Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1990

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 63rd Annual Academy Awards are...

JOHN T of The Many Rantings of John
JS C of He Thinks He's A God
TIM of Mainly Movies
NEWLAND of As Bold As Brass
NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1990'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.)

Annette Bening in The Grifters
STINKYLULU Bening adds a dully inquisitive stare to her tinny, chirping, pattering voice so as to hint at all kinds of depths and complexities, while "cleverly" revealing nothing. Yet this seemingly apt choice somehow empties Myra of actual personhood, real menace, genuine thrill. An all-too naked cipher.
NICK I’m looking right at it, but I’m not totally seeing it. Annette is frisky but her slyness and nastiness have insufficient depth. A good performance, but the recasting possibilities seem endless. Like the film, she evaporates almost instantly when she’s through.
TIM Zesty and high-energy, sure, but isn't she coming on a bit strong? Makes Myra all kittenish, all the time, and I think she's in cahoots with the script's underlying misogyny here. Belongs in a cruder, more disposable movie than her co-stars.
KIMBERLY The Grifters is a really good film, but its effectiveness has little to do with Annette Bening, who I couldn’t take seriously in her role as Myra. When the movie ended I could only remember how fabulous Anjelica Huston was.
JS C Blends "criminal" and "lover" persona seamlessly with an array of giggles and flirtatious giddiness giving us the portrait of a woman becoming a girl again as she jumps on the opportunity to return to her playground world of cons and rough gentlemen after an exile to apartment living. Benning knows that her character should attempt but never be Houston's equal because Myra knows what her role is in scams and men thus redefining the term "supporting actress."
JOHN T In a film brimming with self-doubt, Bening's Myra is a woman who encapsulates confidence, and the future Mrs. Beatty uses this assurance to create a sexy, ruthless femme fatale. Bening's only fault may be she doesn't know what to do with Myra's enigmatic intentions; does the actress know the story behind the character?
NEWLAND A triumph of a performance, where an intelligent actress plays an intelligent woman playing the fool. Her tiny-voiced Myra shows intermittently that there’s more to her than the sexy dumb blonde, which is enough for Bening to show her range.
JOHN T Bracco starts screaming from her opening scene, and doesn't let up through the entire movie. Between the scenery-chewing and the histrionics, there's an understanding of the character in her eyes and facial expressions (particularly in the scenes leading up to the marriage), but they are lost while Bracco decides between loud and louder.
Perfectly good at sidelined and suffering, but she doesn't put up enough of a fight, and there's a palpable lack of chemistry with Liotta. Without the voiceover, we wouldn't know she was turned on by him handing her a gun. Serviceable, but disappointingly vague.
Her physicality is a gift but once she is required to speak, nothing registers above a drone and this damages her rebellious credibility that so attracted the main character to her. Unfortunately, she only manages to give us half the portrait of a woman who is used to being an active character rather than the narrator of someone else's story.
NICK Feisty but somehow routine, and a little tentative. I appreciate that she doesn’t need or try to overwhelm the film, but she could have used some of Sharon Stone’s hungry, compulsive watchability in Casino. And her voiceovers tilt into the perfunctory.
STINKYLULU Bracco’s especially adept at playing the two registers required by this role: ball-bustingly strong and palpably vulnerable. Here, that duality – along with Bracco’s sexy-awful marble-mouthed vocality -- both suits and elevates the role, allowing for some great, instinctive actressing along the way – always strong, smart and absolutely right in the character.
NEWLAND Long-suffering wife roles are often thankless and boring, but Bracco’s Karen, ballsy yet vulnerable, is really something of a different kind. Bracco makes the most of her character, providing her of a distinct and unique personality in a vivid performance.
One of the best things about Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas is Lorraine Bracco’s powerful performance as Karen Hill. The snappy way she delivers each of her lines always impresses me. She should have easily walked away with the Oscar this year.
KIMBERLY I applaud her for being the first African American woman to win an Oscar in 50 years, but I thought this film and her performance stunk. I can appreciate Whoopi the comedian, but I don’t like Whoopi the actress much.
She swoops into the movie, channeling some clever scene-stealing to save this film from complete mediocrity. Goldberg's character arc, however, is far too predictable for her to stretch her acting legs, giving the audience a series of (hilarious) one-liners that ultimately result in a performance that's a bit one-note.
