Today’s Recall the Gold examines the 1998 campaign for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The winner that year was James Coburn for his turn as Nick Nolte’s drunken, abusive father in Affliction. Coburn was a beloved Hollywood vet who’d never won an Oscar, and it seemed Hollywood was paying him tribute with an overdue honor. I think, however, that Coburn actually deserved the award that year for his truly frightening turn. His chief competition was probably Ed Harris as the godlike overseer in The Truman Show, the biggest hit among the Supporting Actor nominees. Harris did a typically fine, subtle job in the role, as did Robert Duvall as the wily corporate lawyer in A Civil Action; both men made sympathetic characters out of roles that, in lesser hands, could have been cartoon villains. Even subtler (and heartbreaking) was Billy Bob Thornton as the troubled simpleton in A Simple Plan; had more people seen the film, and had he not just won for writing himself a similar character in Sling Blade a couple years earlier, he might have taken home the trophy. Geoffrey Rush’s chances were probably hurt as well from his recent victory in Shine, but he was very funny (and broadly hammy) as the exasperated theatrical manager in Shakespeare in Love.
Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these performances doyou think is the best? Vote in our poll, and list your comments below.(For a refresher, watch the clips embedded after the jump, whichmay contain some NSFW language.) Remember, we’ll be running the Recall the Gold surveys every Tuesdayand Thursday until January, so you may go back at any time and vote inthe other polls (click hereto see them all), reexamining the Oscar races of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25years ago. On Thursday, October 23, we’ll look at the 2003 Best Supporting Actresscompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout EW.com,including on Dave Karger’s new Oscar Watch blog.
James Coburn’s Oscar victory for Affliction, with short excerpts of all five nominated performances
Robert Duvall in A Civil Action
Ed Harris in The Truman Show
Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love
Billy Bob Thornton in A Simple Plan
UPDATE: A correction has been made to the text above, where I accidentally referred to Coburn’s movie once as Addiction. D’oh!