Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1976

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 49th Annual Academy Awards are...
ALEX of Alex in Movieland
of Criticlasm & Oh, Well, Just This Once...
MATT of MattLand888
of She Blogged By Night
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

And this month, Alex in Movieland has graced us with a brilliant clipreel.
Click image to be routed to video.

1976'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.)

STACIA Memo to Jane: the dowdy, disheveled look while refusing to blink does not automatically equal good performance. Alexander is stone-faced, exudes false emotion, and one is never convinced she's really scared. Irritated, but not scared.
ALEX Allow me to doubt a performance based on deep breaths and nodding. She’s not bad, but I like my cameos when they’re loud, bold or naughty.
Except for Testament and her recent television work, Jane Alexander’s performances are dreary; she hasn’t smiled on screen since 1970, and her emotional spectrum ranges from careworn to woebegone. Admittedly, her cheerlessness serves the character here, but the role’s little more than a cameo.
Alexander delivers an admirable bit of actressing that uses emotion and empathy to mark an essential node in a plot overstuffed with intricate detail. Adept, memorable work in a basically unremarkable role.
Subtle performance mostly accomplished with looks and slight mouth movements. Extremely skilled, but I'm not sure if it was nom worthy, as it still feels slight.

ALEX The performance doesn’t have enough heart, nor contrast. Jodie’s a natural and a nice presence, but there’s no fire to it. The role required a better grip.
STINKYLULU Foster layers just enough idiosyncracy (and not too much intelligence) into the role, transforming the screenplay’s hollow holograph into a plausibly human person.
A performance that I could've had a little more of. Flashes of the girl come through, just when you're forgetting how young she is. Unsettling, honest, and impressive.
Jodie Foster gives a remarkably accomplished performance as Iris, a twelve-year-old hooker. Foster not only exists as the film’s icon of sexuality, but also digs inside the role and unearths toughness, quirkiness, and vulnerability—all with believability rare for a child actress.
Jodie easily mixes naivete with world-weary intelligence. She is strong, determined, and compelling. Like Travis we're captivated by her youthful spirit; we want to know everything about her, how she got here and why she won't go home.
TOTAL: 18s

BRAD Grant must have been nominated for displaying one of the few emotional moments in a film about dread. Not helped by having a scene partner like Lynne Frederick, who is as full of life as a Resusci-Annie.
ALEX Grant’s robotic reading of “THERE ARE THINGS I HAVE TO DO” reminded me of Kathy Griffin imitating Paula Abdul. To me, it doesn’t feel tragic or deep, just uncomfortably bad.
Grant illuminates Lili's psychology with an often electrifying vivacity while, at the same time, providing only a bare sketch of the character. A confoundingly “partial” performance.
STACIA Grant practically disappears in this all-star cast full of scenery gorging costars. Her dim, stereotypical performance is brightened only by some Oscar-nominated hair shearing, yet even that is upstaged by a desperate Dunaway.
MATT This torpid all-star ship-flick almost capsizes Lee Grant’s performance—by pairing her with a histrionic Sam Wanamaker and giving her an inadvertently hilarious haircutting scene with Faye Dunaway that’s prescient of Mommie Dearest. Grant stays afloat by imbuing her role with emotional honesty and alertness (though she seems to be playing herself).

Piper Laurie in Carrie
ALEX In order to succeed, the role requires no hesitation. And it works, as I saw both the monster and the loving mother. Her last big speech is delivered perfectly and the unexpected orgasm while touching death is a nice bonus.
BRAD Does what Dunaway pushed too far in Mommie Dearest, pushing the character almost to farce and humor but just stopping short, due to incredible fierce groundedness. Add to that playing off of Spacek and it's just thrilling.
MATT Scary and campy is a combination difficult to pull off, but Piper Laurie works miracles as Carrie’s crazy mother. Laurie’s commitment to the role is remarkable; her vocal ingenuity and power are impressive, and she lets you see in her eyes the demons swirling in Margaret White’s head. A rousing success.
Laurie's performance holds the entire film together. Over the top, campy, and effective. Only Piper could have portrayed this walking nightmare of a mother with enough earnest emotion to make it believable.
Laurie crafts a haunting portrayal of an utterly human monster, mixing malevolence and vulnerability to create a vision of heartbreaking horror. Simply marvelous.
TOTAL: 24s

MATT The nadir of supporting actressness. Saddled with Chayefsky’s hyperarticulate gobbledygook and a ridiculous character trajectory, Beatrice Straight makes the clichéd role of a scorned wife insufferable and unconvincing. Listening to her demand “allegiance” from her husband and intone “I hurt badly!” in her highfalutin’ accent made me cringe. Simply awful.
ALEX Straight risks by playing it hard and it pays off, also managing to keep it real and humane. Her face is so expressive and that haunting voice gives a heartbreaking edge. Five minutes more and it would’ve been magic.
STINKYLULU Straight's deft work contributes a blast of emotional clarity within a narrative mostly characterized by manipulation, hype and deception. The role’s brevity is transcended by Straight’s humanity, clarity and dexterity within it.
STACIA In a thankless peripheral character role as the wronged wife in a movie that satirizes such notions, Straight retains dignity and believability. She dutifully glides through anger and grief, emerging as the necessarily accepting ex in a single brief scene..
BRAD Full, complex riveting work in a very short amount of screen time. I like it a lot, and it completely fulfills one of Lulu's SA criteria, which is wanting to see more of her than you did. The strongest acting in the film for me.
TOTAL: 16s

Oscar chose...
Beatrice Straight
in Network
sees things somewhat differently...