JS C If the picture had more compelling narrative techniques and stronger actors, this performance would be a caricature calling for attention but as it is, Goldberg seems to be the only one to realize the paper-thin logics of the movie and it's surprising why no one else calibrated their characters the way she did.
STINKYLULU Saddled with garish costumes and appalling dialogue, Goldberg exploits the film’s banally racist slapstick to subtly score Oda Mae’s – and the film’s – growth, discovery and change, thus providing an essential, experiential anchor for the film.
TIM CPRs the script with an indispensable dose of huffy vulgarity. You couldn't call it deep work, but it's comic dynamite, particularly in the bank sequence, and I love how quick she is to take and give back offence. The only part here that no one could have owned half as well.
NEWLAND Being the comic relief in an otherwise dramatic film is no easy task, but Goldberg makes such an indelible impression that many end up thinking they saw a comedy. Even in the scenes where she is less than great you can totally see it’s not her fault.
NICK Now we’re talking: Whoopi’s energy and comic timing sparkle, and her affectations are somehow her own—invested with feeling, integrity, and humor, even as they graze against stereotype. Plus, she finds Oda Mae’s fatigue: she sounds so tired and aware of the demeaning stakes when she says, “Use me.”
NEWLAND Nominating Ladd for her over-the-top rendition of the wicked witch was a bold choice from the Academy. Creative as it is, her performance adds little to what we’ve seen before, only this time the archetypical mother role is taken to an embarrassing extreme.
JOHN T Ladd's performance is much like her character: steely at points, fragile at others. Her over-the-top performance blends beautifully into Lynch's vision of Sam Houston's Oz, though I would have liked to have seen more of an explanation behind the woman-mystery is one thing, confusion another.
KIMBERLY My dislike for this film made me stop caring about David Lynch’s film output for 10 years, but that wasn’t Ladd’s fault. She makes the most of the role she’s been handed here and does some fascinating stuff with it.
TIM Sometimes seems to belong in Dynasty, but, in the one Lynch film I actively dislike, this proves a surer approach than anyone else finds. Her big lipstick moment is mesmerising, though it's a pity she's saddled with so much tedious talk around it: less might have been more.
NICK I’m surprised at how much I’ve come to admire this performance and this nomination. In a sense, Ladd has no rules to obey, but her hideousness is so balls-out and captivating, she’s the alibi for the entire cast and the entire film to go for broke. Furious and indelible, and somehow understandable.
STINKYLULU She flirts. She prances. She preens. She drinks. She rages. She keens. Ladd distills and deconstructs every clich├ęd trope of the overwrought Southern woman in this startling, feral treatise on the craft of screen acting.
JS C Ladd does something wonderful in her first scene: with one look, she telegraphs portions of the movie's narrative before Lynch's style can muddy them up that we immediately get that she both loves and hates Sailor and Lula; a ravenous and simple chokehold of a performance, "wild at heart and weird on top" indeed.
JS C Haggish hair care when everyone else is so well-groomed, McDonnell merely twiddles with the grimy surface of this supposedly conflicted but resurrected character that we can only say this was a performance carried along for the awards ride.
JOHN T McDonnell's performance, much like her hair, is in drastic need of conditioner throughout this film. The role is too thin, and she plays it with singular emotions, as if she's doing a mental checklist of how she's supposed to be feeling with each herky-jerky motion.
KIMBERLY Enough nasty things cannot be said about all the supporting actresses hairstyles in 1990, but McDonnell takes the cake. How anyone bought her terrible performance as a white woman raised by Indians with bad Farrah Fawcett hair is beyond me.
NEWLAND There’s a lot to comment on this prop of a character in terms of race and gender, but all for the wrong reasons. McDonnell is a great actress, but frankly she’s given nothing to work with apart from being there for Costner.
A more substantial performance (and performer) than the role warrants. With adept voicework and genuine commitment, McDonnell acquits herself nicely, but even she can’t escape the agitated, shallow limits of the role. ‘Specially not when weighed down by all that hair.
NICK A hugely proficient actress whose linguistic facility, emotional clarity, and terrified vulnerability are often overwhelmed by her massive hair and her boy’s-own-fantasy role. Unequal to her best work, but nearly as good as the part accommodates, and a harbinger of real talent.
I always love McDonnell, who does technically brilliant vocalizations and suggests some deep psychic gashes here. Just about overcomes being chronically underdirected and, I suspect, miscast, too dry and too modern a presence entirely to convince as a gone-native prairie widow.
TOTAL: 13s

Oscar chose...
Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost!
But, goodgolly, the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart!

