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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 2005-2006)

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.

2005

George Clooney, Syriana

Matt Dillon, Crash

Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man

Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain

William Hurt, A History of Violence

Analysis:

Fun one. Pretty sure only Hurt was a surprise and the rest were all locked all the way through. But let’s see.

SAG — no Hurt. Other four. They had Don Cheadle for Crash as well.

BAFTA — Gyllenhaal, Clooney, Dillon, and Cheadle for Crash. Clooney twice. Once for Good Night and Good Luck.

BFCA — no Hurt. Other four, plus Kevin Costner for The Upside of Anger (who even remembers that movie?) and Terrence Howard for Crash.

Globes — Clooney, Dillon, Giamatti. No Hurt, no Gyllenhaal (wow). Had Bob Hoskins for Mrs. Henderson Presents (that’s cool) and Will Ferrell for The Producers. (Yup. Can’t explain that one, so we’ll just leave it right there.)

So looking at it — you had to assume all four of the contenders plus Cheadle as fifth. Especially coming off Hotel Rwanda. Hurt came completely out of nowhere. A bunch of critics groups nominated/awarded him, but that’s it. That’s a complete out of left field choice, and I love that they made it instead of another Crash nomination.

Then, when you get to who’s gonna win —

Giamatti win SAG and BFCA, Gyllenhaal won BAFTA, Clooney won the Globe. Was Giamatti really considered a favorite? Because going into Oscar night, I feel like I knew Clooney was winning this. I guess because the consolation prize aspect of it all. The data does not put him as a favorite though. That’s interesting. I always felt like he was the one and Giamatti was just a contender. Hmm.

Syriana is Stephen Gaghan’s first movie. And it’s very very good. And somehow people barely remember it. (Though I guess it’s no Good Shepherd. Because that movie might as well have never been made, the way people have forgotten it.)

It’s a story of many different plotlines all sort of interwoven but not as crazy as Crash or Babel. All revolve around terrorism and oil and the Middle East. We focus on one story in particular.

George Clooney is an aging CIA man who has been in the field his whole life. We first see him making a fake deal with arms dealers and then killing them so they can’t sell the weapons. Though one of the weapons ends up being taken elsewhere. He tries to tell everyone about this, but they sweep his report under the rug and give him a desk job. But of course he’s not political enough to keep that, since he tells it like it is, so very quickly he’s back out in the field and sent to kill an Arab prince. But then on his next job he ends up getting captured and tortured. And after he gets rescued, he finds out the CIA is making him the fall guy for his mission becoming compromised. He then finds out the person who is blackballing him and threatens his family (in the scene that really won him the Oscar), before returning to the Middle East to try to warn the prince of his impending assassination.

Clooney is very good in the role. I don’t think it’s the kind of performance that, on its own, wins this category. But with Clooney writing and directing Good Night and Good Luck this year as well, this was their way of honoring him without giving him any of the major awards. (Which he acknowledged himself when he won. “All right, so I’m not winning Director…”) I’d argue that he more deserved the other ones, but that aside, that’s why he won here. And I don’t disagree. I’d probably have him second in terms of pure performance. Most people would have him top two, I’d figure. He’s a decent winner. The only question is if I take him over a performance I know is gonna be my favorite. We’ll see.

Crash is the greatest movie ever made.

That’s how it’s know, right? We all voted for it to win every category, didn’t we?

Racism is bad, and here are a bunch of characters to show you why it’s bad. And they’re all gonna tie together in some way. That’s the film.

Matt Dillon plays a cop. He’s a racist. He stops a black couple at a traffic stop because he sees the wife blowing the husband in the front seat and for no other reason. He hassles them and then openly gropes the wife, knowing they won’t do anything about it. His father is also dying, and he’s trying to care for him. So, you know, he’s an asshole, but he’s also a good guy. Eventually he ends up saving the life of the woman he molested. Which redeems him or something.

