(Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - 2006) It may not always be easy to follow exactly what's going on in this multi-character look at the global (and often sinister) influences of the oil industry, but as harsh words are exchanged, bullets fly and bombs go boom, there's never any doubt that there's always some Pretty Serious Shit going down. Syriana explores petroleum politics through the eyes of several players in this dangerous game, including a CIA spook who might be losing his edge (George Clooney, who grew a beard, gained a few pounds and scored both a Golden Globe and an Oscar), an disillusioned energy analyst (Matt Damon), a sad sack Washington D.C. attorney (Jeffrey Wright) and a Pakistani migrant worker (Mazhar Munir); further intrigue is provided by a supporting cast that includes Amanda Peet, William Hurt, Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer and Tim Blake Nelson. Stephen Gaghan's script doesn't weave in and out of the interconnecting storylines as smoothly as his Traffic screenplay did, and he's nowhere near as deft a director as Steven Soderbergh, which makes Syriana more of a brain challenge than an actual movie; even those in the know on the various geopolitical details and nuances may find themselves at sea (or in the desert) more than once. Still, Syriana has style, smarts and class, not to mention a cast to die for, so sit down and pay attention -- you might learn something about the world, after all.
(Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - 2006) Jeffrey Caine's screenplay adaptation of John le Carre's melancholy thriller novel kind of renders the title a bit non-applicable, but who wants to watch Ralph Fiennes picking flowers, anyway? The film begins with Justin Quayle (Fiennes), a mild-mannered British diplomat to Kenya, meeting sexy, outspoken activist Tessa (Rachel Weisz, who won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress) while giving a lecture in London, after which they're soon married; their relationship is then chronicled in a series of flashback as Quayle seeks to find the motivating forces behind his wife's murder, which is somehow linked to a shady pharmaceutical company and an experimental drug. Fernando Meirelles' low-key direction is somewhat surprising after the sheer intensity of his acclaimed Brazilian crime drama, City of God, making The Constant Gardener not as gripping as it could've been, but it's still a pleasure to go on this journey with Fiennes as he transforms from pencil-pushing nebbish to full-throttle action star in his search for The Truth; the film is also achingly, tragically romantic in its story of a man who never really got to know his wife until after she died.
(Best Screenplay - Motion Picture - 1998) Still a damn fine film, Good Will Hunting announced the formidable creative force of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for the story of Will Hunting, a temperamental Boston kid with genius-level intellect who's content to just work as a janitor; after he assaults a childhood bully, he's given a chance to avoid jail time if he agrees to study advanced mathematics under the supervision of a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) -- and seek therapy from Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), the psychology teacher at the local community college. What follows is a sort of personal redemption and self-awakening for both Sean and Will, as neither will stand for the other's well-honed defense mechanisms as they challenge each other to come to terms with who they really are -- and what deep-rooted fears they live with. Directed with dramatic intensity and good humor by Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting is a constantly surprising, startlingly original and ultimately very moving fable featuring terrific performances by Williams (who scored an Oscar nomination) and Damon; meanwhile, Affleck is a good sport for being content to play the ever-loyal best friend, and he plays it well.
(Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - 1997) Did poor stuttering Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) kill the Archbishop? He certainly had motive (which doesn't help in convincing a jury of his innocence) -- the late man of God was apparently into molesting his altar boys. What a minute -- might Aaron be actually crazy? You can't plead insanity in the middle of a trial, so what's a defense attorney to do? These are just a few of the conundrums involving the trial at the center of Primal Fear, a somewhat slight and superficial yet rip-roaringly entertaining thriller starring Richard Gere as a hotshot lawyer who finds there's a hell of a lot more to the case he took strictly for the publicity than he originally thought. The real star of the show, however, is Golden Globe winner Norton, making the kind of feature film debut that most young actors only dream about; he's nothing short of incredible as the troubled defendant who suffers from multiple personality disorder, supposedly due to childhood abuse by his own father -- though "suffers" might not be the right word. Norton was also nominated for an Oscar, though he (unfairly) lost to Cuba Gooding Jr.'s oft-debated Jerry Maguire win.
(Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama; Best Original Song - Motion Picture - 1994) The film with which we started to officially say goodbye to Tom Hanks the Comedian, Philadelphia marks one of mainstream Hollywood's first recognitions of the AIDS crisis with the story of Andrew Beckett (Golden Globe winner Hanks), a lawyer who sues his former law firm after he's fired on the grounds that he was let go because he's HIV positive, which counts as discrimination; Denzel Washington is the homophobic lawyer who takes his case. Philadelphia is shamelessly manipulative, containing not one but two heartwrenching songs on the soundtrack (Neil Young's "Philadelphia" and Bruce Springsteen's Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia"), but it also packs an emotional and dramatic punch thanks to the stellar work of Hanks, Washington and director Jonathan Demme, who restrains his usual visual indulgences in favor of letting his terrific cast take the spotlight. Antonio Banderas is also quite good as Hanks' lover, as is Jason Robards as his nemesis, though it's Hanks himself who completely hits it out of the park, also earning an Oscar for his strong and sensitive performance (and he would go on to win another Oscar -- and another Golden Globe, at that -- the very next year for Forrest Gump).