And, lovely reader, what do YOU think?



Ummm. y'all are crazy with the Bening dissing. 5 hearts from me easy

Diane Ladd --it is the most fascinating nomination of 1990 for sure (in any of the acting categoris) but i'm a little surprised it won.

my vote for the best of this year though is UMA THURMAN in Henry & June (unnominated).She's more than a little theatrical but for that movie and that character her sometimes weakness is an immeasurable strength. Plus she looks completely edible throughout

CanadianKen said...

Wow-what a shocker! I just assumed Bening had this one sewn up. With maybe a little competition via some obstinate overpraising of Whoopi the Actress. Shove an ET mike in front of Goldberg any day of the week and you'll get the same level of shtick laced with paint-by-number attitude. But Ladd??? Granted, she seems to be undergoing some personal catharsis onscreen. ButI felt no engagement with this - for lack of a better word - character. A shrieking witch with Dynasty shoulderpads, she's merely the noisiest of the car-wrecks in Lynch's aggressively eccentric landscape. Louder than the made-for-each-other morons played by Cage and Dern, but just as tedious. I think "The Grifters" is a terrific movie - and Bening's part of the reason. Cheerfully sparkling and toxic, Mira's a smooth operator ("tell me how to reach you and I will"). But Bening reveals the desperation too ("I've looked and I've looked ... and I've kissed a lotta fucking frogs"). Love her final quavery "I'm me". She's not quite sure anymore. And - for that - Huston's Lily is gonna pay.

NicksFlickPicks said...

As soon as I stop laughing about how many of us made special mention of McDonnell's appalling hairstyles in this movie—and Kimberly's right, her fellow nominees aren't advertising too well for their stylists, either—I will say something like:

I love that the final tallies were so close on this go-round, and that the performances were so divisive, which always makes for the most interesting reading. I'd have voted for Goldberg, but Ladd, for me, is the close and obvious second choice, and it's interesting that she's in that Barbara Harris/Harry Kellerman place of wowing a lot of us inside a movie that many of us dislike. Not that Wild at Heart is anywhere near Harry Kellerman levels of awfulness. But you know what I mean. Or do you? Or do I?

Anyway, great reading, great new formatting ideas from our host, and for the record, my perfect ballot from 1990 would be culled from this list:

Mary Alice, To Sleep with Anger
Glenn Close, Reversal of Fortune
Joan Cusack, Men Don't Leave
Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost
Diane Ladd, Wild at Heart
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miami Blues
Shirley MacLaine, Postcards from the Edge
Helen Mirren, The Comfort of Strangers

I haven't seen the Alice, Close, or Mirren movies in a while, so I may be wrongly remembering how much I loved those performances. As it currently stands, I'd say Close, Goldberg, Ladd, Leigh, and MacLaine.


what no UMA?

I realize you aren't much of an umaphile but...

my lineup would probably be

BENING -silver
MACLAINE -bronze

but obviously not in cement since i haven't seen many of the films (save The Grifters and Postcards, both favorites that year) in a longwhile and i'm probably forgetting something

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I'm totally with Nick on this. I couldn't stop laughing after reading all the comments made about McDonnell's appalling hair, but ALL the nominated women really need to ask their stylists why they made them look that bad in 1990.

I was happy to see that Ladd won since she really did something interesting in a forgettable film and it was pretty amazing that she even got nominated, but there was a lot of "buzz" around Lynch then and lots of hype surrounding Twin Peaks so it's not too surprising.

With all that said, I still think Bracco should have won from the nominees. Sadly she didn't and she's been playing the same damn character ever since. She is stuck in performance limbo and trapped by her Oscar loss. It rather sad and kind of funny.

As for Bening, she lost major points from me just for using a body double in the nude scene. I could literally see her head FLOATING ABOVE HER BODY due to bad effects.

