkward. We find out why later in the film. Osment is almost a co-lead of the film, but I can see putting him supporting. He’s good enough to actually warrant this nomination, but I can’t really see putting him any higher than fourth or fifth. The nomination is the reward and he does a fine job of it. But nothing I’d vote for here. This is one of the more solid child actor performances I’ve seen, but not something I’d vote for.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is an easy vote for Tom Cruise. No one else comes close for me. Law makes a definite impact, but he feels like a second choice no matter who was gonna be #1. Duncan and Osment are a product of the roles and the nominations are their rewards. Caine, I get why they voted for him, but he did not give the best performance in the category. This is Tom Cruise all the way. Just watching these five performances, Cruise dominates. He’s the only one I can take here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Tom Cruise, Magnolia
  2. Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley
  3. Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
  4. Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
  5. Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile

Rankings (films):

  1. Magnolia
  2. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  3. The Sixth Sense
  4. The Green Mile
  5. The Cider House Rules

My Vote: Tom Cruise, Magnolia

Recommendations:

Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson, and that makes it essential. Plus it’s great and it’s also one of those film buff essential movies. But also, if you deliberately choose not to see this, that might be grounds to having your film buff card revoked. There’s no law that says you have to like this, but you should see it if you love movies. There’s no earthly reason not to.

The Green Miles and The Sixth Sense are both — actually, scratch that.

The Sixth Sense is essential. Full stop. Even if you know the ending, you still need to see it because it’s so well put together around that. And culturally, yes, you need to see it in order to talk about it. So it’s essential.

The Green Mile I was gonna say it’s essential, but it’s really not. It’s just a solid recommend. It has that Shawshank lineage, and the cast is insane, but ultimately it’s just a very good movie with some troubling aspects that might be a little too syrupy to really be a classic. It might have been essential ten years ago. Now… just a high recommend that you should probably see.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a film that I’d say is essential, but only to get people to see it. It’s great, it’s well-made, most people will like it, and everyone’s forgotten how good this is. So I want to tell people they need to see it, but just because of that. It’s really not an essential film in any regard. Just a very high recommend that you should see. I’ll put it as a personal essential, or a film buff essential, but really it’s just a movie that you should really, really see because you’ll like it.

The Cider House Rules is really only essential for Oscar buffs so you can talk about this category. Otherwise — ehh. See it, don’t see it. It’s fine. Perfectly solid film. Hasn’t held up all that well and really is just something that I recommend, but ultimately something you would be okay not having seen.

The Last Word: Caine isn’t that bad a winner, but he’s not a great winner either. I think Cruise was the best performance here and really deserved this one. He’d have held up just as well if not better than Caine. Osment and Law might have actually worked too. Even Duncan could have won this. It’s a very strong category, with a lot of potential winners. I don’t think a bad decision could have been made here. I think Caine is an average choice, and there might have been a better one here, but not a whole lot better. I’m fine with this.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2000

Jeff Bridges, The Contender

Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire

Benicio del Toro, Traffic

Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich

Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator

Analysis:

SAG had 4/5. But really 5/5, since del Toro won Best Actor for them. Gary Oldman was their fifth nominee, for The Contender, FYI.

BAFTA had del Toro, Finney and Phoenix. Other two weren’t legit contenders. (Though nice Oliver Reed posthumous nod.)

BFCA only awarded a win to Joaquin. No nominees.

The Globes had all five.

So this was always gonna be the category based on the category fraud. And del Toro was always gonna win it. This was a cut and dry year.

The Contender is a really solid political movie that nobody remembers. I like when great movies that were forgotten end up getting nominated, because it feels like an avenue toward people seeing them. It’s also always the political movies that seem to be forgotten.

Joan Allen plays a female senator who is being nominated for Vice President after the current VP dies in office. Naturally the Republicans hate the idea, so they do everything they can to smear her name all throughout the nominations process, eventually turning up a story from her college days that would make her look terrible in the eyes of the public and essentially prevent her from getting the job. It’s a great movie. Watch it. You’ll like it.

Jeff Bridges plays the President. He pretty much only shows up at the end of the movie for a scene or two. And he’s awesome. The role is basically if Jeff Bridges were the President. If The Dude got his shit together. That’s really all it is. You see this and go, “Man, Bridges was fucking awesome in this movie.” But he’s really just doing Jeff Bridges. Which I have no problem with. Personally, I think Gary Oldman did a much better job as the head of the Republicans, but I’d also have nominated them both, so we’re splitting hairs.

Bridges is great, but it’s basically a one-note role and he has little screen time. So really, he’s fifth in the category. But I love that he got nominated. Awesome performance.

Shadow of the Vampire is a fucking great film that nobody remembers.

It’s about the filming of Nosferatu. F.W. Murnau is looking for a Count Orlok, and he hires Max Schreck, who takes method acting to a whole new level. The film plays it as if Schreck may actually be a vampire. And Murnau indulges him in every way in order to get the film made. And it’s a great fictional version of how an iconic film was made, culminating in a perfect final scene that I won’t spoil here.

Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, who only shows up in full makeup and in character. So every time he shows up, he’s ominous, spooky, and gives off vibes that are impressive for an actor and terrifying at the same time. He does fucked up things by actually biting into a live bat on set and attacking the crew when they start bleeding.

He’s so fucking good here. He really is. It’s a hilarious performance that’s completely committed in every way. Should he have won this? Probably not. But is he good enough to have won? Maybe. I mean, the next performance really makes this all seemingly a moot point, but goddamn is Dafoe great here.

