Monday, March 13, 2006

Oscar Files: Best Supporting Actress

Lesbian film theorist Patricia White has written sensationally about the odd predisposition of other film theorists, even the queer ones, to overemphasize the starring players, as though no one ever identified with anyone else in a movie, except under duress. Why, she asks, in the context of classic Hollywood, would anyone want to be Jane Wyman or Olivia de Havilland or Susan Hayward when you could be Agnes Moorehead or Thelma Ritter or Mercedes McCambridge? Not just for queer audiences, the supporting cast is often the place where all the interesting stuff in a movie is happening. Freed from the obligation to "carry" the film or conform to an archetype, actors can flex, lurk, suggest, insinuate, imply, surprise, conceal, and entice. And where most films have no more than one or two leads, especially female leads, the supporting cast can be a Whitman's sampler of diverse delights, from heavily showcased second-tier roles (Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce, Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist, Virginia Madsen in Sideways) to piquant sideshows or single-scene accents (Eve Arden, Amy Wright, and Mary-Louise Burke in the same films).

So while I'm beavering away at the 100 past nominations for Best Actress that I have left to see, don't you know my eyes are just as keen on their supporting sisters. Most recently from this bunch, I saw Edith Evans lord it over her hellion granddaughter Hayley Mills and cryptic governess Deborah Kerr in The Chalk Garden (1964), one of those movies whose title metaphors is a real groaner, though the movie itself is an odd sort of fun, like nothing they'd ever make anymore; and, too, the nominated duo of Celeste Holm and Elsa Lanchester in Come to the Stable (1949), a pleasant but featherweight entry in that genre of pop sanctimony that gave us Boys Town and Going My Way. Holm speaks in a French accent and plays tennis in a full wimple and habit, while Lanchester wields a paintbrush and some especially marmy wire-rims as a pastoral artist, and though sheer likability is always in favor of both actresses, it's hard to know how they distracted Oscar from the absent Miriam Hopkins in The Heiress or Ann Sothern in A Letter to Three Wives, both of them in Best Picture nominees.

So if it's symmetry you seek, you'll find it here at Nick's Flick Picks, because surprise surprise, I have exactly 100 Supporting Actress nominees left to go, too. After yesterday—the single best-attended day ever at this blog, thanks to all you idol worshippers—you all know the drill. Comment away. List-make, and list-monger! And don't omit that by total coincidence, another blog you should be reading, by the self-deprecating StinkyLulu, is about to get into the same mischief. He'll be following a strict once-a-week diet of Sunday posts, as though going to Best Supporting Actress is like going to church, and reader, that is an attitude that Nick's Flick Picks vehemently encourages. But you know this blog: it's more of a feast or famine gig, so expect big binges with ample digestion times.

Winners I Have Left to See: 15 — Gale Sondergaard (1936), Mary Astor (1941), Teresa Wright (1942), Katina Paxinou (1943), Ethel Barrymore (1944), Anne Baxter (1946), Josephine Hull (1950), Gloria Grahame (1952), Jo Van Fleet (1955), Miyoshi Umeki (1957), Shelley Winters (1959), Margaret Rutherford (1963), Goldie Hawn (1969), Eileen Heckart (1972), and Tatum O'Neal (1973)

My Six Favorite Winners So Far:
1) Vanessa Redgrave in Julia, 1977
2) Rita Moreno in West Side Story, 1961
3) Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986
4) Sandy Dennis in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966
5) Mercedes McCambridge in All the King's Men, 1949
6) Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath, 1940

My Six Favorite Losing Nominees: (this was murder to whittle down!)
1) Celeste Holm in All About Eve, 1950
2) Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street, 1953
3) Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear, 1991
4) Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain, 1952
5) Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives, 1992
6) Susan Tyrrell in Fat City, 1972

My Least Favorite Winners:
1) Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue, 1965
2) Helen Hayes in Airport, 1970
3) Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express, 1974
4) Renée Zellweger in Cold Mountain, 2003
5) Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind, 2001
6) Maggie Smith in California Suite, 1978

Years in Which I've Seen Every Nominee: 20 — 1949, 1956, 1986, 1988, and every year from 1990 through the present

