6.24.2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1978



The Year is...



And the Smackdowners for the 23rd Annual Academy Awards are...

...with old hands...

KEN of Canadian Ken On...
BRAD of Criticlasm & Fag Yer It
TIM of Mainly Movies

...some new to the smackdown joy...
GOATDOG
of goatdog's movies
RBURTON of Adam Waldowski Doesn't Watch Non-Oscar Nominees

...and, of course, featuring...

Yours Truly,
STINKYLULU.

1978's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are arranged according to ascending levels of love. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)
Dyan Cannon in Heaven Can Wait
goatdog - Ugh. She's a big-haired, high-energy bundle of Not Funny. I can appreciate what she's going for enough to wish someone else had tried it. I spent her scenes feeling sorry that Grodin had to share them with her...
Tim - Hyperventilates her way through the potentially plum part of a gold-digging murderess, to no great avail. She's drably cast (I want Lesley Ann Warren) and seems constantly in cahoots with the surrounding mediocrity. I tried to like her, but it was simply no use...
StinkyLulu - Cannon’s flailing here. She’s working her gifts – distinctive looks, loud voice, zesty screen presence, formidable hair – but her characterization stays stuck in stock comedy shrewishness, rendering her Julia bereft of both humor and charm...
Brad - I kept waiting for the scene that would make this nomination make sense. Maybe it was for the hair, or for the variety of screams and shrieks she managed, but I can't really figure out what this nomination was for. Servicable, even funny, but nomination worthy?...
RBurton - In the hands of a better actress, this would be a funnier role. Cannon can't even rise above Charles Grodin, who's much more amusing. The most comical thing about her whole performance is that really, really tall hair...
Ken - An unnecessary retread of Here Comes Mr. Jordan, elephantine whimsy intact. But Cannon – with her distinctive lion ‘s mane – is a scream. Punctuating her freak-outs with hilarious mile-a-minute barrages of polite murmur. She and the buttoned-down Grodin interact with the the high-style precision of a handcrafted cuckoo clock...
TOTAL: (11)

Penelope Milford in Coming Home
RBurton - This is a do-nothing nomination if ever I saw one. I'd call Milford an uninteresting sidekick, but she doesn't have enough screen time for the title. With Fonda, Voight, and Dern, it's peculiar that anyone remembered her...
Brad - Not a very interesting characterization, especially considering the powerful perfs surrounding her (Jane redeemed herself from Plaza Suite). I was aware of her acting "the tough girl", but it never felt true or went deeper. I imagine the nomination was on the tide of the film or on the breakdown scene, but weirdly thought I would've preferred to see Didi Conn...
Tim - As the least tidily idealised character in a peaceniks' love-in, Milford's pluck and vitality come in handy. But she's chucked away as the drama proceeds, and that hotel-room striptease isn't the wrenching sequence it should be. It's a good perf that just doesn't quite count for enough...
goatdog - What was supposed to be world-weary cynicism concealing a tender heart registers instead as vacancy. She seemed at a loss for what to do in the moments when the film needed her the most. She's likeable, but that wasn't nearly enough...
Ken - Looking and sounding like Shelley Duvall’s normal sister, Milford fulfills the obligations of the role but never goes that extra mile. Of course, the part’s merely an accessory to Fonda’s – and next to that fully realized star turn, the best Milford can muster is a minor matter of fact twinkle...
StinkyLulu - Though she contributes an essential tenderness to the film, Milford’s wan performance – all vapid listening and shallow reactions – doesn’t meet the tricksy balance essential to the role of Vi. A remarkable role; an appealing actress; a negligible performance...
TOTAL: (11)

