Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Oscars Hindsight Project: 1995

Previously: 1990

This post is a continuation of a post Roommate Mark started over at The Critical Condition. If you haven't already been there, click on over to read about the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. I'll continue with the supporting categories below...

1. Kevin Spacey -- The Usual Suspects (WON OSCAR)
2. James Cromwell -- Babe
3. Tim Roth -- Rob Roy
4. Brad Pitt -- 12 Monkeys
5. Ed Harris-- Apollo 13

Mark: You know who was awesome in 1995 and is still awesome now? Verbal Kint. That's the role that broke Spacey into the big leagues, and since it also was the linchpin in the biggest cinematic twist ending since The Crying Game, the nomination still feels like a nod to the zeitgeist of its time. Looking back, it can still be fondly recalled as one of those moments when Kevin Spacey seemed awesome and not like the kind of actor whose self-regard would need its own dressing room.

And you know what? I realize that putting Cromwell second might be a controversial choice, but dammit, the man deserved to be honored for underplaying, for gently playing the lead role in a film about a talking pig. Imagine how someone like Will or Colin Fa(e)rrell would've handled Farmer Hoggett, refusing to let animals shine and turning everything into a muggy-muggerson shitshow. Cromwell has the chops and the confidence to be quiet, which makes him a powerful force in the film. And really, the Academy could've ignored that -- Babe, like Braveheart, could've been a nominee with no acting nods -- but it didn't. In retrospect, too, the performance is more impressive, because Cromwell is so typically good at playing crazy assholes. He deserves even more acclaim for going outside his comfort zone.

Roth deserves the same type of credit, though honestly, his poncey rapist is in the middle because I don't have strong feelings about the performance either way. I do have strong feelings about Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, however. That's a good (possibly great?) movie, but Pitt's performance is all tics and whistles, and the nomination smacks of the Academy awarding a superstar for giving it the old college try. Plus, you could argue this role made his work in Fight Club possible, and I hate that movie so much that it can reach back and make me hate this performance even more.

But Pitt's not in last place because Harris' nomination is the kind that has always puzzled me. I look at Apollo 13 and see him doing serviceable work in a nothing role... looking intense and/or sad as he calls out commands from his NASA control panel. What's so vital about a performance like that? How does it really impact the film? (I've got the same questions about Catherine Keener in Capote.) And as I cast my mind across the years, I think of Harris in movies like The Truman Show, Pollock, and A Beautiful Mind. If he hadn't gotten nominated for Apollo 13, I'd have to struggle to remember he was in it at all. (See: Bill Paxton.) Overall Grade in Retrospect: C-

Joe's Rebuttal: Well, I'm going to take issue with your placement of Brad Pitt, because 12 Monkeys DID make his performance in Fight Club possible, and that movie is EXCELLENT, so there. More seriously, though, coming on the heels of Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall, it felt like Pitt would forever be in the swooning-romantic box. That Pitt got Oscar-nominated for a 12 Monkeys and not a Legends of the Fall helped build that kind of weirdo streak into his celebrity persona. It's a spiritual ancestor to his performances in, yes, Fight Club but also Snatch, and Inglorious Basterds. That's the Brad I like.

1 - Kate Winslet -- Sense and Sensibility
2 - Mare Winningham -- Georgia
3 - Joan Allen -- Nixon
4 - Mira Sorvino -- Mighty Aphrodite (WON OSCAR)
5 - Kathleen Quinlan -- Apollo 13

Joe: This one's a really easy call for #1, as it was Kate Winslet's first Oscar nomination, and for anyone who hadn't seen Heavenly Creatures the previous year (hey, I was 14, I didn't know better!), it was her introduction to the American moviegoing public. ...The ones who enjoyed Jane Austen, Ang Lee, or the Oscars, at least. It's kind of fascinating to wonder what might've turned out different if she'd won the Oscar on her first try, since her narrative eventually got so bogged down with "OMG 4/5/6 nominations and she's never won!"

But sometimes winning is more curse than blessing, case in point Mira Sorvino. Doesn't that seem like the strangest Oscar win, in retrospect? Mighty Aphrodite wasn't even that well-reviewed; and while sure, there was the Woody Allen factor, this was post-Soon Yi, when Woody was far from everyone's favorite guy. And then of course there was the whole issue with her dad -- but again, what was all the fuss about being Paul Sorvino's daughter? If George Dzundza's daughter goes out and plays a hooker with a heart of gold in 2011, I highly doubt there will be much of a push to honor the Dzundza family dynasty, you know? Nothing against Mira, per se. You know I love a girl who would soon bring Romy and Michelle to Post-It-inventing life. But this very well could be the least memorable winning performance of my Oscar-watching lifetime. (You're off the hook, James Coburn in Affliction!) The only reason Sorvino doesn't rank dead last here is that Kathleen Quinlan's nomination was forgettable even back in 1995. In Oscar's long history of tossing stray nominations to The Wife in whatever movie they liked at the time, Quinlan's nod was the most blatant.

As for Winningham and Allen, I admit that I flip-flopped on their ranking spots more than a few times. I'm tempted to rank Allen higher because she's had the better career (though she's getting seriously overdue for another great role -- get on that, somebody!), this was her first nomination, and Nixon is a MUCH better movie than most people give it credit for. But as much as it seems like a one-off, Mare Winningham is at least a memorable one-off. And memorable for more than just yet another instance of the Academy honoring safe performances over their riskier co-stars (I don't care how fierce the Best Actress competition was, Jennifer Jason Leigh deserved to get in for Georgia). It's a quiet performance but also a skillful and resonant one. And who'd have figured that Mare would be the St. Elmo's Fire cast member to score an Oscar nomination? Sorry, Demi. Overall Oscar Grade in Retrospect: B-minus

Mark's Rebuttal: We're on roughly the same page here, though I might put Sorvino above Allen for the very reasons you cite. Because the win is so random and so arguably underserved, I'd say it sticks out more than, say, Jim Broadbent's, which people were forgetting the second after it happened. Sorvino at least retains traction by being so egregious.

Next week: The great and terrible gladiatorial-inclined year of 2000.


InfoMofo said...

Awwww, I liked Mighty Aphrodite. As random supporting actress awards go, how would you say Sorvino's win compared to Marisa Tomei's win in '93?

(No fair counting what they did afterwards).

Joe Reid said...

In terms of performance, I'm a MUCH bigger fan of Tomei's. I will quote some Mona Lisa Vito in my daily life. If she'd never won, we'd all talk about how great comedic performances never get Oscars.

InfoMofo said...

Oh I definitely serve Tomei's "bi-ya-la-gical clock is ticking" complete with feet and hand gestures at least once a week.

But to award it over Redgrave in Howard's End? I don't know if my surprise at that was purely due to the drama/comedy divide.

Joe Reid said...

Well on the off chance Mark and I revive this series during the off-season (what? did I say that?), 1992 could be a choice destination.

jessica said...

I always go with "Imagine you're a deer" over the biological clock line, but the one-off lines ("Oh, yeah, you blend." and "What are you, a fuckin' world traveler?") are the most serviceable for everyday conversation.

Joslynm said...

I agree that Sorvino's performance, while funny, was a really surprising and probably undeserved win. But I have been known to quote, "You didn't want a blow job, so I got you a tie" in her insane accent.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Count me as shocked about the Harris/Quinlan dismissals, the only performances I can recall from that dust-dull film. Harris's especially, since his next nomination was for The Truman Show: he wore a headset and never left the control room. Then he was nominated for frustrated artists. What will his next two nominations be for?

High five on the Cromwell ranking, though. Love it. My friends and I constantly express approval through his, "That'll do, pig." And I've been known to do his dance every once in a while.

Ed said...

The great comedic performance of '92 was Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives.

Back to '95 - Sorvino's win immediately followed Dianne Wiest's in the same category; my theory is that Wiest's performance was so great she gave Sorvino momentum a full twelve months later