Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1996

The Year is 1996...
And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for June are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks and TIM of mainly movies. To acquaint yourself with the nominations for 1996, StinkyLulu's worked up the animated flimlet below in homage to 1996's Supporting Performances (an admittedly pale proxy for Nathaniel's already legendary clipreels).

For best results, let the entire video load (press pause or sumpin') before viewing...

And 1996's Supporting Actresses are...

(An aside about format: Each Smackdowner's comments are listed in ascending levels of love. A summary comment from each Smackdowner arrives at the end. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)
Joan Allen in The Crucible
StinkyLulu Sez
"There's so much to admire here. Allen's characteristically strong in Oscar's favorite kind of role (devoted helpmeet). Yet it's strange that there's so little left to love... A much-warranted nomination but not too too interesting a performance."
Tim Sez
"It's a mark of the film's failings that Elizabeth Proctor's even considered a supporting role; thank goodness Allen's here to dignify it so impeccably, bringing a fierce and harrowed conviction to her two crucial scenes."
Nick Sez
"Allen's combination of steeliness, reticence, and luminescence both anchors and elevates this weirdly undisciplined film. Her attentive, generous responses enable Day-Lewis' equally impassioned performance, but she also fashions a stalwart, subtly devastated woman of her own."

Lauren Bacall in The Mirror Has Two Faces
Nick Sez
"Give me a damn break. Bacall was inexplicably overrated for her entire career, though never by Oscar, 'til 1996. Her just desserts were to be nominated, sentimentally, for a mechanic performance in a lame part, and then, mercifully, to lose."
StinkyLulu Sez
"It's not that Bacall's awful. It's just that the performance coasts on Bacall's charisma and persona, inadvertently highlighting the limitations of both."
Tim Sez
"Imperious hauteur is basically what's asked of Bacall in The Mirror Has Two Faces, along with a past-it flirtiness and one tiny moment of introspection. She ticks all the boxes but they're not challenging ones, and if ever a nomination screamed 'Sorry!', this one does."

Juliette Binoche in The English Patient
StinkyLulu Sez
"Binoche displays her actorly intelligence astutely here, anchoring the film's epic sentiment & romantic grandiosity within an emotionally plausible reality. Yet, while her performance is the vehicle for The English Patient's emotional impact, the particulars of her Hana tend to get lost amidst the film's overwrought imagery."
Nick Sez
"As usual with Binoche, her talents are largely limited to beatific close-ups and limpid outpouring of sympathetic emotion. She achieves both of these gloriously, in a part tailor-made for her, but she's just not as crafty as her competition."
Tim Sez
"A lovely lissom perf in an essentially reactive part. Binoche's face is a sounding-board for the movie's tones -- anxious, enchanted, desperately moved -- and she's never seemed looser or more versatile. I still think the character's a little wispy, though."

Barbara Hershey in The Portrait of a Lady
StinkyLulu Sez
"A resplendent, luxurious performance -- Hershey's Madame Merle's a magnetic menace for the ages, voracious and vulnerable, bedazzled but bereft...yet always palpably human."
Nick Sez
"So often a godsend to nervy directors trying to cast difficult parts, Hershey plumbs deeply and yields both the naked, highly wrought emotional states that are Campion's expertise and the opaque mysteries required by James. A master class."
Tim Sez
"Before our eyes, Hershey simultaneously ties up and untangles the knot of bitter contradictions in Madame Merle, who is both benefactress and sadist, friend and foe. Letting us into a lifetime's terrible regrets, she becomes one of the saddest villains in movies."

Marianne Jean-Baptiste in Secrets and Lies
Tim Sez
"Smashing, vicacious work in what could have been a thin, functional role. I love how set Hortense is: she's one of the few Leigh characters who isn't just the sum of her bundled tics and problems, and Jean-Baptiste crafts her with equally rare tact."
Nick Sez
"Jean-Baptiste is most instrumental to the beginnings of this story, consummately etching out her character before receding to her third-act positioning as the watchful, uncomfortable bystander. It remains a pitch-perfect performance, but less key to the film."
StinkyLulu Sez
"Hortense is possibly the hardest of parts to play: an intrinsically decent person. Jean-Baptiste maneuvers the pitfalls of cliche to craft one of the most honestly human 'good guys' in cinema, who -- by the by -- instigates an entire family's redemption. A marvel of muted hope & true feeling."

