Back about 14 years ago, when Martin Landau was doing interviews promoting his dazzling turn as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, I told him he was a cinch to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. “Do you really think so?” he asked, doubtfully. I insisted that there was no competition. Besides, he’d paid his dues — a long career as a character actor, and two unsuccessful nominations in recent years (1988 and ’89). I felt vindicated, months later, when he won, but he must have felt especially so, given that his Oscar-nominated bid in 1988’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream marked the beginning of a career comeback for him.
1988 was a good year for striking supporting performances by character actors like Landau in films that, unfortunately, too few voters seemed to have watched. Besides Landau’s turn as the voice of age and experience in Tucker, there was Alec Guinness’ heartbreaking turn as the woebegone father in Little Dorrit, River Phoenix’s first mature performance as a teen who tires of his fugitive family’s rootlessness in Running on Empty, and Dean Stockwell’s surprisingly sympathetic and goofy turn as a villainous Mafia don in Married to the Mob. Guinness already had an Oscar and several nominations to his credit, but 1988 saw the only career nomination for Phoenix (sadly, the Academy must have imagined there would be many more chances to nominate him) and the only nomination to date for Stockwell, who was outshone that year by another comical thug.
That was Kevin Kline, of course, whose dimwitted, short-tempered, live-fish-swallowing thief in A Fish Called Wanda was perhaps the year’s most exuberant screen performance. Wanda was also the biggest hit among the nominees’ five films. I’d say Kline deserved the award that year, though it’s too bad the others had to settle for the honor of just being nominated. At least Landau’s vampire eventually earned him a day in the sun.
Looking back from today’s perspective, which of these performances doyou think was 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 Tuesday, Dec. 9, we’ll look at the controversial 1998 Best Actorcompetition. Watch also for commentary and context throughout EW.com,including on Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.
Clips of all five nominees at the presentation of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor of 1988
Alec Guinness in Little Dorrit
Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda
River Phoenix in Running on Empty
Dean Stockwell in the trailer for Married to the Mob