7.29.2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1988



The Year is...



And the Smackdowners for the 61st Annual Academy Awards are...

...reigning divas...

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

...former starlets on the comeback trail...
NEWLAND of As Bold As Brass

NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks

...an ingenue...
KEITH
of In Which Our Hero

...an old biddy...

yours truly,
STINKYLULU.

...and the evening's special entertainment...
NATHANIEL of The Film Experience
who gifts us with one of his beloved Nominee Montage Videos
click image below to be routed to video


1988'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.)
Joan Cusack in Working Girl
Nick - Oscar overlooks and underestimates comedy too often, but sometimes we overestimate comic performances, too. I don’t see anything difficult about Cusack’s serviceable and audience-friendly turn, and she adds no surprising layers to a broad archetype...
Ken - Nothing earth-shaking. But Cusack pulls her weight here – and the role could’ve been just a throwaway. Her real accomplishment’s making us believe she genuinely cares about Tess. So it actually makes sense that Tess values her friendship with the person under all that gung-ho hair and makeup....
Brad - Manages to be realistic and funny – the character we would probably want as a best friend, too. Lightens the proceedings but still manages to ground them as well. Nom-worthy? Still unsure, but I sure like the perf. And that she manages to overcome the clown makeup? Well...
Newland - Cyn is the kind of role and Cusack the kind of actress we should see more often in the supporting category. As a big-haired Jiminy Cricket, she has a couple of great scenes, but the role is too insignificant to deserve more than a nomination....
StinkyLulu - Cusack's Cyn is an architectural marvel of visual artifice, but Cusack wears it well, crafting a brilliantly funny performance that's radiantly human besides. It's a simple, elegant character arc festooned with heart-stopping eyeshadow....
Nathaniel - The first instinct – to label this a nod to a scene stealer – is wrongheaded. It's an ideal supporting performance. Very funny, true, but completely authentic, scene lifting and surprisingly humble in its second banana joking....
Keith - Cyn could have been just a cartoon, but Cusack brings beautifully subtle shadings to the role. When she finally is handed a scene that calls for some emotional oomph, she nails it beautifully, without ever losing the wit or the humor....
TOTAL: (22)

Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist
StinkyLulu - With broad declamatory strokes, Davis easily nails the character’s kooky verve and sweet bravado, but before long the whole project starts to stink of a carefully contrived quirk. By focusing so on the character’s lighter aspects (at the expense of her darker shadows), Davis diminishes Muriel’s true sparkle...
Ken - A perky stalker – with the perkiness even more off-putting than the stalking. Davis goes for cute’n’kooky, smugly launching non-sequiturs from little mini-catapults. But her voice and talent seem uncharacteristically thin here. I’m tempted to call the performance a miscalculation. Unless, of course, what she wanted was an Oscar...
Newland - I can’t believe she won. Davis is not bad per se, but she’s not even the best supporting actress in her film, let alone the best in 1988. A little bit of quirk never hurts in this category, but if quirkiness is the only asset your performance provides, you’re in serious trouble...
Brad - Has "I'm quirky" written all over it, much to the detriment of the character. From the facial quirk, to the oddly unflattering clothing, we're asked to believe that Davis doesn't look like a model, and that Hurt's character is so grief-stricken he's not aware of the obviousness of her goal to get him. Just obvious characterization in an obvious movie. Would've gone for Turner or Amy Wright myself....
Keith - Davis never answers the riddle of Muriel Pritchett -- what the hell does she see in Macon Leary? -- and so despite Davis's immense charm and warmth, Muriel remains merely a lovable mountain of quirks and eccentricities, never becoming a complete human being...
Nathaniel - A triumph of star charisma if not quite great acting. Impossibly Quirky "life force" character is almost made flesh and blood. Not Davis's best performance but effectively fills the movies large demand...
Nick - Very warm and engaging, even when the eccentricity verges on pure mannerism. Davis gets Anne Tyler better than her co-stars do, and she finds the rhythms of Muriel’s distractions and non sequiturs without making her self-involved or obtuse. Coulda gone deeper, but coulda crashed and burned, too...
TOTAL: (15)

