Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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Oscar '85: Don Ameche and Best Supporting Actor

It's a lineup of one-and-done, where absolutely no one was nominated before, nor would they ever be nominated again. Not long ago, someone on Twitter called this the worst Supporting Actor lineup in history. I can understand that feeling, honestly, as many of the performances seem "lightweight," or at least less memorable compared to some of the year's other choices (John Lone in Year of the Dragon, Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, Danny Glover in The Color Purple...though I suspect he had a Best Actor push). On the other hand, I think a lot of the disappointment comes from the bastardization of what this category has become. These are all clearly character actors in supporting roles, even Roberts', none of them with towering subplots, no one a mega-star "slumming" it for an easy get. The closest you get to that is Don Ameche, a star in the 30s and 40s who'd aged into supporting roles. That veteran status is probably what catapulted him to the win - peep that standing ovation:

The film for which he won isn't the usual usual, either. Cocoon is a sci-fi-fantasy dramedy about a clique of senior citizens who frequent a neighboring pool during the off-season, when its renters aren't home. This year, unbeknownst to them, the home is occupied by aliens using the pool to rejuvenate cocoons of their left-behind brethren; suddenly, it becomes the Fountain of Youth, and our old-timers enjoy a renewed vitality. A surprisingly moving treatment of mortality and loss, with a great ensemble and beautiful score from James Horner. Other films nominated here: Best Picture nominees Out of Africa and Prizzi's Honor; Jagged Edge, a wonderful pulpy legal thriller in which a defense attorney falls in lust with her client, accused of raping, then murdering, his wife; and Runaway Train, an uninvolving thriller about two escaped prisoners on a speeding train with no crew, and no signs of stopping. And the performances nominated? They are:

Don Ameche as Arthur Selwyn
first and only nomination

Arthur is one-third of the group of friends who finds the "fountain of youth," who uses his new energy to romance Gwen Verdon's Bess and go out dancing. He also gets the immortal line, "You got a boner, too?" A surprising nomination, to say nothing of the win, considering it's the one male role without a juicy arc, though he does get to show off his dance moves at a club. Charm, a lot of charm.

Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke
Out of Africa
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actor of 1985, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Supporting Actor; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor

Bror is the husband of Karen Blixen: it is he who proposes they marry out of convenience and friendship, who brings her out to Africa, and whose frequent absences leave the door open to Denys Finch Hatton. Brandauer's performance may not be flashy, but it is terrific. Bror is a friend more than a husband, but his first priority is mainly himself. Everything he does, even the initial proposal, is with his bride as an afterthought. To Brandauer's credit, this selfishness is passed off charmingly, with an arsitocratic "you knew what I was" shrug. He means no harm, he doesn't do things out of spite, he's just Bror, a fun guy, not unreliable, just someone whose wealth and privilege means he doesn't have to care if he doesn't want to.

William Hickey as Don Corrado Prizzi
Prizzi's Honor
first and only nomination; LAFCA Awards runner-up for Best Supporting Actor

Prizzi is an aging crime boss - impossibly so, as a matter of fact, a shrunken raisin of a man. His crackling voice, thin and deep, makes every sentence sound like a final death rattle. Arrests your attention just by being such a curious creation, and it's of a piece with this bizarre little film, but is it good? Well, it's certainly memorable!

Robert Loggia as Sam Ransom
Jagged Edge
first and only nomination

Sam is a private detective working for defense attorney Teddy Barnes. He's a straight shooter, his profanity charming and his loyalty unquestionable. Loggia does evoke a rough-hewn tenderness and is very good in the role, but I think this is a nomination that speaks more to campaigning than impact. It's fine, it's even the kind of thing that would normally populate this category in the 40s and 50s, but for me personally, it didn't shine as much as other turns this year.

Eric Roberts as Buck
Runaway Train
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor

Almost a co-lead, Buck is an inmate who breaks out alongside Jon Voight's Manny; together, they must face the trip to doom that is this runaway train. Buck is obnoxious, so Roberts plays it up, leaning into this guy's incessant shouting, whining, talking always talking, the talking-est man you ever knew, to quote "Skeleton Key." A good choice to commit to for this character, an awful thing to sit through.


Just going by critics' awards and other groups, one would think Brandauer the expected winner. And that's my vote:


Next, the nominees for Supporting Actress: Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor, Amy Madigan in Twice in a Lifetime, and Meg Tilly in Agnes of God.

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