Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1992

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 65th Annual Academy Awards are...
ALEX of Alex in Movieland/My Next Oscar Film
of Ben's Talking Pictures
of Criticlasm/Oh, Well, Just This Once...
BROOKE of The Performance Review
MOVIEMANIA of MovieMania
STACIA of She Blogged By Night
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

And for your viewing pleasure, Smackdowner Alex has compiled
this extended homage honoring each of the nominated performances...

click image to be routed to video

1992'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.)

STINKYLULU A provocative, memorable and delightful performance of one of Allen's signature "difficult" women. A simply spellbinding portrait of self-absorption at its most corrosive.
MOVIEMANIA Has the qualities of a true "Allen" lady: colorful, quirky, and unpredictable. She fights tirelessly against the material she's given, but as it is, Sally is just a caricature. A planar-like pawn (and player) in a game of heartbreak.
BROOKE Davis dives into one of Allen’s nastiest scripts with talons bared, detailing a portrait of intelligence, neurosis and wide-eyed viciousness. She finds an indelible mix of comedy and pathos, propelling this into one of the legendaries.
STACIA Obvious at times, subtle at others, always compelling. Davis confidently grabs a scene and refuses to let go. Her passion works with the film, not against it, and she keeps the character believable in an otherwise contrived situation.
BEN One of the most vivid and enthralling performances in any Allen film. Explosive and nuanced performance of an intellectual woman confronting emotions that can’t be rationally explained. Makes what could easily be the most abrasive character the most sympathetic.
BRAD She's great at being brittle. The subtlety is astounding. She talks herself in circles in corners, and it's painful to watch but you can't look away. I waited for her to come back on screen, and then winced in pain when she did.
ALEX A dominatix performance that I adore. Her energy and force are intimidating and her acting decisions are impeccable. I giggle everytime she’s on, as she knows how to find humor in lines that are fundamentally dramatic. Her finest piece of acting.
TOTAL: 31s

BROOKE Plowright’s shallow scenery-gobbling and indulgent tics do little to illuminate the shades of her character. In fact, her stagebound performance simply drags down the light, airy feeling of this pleasant film.
ALEX Best voice over ever. Sort of. But almost any British actress aged 60+ could’ve nailed the introductory grumpiness. As she’s warming up, her performance grows in strength, yet never excels without the help of the killer voice work.
BEN Definitely perfect for this role. She plays the dowager well, and in the later scenes there are some lovely moments when she opens up. Nevertheless, it feels like Plowright could perform this role in her sleep.
STINKYLULU A subtle accomplishment in a largely unsubtle film. Plowright deftly develops a substantial emotional foundation for Mrs. Fisher and humanizes an otherwise utterly conventional character.
BRAD A very capable performance of a stock character. She imbues everything she does with honesty, but doesn't try to transmit depth that isn't there. Avoids being maudlin and insufferable, the two poles this character as scripted could've fallen into.
STACIA Another case of a really solid actress turning a bland role into a good one. Yet despite added nuances it was largely unexceptional and by-the-numbers. Enjoyable but not special.
MOVIEMANIA Using her chihuahua-like eyes and dour face, Plowright paints a vivid portrait of desperation and loneliness. The character's arc reveals a person who can no longer ignore what is true and real to the world, but not to her.
TOTAL: 17s

MOVIEMANIA Her scenes with Thompson, filled with reminiscence and remorse, offer glimpses of a woman getting the last drop of happiness out of life. Although Redgrave attempts to be making something of Ruth, her efforts turn out to be quite underwhelming.
STACIA Great actresses give great performances, even when the role doesn't require it. Redgrave creates a complex character out of nothing more than vague illness and breathy earnestness, yet she remains too aloof to fully relate to.
ALEX I was seduced by the character. And although Vanessa’s senile ghostly take can go both ways, I call it brilliance: the expressive eyes, the voice, the grace; the delicate pace and the soft touch – an excellent portrayal of a dying woman.
BROOKE Redgrave has made a career out of elevating films, this being no exception. Her performance here is a thing of delicate beauty, perfectly calibrated to the gentle rhythms of this period piece.
BEN Wordlessly opens the movie with her almost mystical presence. In her few scenes, she manages to play both an important symbolic role and still present as a recognizably human character. Subtle, affecting, beautiful performance.
BRAD She haunts the film, which is essential for this role, but taking the tack of a living spirit who almost seems otherworldly. Possessed, but never crazy, there is no other actress who would have a)made the choice or b) pulled it off as brilliantly.
STINKYLULU A stunning, masterful bit of actressing. Redgrave's elegantly tempered performance permits us to fall in love with the girl Ruth once was while giving a cogent (and heartstirring) glimpse into a lovely, loving woman's last moments of life.
TOTAL: 27s