Frances McDormand in Mississippi Burning
Keith - My lord, how McDormand works, trying desperately to create something from nothing. There are lovely individual moments, and some impeccable physical choices, but the script simply doesn't provide a character for her to play....
Nick - Kudos to McDormand for rescuing interesting notes from a dire script and meretricious direction. Still, she’s palpably smarter than the movie or the character, and her liveliness with Hackman offers a marked contrast to her underutilization (or is it boredom?) elsewhere....
Ken - The picture? Politically correct. Cinematically conventional. But McDormand approaches her cliched role with the expected commitment and professionalism. And in an early kitchen scene creates (with Hackman) a special space – intimate, palpable. When another voice breaks the spell, McDormand does a triple take – complex, seamless, breath-taking. A momentary triumph of talent, technique and inspiration...
StinkyLulu - Somehow McDormand survives her miscasting in an utterly lame role, with generally idiotic dialogue, to craft a living, breathing characterization – the closest thing there is to a "person" in the whole movie. Yet, it remains more an extraordinary accomplishment than a great performance...
Nathaniel - Her racism monologue is moving if transparently Actorly. Still she's magnetic throughout and easily strongest in her reactive moments, blooming a little like a neglected flower while mundanely washing dishes...
Brad - Does a lot of extratextual work with Hackman and the attraction between the two, but her native intelligence still made it hard for me to believe she's a woman who would've married a man in HS just because he made her laugh. Park Overall, maybe, but she's more like Carson McCullers...
Newland -
This is one of those performances in which the actress conveys much more in what she doesn’t say than with what she actually says. McDormand lets us into the complex psyche of her character through a subtle performance that gives more than the script contemplates...
TOTAL: (21)

Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons
Nick - [In a cowering whisper] Maybe the least effective performance of Pfeiffer’s career, because Frears only wants her as an emblem of beauty and then of gorgeous suffering. Bravo to her impeccable bone structure, but Michelle has no genuine ideas about this perplexing woman. She looks cowed and under-directed...
Keith - A fabulous gift of a role, and Pfeiffer gives us nothing but unconvincing tears and a heaving bosom. Where's the emotional torment, the passion, the grief? It's all hidden behind Pfeiffer's blank beauty. She's out-acted by Uma (who deserved the nom far more) and out-prettied by Keanu...
Ken - The picture constricts Pfeiffer like a corset. She’s competent. But poorly cast co-stars, a hollow smarty-pants script and (who knows?) maybe the actual corsets - all these things impede her. I found myself proceeding to Pfeiffer default mode (ie. idly wondering why nobody ever came up with a daughter-mother gig for her and Barbara Bain)...
StinkyLulu - Pfeiffer’s performance captures Mme. Tourvel’s incandescent guilelessness, which makes her stunning evisceration a heartbreaking spectacle. But... Pfeiffer’s glimmering mélange of terrors gets muddy at the most essential moments. A worthy nomination, but an incomplete performance...
Newland - She’s beautiful, she’s virtuous. She’s the ultimate ice queen, melting under the influence of Valmont. Pfeiffer aptly conveys the emotional roller coaster Mme Tourvel undergoes, but the performance lacks passion. Efficient, but the meltdown is not completely satisfying...
Brad - Servicable and beautiful, but even within this act-y film I am aware of her acting for some reason. I never quite buy her betrayal--I get it's real pain, but not about what it purports to be. It lacks mystery to me, but then again the moment is designed to illuminate his character more than hers...
Nathaniel - Dehumanizingly referred to as "the other one" / "that other matter" – and Pfeiffer's turn also betrays fuzziness of character. Does Tourvel even know herself? She masters the tricky combo of deer caught by predators alarm and heavy lidded surrender...
TOTAL: (16)

Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl
Nathaniel - Works many variations on self-absorbed humor "I am after all, me" . The faux camarederie she suggests with hugs and head tilts is truly repulsive/hilarious. Occassionally inspired but a total cartoon...
Keith - It's a nice performance, strongest in the precisely calibrated ambiguity of the opening scenes and the desperate scramble for a shred of dignity in the closing. But Weaver overplays the ogre in the boardroom scene, and it's a performance that any of a dozen actresses could have given...
StinkyLulu - As a vaguely plausible Big 80s gorgon, Weaver – through a finely calibrated mix of near perfect timing, a couple genius line readings and just enough slapstick – makes her Katherine an utter hoot. With a little high camp, and a lot of high style, Weaver knows exactly what’s she’s doing and she does it very very well...
Nick - I love Weaver’s radiant, we’re-just-two-girls-chatting unctuousness, and she has a great, silent moment of ignoring that enormous ski-boots don’t match her silk blouse and tailored skirt. She makes a big impression with fewer scenes than I remembered, but she’s hesitant about farce (nervous, perhaps, about capitulating to the script’s misogyny?) and, like everyone else in the movie, lacking in crucial energy...
Ken - A wonderfully accomplished take on the big business dragon lady. Expansive but never overstated. And what an entrance! Her benevolent despot act’s pure delight. You’d grin and thank her while she twisted the knife. And I love her crazy/elated high as she tosses Griffith that gorilla in the mist...
Newland - The role of Katharine Parker gives a charismatic Weaver the unique chance to be funny without playing funny. In a mesmerizing turn, she gracefully avoids the sketchy über-bitch role and delivers a winning performance that leaves you craving more...
Brad - A caricature that never goes over the edge. Plays into a strength of Weaver's – stylistic comedy that balances on the razor of parody. We never question how anyone is taken in by her act (which is key), but it's also kind of delicious to watch her squirm when she's exposed as a fraud...
TOTAL: (25)

Oscar chose...
Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist!
But the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl!

So, lovely reader, this Smackdown brought the greatest diversity of opinion of any to date. Add your opinage to the mix & tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!

29 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

Rewatching these films was a treat as usual. Not a one of the performances was as strong as I remember it being in 1988.except for Cusack who I think never has a false note. She isn't given a lot to do but sometimes i think we overvalue the BIG roles (see: geena davis) that the movie hands itself to.

I was surprised to not like Pfeiffer's as much as I once did. (hence the lack of five stars ;) and agree with some of the naysaying that her conception of the character is a little limited. I wish she'd given her more erotic inner life (which we know Pfeiffer is more than capable of) but I still think it's strong work.

NATHANIEL R said...

i also wanted to say that giving hearts is so difficult when you feel the field is so even. I think you can make a case for any of them this year so it's nice to see the broad range of opinions served up.

CanadianKen said...

I’d definitely rate Oscar winner Davis as low woman on this totem pole … “Working Girl” holds up nicely – and certainly has the field’s best ensemble work. The Griffith and Ford contributions have aged well. And Weaver seems as terrific now as she did then … “Dangerous Liaisons” – dressed to the teeth – is an opulent bore. Close and Malkovich can do scheming, I guess. But they can’t even fake charm (not even fake charm). I can see Close scaring victims into the bedroom. But Malkovich – testy, peevish, sexless – could he really whine them into it? An utterly mismatched supporting cast (with Swoosie Kurtz chiming in from Vichy Dogpatch) stops just short of bumping into the furniture. I guess the story’s not for me, though. The rival version “Valmont” offered Colin Firth (magnetism plus) and Annette Bening (perfectly cast) in the Malkovich and Close roles. And I still didn’t like it much. Check out Patrice Leconte’s “Ridicule” to see this kind of thing done right.

John T said...

Without having seen Dangerous Liaisons (it gets further and further up that Netflix queue with each passing day), I'd have to give it thusfar to Weaver. I remember liking Cusack, and thinking that she was a hoot, but also being surprised by the nod, as it just didn't seem "Oscarable," and I distinctly remember disliking the long-winded film The Accidental Tourist, along with all involved. Weaver, on the other hand, with her ice-bitchiness, is the standout thusfar (and, apparently, the standout overall).

newland said...

1988 wasn't a very good year for movies ("Rain Man" won, so go figure) but the Academy managed to assemble a nice group of Supporting Actress nominees (except, maybe, for the actual winner, who wasn't that good). My ideal winner is Sigourney Weaver, but McDormand, Cusack of Pfeiffer winning wouldn't be horrible or traumatizing.

My heart goes with Weaver, however, for the performance itself and because that Oscar belonged to her from the moment she broke her Ripley persona to play this character in this comedy. She was also a double nominee, which usually helped (not anymore, as Julianne Moore can testify) and everybody expected her to win. But she didn't.