Traffic is perhaps Steven Soderbergh’s masterpiece. A film about the war on drugs.

It has four separate storylines, but only one matters for our purposes.

Benicio del Toro plays a cop who is trying to take down the drug traffickers. He gets hired by a top government guy to arrest a cartel hitman. He thinks he’s doing his job. Turns out, the guy who hired him is working for a rival cartel. He realizes the whole thing is a joke. No one’s really trying to stop the drug trade. Eventually he gives up what he knows to the DEA. But not for immunity, or safety, simply for electricity in his hometown, so the kids can play baseball at night and maybe not go down the path of the cartel members.

It’s a really solid performance. This is one of those performances where, everyone likes him and thinks he’s great in the film, but no one can really point out why. He’s always very quiet and has great moments of subtlety and silence, but rarely does the performance ever seem to rise to anything more than that. I’m all for him winning as both an actor and for this performance, but I think it’s interesting, going back to this performance and never really seeing anything that makes me go, “Oh fuck, I want to vote for him.” Still, he is the benchmark in this category. Guy won Best Actor at SAG for this performance. And he’s not even close to being a leading role in this.

Erin Brockovich is a movie that sometimes gets overshadowed by its own image. You know, big star vehicle for Julia Roberts, she’s got the big hair and the pushup bra. But this is actually a really strong film. And people forget that it’s Soderbergh. Same as Traffic is.

(Insert title here) is a single mother with no money in her bank account. After a traffic accident when her lawyer doesn’t help her win the case, she ends up forcing her way into a job for him, where she finds some information on a local town knowingly being poisoned by a major corporation, and then a class action lawsuit, yada yada yada. Good stuff. Seriously. I’m just shortening because you know the plot once you get to the class action part.

Albert Finney plays the lawyer who defends her in court and then ends up becoming her boss. At first he’s the overworked lawyer, and then he becomes the exasperated boss, and then a proud mentor. It’s a solid performance. One of those that was always gonna get nominated. And Finney being a veteran, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t win this. But, also, clearly he wasn’t gonna beat del Toro.

I’d say the performance is solid, but not really worth a vote. I don’t necessarily see an arc or anything here. Though the argument for him is, the character exists in support of Julia Roberts, and to that end, he’s great in it. Still — against del Toro, he’s the benchmark for the category, and I don’t see him overtaking that.

Gladiator. You know this movie, you’ve seen this movie.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, who kills his father because he finds out he’s going to be passed over for the throne. He then takes over, and is a little bitch. We hate him because he’s selfish and childish and will be a terrible ruler. But he’s also the guy Maximus needs to kill, so we relish in how much we hate him, until the final battle, when he finally gets his.

The role owes a lot to earlier Roman emperor performances, and Phoenix plays it similarly. He’s kind of over the top, but the role seems to require over the top. I don’t mind it. It’s definitely not as nuanced or layered as his later performances, but he came along with the film and was recognized for being an actor who they thought would go on to do great things. That’s payed off, so I have no issue with the nomination. I just wouldn’t put him higher than fourth here, if that. He clearly shouldn’t have won this, but the nomination is fine. You love to hate this guy.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category has always been Benicio del Toro’s, and it’s hard to argue with it. But, here’s my argument — I always respected his performance in Traffic, but I never loved it. I love Willem Dafoe’s performance in Shadow of the Vampire. So, being a contrarian by nature, and being someone who would rather take his favorite rather than the accepted answer, I’m going to vote for Dafoe here. I truly liked his performance the best and thought he gave the best performance in the category. I’m cool either way with this one, but Dafoe was the best for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire
  2. Benicio del Toro, Traffic
  3. Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich
  4. Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator
  5. Jeff Bridges, The Contender

Rankings (films):

  1. Gladiator
  2. Traffic
  3. Erin Brockovich
  4. Shadow of the Vampire
  5. The Contender

My Vote: Benicio del Toro, Traffic

Recommendations:

Gladiator is essential. Don’t be a dick. You know you need to see this.

Traffic is essential for film buffs. Don’t worry, if you’re just starting out, you’ll get to it pretty quickly without my help. But in case you were wondering, yes, you need to see this.

Erin Brockovich is culturally essential. And that’s good enough. In order to reference it, you need to see it. And it’s also a really great movie. So cultural essential, essential for Oscar buffs, and film buff high recommend. No reason not to see this. Also, Soderbergh.

Shadow of the Vampire is a movie that, while I can’t call it essential or even force you to see it, this is a movie I put on that “hidden gems for all time” list. The one where the movies are great and no one remembers them. The cool shit that I’ve got that makes me a great film buff. This is one of those. Not essential at all, but trust me on this when I say you should see this. It’s awesome.

The Contender is a slightly less cool version of the hidden gem that Shadow of the Vampire is. It’s great, and it’s a hidden gem, but it’s not one that people are gonna be real excited to share with other people. So I’ll just call this a high recommend, because the film is great, the cast is great, and it’s been utterly forgotten. So in terms of hidden gems, this is for sure one of them and I recommend this film very highly.

The Last Word: del Toro was the best choice and holds up best. No question there, end of story. Finney would have looked okay because he’s a veteran but the performance and the film might not have looked great. Dafoe probably doesn’t hold up, but does look like a nice little oddity of a winner, which is cool. Phoenix wouldn’t hold up at all, nor would Bridges. This is del Toro’s category all the way, and rightfully so.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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