BEN 33-year-old Richardson is supremely miscast as a middle-aged wife and mother, and most of the movie gives her little to do. Her acting is quite powerful in her final scenes, but it can’t quite overcome the predictability of the script.
STINKYLULU A charming, sympathetic anchor for this meandering, charmless film. At her most galvanic, she's extraordinary -- intelligent, layered, nuanced -- elsewhere, though, the performance seems as sketchy as the screenplay.
BROOKE Richardson has been stuck with the least interesting role in this overcooked Malle film, but she manages to turn it into something worthwhile, even compelling at moments. Still her least impressive performance from this year, sadly.
ALEX With all her money on one big scene, Miranda gives us 3 minutes of fabulous actressing, generating both pity and fear. So although I was sympathetic, the morning after scenes left me confused and doubtful regarding the motivations of her character.
MOVIEMANIA I feel compelled to mention the parallels between Richardson and Beatrice Straight in Network, for their portrayals of abandonment and vulnerability. Richardson's explosion however, goes deeper into the mind and soul, reminding us of the darkness that's inside us all.
STACIA A fabulous actress wasted for two hours, given just one scene to really show her stuff. She improves the entire film, ironically calling attention to the surrounding blandness. Richardson deserves a hell of a lot better than Damage gave her.
BRAD I can't believe she did this, Enchanted April, and The Crying Game in the same year. I had little patience for this film, and she vindicated my loathing of the main character. She got me in the last scene; she's brilliant at losing it and getting it back.
TOTAL: 22s

STACIA Competent but uninspired. Tomei is the best part of the film, but never elevates the role beyond a stock character that literally any other actress could have played. Perhaps the skintight purple dress won the Oscar for her. (Ooh, catty!)
ALEX She’s fluent in mechanics, expressive when it comes to body language and definitely above the material. I even laughed when the deer got shot in the head. But the performance lacks deepness, real emotion and the buzz factor.
BRAD She comes off as the most interesting character in the film in work beyond what's written. Her skill is showing us the depth without throwing the comedy off balance. In fact, she makes it richer and is honestly funny.
BEN Steals the movie with her pitch-perfect comic timing and portrayal of working-class intelligence. While the movie itself is pretty average, and doesn’t spend enough time exploring Mona Lisa’s character, she is able to create a hugely memorable character.
STINKYLULU Tomei is charismatic, compelling, and delightfully funny. Her work elevates a negligible supporting role and, in so doing, makes the film much much much more than it might have been without Tomei's Lisa.
MOVIEMANIA A truly heartfelt, intelligent, and underappreciated performance. Tomei gives Lisa surprising depth the script doesn't, and just enough humor and heart to sustain. Her big trial scene (a knockout) justifies her as my pick for the win. Yeah, she blends.
BROOKE Unfairly maligned, Tomei’s performance is much better than this messy film deserves; a vibrant characterisation that displays the actress’ uncanny ability for physical comedy and timing.
TOTAL: 24s

Oscar chose...
Marisa Tomei
in My Cousin Vinny
sees things somewhat differently, choosing...

Best Supporting Actress of 1992!

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



I thought this might be a foregone conclusion... but you never know with the smackdowns.

I'm pleased as Punch that it's Judy.

if they only held the Oscar's once a decade, she would still be one of my five-wide shortlist for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE 1990s.

I haven't seen Enchanted April or Howard's End in a really really long time so the smackdown made me wonder

a) was Plowright really that bad?
b) was Redgrave really that good? (i was always on Team Helena where that movie was concerned)

StinkyLulu said...

