12.31.2006

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1975



The Year is...



And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for November are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; TIM of Mainly Movies; KEN of Canadian Ken On...; and welcoming CRITICLASM! And though NATHANIEL of The Film Experience hadn't the time to fully blurb us, he did bestow the incomparable delights of one of his (now legendary & elusive) NatReels!


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1975's Supporting Actresses are...
(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.)
Ronee Blakley in Nashville
Criticlasm Sez...
The songs she wrote serve to give her the greatest platform for her work. Alive when she's performing and unsure when she's not, she remains a mystery on to which the other characters can project their needs and desires. Fascinating, compelling, leaves you wanting more.
Tim Sez...
Manages a warbly breakdown one agonising step at a time, and does almost all of it publicly, without the safe retreat of backstage contrast. The film says music is life, death, madness: with her skilfully precarious playing, Blakley exemplifies how.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Blakley conveys the cavernous distance between Barbara Jean's electrifying performance persona and her near absence of self with haunting, guileless poignancy and thus contributes the essential link for Altman’s extraordinary chain of events. A fascinating, formidable and enduring accomplishment for a neophyte actress.
Ken Sez...
Altman supposedly let Blakley build Barbara Jean herself. Result - a stunning portrait of what a saint might be like in the modern world. Blakley's earthy and ethereal. And - when she sing "Dues" - astonishing, capturing both star-power and soul. Wonderful.
Nick Sez...
Attains two remarkable accomplishments: giving an unridiculous performance of a vaguely absurd person, and rendering a highly theatrical character without calling undue attention to her own acting. Sings beautifully and emanates a persuasive, disconcertingly cheerful sadness. Shifts and shines like a prism in the light..

Lee Grant in Shampoo
Stinkylulu Sez...
Grant's Felicia – an almost endearingly elaborate assemblage of tics and pouts and fussinesses – somehow devolves as the narrative complicates, becoming a shrill one-note of steely glares and ranting asides. A curiously grim performance.
Nick Sez...
For every interesting, unexpected mannerism in a Grant performance, there are two or three more that feel incongruous and over-rehearsed. Plus, this rigid script needs all the lightness and personality it can get. Hawn, Christie, and Fisher have them. Grant doesn’t.
Ken Sez...
A nice showcase for Grant's tightly coiled style. She attacks the part with gleaming precision. And dominates the climactic restaurant scene, delivering a series of reactions that can best be described as nuclear implosions. A worthy nominee.
Criticlasm Sez...
A focused performance of an unfocused character that's written as a shrewish neurotic wife stereotype. I was more interested in her story than the one I was watching. It made me wish for a Lee Grant/ Carrie Fisher mother daughter road movie.
Tim Sez...
A spiky turn that keeps getting better, so much so that I found myself more engaged with Grant’s Felicia than anyone else: her dagger-staring in the party scene really draws blood. Too generic to be a worthy winner, but a perfectly respectable nominee.

Sylvia Miles in Farewell, My Lovely
Tim Sez...
Makes sense and acquits herself in two economical if poorly edited scenes. But this aging floozy is dead before you know it, and her surroundings are so dismally lethargic I lost track of what she’s even doing here.
Ken Sez...
Jessie's a boozy old tramp who generally misses the glass when she pours the bourbon. By Miles' standards, pretty laid back - even the stagger down memory lane to relive the days when she had "a lotta pep." But nicely fermented.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Miles' signature emotional forthrightness converges with Jessie's devastating isolation to accomplish an almost shockingly open-hearted performance, the singular instance of nuanced and textured work in a film loaded with stock characters and familiar types. Memorably effective.
Criticlasm Sez...
At turns sweet and unexpected when she easily could have been broad and tragic drunk. Watch the way she deals with objects: drink glasses, the ottoman she steps over, her robe; the brown paper bag. A charming, hopeful performance that could have dissolved into bathos in the hands of a lesser skilled performer.
Nick Sez...
A textbook case of a pearl cast before a swinish film. Miles sets the sad, seedy, peripherally comic tone that the movie should have adopted. There’s not enough of her, and her second scene isn’t as good as her first, but she’s a trouper, and inimitably so.

