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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 2001-2002)

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.

2001

Jim Boradbent, Iris

Ethan Hawke, Training Day

Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast

Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Jon Voight, Ali

Analysis:

Just looking back at this, Voight seems like the one who’d have been the surprise nominee. But let’s go back and look. This is before my time.

SAG had 4/5. No Voight. Hayden Christensen for Life As a House.

BAFTA was straight up off the board entirely. They did nominate Eddie Murphy for Shrek though. And Robbie Coltrane for Hagrid, which is cool.

BFCA — 3/3. Only had 3 so skip them.

Globes had 3/5, Voight was one of them. Broadbent and Kingsley were other two. Christensen was there, Steve Buscemi for Ghost World and Jude Law for A.I.

So, shit, looking at this… yeah, it was SAG as the empirical evidence, assuming Christensen, but then, the savvy voter knows SAG can skew young and you never count out a veteran… Voight would have factored in there too. Not sure I’d have been savvy there, but that play was there to be made.

And then, for the win…

Ian McKellen won SAG, Broadbent won BAFTA for a different movie (Moulin Rouge!), Ben Kingsley won BFCA and Broadbent won the Globe.

Hmm… yeah, Broadbent does seem like the choice there. Don’t think you can count McKellen’s win as a clear choice. Globe is a tone setter and the BAFTA vote tells you how they were leaning. Interesting.

Iris is a biopic of Iris Murdoch, an author I’m pretty sure almost no one in the US has ever heard of. It focuses on two parts of her life, falling in love with her husband and her later years when she gets dementia.

Jim Broadbent plays her husband in the later years. He’s basically his wife’s caretaker. He was always the more nervous one who didn’t have the energy that she did, but now he’s the steady, loving husband who is now the one doing the things his spouse cannot. He’s very solid here, and I completely get the win. But, honestly… third choice. I have two other performances I like much better than this, even though he’s probably top two in terms of pure performance. Still, I’m not gonna pretend like I might vote for him, because I won’t. He’s definitely worth taking, but I’m just not gonna do it.

Training Day is a great film. The idea of Denzel winning an Oscar for it is debatable, but we’re not dealing with that now, so we won’t need to get into it.

Ethan Hawke is a police officer on his first day. He’s sent for a (insert title here) with Denzel Washington, a badass, super corrupt cop. And we follow them over the course of the day. And it’s great.

Hawke is a co-lead here. He’s the audience’s eyes and ears, and he delivers a great performance. He makes the guy feel three-dimensional, even if he is constantly overshadowed by Denzel. I get and support the nomination, but even if he weren’t a co-lead, he wouldn’t be higher than fourth here. The nomination is the reward, and I am all for that.

Sexy Beast is such a… I don’t even know how to explain it. Either you’ve seen it and you know, or you haven’t and you just need to watch it and experience it. It’s nothing like you’ve seen before. It’s also weird that not a lot of people have actually seen this. What I mean is, it still feels like an underseen movie, despite its popularity.

Ray Winstone is a former criminal who cashed out and moved to Spain. He’s enjoying a boring life of luxury and seems perfectly content. Only there’s a robbery gonna be committed and they want him involved. So Ben Kingsley shows up to get him to come back. Only he wants no part of it. That’s all you really need to know.

Ben Kingsley is GREAT here. He’s the most memorable performance in this category. Trust me on that. Ian McKellen has the most memorable character, but when you think back on which of these actors had the most memorable performance, the one that stands out and makes you go, “Whoa!”, that’s Ben Kingsley.

This clip I’m putting here is only a small percentage of him in this movie:

Honestly, the only thing that prevents me from automatically taking him outright is Ian McKellen. There is no way you see this performance and don’t immediately consider him top two in this category. No way. This is everything you want out of a supporting performance.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a movie we’ve all seen, so I don’t need to get into it.

Ian McKellen plays Gandalf.

And I think we’re done here.

Ali is Michael Mann’s biopic of Muhammad Ali. That about covers that.

Jon Voight plays Howard Cosell. And he does a pretty good job of doing Cosell. I always felt him and Smith were just a bit off, but that’s because Ali is impossible to recreate.