Maggie Smith in California Suite
Tim - When she's not caught turning her nose up at the ghastly furnishings, Smith sails through these brittle marital tirades and gets round to Simon's required notes of bedside pathos. But she could do this crap in her sleep, and the contemptuous efficiency of the perf makes for a strangely grim spectacle. The punchline? She actually won!....
Ken - I don’t generally like it when Maggie Smith goes to her “funny” place. Noel Coward attitudinizing, lips (and everything else) permanently pursed. That’s where her dial’s mostly set in this flavorless buffet. Duelling with Michael Caine, she comes in second – more talkative but less interesting....
StinkyLulu - From this mere piffle of a part, Smith somehow avoids bathetic cruelty to retrieve a performance that – in both a comedic and a melancholic register – adeptly conveys the quiet anxiety of a woman who, for perhaps the first time, is beginning to ask: is that all there is?...
RBurton - If Neil Simon's dialogue ever falls flat, you can't tell in Smith's scenes. Her comic timing and delivery make whatever she says a riot. Her chemistry with Michael Caine is incredible and their section is the funniest. Still, the Fonda/Alda plot has all the heart...
Brad - Manages to make the stagy dialogue sound natural, even giving it a depth that is missing from any other performance in the film (save Michael Caine). Truly rises above and elevates the material, providing a nuanced, compelling performance in a forgettable relic of a film...
goatdog - Her lovely, hilarious, heartstring-tugging portrayal of a woman forced to reevaluate her entire life in the face of critical acclaim revitalizes, however briefly, Simon's stinker of a script. Her comic timing is superb, the heartache fueling her sarcasm palpable...
TOTAL: (22)

Maureen Stapleton in Interiors
Ken - Stapleton invades the hermetically sealed world of Interiors like Ethel Merman barging into a monastic retreat. But instead of belting out showtunes, she steps on the brakes. The script oversells the Pearl-as-lifeforce thing. But Stapleton’s playing balances that nicely. Restrained. Homey. Eloquent...
Tim - We breathe a sign of relief on Stapleton's arrival – the whole movie does. She's a trouper in a vaguely demeaning stock role, adding some memorable notes of honest confusion, warmth, vulgarity and social embarrassment to an otherwise hermetic chamber piece. It would be a mausoleum without her...
Brad - Literally a breath of fresh air in a stifling film. So good that I found myself agreeing with Pearl if only to side against the self-involved snobs surrounding her. The costuming helps her natural magnetism, but Stapleton is always the real person in the film you'd like to know...
StinkyLulu - Stapleton's performance as the loose, sloppy Pearl is a marvel of precision, infusing this clomping film with something just exhilarating and scary and wonderful...
RBurton - Stapleton makes a huge impression when she explodes onscreen in her red dress. Eager to please and not too bright, she's still the film's sole source of energy and passion. Commanding every second she's on screen, she's simply unforgettable...
goatdog - She's a hypodermic of day-glow adrenaline stabbed into the film's dead, beige heart. If that were all, she'd be good, or just welcome. But there was something extraordinary in those close-ups on the beach that I just can't get out of my head...
TOTAL: (24)

Meryl Streep in The Deer Hunter
Ken - The subject matter has enough power and relevance to resonate despite the film’s self-indulgent pacing. Streep’s very much the serious young actress laboring mightily to look spontaneous. A performance requires planning, yes, but it shouldn’t look quite so studiously concocted. Hardly award-worthy. (Wasn’t Melinda Dillon available?)...
goatdog - She's glass-fragile, wearing all of her thoughts and emotions on the surface in a performance that's sometimes so brutally honest it's hard to watch. But sometimes she overdoes it, not content with one mannerism when there's time for five...
StinkyLulu - Jeepers but Streep acts her bony little ass off in this thankless prop of a part. Her Linda is beautiful, gentle, a little bit dangerous and absolutely riveting. True, even with all those behaviors, I have no idea “who” Linda is, but Streep’s characteristic emotional intricacies make me care about her anyway...
Tim - Prime early Streep – her best work pre-Sophie's Choice. Projects a nervous strength and a tremulous vulnerability as this Odyssey's knitting Penelope; her chemistry with De Niro is palpable. The role's not much, but she's unforgettably luminous in it, and gets a fourth heart because she should have won...
RBurton - With all that hunting and Russian roulette, this is as butch as movies get. Streep's the feminine balance. She subtly plays the vulnerable, lonely woman left behind. Armed with a flat rural accent and giddy laugh, she blows the small role out of the water and breaks your heart...
Brad - What is there to say? Luminous, fascinating, unexpected – she takes a simple small town girl emotionally out of her depths and finds richness of feeling that many would have missed. Every feeling washes across her face. It's what we've come to expect from Streep – when she's on screen, you can't watch anyone else...
TOTAL: (22)

Oscar chose...
Maggie Smith in California Suite!
But the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Maureen Stapleton in Interiors!