Lily Tomlin in Nashville
Ken Sez...
A minimalist approach although, frankly, I don't think Tomlin has the dramatic firepower to do it any other way. Her big scene ("I'm Easy") depends on how much expression she can drain out of an already mask-like face. And it does work.
Nick Sez...
Tomlin wins a place in movie history by doing exactly the right thing—i.e., very nearly nothing—while Altman hands her the loveliest, saddest scene in a deliriously perfect film. She’s solid in the rest of her scenes, but picks the right moment to be transcendent.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Tomlin transforms her comedian’s rubber-face into a half-smiling mask of serene implacability, communicating the fact of her experience – not necessarily what's happening, more that it's happening – almost electrically through her eyes. Defiantly private yet embarassingly open, meticulously constructed yet casually expressive – it's uncommonly confident screen acting.
Criticlasm Sez...
Easily one of my favorite performances of the last few decades. Her work with her children, the stillness in the I'm Easy scene, her self-possession and presence when she's gone through with the affair, all combine in an electric, riveting, unforgettable perf.
Tim Sez...

Now we’re talking. Tomlin’s face, a slightly impassive mask at times, seems tragically composed here with minute flickers of sadness and longing playing over it. The most complete characterisation in the movie, its most moving performance, and the part of a lifetime.

Brenda Vaccaro in Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough
Criticlasm Sez...
Against the vapid blankness of Deborah Raffin’s performance she looks like Duse, mostly notable for her energy in an otherwise languid, lackluster film. I can hear the HS choir director: "You should all have energy like Brenda. Just look at her jazz hands.”
Tim Sez...
Vaccaro always comes over as a good-time husky dame to me, but an Oscar nod for this?! She’s wooden or under-rehearsed in scene after scene, charging through her atrocious dialogue in the hope that – who knows? – there might be a cosmopolitan or a fuck waiting after take two. Truly baffling.
Ken Sez...
She says words like "horny" and "screw" right out loud. Imagine! But like Deborah Raffin's unfurrowed brow, the script offers no subtext, no undercurrent, no nothin'. Still, next to David Janssen's blood-clot of a performance, Vaccaro's at least energetic.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Vaccaro provides a brash breeze of energy and zest that whips through the deadly dullness of the film, hitting every note of the performance with clarity and verve. Yet without an emotional architecture to connect the disparate moments of the character's desperation, Vaccaro's Linda remains a mildly amusing accessory.
Nick Sez...
Hardly one for the ages, but there wasn’t a moment in this performance that I didn’t enjoy; nor was there one that didn’t help the film. Vaccaro endows her stock character with genuine gusto and humor, without straining herself like Mira Sorvino or leaning on broad affectations like Marisa Tomei.

Oscar awarded Lee Grant...
What the hell is on Lee's noggin?

For the SMACKDOWN, on the other hand, it's a close one -- a near tie between Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin -- a tie that would have certainly even been tighter had Nathaniel been able to contribute his blurbs.

Consider what Nathaniel Sez about Lily Tomlin's Linnea:
The holidays have thwarted my efforts to investigate all five performances thoroughy enough to do them justice. But I did feel the need to send y'all my praise for Lily Tomlin's work in Nashville. Every time I see this great film her work improves. She'd certainly get my vote. It's the kind of performance that rarely gets enough praise: she makes it look too easy. It strikes me as very similar to Catherine Keener's recently lauded work in Capote -- the actresses in question don't appear to be doing much but the character is commendably complete and of value to the film without any showboating.