Voight is made up to look like Cosell, and some people might find that weird. I think it’s fine. And I think he does as fair an approximation of him as he can. But he really doesn’t have all that much to do and is really only there to be the straight man in scenes with Smith. He’s fine, but so much of this feels like a tag along nomination because they like Jon Voight. Does anyone consider him anything other than fifth in the category? I remember some people hating this performance at the time. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t think it’s a particularly strong nominee.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category is so top loaded that you can make a case for three different people and still be right.

Jon Voight is the one nobody takes and Ethan Hawke is a lead who has the unfortunate business of being up against the other three.

Ian McKellen is Gandalf, and that’s worth a vote on its own.

Jim Broadbent quietly gives a really solid performance that’s technically, I feel, better than McKellen’s, but not as iconic.

And Ben Kingsley — I mean… yes.

For me, it’s Kingsley and McKellen. And Kingsley is so good I can’t help but take him. It is what it is. Gotta do it.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast
  2. Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  3. Jim Boradbent, Iris
  4. Ethan Hawke, Training Day
  5. Jon Voight, Ali

Rankings (films):

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  2. Training Day
  3. Sexy Beast
  4. Ali
  5. Iris

My Vote: Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast

Recommendations:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is essential. Let’s not waste time.

Training Day is probably essential. At least culturally. Denzel won Best Actor for it, it’s awesome, most people like it, especially when you cross list it with those IMDB movies people love. You should see it as a film buff.

Sexy Beast is a film I’m saying you need to see. Whether it’s essential or not, see it. If not, then go ahead. You’re the one missing out. Trust me on this one.

Ali is recommended. I don’t think you need to see it, but it’s good. Solid recommend.

Iris is essential for Oscar buffs and not essential for anyone else, really. It’s worth it because of the performances — Dench, Broadbent, Winslet and Bonneville. Solid recommend, even though you can skip it and be fine.

The Last Word: Kingsley, McKellen, Broadbent. All good choices. All hold up fine. Broadbent is good enough here for an Oscar and has enough stature for one. He looks weak if you really like McKellen or Kingsley, but otherwise holds up just fine. They couldn’t have gone wrong here if they tried.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2002

Chris Cooper, Adaptation.

Ed Harris, The Hours

Paul Newman, Road to Perdition

John C. Reilly, Chicago

Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can

Analysis:

Oh, this one for sure must have been locked all the way through. I imagine Reilly probably got in with less precursors but also on the strength of him being in three of the five nominees.

SAG — only 3/5. Wow. Walken, Cooper, Harris. No Newman. Wow! Alfred Molina for Frida and Dennis Quaid for Far from Heaven.

BAFTA — 4/5. Missed Reilly. Had Molina.

BFCA — Cooper and Newman. And Molina as third (they didn’t stat 5 nominees until 2003).

Globes — 4/5. No Walken, but had Quaid.

So wow. I need to sort this one through…

Cooper — SAG, BAFTA, BFCA, Globe

Harris — SAG, BAFTA, Globe

Walken — SAG, BAFTA

Newman — BAFTA, BFCA, Globes

Molina — SAG, BAFTA, BFCA

Quaid — SAG, Globes

Reilly — Globes

So looking at this — Cooper is a lock. Harris has everything you need. Walken has SAG and BAFTA which makes him on too. You figure those three are on without question.

Newman has everything but SAG, but there’s no way they’re leaving Paul Newman off. So that’s clearly four.

Your fifth choice — I’m pretty surprised that Reilly overcame the others. Molina made a compelling case for himself. Quaid had the right ones too.

That’s interesting to me. Nice they recognized his overall year, but shit. That must have came as a minor surprise.

For the win, Walken won SAG And BAFTA, Cooper had BFCA and the Globe.

So Walken had the big wins and Cooper had solid other wins. So those were your two choices. Kinda surprised Cooper won, but I was rooting for him at the time, so that’s cool that it worked out that way. Though with those two and Paul Newman, that’s a win-win for everyone.

Adaptation is Charlie Kaufman writing a movie about Charlie Kaufman writing a movie. It takes balls to pull that off and not have it seem overly pretentious, but somehow he makes it work.

Charlie Kaufman is hired to adapt a film based on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, a book about flowers. You can’t really do that. So, having writer’s block and lamenting about his place in the world, he ends up inserting himself into his screenplay, the joke being the mirror effect going on as we watch the film.