So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!

8 comments:

CanadianKen said...

Cannon, asked to play a cartoon, shows that – done well – that can be dazzling …

Interiors’s script practically insists on over-emphasis for Pearl. Monopolizing the film’s hairspray budget, staking exclusive rights to the color red, Stapleton’s still no caricature. Even the sound of her voice is quietly enriching. And how about that mesmerizing little dance of hers? Totally unselfconscious. A suburban dervish channeling energy from some secret place…

Supporting actress honors in California Suite go to Jane Fonda – right on target as a career woman whose cleverness has turned corrosive. And an impressive contrast to her equally convincing nurturer in Coming Home

But the ’78 Oscar really belongs to Uta Hagen for her amazing single scene appearance in the otherwise unremarkable Boys from Brazil. As a consummately unrepentant war criminal, she blows the competition out the door and half a mile down the road. And no nomination! Hagen probably didn’t care. But I’m still steamed about it...

NATHANIEL R said...

as always gentlemen, a great read.

the Stapleton interiors performance is really special... though it's always tricky to watch/analyze performances like this that get the plum opportunity of BEING the life force of the film. see also: renee zellweger in cold mountain at the opposite end of the quality spectrum.

goatdog said...

There's an amazing dropoff in quality after the brilliant performances by Smith and Stapleton (the latter now one of my favorite supporting performances of all time) that I wonder how, exactly, Oscar thought these five actresses were remotely equal. (I'm not a huge Streep fan, and my problems with her performance are my problems with Streep in general.) I feel more sympathy for Milford's old-college-try than I do for Cannon's desperately unfunny shriek. If they had really wanted a supporting actress from the already overnominated Heaven Can Wait, they shouldn't have overlooked Julie Christie's endearing frizzy-haired schoolmarmish crusader.

StinkyLulu said...

As the zingers were rolling in, I was impressed how clearly the top 3 (Smith, Stapleton, Streep - or the perfs that garnered two sets of 5 hearts) gathered a kind of consensus that the other two (Cannon, Milford) simply did not. Even when folks faulted Maggie or Meryl, they did so with grudging nods to their substantial ability. I suspect Maureen snuck through mostly because everyone mostly really liked her work.

I love that this field has two comedies, a high style drama, a serious romance and an "important" epic. And (though it might have been nice to see Stockard Channing's work in Grease instead of Cannon or one of the supporting ladies from Unmarried Woman instead of Milford) I do like the range of genres here.

RBurton said...

I love that I'm not alone in feeling the most memorable part of Cannon's performance is her hair.

I agree with Ken that Fonda's better in California Suite. She should've had dual nominations. Smith is certainly hilarious, but Fonda gives the film an early emotional weight that makes the Matthau/May storyline relatively bearable near the end.

It's strange to me that people think Meryl's overacting. The picture of my website of her is at Nick's funeral. She never gets a chance to say how she feels about Nick's death in the script, so for about five seconds she shoots that death stare at Michael. She obviously blames him. Who else but Streep could get that across in five seconds or less?

newland said...

I can't believe Maggie Smith didn't win. I have to admit I saw Interiors a long time ago, but I remember nothing about Stapleton's performance... Good excuse to see it again.

Other than that, a great read, as usual.

criticlasm said...

I'm interested in the anti-Streep and Smith votes, since these are the roles that made people offer more of these kinds of roles to them. Maggie Smith may be able to do this in her sleep now, but this was the template. It's always interesting to try and put yourself in a place of never having seen these women, especially when we are getting closer to careers that we have been following for twenty or more years. I think if we had been looking at Streep's performance, say, from the eyes of never having seen her before, we would all without a doubt be saying "who's that--I want to see more." Similarly with Smith--this was before she had solidified her schtick--although I think even if it is schtick, she's still brilliant (see Gosford Park).

As for Fonda in California Suite, I guess I'll have to give it a second look--I found myself uninterested in most of it, and it felt like an acting exercise--I have my glasses, I have my cigarette, I know who this woman is. The writing feels so forced to me, and I just missed the point. I'll take a second look.

Raybee said...

Oscar got it right!

1. Smith
2. Stapleton
3. Streep
4. Milford
5. Cannon