The saddest thing is that it was her last nomination to date, and maybe the last nomination ever. She has constantly provided good, fine, great and excellent work since then ("A map of the world" being my favourite) but she has been politely overlooked year after year. Katherine Parker was her great chance to put an Oscar in her mantle, but hey, who needs that having won a Supporting Actress Smackdown?

NATHANIEL R said...

i so need to get back to the beach ;) but i just love the smackdowns.

i'm a little surprised to hear the negativity in regards to DL itself. I think it's the best film of 88 and CLOSE in particular is pure genius. Hilarious and awful of character but delicious to watch... unfortunately it's also the role (or the combo of roles with fatal attraction) that forever typecast her as the gorgon --rather like what happened to julianne moore after her genius f***ed up mother routine in BOOGIE NIGHTS. we loved that: now do it again about 31 times!.

I've always been torn on Malkovich but I think they have great chemistry.

sorry this is off topic since we're talking about supporting actresses but my mind has blanked on the overlooked candidates other than JAMIE LEE CURTIS in fish called wanda

StinkyLulu said...

I never have any idea about how to make sense of the many potentially overlooked performances. BUT the movies that kept popping for 1988's overlooked possibilities were:

Diane Venora/Bird
Barbara Hershey/Last Temptation
Genvieve Bujold/Dead Ringers
Jamie Lee/Wanda
Mercedes Ruehl/Married To The Mob

With nods also to the female ensembles in Another Woman, Mystic Pizza, and Unbearable Lightness of Being.

There are of course 10-20-30 others but these seem to be the ones that keep coming up.

J.J. said...

Not to stray from the topic, but Newland brings up something that's troubled me for years: 1988 was the last time Weaver was close to Oscar (20 f*cking years!). Her performance in 1999's "A Map of the World" was worthy of a nomination and a win -- it's a trickier and greater feat than Hilary Swank's in "Boys Don't Cry." Hell, the Golden Globes nominated her that year, at least. If you haven't seen "Map," do so. It's a role ideally tailored to Weaver's specific talents, plus you get to see an overlooked part of Julianne Moore's Year of Wonder (which included Magnolia, An Ideal Husband and The End of the Affair, which I still believe features her best performance ever). Anyway.

StinkyLulu said...

A bit of trivia for Smackdown fans:

Joan Cusack's the first performance to garner a full spread of hearts (1-5) in the 14 Smackdowns we've had to date. (The only other one to come close was Lesley Anne Warren in Victor/Victoria -- which might say something about the difficulty of broad comedy to garner voting consensus.)

newland said...

Another piece of interesting trivia: All five nominees come from Best Picture nominees. I've been checking but I'm too lazy to do it thoroughly. However, I think this might be the only time this has happened.

Was this a result of the lack of greatish performances that made voters look for their nominees in their favourite movies? Or was it the other way around? Just coincidence?

John T said...

Re: Newland

I went through and checked, and indeed, this is the only time in this category where it matches up with the Best Picture nominees (in fact, it's the only time in the supporting categories it happened). The other eight times this occurred:

1934: Best Actress
1935: Best Actor
1940: Best Actress
1942: Best Actor
1943: Best Actor
1964: Best Actor
1966: Best Actor
1977: Best Actress

The first five, however, are less impressive matchups once one considers that there were 10 Best Picture nominees to matchup with instead of five. 1966 is the only time the matchup was completely perfect, with each of the five Best Picture nominees having a corresponding Best Actor nomination.

Nick Davis said...

I am not a sourpuss in real life, I only play one on the Supporting Actress Smackdowns. Because it's such a starry lineup of deserving actors, I tend to remember 1988 as a better-than-average year for this category, but when I watch the actual performances, I have a hard time defending any of them as winners. I am that 1988 anomaly—out of this field, I would have voted for Davis.

But in a heartbeat, I would have swept out this bin in favor of the above-mentioned Hershey and Bujold, Sandy Dennis in Another Woman, and Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (probably my favorite, unless it's Bujold). Since none of the supporting women in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was a standout for me, I'm tempted to say that Amy Wright would be my fifth nominee for The Accidental Tourist, but I haven't seen some key films like Bird, High Tide, The Moderns, and A World Apart that might factor in here.