I love Tomlin's subtle reveal of a totally compartmentalized woman. Linnea keeps each piece of her life separate from the others which only adds to the refreshingly complex and adult sequence in her lovers hotel room in which you see her, briefly, with her guard down: that mix of her selves in his bed (the sign language instruction is a beautiful moment) before she quickly packs up her separate selves again, disappointed with his other selves and hers. She heads out the door, all separated again. It's just masterful stuff from a regularly underappreciated talent. She doesn't work enough.

Because the tally's so tight, because the sentiment's so strong among the Smackdowners (see below), StinkyLulu feels compelled to defer to the general consensus that underscores the Smackdown's Blakley/Tomlin near tie.

Therefore, The Smackdown gives
a special New Year's celebration trophy to:


THE WOMEN OF NASHVILLE!
Lily Tomlin, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Barbara Baxley, Geraldine Chaplin, Barbara Harris, Cristina Raines, Gwen Welles, & Ronee Blakley.


And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
Nick Sez: Can you tell I’m a nut for Nashville? Here’s some more proof: I think this whole roster could have (and should have) been filled by the women of Altman’s masterpiece, and we’d still be looking at a richer-than-usual Supporting Actress lineup. In fact, there are too many deserving performances to accommodate in one race. My own impulse would be to bump Blakley up to Best Actress and give the Supporting slots to Tomlin, the delightfully fruity Geraldine Chaplin, the blowzy but finally heroic Barbara Harris, the fierce and mysterious Cristina Raines, and the bravely, sympathetically idiotic Gwen Welles…and that still means leaving out the nattering but charismatic Barbara Baxley, the most fluid, graceful turn of Karen Black’s career, and the spaced-out minimalism of Shelley Duvall. Miles and Vaccaro were nice surprises in dreadful films; under the circumstances, let’s console them with well-earned Good Sport awards. And while we’re at it, let’s invent some special award for Marisa Berenson in Barry Lyndon, whose unique achievement has less to do with acting than with so sublimely enabling Kubrick’s vision, emerging as a nonpareil object of pristine, painterly, and period-specific beauty.
Ken Sez: Most of the supporting actress action in '75 comes from Nashville, with Blakley's work - a beam of clear white light - setting the bar pretty high. Not too high, though, for Barbara Harris, whose sublimely unsinkable Winifred bobs along on a current of slightly punchdrunk shrewdness. And surely Duvall's selfish walking scarecrow is a vivid enough monster to meet Abbott and Costello. No faulting Karen Black either as the conniving Connie White. "Turn that off," wails Barbara Jean when Connie's on the radio. If Barbara Jean's a saint, then Connie White's just the one to try her patience. Meanwhile Barbara Baxley serves up so much extra piss 'n vinegar one almost expects Susan Sarandon - in full Bull Durham mode - to spring Athena-like from her forehead. Tomlin does fine. But, in his DVD commentary, Altman casually mentions that Louise Fletcher was originally cast. Wow! Double wow! Now there's a performance I'd love to see!
Criticlasm Sez: What a confounding year. Although all but Vaccarro are strong, they are all over the map. Miles and Grant don't stand up for me to the work of Geraldine Chaplin or the curiously overlooked and heartbreaking Gwen Welles. And I love Lee Grant. I can't help thinking the group is an indication of where women were in the mid'70's, each character struggling with a relationship to a man and finding her worth in it. Although the same could probably be said for most years, I can only think they "liberated woman" vote went for Vaccarro to get her the nom, and the wronged wife wins the prize. And although I loved Miles, it's strange that she garnered a nomination against the Nashville troupe, not only Chaplin & Welles, but Barbara Harris and Shelley Duvall as well. Puzzling year.
Tim Sez: The first time I’ve had a full spread of s, as befits a wildly uneven year which would be a grim one if you took Nashville out. It seems criminal neither Blakley nor Tomlin managed to win for giving among the best in a huge gallery of terrific performances in a Best Picture nominee, but if ever a film made the case for a Best Ensemble Acting category all by itself, Nashville does. Geraldine Chaplin must have just missed out on a nod for Opal From the BBC, but she’s the film’s snarkiest source of laughs and I’m not having it; Gwen Welles instead, please, for that heartwrenching striptease. Also from this year I’d want ex-nominee Rachel Roberts, at her stern best as the headmistress in The Picnic at Hanging Rock… and then I run out of suggestions. Nashville aside, it strikes me as a year of great male ensembles mainly – Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws – so as usual it’s lucky for this category (and us, and cinema) that Altman was around.
StinkyLulu Sez: Seems a fitting tribute both to Altman, and to the delights drawn from this first year of Supporting Actress Sundays, that 2006 end en ensemble. Well done, gents. Thanks for a great year! And here's to a great 2007! To actressing at the edges!!!
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!
Join the dialogue in comments.