Best Supporting Actress of 1976!
(We liked it, Piper, we liked it.)

BUT, lovely reader, what do YOU think?
Please share your thoughts in comments.


Slayton said...

Ugh. I knew Piper Laurie would win this smackdown. Personally, I don't think there is a single more egregious acting nomination in the history of the Oscars. It's just plain, ridiculously bad. Never once did she convince me that she had any genuine religious fervor, or that she was anything other than an actress who simply liked to shout. Her final monologue scene is so overwrought as to be in bad taste, and it is the only time that De Palma FULLY swerves over into the realm of exploitation ("I liked it! I liked it!"). And whatever he was trying to signify by having her die in the same fashion as St. Sebastian, well, I didn't get it.

Ortzi said...

I kind of think Laurie was my least favourite of the four performances. Maybe Grant and Alexander didn't deserve to be there, but their performances had "something", while Laurie was, in my opinion, a cliché. And a bad one. Foster was the only viable candidate in my opinion, but my impression is that either it was a weak year for supporting actresses or the academy didn`t manage to assemble a nice enough crop.

Alex in Movieland said...

I am glad Piper Laurie won, although I didn't expect her to get so much love from all 5 of us. I agree that it wasn't the best crowd of supporting actresses, yet all of them were different and that made the group seem kind of special.

The final result is close to my ranking. I'd only put Beatrice Straight as #2 instead of Jodie. I expected the other smackdowners to be more generous with her and it happened. For me, Jodie's performance was one of those that you really wanna like, but just can't.

Stacia said...

Wow, I really thought I'd be the only one praising Laurie for her performance. I last saw "Carrie" several years ago and fully assumed I'd be as nonplussed with the film as I was then. Boy, was I wrong. DePalma can be so ham-handed and confused, but in "Carrie" I think he managed some water-muddying character flaws that really worked. Like another Smackdowner said, you could see the loving mother in the psychotic abuser. You could see the self-centered popular teenagers in Sue and Tommy and the masochistic control freak in Miss Collins. Very nice.

On the other hand, I was extremely nonplussed with Grant, Straight, and especially Alexander. Part of it was that the dutiful wife and barely-there bookkeeper roles seemed like such insults to these actresses. Straight at least added some dignity to her role, and completely stole the scene from Holden. I adored Holden's woozy and failed attempts to keep the scene on him, and Straight won a few extra hearts for that.

robbie said...

I am beyond thrilled that Laurie won this. Masterful work.

Catherine said...

@Slayton: I have to say I guffawed upon reading "that she was anything other than an actress who simply liked to shout", even though I kinda dig Laurie in the film. I personally would've given the top spot to Foster (her work in Taxi Driver chills me afresh each time I watch it) but I'm pleased that the crazy lady won.

CanadianKen said...

I thought Amy Irving outshone Piper Laurie in CARRIE. Laurie's best work came years later with her luminous turn in THE GRASS HARP. And Cybill Shepherd (uncharacteristically good in TAXI DRIVER) made more of an impact on me than Jodie Foster, though certainly Foster had the showier role. What she did with it, though, seemed - I don't know - underwhelming. And if someone HAD to be nominated in VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED, I'd have gone with Julie Harris. Still - for me - the year's two best supporting actress achievements went unnominated:

Vertigo's Psycho said...

I'd love to see Laurie in Carrie and Winters in Next Stop as neighbors- now there's a can't-miss movie. If Carrie had Mrs. Lapinsky in her corner, Mama wouldn't stand a chance.

Laurie is brilliant- it's amazing she came back to films after fifteen years with such an indelible performance.


hmmmm....what about nominating candy clark 4 the man who fell to earth? she was excellent in that in 76...


ahhhh i can't believe i missed this on sunday.

anyway: fun read as always. CARRIE is one of my favorite films but i'm a little surprised at the mild reaction to Straight and Foster. Straight in particular to me was exactly what Network needed. As I said in my review

"The movie has barely any time for her but she seizes her only true scene in a death grip, cramming huge emotional shifts and marital history into an instant polaroid of the abandoned wife. It's the shortest performance ever to win an Oscar and it's not at all hard to understand why."

so for me. a lot of hearts! ;)

Glenn said...

Go Piper!

In regards to Foster, I remember being more taken by Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver than Foster's actually quite odd performance. Not to do with the performance per se just the fact that it is incredibly hard to believe any character Jodie Foster played at that age was as young as she.

er, if that makes sense.