I was once again charmed with the opportunity to participate in StinkyLulu’s excellent Supporting Actress Smackdown series, and this year was a great one: 1992. Don’t remember it off the top of your head? Two words: Marisa Tomei. You have to go read the comments and reviews on StinkyLulu’s post! This is one of the best entries in an always-outstanding series. Alex’s video is great, too, as always. So stop reading here and go there!
So, for good or ill (probably ill) I have some theories about why Tomei won in 1992. And these theories don’t involve a drunken Jack Palance.
As Stinkylulu said, it’s surprising that Tomei was nominated, but not surprising she won. I completely agree, and I think that is the most apt thing anyone has ever said about this controversial win. I can’t tell you why she was nominated. I have no clue. But when looking at the other nominees, it seems as though most of them had a “reason” for losing. “Reason” is in quotes because I don’t think the Oscars have ever been about performances alone, they’ve been about image and politics and favorites, and the reasoning behind half of their awards eludes me to the point that I sometimes think there was no reason at all.
Joan Plowright in “Enchanted April” gave a good performance, but this was a pretty light film that started out as a made-for-TV film in the UK. The Academy hates the stink of television on their precious movies. Plowright was never going to win.
Judy Davis in “Husbands and Wives” gave a terrific performance, but she was nominated in a film that rather uncomfortably recalled Allen’s own current scandal involving Farrow’s very young adopted daughter. The voters probably avoided voting for Allen simply out of principle; recall that Elizabeth Taylor didn’t win for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” because of the Eddie Fisher scandal.
Miranda Richardson in “Damage” was great, but it was a small part and she was partly miscast by being so obviously too young for the role. She was huge in 1992 but I can see the Academy thinking she was overexposed. Plus, “Damage” was originally NC-17 for all the boring sex scenes and, honestly, it’s a big ol’ plodding snooze of a film. Richardson would have won, but never ever ever for “Damage”.
So that leaves Tomei and Vanessa Redgrave in “Howard’s End”. It’s a bit of a problem. Redgrave’s role was tailor made for a Supporting Actress Oscar, it’s a lovely performance in a surprising movie, but I think perhaps it’s a little too perfect. Redgrave had already won an Oscar before, she’s been controversial her entire career (and once used the Academy Awards to make her own political statement, which they hate), plus the Academy always favors the Americans over actors from other countries. It really must have been a toss-up between Redgrave and Tomei, and a fresh-faced, cute, likable Tomei surely seemed like a shoe-in for Academy members who cringed at the thought of a British actress or a Woody Allen film winning anything.
Let me say, though, that I think Tomei is a fine actress. I first realized this when I saw “Four Rooms” of all things – this woman is a professional. She may not have deserved the Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny”, but she is definitely an Oscar-calibre actress.
During the 1990s the Academy had a bias toward relative newcomers in the Supporting Actress category, as demonstrated by winners as diverse as Tomei, Anna Paquin, Mira Sorvino and Angelina Jolie. It seemed that when there was doubt, voters were to err on the side of creating a Star of Tomorrow, when there was one available.
This period also coincides with a short-lived trend toward acknowledging comedic performances with nominations and trophies in the category of Supporting Actress.
From 1986 through 1994 (& exempting 1993), there were two (or more) Supporting Actress nominations from comedies/comedic dramas each year. During that time, comedic performances took home the trophy 7 times in 9 years. (I sometimes think of this as the Anne Ramsey era, referring to the character actress’s nomination for the titular figure in Throw Momma from the Train.)
Star of tomorrow. Comedic performance. American. Pretty.
Tomei had a few intangibles on the side of her nomination.
I was having a bit of a dispute with someone on the imdb forums a couple of weeks ago. So I wrote these spontaneous lines on why Marisa won, on why Joe-the-sound-guy votes for her :D [cause let’s not forget, everybody’s voting the winner]. a fragment. :P it’s silly writing:
And let’s suspect the voter is Joe-the-sound-guy. What would Joe think of:
2. the competition:
– Joan Plowright for Enchanted April.
Joe hasn’t seen this because it’s a film for women. And British… booo. And there’s nothing happening in it. And there’s no big name attached. And Miss Plowright? she does sound just a bit familiar; was she married to some old British dude?!
– Miranda Richardson for Damage.
Joe hasn’t seen this either. because rumor has it it’s a French film; or just British; but very European anyway. Who’s Miranda Richardson? Joe has NO idea. But let’s say Joe sees Damage. Joe got a b*ner during the sex scenes between Juliette Binoche and Jeremy Irons. Joe likes sex. Joe stopped watching after the sex was over and the kid died. Who was Miranda? oh, that blonde chick, the wife. But who cares when you have all that sex.
– Judy Davis for Husbands and Wives.
wowowo… wait a minute. this is a Woody Allen film. Joe is confused. He doesn’t like Woody Allen films and thinks they’re all the same. Too much talking; nothing spectacular in the technical department. Joe doesn’t live in New York. Joe sees half of it back home, gets bored. Who was that Judy Davis chick?! she’s gotta be British. or wait she is an Aussie. I think she was the one who screamed a lot.
– Vanessa Redgrave for Howards End.
Joe is surprised this film got so many nominations. It’s so British and soooooo slow. That chick Emma Thompson was good, but Vanessa appears only in the beginning. where did she go? oh wait, she dies. She was acting funny, was she crazy?! nah, I didn’t see enough of her. and doesn’t she have an Oscar already?!
and finally, Marisa Tomei.
– Joe likes the film right from the start. It’s so American. yeah. Joe laughs. He likes Joe Pesci. wait. Marisa must be this sexy chick with the big hair. yeah, she’s hot, she reminds Joe of a girl he used to date. Wow, she sounds so natural, so American, I like this girl.
hahahahaha. Joe laughs so hard.
wait. wow, she really knows about cars. cooooool. and she can talk fast. yeah. hot.
Joe needs to vote. hmmmmm. I think he’s gonna vote Marisa.
Ah, “Star of Tomorrow”, that’s an excellent way of putting it. You’re both exactly right.
And SL, I’d completely forgotten about the comedic supporting actress noms, but now that you mention it I distinctly remember reading entertainment articles about this “phenomenon”.
Alex, I think you’re right, but I personally would think nationality mattered just a smidge more than accessibility. That’s my only quibble, such as it is. Love what you wrote on the forums! I’d add “Joe accidentally votes for Richardson, not realizing he wasn’t voting for that hot lady in all the sex scenes…”
Great post. I loved it (the look back).
Many posted thoughts about the biases the Academy members might have had (sounds like conspiracy thinking to me).
For me, Tomei was just simply captivating. As some said, any actress could have done this, but it was Marisa. Good for her!
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