Having discussed many of the yeat's releases, we finally get down to the 71st Academy Awards, starting with the first award of the night: Best Supporting Actor. Everyone here won something: Duvall got the Screen Actors Guild honor, Thorton won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award, Rush would win the British Academy Award a month later, Harris won both the Golden Globe and the National Board of Review, and Coburn, the man who'd spent 45 years in the business, won the Oscar. A surprise to him, clearly:
A deeper look at the nominees:
James Coburn as Glen Whitehouse
first and only nomination; SAG Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor
He plays Nick Nolte's dad in both present-day and flashbacks: in each timeline, he is absolutely abhorrent. Hits his kids, berates his wife, even widowerhood doesn't sand his edges. You can hear in his vowels how much he's had to imbibe at every hour, hear the moistness of his lips even if you don't see the glass in his hand. A veteran's confident portrayal.
Robert Duvall as Jerry Facher
A Civil Action
past winner, sixth of seven nominations; SAG Award winner for Best Supporting Actor; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor
When John Travolta's ambulance chaser takes on Beatrice Foods over environmental pollution, the corporate baddies hire law professor, baseball fan, and bulldog Jerry Facher. Duvall plays Facher with an effortless charm but also a quiet ruthlessness - a man who can command a room just by asking about a pen. He relishes the wins, he loves the game of it, he does not ask whether he is in the moral right, he just knows the law and how he can use it to beat the competition. The closest the movie has to an antagonist, you can't help but thrill every time he's on screen.
Ed Harris as Christof
The Truman Show
second of four nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actor of 1998, BAFTA Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor
Christoph is the director of The Truman Show (the television program at the center of The Truman Show), and, as the man essentially running every aspect of Truman Burbank's life for thirty years...he is basically God. That's how Ed Harris plays him, with an unnerving calm, a misplaced sense of benevolence - oh, he is proud of his "creation," and he is so sure of the perfection of it, his appeal at the end is delivered confidently and at low volume, an admonishing parent. A zen lack of humanity.
Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe
Shakespeare in Love
past winner, second of four nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Supporting Actor; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor, SAG Awards nominee for Best Supporting Actor
As the constantly-in-debt owner of the Rose Theatre, Rush's Henslowe sets the narrative in motion, demanding new work from William Shakespeare so that it can be staged, tickets sold, and Henslowe's creditors appeased. As written, the role is a parody of Hollywood execs: doesn't get the plot, demands proven crowd-pleasing elements be shoehorned in, keeps the artists and creators out of the moneymaking. Rush plays it to the hilt, embracing every unpleasant aspect of this constantly sweaty, slackjawed buffoon. Not the deepest performance here, but it works, that's the main thing. "It's a mystery."
Billy Bob Thornton as Jacob Mitchell
A Simple Plan
second of two acting nominations; LAFCA Award winner for Best Supporting Actor; SAG Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor
The most tragic character in the film, Thorton approaches Jacob earnestly, not making him out to be dumb, just, you know, simple. You see the gears at work, they're not turning all the way, but he is not a fool. There is a frustrated acceptance of how people think of him, and Thornton demonstrates how Jacob plays it up to keep everyone happy, breaking his own heart every time. The way he looks at Bill Paxton's Hank as the story progresses, you see a protective older brother who knows things about the world Hank can't even start to understand.
I give the win to:
BILLY BOB THORNTON
A SIMPLE PLAN
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Kathy Bates (Primary Colors), Brenda Blethyn (Little Voice), Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie) and Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters).