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oscar rehash: best supporting actress 2002

Kathy Bates as Roberta Hertzel in About Schmidt
Bates plays the zany mother of Jack Nicholson‘s future son-in-law who infamously makes a pass at Nicholson’s Warren Schmidt in a saucy hot tub scene in About Schmidt. But my dilemma with the movie lies in the troublesome truth that though I love both Bates and Nicholson as actors, the movie was sort of an ode to self-loathing and having a sucky life. And I seem to find those movies a little hard to jump on board with. Particularly when they seem to wander with limited plot. So though I know the film received accolades, it has to be one of my least favorite Nicholson movies. That being said, Bates was easily the best thing about it. Grade: B

Queen Latifah as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago
Latifah had the market cornered on the big-voiced musical diva (pre-Jennifer Hudson, of course) as the cell block warden in Chicago. Her being one of the most likable stars on the screen definitely doesn’t hurt her awardworthiness, to be sure. And from Latifah’s rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama,” a spicy, jazzy gem, to her meandering flirtations with her female inmates, Morton is the type of movie musical character that tends to steal scenes with great ease. But Latifah’s performance transcends the words and pitches that she’s given — she embodies the character to a tee, something that she hadn’t truly proven she was capable of until 2002. Grade: B+

Julianne Moore as Laura Brown in The Hours
Moore is typically flawed and troubled as Laura, the sexually confused housewife whose life is upturned when reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in The Hours. What truly works about this eerie portrayal is Moore’s ability to fuel her unevenness that pops up frequently in her film roles into the uneven nature of the character. Laura yearns for all the things she doesn’t have and shouldn’t want, and though Nicole Kidman snuck away with most of the critical lauding, I hesitate to say that Moore was the standout in the film. From her awkward encounter with her female neighbor (played by Toni Collette) to her painful interactions with her young son, Moore is a risk-taking whiz kid. Grade: A

Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean in Adaptation
I know, I know. Give it a rest with putting Streep in virtually every post on this blog. But, I just can’t help but a) love her and b) concede that she just happens to be a part of many great movies. So sue me. And as I’ve said before, her performance in the twisty-turny wonder that is Adaptation is nothing short of fantastic. Streep plays the author trapped in normalcy (who secretly yearns for the excitement of orchid-hunting) with perfect nuance. So I could sing her praises for eons (and I probably will), but seeing her work is too hard to ignore. Grade: A

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in Chicago
Zeta-Jones has never been better than as the villainous, bob-donning, mega-voiced vixen Velma in Chicago. She’s easily the stand-out in the film, and her musical scenes (both vocally and choreographically) are electric. From “All that Jazz” to “I Can’t Do It Alone,” Zeta-Jones deliver one Oscar-worthy note after another throughout the movie. And it also helps that her speaking parts are just as full of the right amounts of sass and character. It’s one of the best musical performances of all time, hands down. Grade: A

The Verdict: Alas, I am finally faced with a rather tough decision on an Oscar Rehash. Having given the ‘A’ recommend to three of the five nominees (way to go Academy!), it’s a clincher among Moore, Streep, and Zeta-Jones. Forced to decide, I’d have to opt for Streep’s Orlean, with Zeta-Jones’ Velma close on her tail.

oscar rehash: best actress 2005

Judi Dench as Mrs. Laura Henderson in Mrs. Henderson Presents
Dench plays a recent widow who’s looking for a steady paycheck and finds it in the form of a nude burlesque house in Mrs. Henderson Presents. Sort of unconventional as Dench roles go, but the film is at the very least relatively humorous and entertaining. The star has great chemistry with Bob Hoskins, who plays her business partner and the manager of the house. Quite frankly, this is no Shakespeare in Love. It’s no Chocolat either. In fact, it’s probably not even on par with her performances as M in the Bond movies. But it’s endearing enough, if probably not deserving of making the top 5 of the year. Dench has seen better roles, and this one is merely an amusing garnish. Grade: B-

Felicity Huffman as Bree in Transamerica
Now this one came with a LOT of buzz by the time I got to it, but it turns out that Huffman‘s performance in Transamerica is mostly for shock value. She plays a pre-op transsexual who goes on a little road trip with her newly discovered estranged son (Kevin Zegers of Air Bud fame) who happens to be a street hustler. Huffman is wooden and awkward, which sort of fits her character. The problem lies in the strange screenplay that plays as a sort of comedy with weirdly dark subtexts. Huffman is a talented actress (see her work in the first season of Desperate Housewives or Sports Night for proof), but this is hardly the tour-de-force role to remember her by. Grade: C-