Speaking only for myself, I'd offer the following:

This field is uncommonly strong, so that -- for me -- I gave 2 hearts to performances I might have otherwise given 3 or 4. (But the smackdown is about ranking, so I do ask the smackdowners to "spread the love".)

And, for me, who had never seen either April or Howard, I did think Vanessa was THAT good. Better than even Emma, for me, and far far better than Helena... But's that's just me.

Slayton said...

I'm disappointed that Miranda didn't get a higher rank, she gave me chills and I enjoyed her performance throughout, not just in the (stunning) final scenes. I've always found Woody's 90s women to be rather unappealing and melodramatic in a way that doesn't really click, and Judy is no exception. I thought Plowright was indulgent and messy in her film, I enjoyed Tomei's excellent comic timing (she made the film) and I haven't seen Howards End.

Alex in Movieland said...

Had I been allowed to have 2 ranking ties, I would've easily given 5 hearts (instead of 4) to Vanessa; and I'm sure I'm not the only one who ADORED her, but loved Judy just a bit more :D

I'm surprised Marisa ranked 3rd and got all that love. She's a strange case for me: I think I like her off-screen presence much more than her Oscar nominated performances.

I haven't seen The Crying Game in like 5 years. Wouldn't that have been a more interesting nomination for Miranda? Just asking :)

Scott said...

This was a strong year. I think Richardson and Redgrave were excellent too. But I'm happy to see Davis won.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I'm a Redgrave voter myself, but Judy is a completely exciting winner. Rare to get two perfs this exceptional in the same field. (I'm glad to hear Alex articulate what I had hoped - that the spread-the-wealth rule might have sandbagged Vanessa a little.)

Meanwhile, you surprise me, Stinky! Based on your original write-ups, I'd never have guessed that Judy was only getting three hearts from you or that the "haphazard" Marisa would beat her to four.

StinkyLulu said...

Indeed, Nick, indeed.

My own rankings are reflect that curious variable in voting: pleasure. When I think of Judy Davis's performance, it's a mix of admiration and the ickiest anxiety; when I think of Marisa's, it's a mix of shock and delight. And that was the tipper... Davis's work repels me on some level, and I find Tomei's strangely enchanting. (Both in ways befitting the character, natch, but still.) So, it's odd... Another day/week/month might have seen me rank them at a tie for 4, bumping Miranda to the the 3 (but, really, even that's only because I couldn't bear to give Joan the 1).

Truth be told, I admire but don't "like" Davis's performance, while I truly delight in Tomei's.

Ben said...

I was thrilled that Davis won. She was easily my winner. Also one of the best nominees of the 1990s for sure. I expected to see the divisive ratings for Tomei, but not so much for Richardson. I toyed with giving her one start, but gave her the benefit of the doubt for dealing with such a bad movie and giving a couple of good scenes.

To answer Nathaniel:

a) Plowright wasn't BAD. It just didn't seem to be a particularly deep or thoughtful performance.
b) Yes, Redgrave was great. I hadn't seen Howard's End in a long time, and I remembered Helena very fondly. Redgrave was truly great and essential in the film.

Alex- I think it would have been much more interesting to see Richardson nominated for The Crying Game. I also really enjoyed her lead role in Enchanted April (much more than Plowright).

Middento said...

Gosh, I wish I would have smackdowned this time, given that 1992 was probably the year I actually started "caring" about the Oscars.

And I remember this being a difficult year, and one where I professed shock, perhaps less that Tomei won and more that Davis lost. (I *really really* loved her in Husbands and Wives and agree with Nathaniel that that perf is on par with some of the rest of the decade.) This also comes from someone who was otherwise rooting for Howards End in multiple categories, a movie that I think is Merchant-Ivory's most accomplished adaptation.

Sigh. Lulu, it's time I come back to you! *grin*

Alex in Movieland said...

because Middento mentioned it, how great is Howards End? I love it, it's one of my favorite films of the 90s! and probably in my top 50 ever.
I think judging by the competition, it deserved Picture, Director, Ad. Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography and Score.