StinkyLulu said...

Venora in Bird got most of the hightone awards in this category.

But I just couldn't even contemplate hitting Unbearable Lightness this month; the movie hurt my feelings the first time around, I guess. I also can't sign on for the Sandy Dennis appreciation in Another Woman but I am sorry the voting didn't pitch Dead Ringers higher (I generally love Bujold and I've never seen it).

Keith said...

I hadn't seen any of these movies since their initial release, and was taken aback at what a dull little bunch they were; Working Girl was the only one that I genuinely enjoyed (though I did not loathe Dangerous Liaisons quite so intensely as I had the first time around; it has its moments).

It's a strong group of actresses, though; if you just looked at the names, you'd expect the performances to be better overall than they were. (The only field since that I'd rate as stronger based on overall talent: 1998 -- Bates, Blethyn, Dench, Griffiths, L. Redgrave.)

So I was surprised at how often I found myself feeling sorry for some of these women. Pfeiffer, lost in a role she didn't have the experience to play; Davis, trapped in a maze of flashy cliches; McDormand -- oh, most of all, poor Frances McDormand -- quietly trying to find a character in a few scenes of underwritten, cheesy dialogue. I almost gave her a third heart out of sympathy.

And thanks to StinkyLulu for inviting me to take part; it's probably the only time in my life I'll ever be described as "an ingenue."

Nick Davis said...

Keith: Totally. Yes. I almost gave McDormand a third heart, too, for the same reason.

I'd stick up for '99 as a pretty amazing flock of actresses, too: Collette, Jolie, Keener, Morton, and Sevigny, all of them pretty fresh faces (especially for the mainstream), all of them destined to get more famous. The movies sure took a lot more risks, though.

John T said...

Oh, I agree with Nick about Unbearable-Lena Olin would hands down have this trophy from me, were she nominated.

RBurton said...

Glad to hear all the love for Olin who adds so much to one of my favorite movies. She was robbed of a nomination.

I'm also so glad Cusack didn't come in first. I saw all that love for her and it was definitely a little frightening.

I rank Weaver first and she's definitely a deserving win. It's so sad that she was the first to be nominated twice in a single year and lose both.

By the way, The Accidental Tourist's source material by Anne Tyler is far superior to the movie.

newland said...

Re: rburton

I was sort of afraid Cusack might win too. Her nomination for "Working girl" is one of my favourite nominations ever, but only because it's a genuine triumph of the genuine supporting actress. But a nomination is enough. The character or the performance don't add up enough steam to deserve a nomination, neither in Oscar nor in the smackdown.

Re: johnt

Thanks for finishing the semi-research. It's interesting because voters tend to nominate actors from their favourite films whether they deserve it or not, but in this case it might be something different. Good job, anyway.

Nick Davis said...

I like the book a lot, too. I don't think Turner sparks to the material at all in this movie, and reading Anne Tyler, it's hard to imagine how Kathleen Turner could ever fit in her universe. Same might be said about William Hurt. I love that Davis thanked Tyler first in her speech, and that she got such positive press for doing so.

StinkyLulu said...

My only regret about Cusack NOT winning?

That I don't get to use her face as my blogspot avatar for the next month... Sigourney's fabulous but nowhere near as hilarious looking.

I suspect the Olin snub might be an obverse result of the phenomenon that brings us this field of Best Picture Supporting Actresses. My very subjective recollections tell me that the film got something of a drubbing from the popular press. I guess I really need to give it another shot... I do love Olin.

Nick Davis said...

(I meant that last comment to come in after RBurton's.)

I meant to respond to J.J. Gittes earlier that I liked Weaver in A Map of the World, though as with The Accidental Tourist, I thought a bit more was going on in the book than made its way into the movie. Side note: I loved how she stood her ground against Oprah's book club when they had her on, and they all wanted to talk about what a victim Alice was, and Weaver kept saying, "I'm sorry to disagree, but I don't think that's right at all." Over dinner, at Oprah's house. No one seemed very prepared for an actress they were doting on to be disagreeing with them so strongly.

