Best Supporting Actor, 1999


Nominee
Michael Caine
The Cider House Rules


2:1
Pluses

A well-loved veteran actor appearing in a picture that Academy voters have obviously taken very much to heart. If Best Supporting Actress has in recent years become a place for rewarding young, exuberant talents and dark-horse candidates, Best Supporting Actor Oscars have continued to go most often to established character actors (Pesci, Jones, Spacey, Williams) and industry veterans (Coburn, Landau, Hackman, Palance), all of which bodes well for the oldest and most dramatically proven of the nominees. The SAG victory Caine scored over Cruise, Duncan, and Osment is a good sign.
Minuses

The SAG Award has been spottier as a predictor of Oscar success in this category than elsewhere—Ed Harris in Apollo 13 and Robert Duvall in A Civil Action left the Oscars empty-handed. Caine's New England accent is not, shall we say, a perfectly crafted thing, and the role's heavy leaning upon "princes of Maine"-style sentiment may irk as many voters as it endears. Having one Oscar already for 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters means there's no need to correct past oversights.
Tom Cruise
Magnolia


5:2
Rebounded from popularity setbacks of Eyes Wide Shut's cool reception and Mission: Impossible 2's troubled shoot with a vibrant performance in a completely untypical role in a challenging picture. Has lost the Oscar in both of his previous races (for Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire); may follow the Michael Caine/Robin Williams pattern of copping a supporting victory after losing successive shots at the lead actor trophy. Won the Golden Globe.
Frankly, Magnolia was received with barely more enthusiasm than was shown for Eyes Wide Shut, and some viewers seem unmoved that Cruise's performance amounts to more than an attention-seeking ploy to change his image. Golden Globe wins to major stars, like that enjoyed by Brad Pitt for 12 Monkeys, still can't convince Academy voters that one is a proven thespian, and a star of Cruise's caliber may never convince the membership that he is more than a pretty face. Buzz surrounding Burt Reynolds, nominated for that other Paul Thomas Anderson shindig Boogie Nights, evaporated too early for an Oscar win.
Michael Clarke Duncan
The Green Mile


5:1
Sympathetic role in an old-fashioned tearjerker that offers conservative voters just the sort of huggable alternative that Oscar voters like to have available to them. He is also the only non-pretty boy adult who does not already have an Oscar to his credit, and he's been campaigning tirelessly on the film's behalf. Comic role in the recent hit The Whole Nine Yards suggests both versatility and potential longevity.
The Green Mile has stumbled badly from the pre-release days when Hollywood seemed to have ceded the Best Picture race to the film. Not everyone is convinced that The Green Mile represents great art, or that Duncan's role represents much beyond a politically dubious, one-note character in a movie that strains hard for sentimental appeal. Absence from the Best Director category suggests that many filmmakers don't take the film seriously.
Jude Law
The Talented Mr. Ripley


8:1
The only member of The Talented Mr. Ripley's cast to survive the film's sharply divided reception onto the Oscar ballots, Jude Law has also maintained his status as Heartthrob of the Moment since the film bowed in December. Small but impression-making roles in films such as eXistenZ, Wilde, and Gattaca, allow Law to begin his career as a male screen siren with artistic dues already paid.
No one actually saw the films that I just mentioned, at least not in sufficient number to qualify Law as more than an overnight sensation in the Academy's eyes. His nomination was a surprise, particularly given the collapse of the Ripley campaign in the higher-profile categories, and he has nothing like Osment's novelty appeal, Cruise's stardom, or Caine's vet status to make a vote for him an exciting gesture to make.
Haley Joel Osment
The Sixth Sense


2:1
Osment not only gives the most accomplished child performance since Anna Paquin's Oscar-winning work in The Piano, but like Paquin's, his role has nothing in common with the moppety youngsters usually seen in Hollywood film. The Sixth Sense's amazing box-office and Oscar success are unimaginable without the sincerity and force of Osment's playing. In the past few months, Osment has obligingly appeared on every talk show and awards ceremony in sight, and everyone seems impressed with his maturity and potential.
Osment is competing against a much tougher field than Paquin was in 1993, and all the enthusiasm for his performance obscures the fact that he hasn't actually won anything yet. James Coburn won an Oscar last year without any pre-Oscar victories to his credit, but he also had an established place in voter's minds that Osment doesn't.

WHO WILL WIN: A dead heat between Caine and Osment, with Cruise in close contention and even Duncan not out of the running. I'm going to give Osment the narrowest of edges, since Cole Sear requires more in the way of sheer acting power than does Caine's role as Dr. Larch in Cider House. Then again, Caine's kind-but-tortured doctor act has the whole Robin Williams-in-Good Will Hunting thing going for it. Hell, I don't know, but I have to say something. Osment.

WHO SHOULD WIN: A much easier response to give! If Tom Cruise had been as sharp in all of his scenes as he was in the final showdown with April Grace's interviewer in Magnolia, I could've gone that way. However, Haley Joel Osment nailed every scene in The Sixth Sense with no lag in intensity, and for that, he deserves this prize in a way that the other four nominees, who each in some way seemed to be watching themselves act, do not.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Props everywhere else to American Beauty, but no nod to Chris Cooper for his combustible performance as Colonel Fitts? Well-deserved nominations for the leading women of Boys Don't Cry, but none for Peter Sarsgaard, who communicated both the hatred that drove his character to kill and the self-hatred he felt for following that impulse? And finally, speaking of movies that rely on the unique contributions of one actor, how about The Talented Mr. Malkovich, who not only had to "be" himself in a way no actor ever has, but had to do so while performing ersatz puppet routines, dining with different versions of himself, and housing the spirits of Cameron Diaz and John Cusack?



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