I agree. Judy Davis is also one of my favorite nominees of the decade. I guess my #1 would be Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway, but it's hard to put a finger on matters so delicate :)

Criticlasm said...

I posted some fuller thoughts over at:


including Mrs. Wilcox's intro in the book of Howards End.

Criticlasm said...

Also, I have to say that I read Howards End at least once a year for about 7 years, and I think it's a superlative adaptation. Still and its complexities for me (since reading has its own unmatched pleasure), but I think it's the best adaptation of this book that could be done. It's really wonderful.

Criticlasm said...

oh, and one more thing--sorry about forgetting. I really found Juliette Lewis appealing and surprising in Husbands and Wives. Anyone else? I didn't expect to, but I was wierdly taken with her.

tim r said...

A great read as ever. Sorry, Stinky, that lovefilm didn't get that Enchanted April disc to me in time. Sounds like they may have been doing me a favour. I'd have gone 5 hearts for Davis, of course, with 4 for Vanessa and probably 3 each for Tomei and Richardson, though I agree with whoever said that she's much better in The Crying Game.

Guess my own list for 1992 would be:

Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives)
Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End)
Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game)
Mary McDonnell (Sneakers)*

...and either Juliette Lewis (Husbands and Wives) or Vanessa Williams (Candyman), as a deprived mother in Cabrini Green with a small handful of fiercely convincing scenes. I've always thought she was great in it -- the only thing giving me pause for thought is that the role doesn't have much follow-through, unlike Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone, say. Incidentally this is not the Vanessa Williams with the L in the middle, much as I like her also.

*A curveball, I know, but I find that movie a heap of fun, and she's a wonderful sport in it with her eye-rolling tolerance for all the boys and their toys. Her scenes trying to trick Stephen Tobolowsky into giving away security access are a scream. Anyone with me here?

MovieMania said...

My prediction was indeed correct that Davis would take the crown. I thought it was a decent performance, but there was something that kept me from loving it. I think part of my dislike for the performance came from the film (which at times seemed unbearable). The other part(as my zinger stated) was my belief that the character had little depth, and acted as a caricature. At times it felt as if Davis was acting in another film, one that she was the star of. Also, what exactly was the deal with Woody Allen in 92', that caused voters not to vote for his film?

I know this may seem like the easy ticket out, but I really think that Tomei is the cream of the crop here. The venom hurled at her win, both shocks and annoy's me. It's been lambasted from the second Palance read out her name. She goes FAR beyond what was expected of her, and as Lulu believes, she's a delight to watch. Go to my blog to see my full prospective of the field.

Glenn said...

Davis all the way!

jakey said...

To answer MovieMania's question, the Woody Allen/Soon Yi scandal (where he got caught by Mia Farrow sleeping with her adopted daughter) happened during the filming of Husbands and Wives, which must have made for quite the intense shooting. And I do wonder if, for some bizarre reason, that tipped things to Tomei's favor a bit.

Stacia said...

Wow, this was a really great year. I'm actually surprised that I'm the only one who disliked Tomei so much, and I confess my biggest problem is that the stock comedic role that plays on the alleged humor of a WOMAN of all people being the hero rankles me to no end. Tomei playing into that by portraying Mona Lisa as surprised that she had a vital clue to the puzzle completely put me off.

Especially when you compare it to the other actresses that year. Richardson had the stock mother/wife role and made it complex and unique. Redgrave had the plot-device dying-woman role and made her sincere. Judy Davis fearlessly showed a strong woman with deep flaws without turning her into the "unlikable bitch" stereotype that usually results.

I've been told I'm tiresome for reading films from a female/feminist viewpoint, but in this case and with these films, I simply couldn't read them any other way.

Stacia said...

Whoops, I realize Alex also gave Tomei 2 stars... I thought I was the only one.

And I don't mean to be so harsh on Tomei, because I don't put the blame entirely on her. In a similar vein to what StinkyLulu said above, I would have given Tomei 3 hearts against another crop of actresses.


jakey... i'm sure it did (at least in a small way) because Husbands and Wives is GREAT. The critical response was muted. the media was all about the scandal, entirely ignoring the film basically.