But anyway: I also think it's strange that Weaver didn't squeeze into the '97 lineup for The Ice Storm. Granted, the Academy clearly didn't like that movie, but they made room for Joan Allen and Barbara Hershey just the year before in movies they didn't like. And it's a shame that her Death and the Maiden performance didn't qualify her for the notoriously weak Best Actress lineup in '94. I don't love that performance as much as some, but for a major star who's perceived as "owed" to lose out to Miranda Richardson flapping around a stolid English biopic and Susan Sarandon gliding through a John Grisham adaptation seems like weird Oscar injustice.

But now I'm changing the topic entirely.

tim r said...

To one close to my heart, Nick. Loved all this...

NATHANIEL R said...

in re: to weaver's refusal to nod and accept adulation in favor of actual discussion/debate... this might be why she has so many (assumed) problems with AMPAS. i don't know as much about her career as i do about some of her competitors here but one imagines she has been branded "difficult" here or there.

and oscar likes humble/ agreeable/ eager to be loved when it comes to their winners, don't they?

I personally don't like her performance in Death and the Maiden and I have an issue here or there with the MAP performance (but i need to see it again) but the Ice Storm snub does show a lack of AMPAS love.

i'm glad people are bringing up overlooked performances. 88 does have a lot of worthy stuff in it.

bujold, olin, wright, reuhl, curtis

that's a worthy five right there without any of these women present. I think it's a case of a year with a lot of good and not a lot of great in this category.

STINKY --good point on the vote spread for comedic work. if you take the smackdown as a microcosm it does present an interesting theory as to why it's so hard for these performances to be nominate and why they almost never win

Nick Davis said...

Is Curtis really supporting in Wanda? I think of her as a lead, but I haven't seen the movie since God was a boy, or a fish.

Ruehl I'm just not crazy about, at least not in Married to the Mob.

criticlasm said...

Great Smackdown this time! I really was kind of shocked at my "feh" reaction to most of these performances.

And I would have to agree--Weaver, and the Ice Storm in general, was robbed!

JS said...

For me, Lena Olin getting nominated for Unbeareable Lightness is the same as Glenn Close's win for Dangerous Liaisons: I keep forgetting that they never happened.

Regarding Sigourney's "Map of the World" performance, I thought it could have benn nominated. But while I loved her in the movie, I loathed her supporting cast.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Oh my, in the words of Chuck Berry, it goes to show you never can tell when those intrepid Smackdowners have a pow-wow. When I took part a couple months ago, I was certain I'd be the only dissenting voice among a chorus of Celeste Holm worshipers. Ha.

Now this month, I witnessed the woman I was sure would easily at least contend for the prize (with Davis) get almost completely shutout, along with Davis. I thought Pfeiffer's stunning work in Liasons was beyond reproach, but I guess I'm as naive as Madame De Tourvel when it comes to guessing how a Smackdown will play out.

Personally, in 1988 I think Pfeffier gave a one-two punch onscreen equal to what Jessica Lange pulled off in 1982, with Michelle's awesome, perfect performance as Angela in Married to the Mob also Oscar-worthy (of course she wasn’t even nominated for Mob- that would have made too much sense).

As for Davis, I thought Geena's work in Tourist was transcendent, and I was happy when she pulled off a major upset (I was rooting for her or Pfeiffer, but the smart money was on Weaver). To my mind, Davis fully deserved the prize. Maybe the fact I never read Tourist helped me view Davis in a more favorable light, but I found her performance throughly engaging and believable.

Can't wait to see how 1971 plays out, especially as I haven't even seen two of the peformances yet.

jbnyc said...

As far a dearth of stars for Weaver, I'd have to agree with Nathaniel. I totally agree with Keith that the scene in the board room where she bursts in and then feigns lightheadedness is ridiculous. Never really understood this nomination. Most of my memory of Sigourney in this film is her Armani 80's wardrobe. And the embarrasssing overplaying. I don't get it.

Ed Gauthier said...

Supporting? Davis' part was a lead. Cusack should have won for supporting, and also later for at least one those Julia Roberts things, too. 1988 not a great year for movies? Agreed, but it was, after all, right after 1987, which was one of the best years for movies since 1939.