8.26.2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1971



The Year is...



And we've got quite pile-up of Smackdowners for the 44th Annual Academy Awards, including...
1971'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.)
Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge
JJ - It's all unremarkable (except for her chest, and her reading of "You're a real prick"). Blame the movie, whose screenplay must've read like something Bret Easton Ellis would've scribbled on a napkin if he time-traveled to the early '60s and chased a fistful of Qualuudes with some scotch...
JamesHenry - Written like one of those shrilly, bimbo-ish blondes in a later (and lesser) Woody Allen comedy, Bobbie isn’t much of a character to begin with, but Ann-Margret doesn’t do anything with the role besides sit there and look glum. One has to fear that it was really the "cute blonde doing heavy drama" that got her the nomination...
StinkyLulu - Stunt casting at its most adept. Who else but Ann-Margret could so efficiently play such a delicate tornado, a tropical storm capable of matching Hurricane Jack? Her Bobbie’s vulnerability is intense, to be sure, but Ann-Margret’s typical mush-mouthed line-readings and odalisque posturing dissipate the actress’s elemental force....
Damion - Ann-Margret has given better performances before and after this one, and the “reasons” Ann-Margret was nominated for this one are unfortunate and lecherous. Her Bobbie is fully developed, and this is not a bad performance… just not really award worthy....
Ken - Once, counting his chickens for some doomed get-rich-quick scheme, Ralph Kramden surveyed his few tacky sticks of furniture and said, “Alice, this stuff’ll look great on Park Avenue!” A-M peddles her usual brand of baby powder here – relocated to more intellectually upscale surroundings, but not substantially improved...
Aaron - Ann-Margret's Bobbie is a lovely creation. She perfectly matches Jack Nicholson's scenery-chewing by quietly containing every impulse. But with every passive gesture, her eyes flash fire. An excellent, sad performance that becomes the moral barometer for the rest of the film...
Matt - Usually, Ann-Margret’s at a loss when her character’s not a sex tigress, but as Nicholson’s defenseless lover – a kitten without a whip – she’s entirely credible and touching. Not a particularly challenging role, since pathos and catatonia remain its predominant elements, but an admirable performance...
Nick - Times her pauses beautifully, allowing her character to make sense within the mannered universe of the script and direction. I love how her body and voice express Bobbie’s beauty and indolence without vamping, and without abstraction. Ann-Margret believes in her character, and holds our attention fully but simply....
Middento - Mostly, I know her as the dippy teen in Elvis(-like) musicals, but here, Mike Nichols’ penchant for carefully held close-ups allows her to demonstrate some careful acting! The ballyhooed scene is the screaming match with Nicholson, but the quieter, desperate moments really sell the tale....
TOTAL: (22)

Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show
Aaron - Bogdanovich's film is about the depth of this small town, but Burstyn only seems to be interested in her character's surfaces. Late in the movie, when Sonny says he could see why Sam liked her so much, I couldn't have agreed less...
StinkyLulu - As Criticlasm observed, “Burstyn earns the nomination with that entrance.” But the rest of the performance doesn’t sustain the heart-stopping spirit of the role so well. Burstyn clearly really really understands Lois, and she stages some great beats for Bogdanovich’s adoring camera, but...Burstyn’s Lois is more like an acting exercise than an embodied characterization...
Nick - Pushes a little hard for Saucy and Sly, and this is hardly the movie to break her self-conscious, actorly habits. Still, she’s sexy and funny, and her big scene about a long-ago swim blows Ben Johnson’s scene of reminiscence out of the water. The film could use more of her...
JJ - Burstyn's Lois Farrow ferments bitterness into a sweet-n-sour acquiescence that passes for wisdom. Lois lacks Ruth Popper's showy arc, but Burstyn, Bogdanovich and Robert Surtees create visual poetry: watch the camera move in the car scene with Sonny; see Burstyn meet motion with emotion...
Ken - Doesn’t compare with the brilliance Burstyn displayed in so many later roles. She still seems to be finding her way here. And occasional dollops of Polly Holliday “kiss my grits” exaggeration are unwelcome. Still, pretty solid...
Damion - Burstyn is not afraid to go there and be cold and calculating and risk the audience’s dislike. She gives it to them with both barrels, and then… returns with a hook so strong, and so human, that the audience can’t help but forgive her. Wonderful work… as always...
JamesHenry - What makes Burstyn the stand out in the actressexual’s dream The Last Picture Show? Mostly, it’s the fact that thirty years before the term “desperate housewife” became commonplace, she practically defined it with this rich, deliciously immoral and all around memorable performance...
Middento - The brassier role, played beautifully. My favorite moment is when she seriously contemplates Sonny’s flirting in the car before turning him away. The loudness of the role in an otherwise quiet film masks the stunning (and sustained) subtlety of the acting here...
Matt -
Burstyn endows Lois with appropriate proportions of jadedness and sass. But her genius here lies in her quicksilver transitions. She packs an entire range of emotions within even expository scenes. Her facial expressions and line readings in her final scene reveal fresh and surprising thought. A colorful, imaginative, heartfelt performance...
TOTAL: (31)