It's my personal favorite Woody Allen of the 90s and the timing just did it in.

StinkyLulu said...

I hear your point, Stacia, but all of these characters are scripted to operate within an arguably anti-feminist sensibility. We've got The Screeching Harpy, The Prickly Old Crone, The Martyred Mother, The Wounded Wife, and The Ditz Who Saves The Day. And each of these performers take differently but -- to my mind, at least -- undeniably productive paths through such pat misogynist cliches.

With regard to Tomei, I'm increasingly convinced that the Vinny filmmakers had no idea what they had with Tomei in the role. (Hence the added scene about 1/2 way through that's obviously shot well after principal photography and which seems designed to establish Lisa as a mechanical savant. And I suspect that the "biological clock" scene on the porch is also a late add-on. Watch her hair and his belly for cues that the scenes were filmed later.) And don't forget that using "the babe" as a comedic plot saver -- deux ex machina in a mini-dress, if you will -- was a fairly pat convention in late 1980s and early 1990s macho comedies (one that Jamie Lee Curtis almost singlehandedly revamped). I'm just ever more fascinated by the fact of this nomination...

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I agree with Lulu on Marisa Tomei's nomination. It's the kind of performance that would NEVER get nominated now. She wasn't a well known actress, the movie wasn't particularly well received and her only other nomination for the part was for the MTV Movie Award.

I simply cannot understand how this performance picked up enough critical favour to get nominated, let alone win.

I'm not surprised by the outcome of the smackdown, and I like it even if I slightly prefer Tomei's performance to Davis'.

I felt sort of bad for giving Miranda Richardson only three stars; her last scenes are the best written and conceived in the entire film and while it doesn't turn this turgid NotRomance on it's head, it's well played enough for me to give the performance a pass. It had been a while since I'd seen the movie, so I was surprised that the usually offbeat Miranda Richardson could deliver that much venom, hurt and anger.

Awesome smackdown, too! Can't wait for 1983!

Alex in Movieland said...

yes, Stacia, you do not stand alone :)

par3182 said...

it bears repeating every month - i love the smackdowns (especially when my favourite wins)

but alex's comment "had I been allowed to have 2 ranking ties" has me intrigued by the voting rules; can you elaborate?

and do you think the results would be different if the smackers were restricted to 5-4-3-2-1 rankings?

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

is it similar to explaining either of Sylvia Miles's nominations? only the academy gave notice.

Joe Reid said...

Ah, so nice to see some love in these comments for Mary McDonnell in "Sneakers"! Such a fun, underrated movie.

Having just rewatched "Husbands & Wives," I found myself kind of repulsed by it (that scene where Pollack drags his girlfriend to the car -- only to have her pop up again as a punchline 2 scenes later), but also more impressed by Davis's performance than I was the first time around.

I still can't get myself around the way Woody Allen writes women. I know that makes me pedestrian and risks re-arguing and ooooooold argument, but there it is.

MovieMania said...

I thought Sylvia Miles deserved her nom for Midnight Cowboy, but a win for a small unimportant-ish part, is too much. I believe once she said that if she won, her acceptance speech would be longer than her two nominated performances combined!

Matt said...

I think 1992 is one of strongest years for this category. Almost all the actresses deliver stunning performances, and I'm glad many people recognized Vanessa Redgrave's impressive accomplishments in "Howards End"--I'd have thought that many people would have dismissed her performance because of its limited screen time. I have a hard time deciding which performance I love better--hers or Judy Davis's.

Marisa Tomei's performance is the weakest link here. I'm in the how-the-hell-did-she-win camp, namely because her work, to me, seems insubstantial, compared with her screen-goddess competitors. Tomei's work in "My Cousin Vinny" is okay (and it's certainly better than the movie itself, which is the filmic equivalent of scrap metal), but her acting choices are so cliched that there's not much surprise in the performance.

But to each his own!

dchowe8 said...

My theory on the Tomei win (not that I have a problem with it) is that she's the only American on the list. I was sure this was Davis' to lose.