Sunday, July 29, 2007

Supporting Actress Sundays: 1988

I've been gone from this blog for so long that I feel like I should have some magnificent soap-operatic excuse, like having been garrisoned in an Eastern prison or trapped in an Andean rockslide. Or maybe I've just been possessed, like Marlene on Days of Our Lives, surely the best/worst soap subplot ever. In truth, I probably have been possessed, but only by mundane forces like my job and a move and some writing obligations elsewhere, none of them interesting to address here. Let's just get down to business and pretend it hasn't been an entire three months since I've showed up for duty, okay?

That flaming creature StinkyLulu has invited me back for another Supporting Actress Smackdown, this time for 1988, a pretty atrocious year for Oscar. For the first time in anyone's memory, all five Best Picture nominees were late December releases, intensifying for years to come a dolorous trend of backloading prestige releases into the final weeks of the year. Worse, none of them really deserved the slots. The Accidental Tourist (my full review is here) is probably my favorite of the five, because its blend of the quirky and the genuinely melancholy is distinctive in American movies of that era, and its unremarkable surface is threaded with some poignant moments. Dangerous Liaisons is its close rival in my esteem, but the tone of that movie seems more smug and the direction and performances more scattershot whenever I revisit it—a real disappointment, because I used to love that film. Speaking of real disappointments, though, I have very little to say on behalf of the other Best Picture nominees, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl, and the winner, Rain Man. If you want proof that even the Academy membership wasn't so excited about this field, check this out: Rain Man was the only BP nominee to get nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

The Academy was apparently even less excited about the year's Supporting Actresses, since all of the nominees derived from those same collectively humdrum films: Joan Cusack and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist, Frances McDormand in Mississippi Burning, and Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons. It's a hugely impressive roster from the standpoint of star power. Cusack, Davis, and McDormand were virtual newbies, especially to general audiences, and even Pfeiffer had only that year established herself as a pformidable star pfor more than her pretty pface. Weaver had been double-nominated that year, with a Best Actress nod for Gorillas in the Mist, and she was also the only nominee who'd been nominated at the Golden Globes (where she won, twice) so precedent held that she'd sail to victory, but two stronger forces carried Geena Davis to an upset: the actual votes, for one, and the clairvoyance of fashionistas, who knew how f*cking fabulous she was going to look.

Davis gets my vote, too, in a squeaker over Weaver, but as with most of the 1988 races, I would have started over from scratch. I've only seen 34 movies from 1988, but I'd have swapped out Davis for Amy Wright in The Accidental Tourist, who summons up the pearly weirdness of this muffled romance even more than Davis does, in the truly supporting part of William Hurt's love-starved adult sister; I'm gaga over Sandy Dennis' acid turn in Woody Allen's Another Woman, where she reams Gena Rowlands for taking their friendship for granted in just two or three bristling scenes; Geneviève Bujold, who scooped the Los Angeles Film Critics prize, frumped down in a completely un-Oscary way in the extremely un-Oscary movie Dead Ringers, playing a barren, pill-popping actress who is psychologically abused by Jeremy Irons' twin gynecologists but reveals herself to be the sturdiest character in the film; and two Globe nominees, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ and Lena Olin as the worldly Sabine in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (My pick? - probably Olin, with an outside shot for Bujold.)

Anyway, what you really want to know is what the other Smackdowners have to say, right? Go read, and go comment: your Stinky host loves it when you do that. And let me just add in closing that during one of the three Smackdowns I've missed since last spring, one of my favorite supporting performances in Oscar history (or any history) got a pretty raw deal back in May, so if you want to say a nice thing or two about the glorious Celeste Holm in All About Eve, here's where to do it. Chin up, Karen!

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