From Among These Years, the Best Overall Fields...:
1) 1995 – Allen in Nixon, Quinlan in Apollo 13, Sorvino in *Mighty Aphrodite, Winningham in Georgia (my pick), and Winslet in Sense and Sensibility
2) 1996 – Allen in The Crucible, Bacall in The Mirror Has Two Faces, *Binoche in The English Patient, Hershey in The Portrait of a Lady (my pick), and Jean-Baptiste in Secrets & Lies
3) 2005 – Adams in Junebug (my pick?), Keener in Capote, McDormand in North Country, *Weisz in The Constant Gardener (my pick?), and Williams in Brokeback Mountain

Hon. Mention to 1940, where I'm still missing Rambeau in Primrose Path, but just about the best acting field ever is shaping up amongst Anderson in Rebecca, *Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath, Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, and O'Neil in All This, and Heaven Too (my pick)

...and the Worst:
None of these are awful, but great winners emerged from lame packs
1) 1949 – Barrymore and Waters in Pinky, *McCambridge in All the King's Men (duh), and Holm and Lanchester in Come to the Stable
2) 2000 – Dench in Chocolat, *Harden in Pollock (duh), Hudson and McDormand (the only other viable nominee) in Almost Famous, and Walters in Billy Elliot
3) 1993 – Hunter in The Firm, *Paquin in The Piano (duh), Perez in Fearless, Ryder in The Age of Innocence, and Thompson in In the Name of the Father

Six Remaining Nominees I'm Most Psyched To See...:
1) Thelma Ritter in The Mating Season, 1951
2) Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden, 1955
3) Marjorie Rambeau in Primrose Path, 1940
4) Grayson Hall in The Night of the Iguana, 1964
5) Barbara Harris in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, 1971
6) Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek, 1983

...and Six I'm Putting Off:
1) Edna May Oliver in Drums Along the Mohawk, 1939
4) Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara, 1957
3) Margaret Wycherly in Sergeant York, 1941
4) Glenn Close in The Natural, 1984
5) Mildred Natwick in Barefoot in the Park, 1967
6) Aline MacMahon in Dragon Seed, 1944

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Blogger tim r said...

You kill me. Now I'm going to have to dig out that dog-eared Oscar reference book all over again...

7:54 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I looooove Rita Moreno in West Side Story. So sassy in that purple dress, roof dancing.

8:41 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

The rooftop scene is what totally cinches it for her. Pause while I lift my jaw from the floor.

(However, let it be known that our very own Dr. S in fetching turquoise at a Savannah wedding was not far off the Moreno mark.)

8:50 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: If Fahrenheit 451 ever comes to pass, don't worry, I've got Inside Oscar totally covered.

8:56 AM, March 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tim, can I borrow your copy? I can't find mine, so I've been IMDBing it.

Nick, you're going to spoil us.

9:45 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

You have my heart. You know that.

10:32 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger John T said...

Again, so, so, impressed. I've started to reevaluate my NetFlix (maybe hit up a couple of those supporting ladies).

My six favorite winners:
1. Juliette Binoche
2. Catherine Zeta-Jones
3. Anna Paquin (how terrific is this girl in this film-what a knockout perf).
4. Kim Hunter
5. Eva Marie Saint
6. Vanessa Redgrave

My five least favorite winners:
1. Shelley Winters (A Patch of Blue)
2. Patty Duke
3. Miyoshi Umecki
4. Margaret Rutherford
5. Geena Davis

Ten Performances I'm Most Looking Forward to Watching (I have more perfs left, so I had to go with ten):
1. Ruth Gordon (Rosemary's Baby)
2. Maggie Smith (A Room with a View)
3. Angela Lansbury (Gaslight)
4. Agnes Moorehead (The Magnificent Ambersons)
5. Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India)
6. Valentina Cortese (Day for Night)
7. Lily Tomlin (Nashville)
8. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple)
9. Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Liaisons)
10. Jo van Fleet (East of Eden)

11:21 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger John T said...

Oh, and speaking of great Supporting Actresses-Maureen Stapleton, who was fantastic in Reds, died today.

11:52 AM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@John: How terrific is Anna Paquin in The Piano? SO TERRIFIC.