Chris Cooper plays John Laroche, the main character of The Orchid Thief. He’s a guy Orlean goes down to see after he’s caught stealing flowers from a nature preserve. And he’s quite the character. Eventually he becomes a character within the fake version of the script within the real version of the script, or however that timeline works. Eventually it’s revealed that he’s stealing the flowers because they can be made into a powerful drug, and that he’s secretly sleeping with Orlean, and it gets kinda crazy. Yet it works.

Cooper is awesome here, and I remember being fully supportive of his win. It’s interesting to go back now, because I always loved his performance, but now is a time for me to reevaluate two other really strong performances that also were good enough to win. So I’m wondering if I’m ultimately gonna take him in the end, despite the strength of the performance.

The Hours is a film about three women, all surrounding Virginia Woolf in some way.

One of the women is Virginia Woolf, the other is Julianne Moore, a repressed housewife in the 50s who is secretly a lesbian and reads Mrs. Dalloway to comfort herself as she thinks about killing herself. The third is Meryl Streep, and that’s the story we’re interested in here.

Ed Harris is a poet who has AIDS and is dying. He’s about to get a big reward and Meryl is his best friend throwing a party for him. He’s completely depressed and it’s revealed that he is Julianne Moore’s son, who we saw as a child in her section of the film. He mostly sits around being depressed and then jumps out the window.

Harris is really strong in the role, but we’ve seen him be better. This feels more like a token nomination for the film, owing to the popularity of the film and of Harris. No one actually takes him here. He’s a fourth choice to me, and maybe at best a third choice. There’s really not all that much there to actually vote for, even though Ed Harris is solid as he usually is.

Road to Perdition is a badass gangster picture beautifully rendered by Sam Mendes.

Tom Hanks is a mob hitman and family man. One night, his son sneaks in the car while he’s on the job. He sees a murder be committed, which essentially marks him for death. The mob has the rest of the family killed, but the son survives, as does Hanks. So the two of them go out on the road for revenge, robbing all the mob banks, trying to bring the family’s killer out of hiding. It’s great.

Paul Newman plays the head of the mob. He’s a nice fatherly figure in the early scenes, essentially a surrogate father for Hanks. Which causes tensions when his own son, Daniel Craig, is basically ignored by him because he’s such a fuck up. Craig is the on that kills Hanks’ family. So as much as Newman wants Hanks to be happy and doesn’t want to have to have him killed, he also has to protect his own son, putting him in this knowingly doomed path that will not end well for anybody.

This was Paul Newman’s last movie (after this it was an HBO miniseries and a voice in Cars), and it’s a perfect ending for him. The character is beautiful. Newman plays it perfectly and I don’t think anyone would have been upset had he won this. The way in which the character accepts his fate in the final sequence is perfect.

Now, having to try to be objective and pick a winner, I will have to nitpick the performance in the end. But not this second. So for now we’ll say, clearly top three in the category and clearly worth a vote. And we’ll figure out the rest later.

Chicago is one of the most famous musicals of all time. Roxie Hart kills a guy and becomes the most famous prisoner in the cell block and in town, creating a circus they call a trial. It’s a great film.

John C. Reilly plays Roxie’s husband. He’s completely naive to the fact that his wife was cheating on him and even agrees to take the blame for the murder (until he finds out about the affair, that is). He even wants to stay with her when she makes up a fake pregnancy, even if he doesn’t know if he’s the father. Though eventually he leaves her, because she’s such an awful person.

Reilly is fine in the role, but the real reason he was nominated is because he was in this, The Hours and Gangs of New York this year, and having solid supporting parts on three Best Picture nominees (all of them belonging to Harvey) is going to get you a nomination most of the time. The performance is fifth in the category easily, and this is just a reward for the good work he put in this year. I’m not opposed to it, even if there were better single performances that could have gone here instead, but on its own this is the weakest effort in the category. The irony being that the character, like the performance, is fairly forgettable and is overshone by the rest of the major performances in the film.

Catch Me If You Can is a great film you can put on at any time and just watch. It’s an eminently watchable movie, and those are the best kind.

It’s bout Frank Abignale Jr., one of the biggest conmen in U.S. history, on the run as a teenager, pretending to be an airline pilot and cashing fake checks, and the treasury officer spending years tracking him down.

