Best Supporting Actress 2003: Better Than DeGeneres?

So, Finding Dory is hitting theaters pretty quick, and when I went back and watched Finding Nemo again, I was reminded just how amazing that movie really is. As well as how good Ellen DeGeneres is as Dory. Now, I was really young when the movie first came out, so I don’t know if there was any real talk about Ellen getting a Best Supporting Actress nod. But I know today that when people are talking about vocal performances being overlooked, DeGeneres always pops up onto the conversation.

But hey, maybe the reason DeGeneres couldn’t get nominated is because the Best Supporting Actress field was just super crowded that year. Only, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The five nominees were;

Shoreh Aghdashloo, House Of Sand And Fog
Patricia Clarkson, Pieces Of April
Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River
Holly Hunter, Thirteen
Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain 

Well, there you go. A lot of people think Renee Zellweger was a pretty weak winner, but there’s not really a general consensus on who the best of the nominees were. So, I could just sit back and talk about the Academy’s stupid anti-animation bias, overlooking DeGeneres’ terrific work in the favor of lesser work by the live action performers.

But, hey. Isn’t it a little hypocritical of me to call the Academy biased when I haven’t even seen the five performances they chose?

That’s why I took it upon myself to watch all five films.

That’s right. I am going to discuss these performances in detail, rank them, and let’s see if DeGeneres could have gotten herself nominated.

But first, a little bit of background information.

*There’s no category fraud here. All five of these performances are genuinely supporting roles. Always nice to see.
*In a bizarre twist, none of the nominees are playing a real person. In this day and age, that’s almost unbelievable.
*All of the nominees are playing mothers. Clarkson and Hunter both play the main character’s mother. Aghdashloo and Harden’s characters have children that are somewhat important to the plot. And Zellweger is shown to have a baby during the film’s epilogue.
*While all of the films deal with harsh topics, only one of the nominated roles actually dies during the film’s events. But I won’t say which one… (evil laughter.)

With all that being said, here’s how I would rank the five performances.

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5.) Shoreh Aghdashloo, House Of Sand & Fog

This is Shoreh Aghdashloo’s only Oscar nomination.

Here’s your setup: Jennifer Connelly is being unfairly evicted from her house, and Ben Kingsley is an Iranian immigrant who buys the property. And both of them are basically fighting for the house. The movie is pretty good, mainly because it isn’t as simple as black and white. Both Connelly and Kingsley are good people, and they both have reason to believe that the house is rightfully theirs.

Shoreh Aghdashloo plays Ben Kingsley’s wife. And she’s… there. I think the fact that she got nominated for this is crazy. She gets a handful of good scenes, but the performance itself isn’t that good.

It’s weird, because a few people think she was good enough to win, but I just didn’t see it. On top of that, it was a bit of a surprise when she got the nomination, so I think she’s the one that you knock off in order to put DeGeneres on.

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4.) Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River

This is Marcia Gay Harden’s second nomination. She had already won this award 3 years earlier for her performance in Pollock. As for the film itself, I thought it was pretty good. Eastwood usually makes enjoyable movies.

I’m gonna start out by saying that Sean Penn winning Best Actor for this movie is just a joke. His depiction of grief seems to shout ‘I’m acting!’ rather than convey real emotion, and the Bostonian accent doesn’t exactly help. The irony is that Albert Brooks also played a father wracked with guilt after something horrible happens to his child, and I would argue Brooks gave the stronger performance. But that’s another issue altogether.

Marcia Gay Harden plays the wife of Tim Robbins’ character. She’s supportive, but then she gradually becomes scared of him when it starts to look like he killed Sean Penn’s daughter. For starters, she’s the only nominated performer from the film who’s got the accent down. She’s also a really good actress, trying her best with a very low-key role. She’s strong in the role, but it’s clear that none of the actors in the film were given the best direction. It doesn’t help that most of her scenes are with Tim Robbins, who, in my opinion, gives the best performance in the film.

The only reason she even got the nomination is because the movie was a big Oscar player. Incidentally, she’s the only person in this lineup who was in a Best Picture nominee. If I had been blogging back then, I would have told you that Harden’s chances of winning this award were slim to none.

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3.) Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

There was a time when Renee Zellweger was on top of the world. She made a big splash in Bridget Jones’ Diary and then starred in the Oscar winning film Chicago the next year. Both performances received Oscar nominations, and by the time Cold Mountain came around, people started to think her time had come to win an Oscar.

I didn’t really enjoy Cold Mountain. The film is very standard Oscar bait and it’s very melodramatic, but the cast is impressive. If that sounds like your cup of tea, go for it. But I found the movie to be very by-the-numbers. Plus, Zellweger doesn’t even enter the picture for the first 50 minutes, so you’re just kinda waiting until that happens.

First of all, out of the five characters represented in this category, Zellweger’s “Ruby” is the most memorable. I totally understand why she won in this category, but she’s not exactly the most deserving winner. For one thing, she’s very over the top. At first, I didn’t mind so much, as she was creating a memorable character. But by the time we get to her big Oscar scene (“It’s raining!”) She just seems way too unrealistic.