Last but not least, I'm glad Nathaniel and Nick pointed out performances that were better than any of the ones nominated. I would much rather have seen Uma win for Henry & June or Helen Mirren win for The Comfort of Strangers, which were both superior performances and better films than anything that got nominated that year.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

For someone whose name sounds similar to an implement of captivity, Annette sure got a whole less of love than I ever expected. Before watching Wild at Heart, she was actually my winner.

I'm amused at how everyone saw through the hairdo manipulation McDonnell was trying to work on viewers. (I will give Costner due for the directing but I feel where his sentiments as a director led me was what made the movie infuriating.)

Will this be a more disagreed upon Smackdown result?

Oh and Nick, I would have loved for Glenn to be nominated for Reversal of Fortune for her "I don't want this" wrist slapping scene alone but I think they were confused whether she was lead or supporting. She was lead in character but supporting in exposure (narration duties aside).

NicksFlickPicks said...

Nathaniel's gonna hate me. It's bad enough that I already yawned about The Bening within the Smackdown, but, foreseeing this very conversation, I watched Henry & June for the first time last night and thought Uma was sorta catastrophic. I see what you mean by "theatrical," and part of my problem with her is definitely a problem with direction all around. But still, I just don't feel like there is any substance to her Sultry Heavy-Lidded Stare routine, she has definite Hilary-Swank-in-Black Dahlia vocal issues, and I just didn't believe that anyone would write a (good) book about her, much less several of them.

Though I did like her line reading of "Henry gets everything wrong." And she clearly has other fans here like Cinebeats. So don't mind me. Nothing to see here. Still friends, etc. xo

Oh, and Cinebeats, that body-double juxtaposition gaffe really is a corker, isn't it?

AR said...

I'm surprised about Ladd myself, but I also don't remember much of the performance, as I've tried to block Wild at Heart from my memory.
I would have voted for Bracco myself. Last I watched Goodfellas, I found myself really impressed by her performance in what could have been a cliched sort of role.
Goldberg wasn't a bad win in the end, though, even if Ghost is a terribly maudlin film that has not stood the test of time at all. Her performance is pretty much the only highlight, which says something of her skill.
I think Bening was pretty good, personally, but I do agree that it's really Huston's film, thus making her somwhat forgettable overall.
I wish I could remember more of the films that came out that year. I've actually not seen any of the other choices mentioned.

John T said...

See, I have to disagree on the writing-off of the Bening. I thought that Huston's performance, quite frankly, wouldn't have been quite as effective had she not had Bening's amateurish con artist to play around with; the great thing about Bening is the way she teeters between a big league con artist and a small time crook, and the way that she allows her character to seesaw between visions of grandeur and the safety net of the small-time hustle. A lesser actress would have laid out Myra's intentions more obviously in her voice and actions, but Bening allows for some mystery.

But if it isn't Bening, I'm glad it was Ladd who was selected-a good perf in a rather paltry film.

StinkyLulu said...

I'm stunned that Ladd took it. For the first time, with this smackdown, I didn't tally things until the very end and, for a moment when my counting was off, it looked like a 3-way tie between Bracco, Goldberg and Ladd. But even if I had gone easier on Bening, and softened my praise of Ladd, 'twould have merely evened things out further...

But despite the impassioned defenses by Nathaniel, Ken and John, I remain nonplussed by Bening's performance. Based on my fond memories of the film and the performance, I was astonished by how uninteresting I found the whole enterprise this time through... (I'll try to explain better when I post the profile on Wednesday.)

is that so wrong? said...

Rock on for Diane Ladd.... why isn't this woman in more movies? This performance alone demonstrates she's in control of some tricky acting chops.

tim r said...

This was fascinating, maybe my favourite contest so far, even when I wasn't crazy about the perfs. Agree on the hair -- I think Bening's backlit Van der Graaf frizz is a disaster, and where are the Sioux hiding their V05?

Performance-wise, I really expected more love for Bening, and quite a bit less for Goldberg -- thought I'd be out on a limb there! Ladd was nudging a fourth heart from me, and memory would have given her one, but I found it a rather uneven performance on this go-round -- sporadically astonishing, but too often she seems to be testing out and discarding different ways to play the role. She's far more intense on the phone, acting in isolation, than she is when a Stanton or JE Freeman is there in the scene with her, when her whole take on the part seems to retrench and sag somewhat. Still, a very interesting perf and I'm glad she was nominated.

