Six Circuit: Who Did Marisa Tomei Beat Out for a Supporting Actress Nomination in 1992?

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Welcome to the fortieth entry in our Six Circuit series.

Few wins have been as surprising or as welcome as Marisa Tomei’s Best Supporting Actress win in 1992. Her work in “My Cousin Vinny” was comedic gold. However, before the ceremony it seemed like her work would go unnoticed, as the Oscars rarely go for comedic performances. Yet, Jack Palance opened the envelope, read Tomei’s name and the rest is Oscar history. Before we figure out who just missed out on competing, let’s take a deeper look at Tomei’s memorable win.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • Judy Davis – “Husbands and Wives” {“Sally”}
  • Joan Plowright – “Enchanted April” {“Mrs. Fisher”}
  • Vanessa Redgrave – “Howards End” {“Ruth Wilcox”}
  • Miranda Richardson – “Damage” {“Ingrid”}
  • Marisa Tomei – “My Cousin Vinny” {“Mona Lisa Vito”} (WINNER)

OVERALL SUMMARY

Marisa Tomei won her Oscar in “My Cousin Vinny” for the role of Mona Lisa Vito, a New Yorker with crazy knowledge about cars.

No one was predicting Marisa Tomei for the win. She had not showed up at any precursors, making her the surprise nominee. However, vote splitting among the four other nominees helped Tomei sneak in for the surprise, and very deserved, win.

The critics rallied around Judy Davis for her work in “Husbands and Wives,” the latest Woody Allen film. Davis had won plenty of critics prizes, such as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics, and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Additionally, Allen has a habit of directing performances that would win Best Supporting Actress (see Dianne Wiest twice, Mira Sorvino, and Penelope Cruz). However, that trend cemented later on in the decade.

Miranda Richardson had quite a year in 1992 (see later in the piece). She won the BAFTA Award for “Damage,” where she plays a woman who realizes her husband has been cheating on her. Additionally, she shared the New York Film Critics Circle win with her other two performances this year. Still, the drama didn’t show up in any other categories, which could have prevented Richardson from winning.

Joan Plowright surprised at the Golden Globes, winning for her “Enchanted April” performance. The legendary dame hadn’t gotten traction with any other group. Yet, this last minute surge catapulted her into the race for the win. She likely drew votes from Richardson, Davis and Vanessa Redgrave for “Howard’s End.” Redgrave didn’t have many precursors to her name, but she was the only nominee whose film was in Best Picture. With no clear front-runner and no clear number five, who could’ve broken into this interesting lineup?

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Helena Bonham Carter – “Howard’s End”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards
    • Nominees – Best Picture, Director (James Ivory), Actress (Emma Thompson) (WINNER), Supporting Actress (Vanessa Redgrave), Adapted Screenplay (WINNER), Art Direction (WINNER), Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score
  • Geraldine Chaplin – “Chaplin”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
    • Nominees – Best Actor (Robert Downey Jr.), Art Direction, Original Score
  • Frances Fisher – “Unforgiven”
    • Precursors – None
    • Nominees – Best Picture (WINNER), Director (Clint Eastwood) (WINNER), Actor (Clint Eastwood), Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman) (WINNER), Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing (WINNER), Sound
  • Rosie Perez – “White Men Can’t Jump”
    • Precursors – None
    • Nominees – None
  • Michelle Pfeiffer – “Batman Returns”
    • Precursors – None
    • Nominees – Best Makeup, Visual Effects
  • Miranda Richardson – “The Crying Game”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards, New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER)
    • Nominees – Best Picture, Director (Neil Jordan), Actor (Stephen Rea), Supporting Actor (Jaye Davidson), Original Screenplay (WINNER), Film Editing
  • Miranda Richardson – “Enchanted April”
    • Precursors –New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER)
    • Nominees – Best Supporting Actress (Joan Plowright), Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design
  • Alfre Woodard – “Passion Fish”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, Indie Spirit Awards (WINNER)
    • Nominees – Best Actress (Mary McDonnell), Original Screenplay

WISHFUL THINKING

Long before Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix earned Oscar buzz for playing Joker, Michelle Pfeiffer dazzled in “Batman Returns” as Catwoman.