Some people detest this performance, but I think she has some strong moments. I just don’t think she should have won the Oscar. I mean, when you look back, I don’t think it would have been a tragedy if Zellweger never won an Academy Award.

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2.) Patricia Clarkson, Pieces Of April

As of right now, this is Patricia Clarkson’s sole Oscar nomination. It’s also the only nomination that Pieces Of April got.

At first, Pieces Of April sounds like a comedy you would see on HBO Family. A disfunctional family comes together for Thanksgiving and just about everything goes wrong. However, the movie plays up its premise for drama. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not exactly a fun one to watch.

Patricia Clarkson plays the mother who spends most of the movie trying to get to her daughter’s house for Thanksgiving. While it’s explained that she has cancer, we never see any real evidence in her acting that she’s getting weaker, something that perhaps could have helped this performance. But outside of that, she does a good job. Her best scene is the one when she struggles to remember a good memory with her daughter.

I think this is a very good performance, and I’m totally cool with it being nominated, even if I’m not in love with the movie itself.

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1.) Holly Hunter, Thirteen

Holly Hunter had won her Academy Award ten years prior. She was the sole representation of her film.

Before watching this film, I only knew about the film because when Kristen Stewart gave her career-best performance in Zathura, she lamented “We never should have rented Thirteen.” And I feel that I never should have rented Thirteen from the library. The film is considerably darker than it appears at first glance, and it can at times be downright uncomfortable and disturbing.

Holly Hunter plays the mother of the main character. And she’s trying to be the cool mom, and she’s way, way too lenient and lets her daughter get away with all sorts of stuff. Unfortunately, the events that transpire over the course of the film is basically every parent’s worst nightmare, and she’s just slowly realizing this.

Holly Hunter is a great actress, and it’s not her fault that the part is horribly underwritten. As a result, she is the most realistic thing in this movie, and the only thing that makes the film watchable. At least, most of the time. She falters once or twice, but it’s clear that she’s giving it her all. It’s weird, since I never intend on watching this film again, but I think Hunter’s performance is the best of the five.

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So, those are the five performances that the Oscars thought were better than Ellen DeGeneres. But let’s take a brief moment to look at DeGeneres’ work. Did it really deserve to be nominated?

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Ellen DeGeneres, Finding Nemo

For the sake of argument, I’m going to pretend that there’s someone reading this who HASN’T seen Finding Nemo.

The film tells the story of Marlin, a clownfish who lost his wife and most of his children in a tragedy, and as a result, is extremely protective of the one child he has left. This results in a somewhat fractured relationship, and when his son tries to defy his father, he ends up being kidnapped. Then Marlin has to make his way across the ocean, not only to find his son, but also to hopefully patch up their relationship.

Also, it’s impossible to watch this movie without tearing up.

Ellen DeGeneres plays Dory, a blue tang who gets caught up in Marlin’s search for his son. Now, they say that certain types of fish have five-second memories, and this concept is explored with Dory. She has a severe case of short-term memory, and finds it difficult to gain new memories without repetition.

But Dory doesn’t really seem to mind her bad memory, She chooses to aways live in the moment, and she’s always experiencing everything for the first time. She gets great joy out of life, and she serves as a sharp contrast to Marlin, who is held back by remembering the past.

Obviously, humor is a big factor in this performance. While a lot of the lines are funny by themselves, there’s something about the way she says certain lines like ‘Sorry, you’ll have to come back later, we’re trying to escape!’ and ‘What is it with men and asking for directions?’. You get the feeling that another actress wouldn’t have made those lines work in quite the same way.

But there’s so much more to Dory than just one-liners. Over the course of the film, her memory gradually improves, little by little. From remembering the location where they’re heading, to remembering that they’re looking for Marlin’s son. It’s an understated and believable transition handled wonderfully by DeGeneres.

And then, after spending the whole film being the comedic relief, we finally get to see the tragedy of the character in this monologue. And if there’s anybody out there who still thinks voice acting isn’t real acting, all I gotta say is; listen to the scene with your eyes closed.

So, now that I’ve seen the five nominated performances that were nominated above DeGeneres, I still say that DeGeneres deserved that nomination, and might even have deserved to win. Say what you will, but I think DeGeneres’ performance is more likable, more interesting, and just all-around more memorable than any of the performances chosen by the Academy.

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But what do you guys think? I wanna know which of the nominated performances you’ve seen, and if you think DeGeneres should have been included. And also, are you excited for Finding Dory?

Actually, don’t answer that last one. That should be an automatic YES.

2 thoughts on “Best Supporting Actress 2003: Better Than DeGeneres?

  1. I’ve only seen Zellweger, Hunter, and Harden. Of those three, my pick is without a doubt Hunter. Regarding Ellen DeGeneres, however, she would’ve been incredibly deserving of the win had she been nominated. She might even be my own personal winner.

    My Supporting Actress lineup from that year:

    Ellen DeGeneres, Finding Nemo (WINNER)
    Anna Faris, May
    Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later…
    Holly Hunter, Thirteen
    Lucy Liu, Kill Bill: Vol. 1

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