Haven't seen Henry and June, but I'm pleased Mirren's been mentioned -- her delivery of the line "I can't get out!" is alone worthy of some kind of trophy. Sadly, I've seen The Comfort of Strangers fairly recently and she never really gets to play a person -- no one does.

I've decided I really like Bening from The Siege onwards. I'll accept she's great fun in The Grifters, but going for cattiness rather than brittle desperation rather simplifies the film's dynamics, and it does dispose of her very nastily. I think Cusack and Huston are both much better.

Y'all should check out Milou en mai, it's a delight, and full of choice actressing. Plus, am I the only one gunning for Laurie Metcalf in Internal Affairs? LOVE her.

Those and my other wildcards are here.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I agree with John that Annette's vacillations between expertise and totally making this con shit up as she goes along is the best thing she does with the character. But it also seems kind of right out there in the script for her to play, and with a darker, more experienced film actress in the role (JUDY DAVIS is what I'm thinking, but I'll happily take more suggestions...), she'd really make the erotic and professional push-pull happening around the Cusack character seem more forceful and interesting.

Tim, I haven't seen any of your nominees except JJL in Miami Blues, but I have high hopes for Metcalf and for Whitelaw. I'll gladly poke around for 'em.

Glenn Dunks said...

The fact that Diane Ladd even got a nomination for Wild at Heart when it didn't even have a critical following or nominations elsewhere fascinates me. What were they thinking?

I am stoked that they did nominated her - and that the smackdowners gave her the prize - because she was my #1 of the year. She and Dern and so in tune with David Lynch and the movie he wanted to make. Despite the fact that the two are mother and daughter, their performances feel related too. And as one of the smackdowners said, she can give years of backstory with just one look. Her lippy moment is outrageously bonkers and I love how she gets progressively more insane as each new scene starts. "The fucker split!" just echoes in my mind for some reason.

Mind you, I'm a fan of the movie itself.

Having said that, I did think Bening's delightfully kooky performance would have played a bigger part in the proceedings. I thought she was choice.

adam k. said...

I loved Ghost for a while when I was a teenager and still had bad taste. And I still have a soft spot for Whoopi in it. SO funny. She just seizes the film by the horns, and somehow doesn't seem like she's just mugging.

Isn't it weird, though, that Ghost was a "comedy" and the globes and hence, Swayze and Moore were nominated for their "comedy" performances that were completely devoid of any humor, while Whoopi, the sole comedic element, is best supporting? Apparently her comic relief was enough to turn the whole film into a comedy, which says really something about how much she dominated the film. That's like saying Cold Mountain is really a comedy because of Zellweger. But of course no one did that, since she's not even funny in it. But she won the oscar anyway. Goddammit.

adam k. said...

Oh, and also, Shirley MacLaine in Postcards = amazing. Probably my fave perf in the category, give or take Whoopi (though I haven't seen most of them).

NicksFlickPicks said...

I'm nutso in love with your new banner image, btw. Itself a great benefit of Ladd's victory!

John T said...

Interesting thing about Diane Ladd's campaign (and I think I might have mentioned it prior)-she would invite different members of the Academy in the weeks heading up to nomination time to her house for dinner and a movie, and the movie, of course was Wild at Heart. She was definitely pushing hard personally for a nomination, even if the studio was not. Considering how many Academy members she's worked with through the years, that might have helped her get nominated for such a bizarre (though good) performance.

Glenn Dunks said...

Well, she would go on to get another nomination in the same category one year later for Rambling Rose, and already had a nom from 1974 so...

I was shocked to read, after viewing Postcards from the Edge, that Maclaine wasn't nominated. Watching it I was sure she would've been nommed that year.

Gustavo H.R. said...

THE GRIFTERS is unforgettable.

Unknown said...

"As for Bening, she lost major points from me just for using a body double in the nude scene. I could literally see her head FLOATING ABOVE HER BODY due to bad effects."

no, no no no no! Aside from the fact that she has several nude scenes, including one in which she runs past the camera in a long take, you are totally wrong. You must have a very bad video display if you think that! Besides, there was no digital superimposition process available to do that kind of work in 1990. Maybe not even today.

Whizz Herald said...

Melissa Sue Anderson changed into very much like her most well-known man or woman position, of the eldest baby & sister, Mary Ingalls -- a quiet, slightly shy lady who could as an alternative examine an ebook than climb a tree.