Kinda hard to take a lot of the characters seriously in this movie, but Dillon is fine the part. Mostly he’s here because someone had to be nominated in order for the film to win Best Picture. So he was the lucky one. He had a respectable career and this was their way of acknowledging him. Can’t see him any higher than fifth in the category though, and that’s purely because the subject matter only gives him so much to work with.

Cinderella Man is an uplifting boxing biopic directed by Ron Howard. I remember seeing this back when it came out and saying, “Ehh, it’s okay.” Definitely wasn’t as big as it seemed leading up to its release. And definitely wasn’t as good as the Oscar contender its pedigree suggested.

It’s about James Braddock, a guy who becomes world champion in his 30s, in the 30s, when everyone thought he was washed up. Like the country! Get it?

I started watching it again for these articles and quickly had to turn it off because it was pretty much everything I remembered. I skimmed through just to watch Giamatti’s performance, because I didn’t need a refresher on the film.

Paul Gimatti plays Joe Gould, Braddock’s trainer. I always remembered his character’s name because that’s the same name as the character in Joe Gould’s Secret. Except there, Joe Gould was a homeless man who was allegedly writing the great American novel but was instead just a crazy homeless man. I see a lot of myself in him, actually.

But anyway, Paul Giamatti plays the trainer, and he’s basically your generic boxing trainer/friend character. There’s really not much here for him to work with, but he performs admirably. I remember such a public outcry when he wasn’t nominated for Sideways that all throughout the process it felt like he was a lock to win this. And I think that had a lot to do with why he was nominated. I don’t think this performance rates a win at all. At best a nomination. And even then, I could do without it. To each his own. Either way, at best he’s a fourth for me in this category. It’s an utterly generic character and Giamatti doesn’t do a whole lot to make it better.

Brokeback Mountain is a film everybody knows by now. I don’t even have to discuss plot, it’s that known of a film.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jack Twist, the other cowboy who isn’t Heath Ledger. He’s a lead for much of the first half of the movie, but then the film splits scenes between him and Ledger. They’re both pretty much co-leads, but even if you want to split hairs and put Gyllenhaal here, I wouldn’t argue.

I think the performance is very solid and very good, but I don’t think it’s worthy of a vote. Maybe he is for most people, given the category, but for me, he’s just a very solid entrant. I think this is Gyllenhaal’s first step toward being a great actor. And he’s made great strides since this, in films like Zodiac and Nightcrawler. And I think that he will won day win one of these and wholly deserve it. But I don’t think this performance, on its own, is something I want to vote for. But great job out of him. Really liked the performance a lot.

A History of Violence is a great little crime movie. This was David Cronenberg’s return to the mainstream. People really loved this.

Viggo Mortensen is a small town family man who, one day, saves the people in the diner he works at from some people holding it up. He kills the two men and becomes a national hero. Only thing is, this brings some shady characters into town, who say he’s not who he says he is, and is in fact a criminal from Philadelphia. And he denies this and wants nothing to do with it, until one day he’s forced to confront the men and his past. Which is where our nominee comes in.

William Hurt plays Mortensen’s brother, who is still a criminal back east. Mortensen goes to see him and they have a great five minute scene together before five minutes of — well, you’ll see. Hurt is absolutely perfect in this part. He’s memorable, he creates an entire backstory for these two characters with seemingly no effort whatsoever, and he makes an impression felt long after the film is over. Ed Harris plays the creepy memorable character for much of the middle of the movie, but after Hurt, you completely forget about Harris.

The constant knock against Hurt is that he doesn’t have enough screen time, but he gets a solid ten minute scene at the climax of the picture. His shadow is hanging over the entire last half of the film.

To me, he’s always been the vote, because he was the one whose performance had the most impact on his film and was the one that actively made me go, “Holy shit, this is great.” And even now, I still take him. He might only have ten minutes, but his ten minutes are more jam packed with great performance than anyone else’s.