(And don't forget to
sign up for
The Class of '06
Supporting Actress Blogathon!)

8 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

i love these comments. and I love Nashville more and more. Some movies are fun to talk about but not so much fun to watch and vice versa but Nashville is great in all the ways...

I waver on whether or not I love Chaplin's performance --certainly the broadest in the film. But Welles would have made a fine nominee too. and Barbara Harris is my favorite of Altman's thread of characters who watch from the edges and seem not so much like characters but ghosts: see also Madsen (a literal ghost) in Prairie Home Companion --i'm sure there are others but i'm too tired to think of them.

bring on more comments!

and "what the hell!?" regarding Vaccaro's nomination --at least from the pieces of it that I was able to watch.

StinkyLulu said...

Yeah. Watching Nashville as thoroughly as I did this week reamplified my interest in Altman's ensembles. It was just amazing to watch Tomlin's/Linnea's arc straight through... Makes me wanna do the same for ALL the women in Short Cuts, prolly my most favorite roster of egregiously unnominated actresses at the edges.

criticlasm said...

I think Chaplin in Nashville is still one of the most annoying characters ever committed to film from the first frame. I think she's broad, yes, but having been in theatre for a long while she reminds of those young actresses who are performing AT ALL TIMES. The great thing about the performance is you're unsure what is lying and what is the truth--she seems like she could be telling the truth, but you don't want to believe her because she's grating. The holes in her socks, her awful hat, the moment she runs away from the sweet boy singing to her to grab Elliott Gould; even her accent could be a put on. Annd it's wonderful that she never stops, even when alone, surrounded by "rotting" cars. Yeah, I think it should've been an all Nashville year.

n69n said...

i think thats a lovely & appropriate choice!
because NASHVILLE is a movie that offers endless gifts, that just get richer as the years go by; & i know, as i grow older, the depths get deeper.

another thing i was thinking about...how its set up as a reveal when Barbara Jean finally performs; she's been so built up that the audience expects another corny song (like Haven Hamilton's 200 YEARS), so its a suprise & all-the-more powerful (& maybe a joke on the films audience?) that she is HONEST-TA-GAWD talented & completley in earnest.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I haven't been able to see Nashville (not through a lack of trying though. It's not available anywhere here), but it should be noted that the HFPA gave four of their six Best Supporting Actress nominations to Nashville ladies (Tomlin, Blakley, Chaplin and Harris).

...but they awarded Brenda Vaccaro for a film that y'all have definitely made me want to not see.

The only nominated performance from that year that I've seen is Lee Grant and I honestly don't remember a single thing about it. I only watched that movie a few months back, too. Oh well.

StinkyLulu said...

The other Golden Globe stunner is that Blakley & Tomlin were also nominated for "Best Film Debut" and lost to the woman in The Other Side of the Mountain. No wonder the HFPA still has such a trashtastic reputation to overcome...

NATHANIEL R said...

kamikaze --you continually stun me with your news of what's not available in Australia (nashville being, you know, hardly obscure as a classic). It's like there's no film culture. so weird. aren't their cineastes there? or is just a matter of needing to be in one particular city?

Nick Davis said...

I agree. Australia is amazing, hard to beat in many ways, etc., but I was tempted to start sending KC six cents a day when I read that he can't see Nashville.