Barbara Harris in Who Is Harry Kellerman...?
Middento - The performance is out of this world – if the film were a short with only her scenes. She transfixes: you can’t help to sit up and take notice for the short block of time she is onscreen. Yet this otherwise magnetic performance seems jammed inorganically into this god-awful mess of a film...
JJ - Yawn. Until she walks onto that stage. It's not a factor of the writing or the role -- neither makes sense -- but of the essence of the actress. Harris takes a shotgun loaded with charisma and holds the movie hostage for two engaging scenes. Too bad she can't pull the trigger....
StinkyLulu - With a whole character arc to accomplish in the space of a few concentrated scenes, Harris makes the smartest, most electrifying choice – she simplifies. As Allison's fluttery crust of mannerisms dissolve to reveal the very real woman underneath, Harris's clarity and humanity provide this grandiose film its only true emotional mooring...
Nick - A vapid film and a wobbly entrance can’t stop Barbara Harris, who pours a movie’s worth of sad, darting, vaguely manipulative life into ten minutes of work. She deepens the unbearable lightness of the film without disrupting it, and assembles a whole interior life where her Crayola script never imagined one...
Ken - A petunia in an onion patch. Deliriously endearing; definitely a contender in the “very good performances in very bad movies” sweepstakes. It’s a testament to her talent that she briefly transforms this stink-bomb into a Fourth of July sparkler...
Damion -
Wow. In the middle of this terrible film, Harris is a revelation as Allison. Her audition scene, in lesser hands, would have been a disaster of actory ticks and wacky shtick. Instead, her Allison is just trying to hold it together… and let go of the lamp. Beautiful...
JamesHenry -
In a stupefying, unfocused mess like Harry Kellerman, it’s a miracle equal to the Immaculate Conception that Harris is able to give the performance that she does- as focused and precise as a laser beam while retaining a level of humanity that makes her heartbreakingly real...
Matt -
Harris weaves her magic, spinning elements of world-weariness and wryness out of Herb Gardner’s overwritten dialogue to make Allison something other than a kooky loser. Her thank-you speech is beautiful, luminous and touching. The movie’s impossibly synthetic, but Barbara Harris is the real thing...
Aaron -
Injecting life into an otherwise bewilderingly boring film, Harris's Allison emerges as the perfect counterpoint to Hoffman's Georgie, crafting a character who is lost but determined to live. Her scenes are easily this movie's most compelling...
TOTAL: (33)

Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show
Nick - Her cloudy expression is an instant emblem of the movie. Her final, spiteful eruption gratifies the audience. She’s a smart, unpredictable performer. BUT she remains an idea about a woman, rather than a woman. Direction is the real culprit here—Leachman is clearly in sync with Bogdanovich, probably improving on his suggestions—but I’m less persuaded by Ruth Popper and less interested in her that I thought I was...
Ken - A great part – and quite effective in spots. But as a dramatic actress – even at her best – Leachman’s just good, not great. Too early for them, I guess, but think what Betty Buckley or Dianne Wiest could’ve done...
Middento - An exceptional performance, to be sure. Her long-suffering wife is so delicately bruised that by the last scene in the film, her explosion is powerful, inevitable. A meaty role, but one I wish was more evenly nuanced throughout the film...
JamesHenry - I have a special place in my heart for this type of shy wallflower, no matter how good or bad, and, fortunately, Leachman is one of the best because she rises above easy clichés and cheap sympathy and makes us feel genuine emotion towards her...
Aaron - Any actress would demand attention in the part, but Leachman's performance seems totally unique. She disappears for the film's last third, but her final aria is beautiful: traveling from terrified to seething to boundless generosity in a matter of minutes...
Matt - Handles her role with restraint and simplicity. I found Burstyn’s performance more interesting and varied, but Leachman is never monochromatic, and she provides a beautiful coda to Picture Show, her raging scorn melting into tearful compassion. Masterful work...
JJ - Ruth feels out loud what the town feels silently. Leachman's triumph is the final scene: an eruptive monologue, then the sweetest slice of silent acting. Without a word, she slips from rancor to puzzlement to gratitude to remorse to despair to surrender...
StinkyLulu - Leachman's light touch and comedienne's instinct for precision help her performance to dodge the maudlin, overwrought pitfalls of a role like Ruth Popper. Instead, Leachman shows us a nearly extinguished woman flicker and flame back to life; it's subtly brilliant, and quietly joyous, work...
Damion - It is easy to see why Leachman won. She creates a portrait of a very real woman, living a very real, and painful life. Her hopes and dreams are so fleeting, you can watch them wash across her face… in silence...
TOTAL: (34)

Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between
Damion - More out of a V.C. Andrews novel than an Edwardian period piece, Leighton is positively monstrous and rather flat here as she channels her best Wicked Witch. She does not even build to the terror… just charges in with no delicacy or class...
Matt -
Losey relegates Leighton to the background, and there’s nothing memorable about her Mrs. Maudsley – not a nuance, inflection, gesture, line reading, facial expression, acting choice, or bit of business. The rationale behind nominating this non-performance is as bewilderingly oblique as most Losey films themselves...
JJ -
From the opening credits, I wanted this movie to end. So I'm grateful to Leighton for using her lethal aristocratic prowess to insist upon some kind of conflict and climax. She's way at the edge of actressing here. We could've used her more toward the center...
Nick - Leighton knows everything before the audience does. Her tasks throughout are to express shame, anger, and denial—high breeding under siege—which she does with boldness and color, but she’s much too theatrical. A clichéd arc, played memorably but too fussily for the camera...
Middento - Solid, fiery and sure in what would otherwise be an undercooked performance, Leighton seems to be the only grown-up in a movie where everyone seems stunted. The best scenes are when the camera catches her face communicating what she dares not say. Yet even she can’t anchor this film, which seems wispier than it’s meant to be...
JamesHenry - Her early scenes are merely perfunctory, but those final two or three- wowza. Leighton rips through them with a scary intensity only matched by Dame Judi Dench and Glenn Close...
Aaron - Mrs. Maudsley is a sideline character until the film's final minutes, at which point Leighton takes focus and knocks the movie out of the park. Transforming from the contained lady of the manor to a fearsome, terrible force of nature, she's this film's real black magic...
StinkyLulu - Leighton smartly imbues Mrs. Maudsley with a mercenary determination, calibrating a refined tension that veils her stealthy construction of the scaffolding necessary for the film’s climactic, revelatory confrontation...
Ken - Leighton’s Lady Maudsley conveys a multitude of impressions – gracious, inflexible, penetrating, tense, tender, cruel, hysterical – with an expertise that keeps them all mutually compatible. Gradually – and powerfully - reveals her presence at the edge of the proceedings to be, in fact, dead center...
TOTAL: (23)

Oscar chose...
Cloris Leachman in
The Last Picture Show
!

And, despite a wide divergence of articulate opinions
(check out how many performances rated the full span of hearts),
the SMACKDOWNing boys have agreed:
Cloris, it's you, baby, it's you!
So, lovely reader, this Smackdown proved to be quite a tight race, inspiring both great disagreement and what seems to be a clear consensus (the Smackdown's "winner" is the single performance to receive only 3-heart rankings and above). But what's your take? Toss your thoughts onto the pile & tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!

26 comments:

qta said...

all in all, this was one of those years with some strong performances in some WEAK ASS movies. I am glad Cloris won... but I would have been happy with Barbara Harris winning too. It is not her fault that her film was tragically bad.

newland said...

I think for once the Academy made the smartest choice. I would have gone for Leachman too. I'm a bit surprised she didn't generate more praise. I thought she would win the smackdown by a mile and in fact she barely made it by a heart!

Good job, everyone, it was a pleasure to read your opinions (and so varied, since none of the performances garnered much consensus).

Middento said...

Wow, what a squeaker! And I love reading everyone's comments, too. (Personally, I'm shocked that I'm the high mark for Ann-Margaret, heh heh.) I am not unpleased, nor surprised, at Cloris' win, however. :) It was a really interesting year for performances, however, so I'm glad to have participated in this one.

As I mentioned to Lulu, the one nomination I feel is perhaps missing to make a valid three-fer for The Last Picture Show is Eileen Brennan. BAFTA at least also seems to think so, since she seems to have garnered a nomination from them. What do you think?