Christopher Walken plays Abignale’s father. He’s a self-made businessman and slick operator of sorts. We see this when he sweet talks a lady into loaning his son a suit despite them not doing so normally. And we see that it’s all a show, as he’s in trouble with the IRS, can’t get a loan from the bank, has to sell his car, has to sell his house and move his family into an apartment. He’s a guy who can sound like a con man, but ultimately he’s a good man and wouldn’t really go down that path. He believes in working for it (hence the “two mice” speech). And watching his father, this charming man he loves more than anything, fail, is the reason Abignale ends up doing what he does. And the way Walken plays it, you completely understand it.

He basically teaches his son how to be a con man, and then when his son actually becomes one, he loves it. The restaurant scene between the two of them is brilliant, where he starts to feel his failure, and then his son props him up with all the exaggerated stories he used to tell, is wonderful. As is the final scene, where DiCaprio begs him to tell him to stop, to be the voice of reason, and Walken refuses, wanting to live the fantasy his son is living. It’s heartbreaking.

Walken is so, so good here, and him, Newman and Cooper make this one of the most difficult categories to decide, because how the hell do you pick one?

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t know what the hell to do with this one. Harris and Reilly are definite no go, but the other three are all #1s most years.

In 2002, I took Chris Cooper all the way, and that was my choice and fuck everything else. I took him again in 2011 after the Quest because Newman had his Oscar and Walken had his Oscar. This time, I’m much more torn, because I’m unburdened by everything I had those previous two times. Now it’s just about the performance.

Cooper is completely charming and believable, and you can understand why this guy is so magnetic to Orlean. Newman has the weight of age and experience behind him, which adds so much to his role. And Walken — man, does he deliver the goods. This is his best performance in fifteen years. I’m really stuck.

I think… I think Newman ends up as my #3 of the 3. Which is a really hard thing to say, because you put him in other years and he’s the vote hands down. And between Cooper and Walken… I want Cooper to win just because I like that Cooper has an Oscar. But if I’m really choosing between the two performances… it’s Walken. He really blows me away with how three-dimensional he makes this man. And purely on what the best performance is, my vote is Walken. And since that’s the goal for this go-round, he’s my choice. Very happy with the outcome, but I think Walken gives the best performance in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can
  2. Chris Cooper, Adaptation.
  3. Paul Newman, Road to Perdition
  4. Ed Harris, The Hours
  5. John C. Reilly, Chicago

Rankings (films):

  1. Adaptation
  2. Road to Perdition
  3. Catch Me If You Can
  4. Chicago
  5. The Hours

My Vote: Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can

Recommendations:

Adaptation, Road to Perdition, Catch Me If You Can and Chicago are all essential films. Catch Me If You Can is Spielberg. Plus DiCaprio and Hanks. And Amy Adams. And Walken. And — just see it already. Adaptation is Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. No self-respecting film buff would pass that up. Road to Perdition is Sam Mendes, Tom Hanks, Paul Newman’s last movie, and it’s terrific. No one would ever dare skip that if they love movies. Chicago won Best Picture, is a great musical, all-star cast. You pretty much need to see it just to have seen it.

The Hours — the more time passes, the less essential it gets. Five years ago, this was probably full on essential. Now it’s close to essential because of the wins and all that, but it’s probably just a strong recommend. The cast is what’ll get most people to see it, so for now, let’s just say you should see it but you don’t need to see it immediately. That feels right.

The Last Word: I think you can make a case for Cooper, Newman and Walken here and have legitimate cases for all three. Newman and Walken had wins and Cooper winning makes the most sense logistically. All would have held up just fine as choices, based on the performances. So they made the right decision here and they could have made two other good ones too. This was almost impossible to screw up.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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3 responses

  1. If Walken had won Best Supporting Actor for 2002, Steven Spielberg wouldn’t have had to wait another decade to direct his first Oscar-winning performance in Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.

    August 6, 2016 at 1:47 pm

  2. Broadbent was also in Moulin Rouge! and Bridget Jones’ Diary, which were both well liked by the Academy, so he had that going for him as well as the veteran angle.

    August 6, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    • A subtle but strong performance + Veteran + Other solid performances throughout the same year = Oscar victory!

      August 7, 2016 at 3:03 am

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