I haven't seen all of your Top 10 Previews of Coming Attractions, and I didn't love all the ones I have seen, but as far as things go with Tomlin and Moorehead especially, and also with Gordon and Ashcroft, you are in for some real treats! (I'll leave it to Nathaniel to plug Pfeiffer in DL.)

@John T.: I hadn't heard about Maureen Stapleton! I really admired her. I think she's super in Woody Allen's Interiors, too, in a very tricky part: she has to be a vulgarian whose point of view still counts for something. Not easy to do, especially in an Allen picture, but she's much more creative in her approach than the costume designer is. (Put her in red! She's full of life!)

Anyway - thanks for it all, Maureen!

12:03 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

An observation: they cock this category up more than any other. At least as far as the winners go. In the last ten years only Harden would get my vote, and an awful lot of the winners (Zellweger, Connelly, Jolie, Sorvino) give the least bearable perfs both of the nominated five and debatably of their own careers.

My personal pick for worst year recently would be 1999, in which grandes dames Dench and Redgrave and the grotesque Blethyn are all ripely overdoing it, drowning out the quite good Griffiths, and scenery-chewing to much less memorable or strategic effect than (yes) Kathy Bates.

A plug, please, for Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate.

1:00 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

tim r --what you have to dig it out. it isn't attached to your hand? what wrong w/ you ;) ?

dr. s --rita is a goddess to me too. the moment she high kicks in that dress while her upper body goes careening towards the floor thrills me every time (and by everytime I mean a whole lotta times given that it's my favorite film)

john t -so agree on Stapleton.

nick -ohhhh, the interiors mention just made me totally miss you. like, more than usual. i must come see u again.

ONE QUESTION: on your worst winners list... why is it that when there's an atrociously undeserving candidate (like say Connelly --too weepy and one note by a mile or Zellweger --playing the to the back row. only not on the stage, oops) they sweep the precursors too? It's so bizarrely fascinating in the rare moments when it doesn't make me want to take a broken bottle to my jugular. why such unaniminous praise for the most unworthies?

1:03 PM, March 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My numbers:

Missing noms: 150
Missing winners: 16
Completed years: 7 (yikes)
Years where I've missed all five: 1 (1975)

Six favorite winners:
1. Rita Moreno, West Side Story
2. Shirley Jones, Elmer Gantry
3. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
4. Anna Paquin, The Piano
5. Sandy Dennis, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
6. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

Four least favorite winners (I can't summon up enough disgust for six):
1. Gale Sondergaard, Anthony Adverse
2. Miyoshi Umeki, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
3. Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite
4. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Six favorite non-winners:
1. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
2. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
3. Jennifer Tilly, Bullets Over Broadway
4. Annette Bening, The Grifters
5. Agnes Moorehead, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
6. Amy Adams, Junebug (finally saw it last night)

2:52 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: We can't even talk about that 1998 list, because, can I just say: Lisa Kudrow in The Opposite of Sex. Patricia Clarkson in High Art. Catherine Keener in Your Friends & Neighbors. Kimberly Elise, especially, but also Thandie Newton in Beloved. Anne Heche in Psycho. Toni Collette in Velvet Goldmine. All the hot action in '98 was from supporting actresses. And we get... Lynn Redgrave. Judi Dench. Brenda Blethyn. I actually thought Dench and Blethyn were amusing, but I was just livid. (I'm not as crazy as some about Joan Allen in Pleasantville or Laura Linney in The Truman Show, but even they, in total Oscar-radar movies, would have been steps up.)

No apologies for Bates or Griffith, though, which is what kept this year just barely out of my worst list.

@Nathaniel: Come anytime, and also, I don't know what to do when these alien winners start marching so intently through the awards season. I felt this way just as much about Jolie in her year. She gets this amazing pre-release buzz, but then the movie opens, and I'm like, well she won't get a Globe nod. Then I'm like, well, she won't win. And then, well, someone else will win at SAG. And then, she's not going to win the Oscar, too, is she? Like a waking dream-state, replayed by Connelly and Zellweger in just the same way.