James Henry said...

This lineup actually really surprised me. I thought I would hate more of these performances, but the only one I had any real problems with was Ann-Margret's. I can't complain that Leachman won both the Oscar and the Smackdown (I did give her four hearts), but to me Burstyn and Harris gave as interesting performances without the baitiness of the Leachman role.

Overall, this was a very interesting Smackdown to participate in because there was no clear winner and everyone's opinions ran the gamut.

StinkyLulu said...

I also like how the comments stacked up in a way that suggests that Cloris might have won because hers was a less polarizing performance than the others. The love for Burstyn and Harris might be more passionate, but -- at least here -- Leachman garners the most generalized consensus (ie. no one hated her work).

NATHANIEL R said...

Well, Stinky that consensus thing is a good note. I don't want to sound heretical but i bet the more smackdowners you enlist each time the closer you'll end up to Oscar's results.

it's the nature of group voting I think. Maybe 6000 smackdowners (the rough number of academy voters) would ALWAYS end up matching Oscar ;)

not that i didn't like reading so many people's opinions. I quite did!

i wish I'd seen more of these films though. even if they are as bad as y'all say.

JS said...

So many hearts and I'm glad Cloris made it through. :)

(And I guess this is the other "JS" as I didn't realize there was one for this smackdown. See you at the 1990 one no matter how reluctant we approach.)

StinkyLulu said...

Indeed. Starting in the late 60s, I think the Supporting trophies are really subject to "compromise" wins.

Middento said...

Nathaniel: you have NO IDEA what Harry Kellerman was like. Ugh. If you're feeling masochistic...

Nick Davis said...

I'm gratified that the group couldn't reach consensus, because I felt like I couldn't even reach consensus with myself about these performances. I've seen The Go-Between three times, and I didn't like it and then I kinda did and then I didn't, and Leighton always makes a different impression. I came close to hating The Last Picture Show on this go-round, even when I concede its formal strengths, but I went from loving Leachman and not even remembering Burstyn the first time I saw it to loving Brennan, trying to make up my mind about Burstyn, and being disappointed in Leachman (even though I still think she's good). And Ann-Margret is a total Rohrshach to me. She's clearly the least equipped actress in this group, but I liked her performance the best, even though my foggy mental jury is still out on Carnal Knowledge, and on Mike Nichols in general.

Dizzy enough for you? Anyway, thanks to Stinky for hosting such a great party! (And Damion, I love the VC Andrews comment!)

J.J. said...

I'm glad Middento brings up Brennan -- I myself wanted to mention her in my blurb, but the 40-word limit is there for a reason. She definitely deserved a nom, and maybe a win. Some quality actressing at the edges there.

My takeaway from 1971: For better or worse, these were all true supporting performances -- not leading performances by character actors that were shoehorned into the supporting category (as so often happens these days).

StinkyLulu said...

To echo Middento: Harry Kellerman... is perhaps the worst "Oscar nominated" movie I've ever seen. It's a little less entertaining than a 2-hour, R-rated Monkees episode.

CanadianKen said...

Looks like Middento's skimpy one heart rating (for an "out of this world" performance cost Harris (at least joint) victory in this month's Smackdown. Amazing she could make such an impression in a stinker of this magnitude.

My nominees for '71 would've been Candice Bergen ("Carnal Knowledge"), Margaret Leighton ("The Go-between"), Pippa Scott ("Cold Turkey"), Jessica Walter ("Play Misty for Me") and for the fifth spot a too tough to call race between Barbara Harris' "Harry Kellerman" coup and Eileen Brennan's great work in "The Last Picture Show".

NATHANIEL R said...

i realize it would be impossible to manage / organize / screen but wouldn't it be great if Smackdown participants also had to name their entire imaginary ballot for the nominations themselves liike what Canadian Ken just blessed us with

StinkyLulu said...

FYI - My Ann-Margret post finally went up just now, backdated so it precedes the Smackdown. (My Burstyn profile should be up soonish, either late tonight or wednesday.)

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
qta said...

Nick, I am so glad someone liked my VC Andrews comment (I was rather proud of it myself).

My Pics for 1971 would have been:
Cloris Leachman - "The Last Picture Show"
Barbara Harris - "Who Is Harry Kellerman...?"
Jessica Walter - "Play Misty For Me"
Ellen Burstyn - "The Last Picture Show"
and
Eileen Brennan - "The Last Picture Show"

Matt said...

