Saturday, September 26, 2009

Best Supporting Actor, 1986

In the first edition of The Races I talked about the Best Actress race of 2004. Today I'll be looking at the five performances nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category back in 1986. I've been watching all the nominated roles over the past couple of weeks, and now I'll examine each one individually and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the works, then decide for myself if I think the win was deserved. This particular year the winner was Michael Caine in my favorite Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters.

Tom Berenger in Platoon
In Oliver Stone's definitive 1986 Vietnam epic, Platoon, Tom Berenger plays Sgt. Barnes, a combat-loving sadist who leads his platoon in the massacre of a Vietnamese village. Stone put his actors through hell to prepare to play soldiers. Berenger and other cast members slept in 2-hour shifts and were woken by real explosions meant to fray their nerves. It's helped create an impressive accuracy. Berenger is a force to be reckoned with, as is his Sgt. Barnes. He represents Evil in every man, his battle-scarred face only half as wounded as his war-torn soul. He's survived so many battles that his men believe he can't be killed, and Berenger's forceful command of each scene he's in has the audience believing the same. ****/4
Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters
In a film full of incredible performances (what else in Woody Allen's best film?), Michael Caine's Elliot feels like the most important and interesting. Elliot is married to Hannah, but in love with her sister Lee, and Caine plays him with an obnoxious, pathetic charm that has the audience simultaneously hating him and rooting for him to find happiness. One of my favorite scenes is Elliot's moral dilmma after he's first slept with his wife's sister. His thoughts ping-pong back and forth on whether or not to call Lee and end things, and when to call her, and what to do if her boyfriend picks up. You hear all this in the dialogue, but you don't need to. Caine's nervous, frantic body language says it all. His marvelous performance provides equal parts drama and laughter, and he steals the show every time he's on the screen. ****/4
Willem Dafoe in Platoon
Willem Dafoe is Sgt. Elias, the yin to Sgt. Barnes' yang in Platoon. He is a free-spirited man who looks after the new soldiers in their ranks and frequently disagrees with the heartless tactics of Barnes. He is the Good in man, choosing to escape the horrors of warfare with drugs and camaraderie instead of madness. He's a role model to the earnest young men who join the military because they believe they are doing something noble and honorable. Dafoe gives a no-holds-barred performance as the skilled soldier who has somehow managed to cling to a strong code of ethics even amidst the incomprehensible violence of Vietnam. Elias is the moral compass to the platoon, and Dafoe is the emotional center of an already powerful film, and gives us a reason to hope that the best in the men will prevail. The only criticism I can think of really is that he doesn't come out as strong as Berenger, but considering how the movie goes, that could be intentional. ***1/2/4
Denholm Elliott in A Room with a View
Lucy Honeychurch travels to Florence, where she falls in love with George Emerson, a passionate young Englishman. As George's free-thinking father, Denholm Elliott steals scene after scene in this classic romance. Mr. Emerson is a sweet, bemused man who aims to please, if at times with less than the usual degree of decorum. Elliott is the most fun and impressive member of an extensive British cast, and his character serves as the voice of reason amongst a host of people too concerned with appearances to care about happiness or young love. He delivers the film's most important line: "There's only one thing impossible, and that's to love and to part." ***1/2/4
Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers
This is the first performance I've watched since starting this feature that I didn't enjoy. While Dennis Hopper has a few touching moments as the town drunk who helps lead a high school basketball team to victory, I have to say I found the majority of his performance to be hammy and cliched. Of course, I'd describe the film Hoosiers with the exact same adjectives, so perhaps Hopper didn't have much to work with. A shame, since The Hop is one of my favorite guys playing crazy. *1/2/4
Final thoughts: Berenger and Dafoe play off each other spectacularly in Platoon, but probably split the vote. Elliott's role was too inconsequential for a win, even in supporting, and Hopper's spot really should have gone to Daniel Day-Lewis for his role as Lucy Honeychurch's betrothed in A Room with a View. Again, I have to agree with the Academy. Michael Caine was wonderfully weasly in Hannah and Her Sisters, and his work was head-and-shoulders above the rest. A well deserved win.
1. Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Berenger in Platoon
3. Dafoe in Platoon
4. Elliott in A Room with a View
5. Hopper in Hoosiers


Ellen said...

I agree with your ranking for the most part. I think I'd put Dafoe before Berenger, but Caine definitely deserved the win.

I have a harder time with his win in 1999, though. There were so many good choices that year.

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