Oscar awarded Juliette Binoche...

But the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Barbara Hershey!
Oh don't be so surly, Babs. The Smackdowners love you...

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
StinkyLulu Sez: "It's almost another theme year in the Supporting Actress category: Still Waters Running Deep, Suddenly Rerouted. Each of the Supporting Actress characters is sublimely competent at being who they've always been yet the story presents them with a daunting challenge -- one that both reveals more of themselves to themselves while also threatening to break them to bits. It's -- almost to a one -- a thrilling set of journeys to watch. And while Allen and Binoche anchor their films' respective emotional orbits, and while Hershey's unmooring is both captivating and thrilling, it's Marianne Jean-Baptiste that routes the most profound, uncharted emotional journey. Hers is a marvel of a performance..."

Tim Sez: "A banner year, clearly, as AMPAS recognised by denying Bacall her predicted honourary win. There was too much competition: Hershey's my pick, because the conception of the character, the way she inhabits it, and the way they both fit Campion's dramatic scheme take the breath away. But you can hardly begrudge Binoche, who won for her tremulous way of listening and making a complex narrative emotionally understood. In another year, Allen or Jean-Baptiste might have deservedly taken it for being the best things their movies have to offer, and even Bacall is far from the least enjoyable fifth wheel you could ask for. For such a young vintage, this category's not just instantly impressive; it's aging beautifully too."

Nick Sez: "Bacall notwithstanding, this field remains one of the most substantial and discerning in the category's recent history. Allen, Hershey, and Jean-Baptiste are all so good that I would have loved a three-way tie; I tend to be most impressed with whomever's performance I have seen most recently. Elizabeth Proctor's doomed appearance before the kangaroo court and Madame Merle's confession and near-disintegration in the rain are pivotal, electrifying scenes for two characters who have lurked on the sidelines up to those points, and both actresses summon deep wells of feeling into their movies without simply hijacking them or overplaying their big moments. Hershey, perhaps, has the greatest distances to travel within her characterization, and the fewest connecting scenes in which to lay all the groundwork, so I suppose in those ways her performance strikes me as the most remarkable. (Slam that door, girl! Tell Osmond what's what! Realize what vipers you both are!) But truly, I'd have been ecstatic with any of these three as a victor—and frankly, as winners go, even the lovely but more predictable Binoche is fully acceptable."
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think! Join the dialogue in comments. And -- while you're at it -- be sure to...

And if you would like to join the fun/insanity/obsessiveness of a future smack down, just email StinkyLulu...


newland said...

Hershey was just a longshot at the Oscar that year, but hers was probably the greatest performance. For sentimental reasons I would have gone for Binoche, though.


as always a joy to read. I have never seen Portrait of a Lady and my biggest regret at missing this month's smackdown is losing the immediate excuse to watch it.

Emma said...

For me, I pick Joan. She was just brilliant.

Craig Hickman said...

As an adoptee who was moved to the fetal position for literally weeks after watching this film and soon thereafter compelled to search for my birth mother due almost entirely to Marianne's quiet but gut wrenching performance, I'd have to give her he win.

But I enjoyed all the performances. Well, ironically, I never go through the English Patient. But I liked what I saw.

Barbara Hershey is one of my all-time favorites, though.

Janice said...

Good call, smackdowners.

I hadn't seen POAL until long after it had been released (I did see English Patient at the theaters) and in retrospect I think Binoche's award represented a nod to the movie in general, which had all sorts of baity-ness going for it, plus did well at the box office and the public (whereas POAL did not - and it was compared unfavorably and unfairly with The Piano). Bioche's performance was good, but all these later not particularly memorable (I actually prefer her understated perf in Chocolat). Her character (from what I understand) is actually the protagonist of the novel, but that was changed to make the film more of a traditional "epic romance" and Binoche's character never feels essential to the film (you could actually cut out her portions and still have the central romance remain intact) whereas Hershey's Madame Merle is absolutely essential to the action of her film.

And I have watched that film several times and her perf never grows tired or stale for me. I've just read the James novel and she is, indeed, true to both Campion and to James, as the smackdowners have noted (quite the achievement); plus she actually makes the character more interesting than James himself does, finding her humanity without making excuses for her. We can sympathize her without pitying her.