Great Smackdown, everyone. I loved reading everyone's comments and found it fascinating to discover such a varied, yet still well thought-out, display of opinions on each performance.

I found 1971 to be a very strong Supporting Actress year, full of worthy, solid nominations, with the exception of Leighton, who, to my mind, simply doesn't register at all in her film. If I had my way, I'd have swapped this frosty matriarch for another, funnier one: Vivian Pickles in the hilarious "Harold and Maude."(And I'd give her bonus points for displaying her versatility for her turn in the same year's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," as Glenda Jackson's almost comically permissive best friend.)

By the way, Stinky, to whom would you have given the Oscar--Leachman or Leighton? I myself have a hard time deciding between Burstyn and Harris, but, if push came to shove, I'd probably award Burstyn the trophy.

StinkyLulu said...

Matt - I suspect I would have given the trophy to Leachman. I think I just liked her work best. (I admired Leighton, but I suspect she got the extra heart because I had never seen her before.)

Nat - IF Jessica Walter was run in supporting, my list might be:

• Barbara Harris - Who Is Harry Kellerman...?.
• Cloris Leachman - The Last Picture Show.
• Margaret Leighton - The Go-Between.
• Rita Moreno - Carnal Knowledge.
• Jessica Walter - Play Misty for Me.

And I'd be inclined to give the trophy to Walter, or Moreno...

qta said...

ooooh. Moreno was So GOOD in Carnal Knowledge!

criticlasm said...

Great year, and some really good comments. I agreed with Burstyn's acting being good but feeling studied--perhaps it's because I recently read her autobio--it's interesting how those illuminate moments in performances you wouldn't have noticed before. I did love Leachman's perf, though the whole film feels finally a little act-y to me wierdly. There are many little moments, that the more I thought of, the more they felt really self-conscious--people creating a "moment"--though perhaps that's what happens when you watch through an award lens. I almost feel like I want to give Cybil Shepard an award for not annoying me. I did love Cloris, though, and especially love a comic actress who can pull of some surprises--especially that last moment. It may be that the work came from her, and her best known work was Mary Tyler Moore (though she'd been steadily working for years), that put it over the edge--the "who knew she could do that?!" phenomenon.

And, Stinky, I'd love a write-up on Moreno and Walter, though I think we're now past it month-wise. I'm getting Carnal Knowledge on Netflix tomorrow, and I'm eager to revisit it.

And I'll just go on record that I'm sad next month is '90, and not '45. Just call me old-fashioned. ;)

RBurton said...

Cloris Leachman is probably my favorite Supporting Actress win ever.

Beyond that, I can totally live without the rest of the category.

Nick Davis said...

Regarding Leachman, I wanted to say how interesting I found StinkyLulu's idea that Leachman's skills of comic acting and timing were so helpful to her in her non-comic Last Picture Show role. I can see exactly what he's saying (at least, I think I can), but I never would have thought of it and I think it sums up a lot of what's so great about Harris in Harry Kellerman, too. She's not being funny, either, but she's thinking of all kinds of tricks and rhythms that a performer without experience in comedy or musicals probably never would.

I have a hard time coming up with a dream field of five here, since I'm pretty spotty on '71, most of what I've seen is totally macho or totally bad, and I failed to finish watching the '71 titles I rented this month in time for this post. As it stands, I'd say:

Ann-Margret, Carnal Knowledge
Eileen Brennan, The Last Picture Show
Barbara Harris, Who Is Harry Kellerman...
Bessie Love, Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Stefania Sandrelli, The Conformist

Love would be the first to go if I felt especially warm toward Burstyn or Leachman all of a sudden, or as soon as I see a more deserving fifth nominee. The other four are all about equal in my mind. (I can see dropping Bergin in here, though I think of her as a more of a lead since she hangs around for a good while at the beginning of Carnal Knowledge; Moreno's very smart with her final scene but it wasn't enough for me to consider her for a race like this.)

John T said...

While I haven't quite seen as many films from this year as I should have, I think it's safe to say that The Conformist ladies would probably be on my ballot (Sandrelli & Sanda). That movie would also have my vote hands-down for Best Picture of the year (heck, it'd make my Top 10 for the 70's).

James Henry said...

I'm love the love that Moreno is getting some deserved love for her performance in "Carnal Knowledge". I waited the whole damn movie for her to appear and I wasn't disappointed when she appeared at the end. It's a shame her role was so small because she was one of the only interesting things about it.

tim r said...

Wonderful smackdown, vividly reminding me of a bunch of movies I hadn't seen in years. Can I do 90, stinky? Please?