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The Reconsideration: This is a weirdly contentious and yet not very contentious category. Don’t think anyone actually votes for Matt Dillon. I think everyone loves Paul Giamatti (with good reason), but I don’t think you can actually take this performance in this category. It’s too generic a role in too bland a picture. He doesn’t rise above it enough to be worth a vote.

Jake Gyllenhaal would, I imagine, be the majority choice here. And that’s fine. Just not my preference. Clooney is also the other choice most people would take, and he’d probably be my choice here too. Except… William Hurt is so fucking good in A History of Violence. I know this isn’t the popular choice, but there are a nice amount of people who believe the same way I do that he’s the guy to take here.

That’s what this year is for me, I have my choices and somehow manage to circumvent all the major A vs. B arguments that happen. That’s me in a nutshell.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. William Hurt, A History of Violence
  2. George Clooney, Syriana
  3. Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
  4. Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
  5. Matt Dillon, Crash

Rankings (films):

  1. Syriana
  2. Brokeback Mountain
  3. A History of Violence
  4. Crash
  5. Cinderella Man

My Vote: William Hurt, A History of Violence

Recommendations:

Brokeback Mountain is essential. Nuff said. It just is. The title alone makes it essential for all film fans.

Crash also essential. If you wanna complain that it won, you need to have seen it. That’s how it goes.

Syriana is great and one of the best films of 2005 that people seem to forget about when talking about the best films of 2005. A high recommend. Only essential because Clooney won for it. But the people involved with the film make it essential. Look at that cast. Why wouldn’t you see this?

A History of Violence is a film that most people get to pretty early on. Not 100% essential, but highly recommended and more film buff essential. Know what I mean? The kind of film that pretty much everyone who loves movies has seen, so you shouldn’t be the one lagging behind. Plus it’s awesome.

Cinderella Man is solid, not great. Worth seeing but not essential. Call it a high recommend. Solid boxing picture.

The Last Word: William Hurt is my choice, though he probably wouldn’t have held up over time as a winner. But I still think the best is the best and should be taken regardless. Clooney holds up fine, and Gyllenhaal would have also held up fine. They were the best choices in the category and it would have looked fine either way. And me, being a contrarian, I say Hurt was also a great choice too. 2005 is one of those years where it’s the wild west. The craziest shit you can imagine actually happened, leaving it wide open for reinterpretation. We can all find common ground in what shouldn’t have happened.

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2006

Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children

Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond

Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Mark Walhberg, The Departed

Analysis:

This category felt likely, I remember. The question was whether or not Nicholson would be there instead of Wahlberg or if DiCaprio would be fraudulently put here instead. Though he was gonna go lead, so I doubt that would have happened.

SAG had everyone but Wahlberg, putting DiCaprio on instead (blatant fraud).

BAFTA only nominated Arkin (who won). Nicholson was on their list, as were McAvoy for Last King of Scotland and Michael Sheen for The Queen.

BFCA had Murphy, Arkin and Hounsou. They also had Nicholson. Their other two were Adam Beach for Flags of Our Fathers and Ben Affleck for Hollywoodland.

The Globes had just Wahlberg and Murphy. Nicholson too, as well as Brad Pitt for Babel and Affleck.

Looking at this, you had no reason to suspect Wahlberg would get it instead of Nicholson for that fifth spot. Hounsou also didn’t seem overly likely based on precursors, but looking back, we know how DiCaprio brings actors with him, so that’s not overly surprising. You pretty much had to listen to SAG here and then guess the fifth, which I assume most people would have put Nicholson for fifth.

As for the win, Murphy looked like the odds on favorite all the way through. Won SAG, won the Globe, won BFCA. No reason to think he’d lose. And then he did. Curious to see how the tide turned there.

Little Miss Sunshine is a great comedy. Came out of nowhere and won everyone over by being so goddamn charming it was impossible to hate.

Abigail Breslin is a girl who gets invited to compete in a regional beauty contest. She’s not what you’d expect to see in those child beauty pageants, but she won a local contest and gets a chance to be in the regionals. In order to compete (pageants are her life), the family has to get from Arizona to Los Angeles in two days. So they pile into a broken down old VW bus and set off. And of course funny shit happens and it’s great.

Alan Arkin plays the family’s grandfather, who is brash, says what he wants and also started snorting heroin pretty recently, because he’s 80 and why the hell not. He’s very funny in the part. Doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Mostly he sits there, complains about “the fucking chicken” they eat every night, tells his nephew to “fuck a lot of women,” and says “at my age, you’re crazy not to” snort heroin. He gets funny lines and he gets one funny scene where Breslin asks if she’s pretty and he tells her she’s the most beautiful woman in the entire world. And it’s a sweet moment between grandfather and granddaughter. And then he dies in the following scene and they put his body in the back of the car for the rest of the film.

He’s great, but this performance really isn’t something I’d take unless there was nothing else. It’s more entertaining than good. I do understand the win on the veteran aspect (and, I guess they really didn’t like Eddie Murphy?), but there’s no way people actually thought this was the strongest performance in the category.

Little Children is an interesting film that feels somewhat dated, yet still perfectly in line with this country’s values.

It’s about how a typical neighborhood reacts when a convicted sex offender moves into it. And we watch as they all act horrified and say how it’s degrading to the neighborhood, meanwhile they’re all having affairs and things of that sort and are all hypocrites. It’s a good film. The omniscient literary narrator is distracting, but overall it’s a solid film.

Jackie Earle Haley plays the sex offender. We first see him about 45 minutes into the film, after hanging over it like a pall, as he shows up at the public pool and starts swimming with all the kids. Eventually all the parents freak out and everyone gets out of the pool, and he’s eventually escorted away by cops, shouting, “I was just trying to cool off!” Then we see his home life, living with his mother, who thinks a nice woman would cure him of his attraction to children, and then him going on a date, which seems to go well, until it’s clear that his affliction is not something that can be cured.

This is an effective performance. Haley not having been in movies for over a decade helps. He shows up as basically a fresh face for people and it allows him to fully immerse himself into the role without people having any preconceived notions of him. I think he’s very effective, though I don’t know if he has all that much to do in the role. I think this is more of a “welcome back” nomination, kind of like Thomas Haden Church in Sideways. Most years, he’d be a fourth, possibly a third. Here, he might go as high as second, just because the category is so weak. Don’t think I can take him, but I did like the performance.

Blood Diamond is honestly a movie I haven’t seen in a decade. I really needed to go back and rewatch it for this Quest, because I remember so little of it.

It’s about how the diamond trade is responsible for political unrest and the deaths of countless Africans.

Djimon Hounsou is a fisherman who is sent to work in the diamond mines. One day he finds a giant diamond and hides it. Before the warlords can torture him and find it, troops show up and capture everyone. He meets Leo in prison (as one days), and Leo arranges for his freedom in exchange for information about the diamond. He also says he’ll help Hounsou find his family too. And the rest of the movie is everyone out looking for the diamond, pretty much.

Hounsou is solid here. He does his usual bit. Great, quiet facial acting, and then lots of shouting and yelling. Everyone remembers the, “Where is the diamond?!!!” scene, but that’s actually, for me, one of the weaker parts of the performance. He actually has a lot of moments where he doesn’t speak that are much better.

Overall, it’s a solid performance, but it’s just a good performance in a mainstream movie with political overtones. I get the nomination, but he doesn’t rate any higher than fourth for me. I see this performance (and film, really) and I see all the negative elements, rather than the good ones. Honestly, he’d be the last person I voted for in this category, even though objectively I think he gives more of a performance than Wahlberg does.

Dreamgirls is a movie that I liked just fine when it came out but didn’t love, and I thought the performances were overrated. Mostly because they were the frontrunners for months, and I was still a spiteful viewer at the time who picked favorites. But I’ve come completely around on this movie since then.

