Best Supporting Actress: A Look Back

Today begins a new blog series where I’m looking back at five of the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present: the four acting races and Best Picture. This is essentially the time period where I’ve closely watched and analyzed. My charge? Picking the three largest upsets in each said category and the three least surprising winners… a film or performer where it truly would have been a shock if they didn’t emerge victorious.

We begin with Best Supporting Actress and this is one in which there have been some genuine upsets over the past quarter century plus. Unlike some other races we’ll get to later, it was not a challenge to pick three unexpected winners.

The other agenda item here is I’m picking my personal selections for strongest and weakest overall field among the five nominees in the acting derby’s and five-ten for Best Picture.

For starters, here’s the list of women that won gold statues in the supporting race from 1990 to now:

1990 – Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost

1991 – Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King

1992 – Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

1993 – Anna Paquin, The Piano

1994 – Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

1995 – Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

1996 – Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

1997 – Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential

1998 – Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

2000 – Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

2001 – Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

2003 – Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

2004 – Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

2005 – Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner

2006 – Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

2007 – Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

2008 – Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

2009 – Mo’Nique, Precious

2010 – Melissa Leo, The Fighter

2011 – Octavia Spencer, The Help

2012 – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

2013 – Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2015 – Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

2016 – Viola Davis, Fences

2017 – Allison Janney, I, Tonya

I’ll begin with the least surprising winners. Truthfully, there are plenty of selections (and will be in each race) to pick from here. It’s normal procedure for the front runner to actually win. Here’s three that did just that:

3. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

Of the 28 recipients to choose from, note that 3 of them were under the direction of Woody Allen. None were surprise winners. That’s most evident with Wiest’s showcase work as an aging diva here. Her win here came just eight years following her Oscar winning role in another Allen pic, Hannah and Her Sisters.

2. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Fans of the Broadway play this is based upon knew Ms. Hudson could have a legitimate breakthrough part here. She nailed it and her win was never in much doubt.

1. Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Similar to Hudson’s victory, Hathaway’s casting as Fantine and her “I Dreamed a Dream” dramatic solo made her the odds-on favorite from the moment the project was announced. That never changed.

Now we get to the upsets and there were four to choose from. I could easily include Anna Paquin in The Piano, who became the second youngest winner when she beat out favorite Winona Ryder for The Age of Innocence. Here’s 3 I rank as even more surprising:

3. Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Harden had won no significant precursors and Kate Hudson was expected to have her name called for Almost Famous. She wasn’t even nominated for a Golden Globe or SAG.

2. Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

While the film itself was the anticipated winner for Picture (which it did), the Oscars were expected to select the legendary Lauren Bacall for her work in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces. Yet it was Binoche’s performance that was unexpectedly honored.

1. Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

For starters, comedic roles are rarely nominated and wins are even more unheard of. Tomei was a newcomer in a picture that wasn’t a factor in any other category. Her competition was a list of venerable actresses: Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End), and Miranda Richardson (Damages). The victory here was so shocking that conspiracy theories emerged that presenter Jack Palance had accidentally read the wrong name. That’s been debunked, but Tomei’s trip to the stage remains one of Oscar’s largest jaw droppers.

As for the fields, I’m going with 1991 for the weakest link in the chain. I probably would have given the award to Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear. However, the group was not particularly strong:

Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King (Winner)

Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose

Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear

Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides

Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes

For the strongest field overall, I went with 2004 when Cate Blanchett won for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. The other nominees:

Laura Linney, Kinsey

Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda

Natalie Portman, Closer

And there you have it! I’ll have Supporting Actor up soon…

Foxcatcher Movie Review

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is certainly an example of truth being stranger than fiction and we see it play in bizarre, unsettling, tragic, and fascinating ways in the director’s third feature. His previous two efforts, 2005’s Capote and 2011’s Moneyball, dealt with the issue of competitive nature within us and Foxcatcher does as well. This time around, it’s in a much darker fashion.

