Best Supporting Actress, 1999

Toni Collette
The Sixth Sense


A surprise nomination for a wonderfully talented actress with an admirable diverse taste for spiky roles (Velvet Goldmine, Muriel's Wedding, Clockwatchers). Among The Sixth Sense's principal characters, Collette's Lynn Sear was the character with the least direct relevance to the plot (or to its celebrated twist), but her marvelously firm playing made the role seem stronger than it might actually be. I give her further credit for giving American film one of the most credible working-class single mothers it has seen in years, particularly in a genre piece like this one.

Collette has been all but absent from earlier ballots of award contenders, much less from the winner's circles. Though the understatement of Lynn's role and of Collette's performance are a prime reason for liking them, they also put her at risk of paling next to Jolie's hellcat routine, Keener's spicy seductions, and the Oscar-friendly disability of Morton's character. Then again, hers is the only film that most Oscar voters can be assumed to have seen.
Angelina Jolie
Girl, Interrupted

Winner of the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards, which have never gone to the same actor without also carrying that actor to an Oscar victory. Jolie managed to hang onto the incredible buzz surrounding the performance even as the film itself faded from memory and took its hits from the critics. Playing an asylum resident is a close enough approximation of the kind of mental/physcial handicap that gets Academy voters all hot and bothered (see Samantha Morton). Appearance in the fall's successful thriller The Bone Collector shows that Jolie is admirably cultivating both the artistic credentials and commercial good sense of Hollywood's brightest stars.
Academy voters may be startled by the bad-girl anecdotes (tattooes! knife collections! blood weddings!) that have made Jolie so delightful to the popular media, but the members of the Screen Actors Guild didn't seem to mind. Also, the role of Lisa is so broadly written and so insistently foregrounded within the film that Girl, Interrupted seems only to exist to win Jolie an Oscar—but then, the same could be said of Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite or Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and if anything those very circumstances helped those women win their Oscars.
Catherine Keener
Being John Malkovich

Long a favorite of independent filmmakers, Keener finally used her formidable comic talents on behalf of a breakout hit that caught America's attention. Hers is the only truly comic performance in the bunch, and the history of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the 1990s—as Whoopi Goldberg, Mercedes Ruehl, Marisa Tomei, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino, and Judi Dench could attest to—shows that voters love women who make them laugh. Won the New York Film Critics citation.
Being John Malkovich did not win the level of support in other categories that would suggest greater enthusiasm; in fact, the omission of Cameron Diaz from this very category strongly connotes that actors were not as categorically in love with this project as Hollywood wags had insisted they were before the nods were announced. Finally, Keener bookended 1999 with two big stinkers, 8mm and Simpatico, that will leave a bad taste with anyone who saw them (thankfully, not many).
Samantha Morton
Sweet and Lowdown

Without exception, every actress ever nominated for playing a non-speaking character in a sound picture has won the Oscar: Jane Wyman in 1948, Patty Duke in 1962, Marlee Matlin in 1986, and Holly Hunter in 1993. Woody Allen has a proven knack for winning Oscars for his supporting actresses, and his popularity among voters may mean that more of them will make an effort to see Sweet and Lowdown than to track down Girl, Interrupted or Boys Don't Cry.
Sweet and Lowdown's lackluster reputation even with Allen's fans will not help Morton, nor does her omission from the list of Screen Actors Guild nominees. Most damagingly, her role is being viewed with the kind of skepticism afforded to Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie last year: it fits so resolutely with a pattern of conspicuous, Oscar-winning roles that cynics read it as a deliberate and ill-concealed attempt to gain award recognition.
Chloë Sevigny
Boys Don't Cry

Sevigny has won almost as many awards as Boys Don't Cry costar Hilary Swank, including the Los Angeles Film Critics, Boston Society of Film Critics, and National Society of Film Critics awards. Her tender scenes with Swank offer effective counterpoint within a film that might otherwise have seemed too unremittingly bleak, and therefore voters may be grateful to her delicate and soft though completely unsentimental performance.
Losing the SAG and Golden Globe awards to Angelina Jolie, despite Jolie's own public endorsements of Sevigny's work, means she'll arrive at the Oscars with very little momentum behind her. Though critics have been wild about her work, she has not received the blitz of media hype that Swank has garnered, and the performance itself may be too restrained to excite a voting body who likes show-stopping theatrics. Rumors of drug abuse and general dissolution will not help.

WHO WILL WIN: Though all the acting races are close calls, this is the only one in which absolutely any contender could win. Collette has The Sixth Sense's massive viewership on her side, and Sevigny has the bulk of the critics citations, but Jolie has trounced them both in the more crucial SAG and Globe heats. I am surprised such a level of enthusiasm has built for her, but it's a hard thing to argue with in such an otherwise open race.

WHO SHOULD WIN: My sympathies are torn between Sevigny's affecting work as Lana in Boys and Collette's improbably mesmerizing Everywoman in The Sixth Sense. Because Collette is a supporting actress in a truer sense of the word—Lana is almost the leading lady of the Peirce picture—I might cast the vote her way. Certainly either performance is deserving.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: No one saw my personal favorite, Tina Holmes in a small film called Edge of Seventeen, so I'll put in a good word for this year's supporting actress par excellence Julianne Moore. Her dimwitted Cora in Cookie's Fortune and desperate Laura in Magnolia—hey, that was both alliterative and a rhyme!—were my favorites among her roles this year. I suspect she would have won if nominated for any of the films she made this year, as a traditional means of rewarding annual bodies of work.

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