It’s about a Supremes-like group, where they become famous and the label pushes one of them (Beyonce, playing essentially Diana Ross) into a big star. And we follow the girls and their issues and storylines as they get big, break up and eventually come back together

Eddie Murphy plays James “Thunder” Early, a famous singer the band becomes backup singers for in their early days. He’s difficult and refuses to be turned into a pop star and alienates the people around him. Eventually the girls become the stars and he descends into obscurity and drug abuse. Eventually he has a major breakdown on stage and eventually dies of an overdose.

Murphy is legitimately great here. He does all his own singing which has to be taken into account as well. Some of it can feel like… there’s a lot of Eddie Murphy in there, and it can be hard to separate. I don’t see him fully disappearing into the role, but he is very, very good in it. I think he is top two for certain in this category and may even be the vote. We’ll see. This is a much better performance than I used to give it credit for.

The Departed is the fucking Departed. This is level one entry film buff stuff. Everyone sees this movie by their junior year of high school. How the hell do you not?

Mark Wahlberg plays Sgt. Dignam. And he’s pretty much the weird comic relief of the film. He shows up, says some vulgar shit and is hilarious. Mostly he just curses all the time. I love the part. I think he’s great. I think him, Nicholson, Baldwin — all totally memorable and worthy of nominations. Love it. Loved that he got here.

Now, the performance — no. Fifth in the category and no chance he gets my vote. But I love him being here and I’m totally fine with the nomination, even over Nicholson, who is going so far overboard that it would have been an excessive nomination to put him here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I really don’t like this category, and I’m actually surprised Eddie Murphy didn’t win it. Makes me wonder what he did to the Academy to make them hate him so much.

Wahlberg had no shot here, and honestly was a surprise nominee over Nicholson, who had dominated all the precursors. I liked his performance better (as Nicholson was way too over the top), but this feels like a token nomination for the film more than anything (especially since DiCaprio refused to campaign against his co-stars and they wouldn’t put him lead because of Blood Diamond). Hounsou I liked, but I’d take Wahlberg over him, which basically cancels both out.

Arkin is hilarious, but it’s not a performance I’d vote for unless I had to. He’s actually a second choice here, and I get how he won.

Haley is solid, but he’d be my third choice for a vote, even though I’d have him second on performance (since Arkin… not really a lot to do there, acting-wise).

Murphy takes this every which way from Sunday, and I really don’t see how he didn’t win this.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  2. Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  3. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  4. Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  5. Mark Walhberg, The Departed

Rankings (films):

  1. The Departed
  2. Little Miss Sunshine
  3. Little Children
  4. Dreamgirls
  5. Blood Diamond

My Vote: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Recommendations:

The Departed — what person hasn’t already seen this movie?

Little Miss Sunshine is an essential movie. Not all-time, just — because it’s great. Everyone loves this movie. And it’s just culturally essential because I know if you see it, you’ll love it. So just see it.

Dreamgirls is not essential, and not even all that great. Just solid with good performances and high entertainment value. Essential because of the Oscar win, but otherwise just a decent recommend. You’ll probably come across this at some point. I wouldn’t avoid it unless you really hate musicals. But even then, it’s worth seeing just to have it under your belt.

Little Children is a very solid film but hasn’t really held up all that well. Meaning everyone thought it was very good at the time but no one really talks about it anymore. It’s worth a watch, but definitely isn’t essential.

Blood Diamond is solid and crosslists well, but isn’t essential. Just a solid movie most people will see because of DiCaprio and because of Ed Zwick. Worth a watch, and probably something you should see because some people will think it’s weird if you haven’t.

The Last Word: This holds up okay, since the category is so weak, and Arkin is hilarious, and a great actor who was never really given his due, but Eddie Murphy is far and away the best performance in the category, and the fact that he didn’t win makes this seem like a poor choice. Superficially, this seems like an okay decision, and objectively isn’t the worst, but the fact that Eddie Murphy didn’t win this is a travesty. I’d love for this to one day be explained to me, because I sure as hell can’t figure it out past “veteran vote” and “Eddie Murphy pissed everyone off on the campaign tour.” Those are the only two things that make sense to me.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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