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
Knightley had an awful lot to live up to in this one; in fact, she had dozens of adaptations of this literary character from Pride and Prejudice to be compared to (namely Jennifer Ehle’s in 1996 and Greer Garson’s in 1940). And though she doesn’t quite live up to the ultimate adaptation (Ehle, in my opinion), she’s able to take what could be a five-hour miniseries role and make it her own in an under-two-hour film version. Though Knightley has had some growth to do as an actress, this is easily her first well-crafted role. Her waifish, dowdy air could’ve easily served her poorly in this period piece, but she shines as the headstrong heroine of Jane Austen’s classic story. Grade: B+

Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes in North Country
I’m not yet convinced of the fortitude of Ms. Theron and her work. So confession – I haven’t seen Monster, but what I’ve seen of Charlize in her lighter work and in North Country, there’s hardly anything too astounding and revolutionary to be found. She plays a sexually harassed factory worker who files a landmark class action suit against her company. But unlike Sally Field in Norma Rae and Meryl Streep in Silkwood, Theron doesn’t bring anything exciting and new to the table. She’s simply a typical “rah-rah” hero of which we’re meant to get swept up in the drama. This just seemed all too much like a hasty second nomination to prove that giving her the Oscar in 2003 was no fluke. Grade: C-

Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line
Witherspoon, the eventual winner, brought a little extra to the often dull affair of biopics. Though movies about real-life singers have become tiresome of late, in Walk the Line she took the not-so-familiar story of Carter and molded her into a multi-dimensional character (and it didn’t hurt that she has a nice set of pipes on her). I would definitely say she’d proven herself a talent moreso in earlier work (see Election, Pleasantville) this was nonetheless a fine performance that begs for a follow-up fine performance that, sadly enough, has not yet come (chalk it up Catherine Zeta-Jones syndrome). Grade: B+

The Verdict: I, boringly enough, would probably still opt for Witherspoon on this one (she was also my own personal choice for winner that year), but I’d’ve liked to see she and Knightley joined by the likes of Naomi Watts in King Kong, Radha Mitchell in Melinda and Melinda, and Lisa Kudrow in Happy Endings.

oscar rehash: best supporting actor 1994

In the name of double-checking the academy’s work on a few past winners, the following is a brief analysis of what woulda and shoulda been based on the Oscars’ choices in nominees:

Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction
Well, if it were an award for best line reading from a book of the bible, Mr. Jackson would most likely take the cake. And though his performance in Pulp Fiction is very likely his career best, we’ve realized through his later work that Jules is one character that frequently pops up in Jackson’s movies. So, the fearless badass may be Jackson’s go-to sure thing, but it must be said that it’s been perfected in this performance. I mean, who could possibly retain their badass cred after sporting those little shorts and t-shirt? Grade: B+

Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood
The eventual winner (presumably serving as a lifetime achievement award), Martin Landau is surprisingly hysterical as the bizarre 1930s film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton‘s quirky Ed Wood. A far cry from his work on Mission: Impossible, the performance is both slapstick gold and uneasy in its insightfulness into the actor’s later years. Landau is buoyed by his co-stars (Johnny Depp is particularly notable as the zany title character), but he claims the position of true star of the show. Grade: A-

Chazz Palminteri as Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway
Typically Woody Allen‘s work is something I can truly appreciate. Bullets Over Broadway is no exception. The problem with Chazz Palminteri‘s performance in the film, though, lies in its apparent mediocrity and, even more so, in his fading into the background. Unfortunately for Palminteri, the cast is rounded out by the gargantuan talent of Dianne Wiest (the year’s winner in the Supporting Actress category). And to top things off, Palminteri doesn’t often stray from his hardened mobster character, so this performance is hardly unique or impressive. Grade: C

Paul Scofield as Mark van Doren in Quiz Show
Though his performance is somewhat minimal, the stage experience of veteran actor Paul Scofield is very apparent in Robert Redford‘s television politics piece, Quiz Show. Scofield, playing the formidable yet supportive poet father to Ralph Fiennes‘ Charles van Doren, plays his unfortunate overshadowing by his own son with the ease made evident by his past performances as Thomas More and in various Shakespeare productions. Joined in the category by fellow senior Landau, Scofield held his own on the less-hammy front of 1994 performances. Grade: B+

Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump
Sure, Forrest Gump may’ve been slightly over-praised back in 1994, but the supporting performance from Gary Sinise is still a relatively respectable one. Lt. Dan is a hard-boiled piece of work, and he plays well against Tom Hanks‘ dopey but lovable Forrest. His comic performance is probably his best work, and it’s clear he’s being wasted on CSI: NY. The bottom line, however, is that Sinise, much like his fellow nominees (and much of the larger group of Supporting Actor nominees throughout the years, it turns out) suffers from often one-note performances. Grade: B-

The Verdict: I guess the Academy had this one right. Landau is the clear winner here (with a second-place finish going to Jackson), offering a rare victory to an out-right comedic performance.