The film tells the fact based story of two Olympic gold medalists, Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schulz (Mark Ruffalo) and their relationship with John du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to his family’s chemical mega fortune. Foxcatcher begins in 1987 when the brothers are training for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. The early proceedings show that Mark is a bit in his brother’s shadow. He has to remind others that he won the gold. Dave doesn’t seem to have that issue.

Mark’s preparation for Seoul takes a turn when he is contacted by people affiliated with Mr. du Pont, who resides on a sprawling family compound/horse ranch in Pennsylvania. He is summoned to the estate where du Pont expresses his desire to help Mark realize his goals. In the meantime, he will provide a state of the art practice facility. Dave is extended the same offer, but declines. Mark is impressionable and it doesn’t take long for du Pont to establish a strange and often creepy bond with him. Dave watches from afar with growing concern, at least initially.

du Pont’s behavior includes an affinity for guns and a highly inflated opinion of his actual ability to train young men to wrestle. Most write this off as him being an eccentric millionaire. He monograms his clothing with Team Foxcatcher, his hand picked name for his squad of brawlers. He produces documentaries about himself which extol his questionable virtues. John also has serious Mommy issues with the matriarch of the dynasty (Vanessa Redgrave).

Family issues are central to Foxcatcher and it extends to the brothers. Mark and Dave grew up poor and moved around a lot. The concept of home is foreign to them. du Pont is available to provide one for Mark and eventually Dave. The financial stability involved keep them there for longer than it should. We witness Mark go from adoration of his sibling to contempt and du Pont plays a role. We witness Dave go against his better instincts with du Pont and allow the promise of a place to settle override his genuine concerns.

Along the way, we are privy to three powerhouse performances from the leads. Carell has received the lion’s share of publicity and it’s easy to see why. The actor known mostly for his comedic talents is unrecognizable with his heavy makeup job. He oozes awkwardness and insecurity and supreme creepiness. The film is not overly concerned with delving into how du Pont became so unhinged, but we see glimpses and some suggestions as to why. And that’s mostly enough.

Tatum’s work is impressive in its own right and his performance is an accomplishment of body language, from his slightly dumb jock lumbering to a scene where his movements best represent a wounded dog who’s upset his owner. Ruffalo is the heart of the movie and yet even his heart isn’t always in the best place, when he places the aforementioned promise of a comfortable life higher than du Pont’s increasingly scary actions.

Foxcatcher is an absorbing character study of these three individuals just as Miller has done before with Truman Capote and Billy Beane. This is no doubt the bleakest of the lot, but once again the director has picked a fascinating true story and the right actors to realize his telling of it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Todd’s Early Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

As the fall movie season officially gets underway, that means a host of Oscar contenders will be opening between September and December, with many of them screening at upcoming film festivals – including Toronto, Telluride, New York, and Venice. What does that mean? My first round of Oscar predictions has arrived at the blog!

You may say it seems too early to start predicting Oscar nominees? This is true… to a point. At this same time last year, I did my first early predictions. In today’s first category – Supporting Actress – those predictions yielded three out of the five nominees, including Lupita Nyong’o from Twelve Years a Slave, the eventual winner. For followers of my blog, you’ll know that I’ll be consistently refining and updating my predictions until nominations are announced in early 2015.

Today – we begin with Supporting Actress. Tomorrow: Supporting Actor. Sunday: Actress. Monday: Actor. Tuesday: Director. Wednesday: Picture.

We’ll keep it simple for the early predictions. I will just list my round of five that I’m currently predicting along with a subsection of other possible nominees. Enjoy!

Todd’s Early Best Supporting Actress Predictions

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Emily Blunt, Into the Woods

Laura Dern, Wild

Carmen Ejogo, Selma

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything


Other Possible Nominees:

Jessica Chastain, Interstellar

Jennifer Garner, Men, Women, and Children

Anne Hathaway, Interstellar

Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Vanessa Redgrave, Foxcatcher

Maya Rudolph, Inherent Vince

Emma Stone, Birdman

Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice

Emily Watson, The Theory of Everything

Naomi Watts, St. Vincent

Oprah Winfrey, Selma

That’s all for now, folks! I’ll be back with my early guesstimates for Supporting Actor tomorrow…