My contention of course being that Hollywood has such contempt for its actresses (let's count the standing ovations for women vs. those for men...), that when they hear "Here's a perf you've just GOTTA see, it's GREAT!" a lot of them just stop there, or take people's word for it. Plus, you can tell they just want to make new stars out of pretties like Jolie and Connelly, and semi-bankables like Zellweger.

@Ginger: I am again delighted by your lists! I really thought nothing at all of Claire Trevor in Key Largo, nor of the film, but you're motivating me to try it again now, years later. I love to see another shout of support to Susan Tyrrell, and I'm excited to see those Gloria Grahame movies. (Another difference in taste: I almost never like the Supporting Actor category. From this entire decade, I would take Clive Owen in Closer and Jamie Foxx in Collateral, both of whom were really leads in my opinion, and maybe Chris Cooper and Chris Walken, and that's it.)

@Goatdog: Such love for Shirley Jones! Another unexpected proclamation, at least for me. I liked her but didn't love her (though she beat Donna Reed at that game). I love that you're so into Tilly, though for my own part, I gotta say ixnay on Moorehead in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

5:00 PM, March 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I had to include one Moorehead performance, and I chose the most recent one I've seen. I could just as easily have put The Magnificent Ambersons or Johnny Belinda. Consider my pick her career achievement Goatie.

5:41 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger StinkyLulu said...

I just did a "bad movie tribute" to Maureen Stapleton over at StinkyLulu -- & we'll do the honor up right when she'll be the first "Supporting Actress Sunday" honoree...

And I have to say that Sayonara is one of my all-time "What Were They Thinking?" favorite movies. And, goldarnit, if that Miyoshi Umeki isn't actually quite good in a really wierd part...

5:41 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger par3182 said...

no need to fear mildred natwick in barefoot in the park - she's hilarious.

my fave line-up is 1982: close, garr, lange, stanley, warren (with close as my preferred winner).

fave supporting actress of all time: thelma ritter

fave supporting performance of all time: jean hagen in singin' in the rain.

fave thing about your lists: that they go to six

8:37 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:38 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Favorite Winners:
1) Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind (might be considered "camp" today, but she sure is entertaining to watch as she steals the movie with her sexy, vibrant performance)
2) Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost
3) Rita Moreno in West Side Story (make room for me on the Moreno Bandwagon)
4) Jessica Lange in Toostie (and she did play a supporting role- Hoffman played the male and the female lead in the film. At the Oscars, Lange slyly and aptly thanked "my leading lady," Dustin Hoffman)
5) Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind
6) Goldie Hawn in Cactus Flower (the movie might be subpar, but Hawn's terrific in it)
7) Josphine Hull in Harvey
8) Sandy Dennis in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (I've seen the movie several times, and I still can't decide if Dennis is giving a brilliant or a maddeningly "mannered" performance-got to give her credit for bravely going into uncharted territory as she "dances like the wind")
9) Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity
10) Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry (might not be a great performance, but try taking your eyes off of her as she absolutely refuses to be upstaged by Burt Lancaster's Oscar-winning work)

Favorite Also-Rans:
1) Agnes Moorehead in The Magnificent Ambersons (in any category, one of the greatest performances to not win)
2) Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear(has any other teenager matched this performance onscreen?)
3) Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
4) Piper Laurie in Carrie
5) Annette Being in The Grifters (impossible to choose between her and Goldberg for the win)
6) Lesley Ann Warren in Victor/Victoria (upon seeing the film, Warren reportedly became very upset, thinking she'd gone too far "over the top"- no, no, Lesley, you were perfect and hilarious)
7) Madeline Kahn in Paper Moon
8) Thelma Ritter in just about anything, but specifically in The Mating Season and in Pickup on South Street
9) Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show
10) Janet Leigh in Psycho

Overlooked Gems:
1) Marcia Mae Jones in These Three (Bonita Granville got the Oscar nod playing the evil brat, Mary Tilford, but Jones, as the ultra-sensitive Rosalie, is sensational in her big dramatic scenes- in film history, I think Jones' work is the greatest unheralded performance by a child)
2) Tuesday Weld in Soldier in the Rain
3) Shelley Winters in Lolita
4) Ethel Waters in The Member of the Wedding (Ethel singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow" is one of the most beautiful moments I've ever seen in a film)
5) Lisa Kudrow in The Opposite of Sex (probably my favorite supporting performance, male or female, of the last ten years)
6) Lola Albright in Lord Love a Duck
7) Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat
8) Shelley Winters in Next Stop, Greenwich Village
9) P.J. Johnson in Paper Moon
10) Judy Holiday in Adam's Rib

12:17 AM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

These are some wonderful choices, Vertigo's Psycho. I second you and Nick on Lewis in Cape Fear, who's just breathtaking.

I've actually never seen the movie of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf — a big Oscar gap I know, right there. It's on the West End stage at the moment with Kathleen Turner (great) and Bill Irwin (greater). I think I've probably always shied away from it because of scepticism about Burton, who I only like in one or two things, but it's a gap I mean to plug at some point soon, and your combined Sandy Dennis enthusiasm is extra reason to.

With you too, VP, on Malone, Moorehead (of course), Laurie, Bening, Ritter, Grahame and Holliday. And someone mentioned Ann Sothern in A Letter to Three Wives which is dead right.

I'll also throw in:

Margaret Leighton (The Go-Between)
Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice and A Mighty Wind, but really just about anything)
Parker Posey (Best in Show)
Anjelica Huston (The Witches)
Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo)
Jean Simmons (Great Expectations)
Frances Sternhagen (Misery and Outland)
Brooke Smith (Vanya on 42nd St)
Sean Young (Blade Runner)
Gwen Welles (California Split)
Ronee Blakley (Nashville)

and many, many others...

2:45 AM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I always knew that obsessive list-making was actually a community-builder! xox.

@Goatdog: Moorehead is so great it's silly of me to split hairs, but Hush is the one performance I wish she hadn't given. Esp. by comparison to how stunning she is in Ambersons.

@StinkyLulu: Love the Stapleton tribute, and even the idea of Bad Movie paeans. Looking forward to Sunday!

@par3182: Surely you know that the six-item lists is totally a tribute to you? And yes, 1982 is a superb field so far... the only one I haven't seen is Close, and seeing that she's your favorite in such distinguished company is exciting! (I don't know how I'd pick so far between Garr and Lange, giving such different but expert kinds of support... which isn't to disparage the suberb Stanley or Warren whatsoever.)

@VP: I have no resistance whatsoever to Sandy Dennis, especially in that movie, even though of course your point about her outlandish style is well-taken. I love that moment in Sandra Bernhard's Without You I'm Nothing where she remembers her father taking her to see Any Wednesday on Broadway in 1964. Paraphrase: "Given our range of options, we figured, why not go see an actress doing exactly the same thing she's going to do in every role for the next 20 years? But you have to admit, she really did it best in Any Wednesday." I'm also a sucker for Dennis in a totally unheralded single-scene perf in Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988) — though, as you can all see, I'm steering clear of the "Favorite Non-Nominees" lists so far... SO FAR...

In general, I'm mad about your taste in acting! Extra bonus points for the mentions to Lewis, Kudrow, and Holliday in Adam's Rib (genius).

Biggest incentive: I'm going to have to try The Grifters again, because even having seen it three times, I always enjoy it, incl. Huston and Bening, without quite believing it, or retaining their performances all that well.

@Tim: That was me with the Sothern love. So glad you agree! And if it makes your day, Leighton in The Go-Between and Blakley in Nashville actually did cop nods. Both are great turns, though Leighton's last moment was so close to Kathleen Byron's in Black Narcissus that I sort of submerged it in my mind.

12:07 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

That scene in Another Woman gives Dennis one of the best small parts Allen has ever written, and she sends it reeling. Consider the performance heralded, doubly.

12:37 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

By the way, is anyone else completely nuts about Veronica Cartwright?! It's a crying shame she's never been considered in this category for anything. The Kaufman remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers would be my top pick, followed by Alien and The Witches of Eastwick. I'm not convinced anyone does hysterics better.

1:04 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

I agree Tim, Cartright's been great since (at least) 1963's The Birds. She was my pick for Supporting Actress the year of Witches of Eastwick. I thought she just about stole the movie from a cast of heavyweights. Sure wish she'd been in the running for the Oscar that year.

11:02 PM, March 14, 2006  

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