Voters in 1992 showed a willingness to look outside of “what’s receiving buzz” and look at other genres they don’t normally go for. Tomei was able to get into Supporting Actress and win, despite no precursor support. If Oscar was looking to fill a comedy slot in Supporting Actress, Tomei wasn’t the only comedienne lobbying for that slot. Another rising star, Rosie Perez, was earning best in show buzz for her work in “White Men Can’t Jump,” a comedy hit from earlier in the year. Perez’s role as Gloria, the fast-talking girlfriend of Billy (Woody Harrelson), stole every scene she was in, much like Tomei. Though Tomei wound up with the Oscar nomination, Perez wouldn’t be far behind her. The very next year, Perez made the 1993 lineup for her work in “Fearless” a drama where she played a woman who lost her child in a plane crash.

Between Heath Ledger’s win for “The Dark Knight” and Joaquin Phoenix’s expected nomination for “Joker,” superhero performances have much more cache at the Oscars than ever before. Had it come out today, one hopes that Michelle Pfeiffer would’ve earned a nomination for “Batman Returns,” where she plays Catwoman. Her work stands the test of time and remains my personal favorite performance in a superhero film. However, at the time, “Batman Returns” received mixed reviews from critics and the public. It was the first attempt to really push the boundaries of a PG-13 rating with a superhero film, which ruffled some feathers.

GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINEES

Geradline Chaplin portrayed her own grandmother, Hannah Chaplin, in the 1992 film “Chaplin” by Richard Attenborough.

The Golden Globes often give visibility to starry performances vying for the Academy’s attention. Of their five nominees this year, three repeated at the Oscars. The other two – Geraldine Chaplin for “Chaplin” and Alfre Woodard for “Passion Fish” – were far from the starry vehicles the Globes often award. There was already a built in narrative for Geraldine Chaplin. The actress (and Charlie Chaplin’s daughter) played the pivotal role as Charlie’s mother Hannah (also her own Grandmother) in the biopic. However, the film’s Oscar prospects began to wane as the season went on. In the end, Robert Downey Jr. was the film’s only above the line nomination. He snuck into the Lead Actor lineup for his work as the famed silent star Charlie Chaplin.

Meanwhile, Alfre Woodard followed up her Golden Globe nomination with a win at the Indie Spirit Awards. This shows there was some fervent passion for her work in “Passion Fish,” where she plays a caregiver to a former soap star. Though the movie was a small, independent production, it still made waves at the Oscars. Mary McDonnell earned a lead actress nomination, while the film was nominated for Original Screenplay. Being a former Oscar nominee herself for “Cross Creek” in 1983, Woodard was definitely on the Academy’s radar. However, there wasn’t enough steam in the “Passion Fish” fan-base to get Woodard her second nomination.

OSCAR COATTAILS

Helena Bonham Carter, who stars as the lovelorn Helen Schlegel, was not the “Howards End” cast member to earn a Supporting Actress nomination. Vanessa Redgrave got the nomination for a much smaller role, matriarch Ruth Wilcox.

“Howards End” boasted one of the best ensembles of 1992. Emma Thompson won the Oscar in Lead Actress for her role in the film, while Vanessa Redgrave broke into the Supporting Actress race. Yet, Redgrave wasn’t the only cast member trying for a Supporting Actress bid. Helena Bonham Carter earned a BAFTA nomination for her work as Helen Schlegel, arguably the second lead of the film. That Redgrave made it in over Carter speaks to the Academy’s love of previous winners and veteran actors.

The Best Picture winner, “Unforgiven,” had much more luck in the male acting categories. Gene Hackman won his bid for Supporting Actor. Additionally, Clint Eastwood was nominated in Best Actor, on top of his win in Best Director. Though the film had incredible success at the Oscars this year, its coattails were not long enough to get Frances Fisher into the Supporting Actress race. Fisher plays Strawberry Alice, the madam of a brothel who hires outlaws to avenge her abused worker. Fisher didn’t make waves at the precursors, but still remained in the running thanks to the film’s success.

Miranda Richardson also had quite a year in 1992. In addition to “Damage,” she received precursor support for her roles in “The Crying Game” and “Enchanted April.” This could have led to vote splitting among her supporters. Luckily, she was able to rally her buzz around “Damage,” where she was the only film’s nomination. Still, it’s possible Best Picture buzz could have gotten her in for “The Crying Game” instead.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 1992 BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS WAS:

ALFRE WOODARD – “PASSION FISH”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 1992 Best Supporting Actress race? Share with us in the comments below.