The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1977

Oh I know I must almost be done with this year. I’ve talked about everything but Best Actor. And Best Picture, but you should be able to guess that those are coming last, because you need to end with your good stuff. But, if we all didn’t know by now, this is the year Annie Hall beat Star Wars. And that about says it all.

Richard Dreyfuss wins Best Actor for The Goodbye Girl, Diane Keaton wins Best Actress for Annie Hall (written about here), Jason Robards wins Best Supporting Actor for Julia (written about here), and Woody Allen wins Best Director for Annie Hall (bemoaned here). I like being mostly done. I don’t really have to do the big intro.

This is one of those categories — hell, this is one of those years, aside from the bad Best Picture choice (but also, good Best Picture choice, which I’ve sort of explained in the other ones, since The Turning Point was the expected winner) — that people just ignore, because it’s business as usual. It’s not particularly exciting. But we’ll do our best to make it interesting.


And the nominees were…

Leslie Browne, The Turning Point

Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl

Melinda Dillon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Vanessa Redgrave, Julia

Tuesday Weld, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Browne — HOLY SHIT ISN’T THIS FUCKING AWESOME?! That was my attempt to make it interesting. I’ll put my head back down in shame and continue meekly now.

This is the film about the ballerinas, Shirley MacLaine went off to have a family and is now bitter because Anne Bancroft continued to dance, but Anne is now bitter she never had a family, and both are jealous of one another. This is all brought to the surface when MacLaine’s daughter — played by Browne — starts dancing in the company.

Browne is fine in the role. She can dance well, which is why she deserved this nomination. Her acting is fine. She has one scene where she’s out drinking before a performance and then goes and dances while still drunk, and that’s a really great scene, and most Supporting Actor or Actress nominees don’t get one memorable scene like that. So, good for her. Am I voting for her? Fuck no. Cool she’s here though.

Cummings — The Goodbye Girl is one of those one of a kind movies. Well, not really. I just get excited whenever I see a playwright or an author adapt their own material, because I figure, “Well, they can’t really fuck it up. It’s their material. Either it’s good or it sucks. And at least if they changed it, it’s them that changed it.” Though actually, now that I remember, this is a straight script by Simon. So really that whole bit had no point whatsoever. But at least now you know that about me.

The film is about a single mother and her daughter, living in an apartment with her boyfriend. And one day he just up and leaves. And she calls him and he says she can keep the apartment. Meanwhile, under her nose, unbeknownst to her, he rents out half of the apartment to Richard Dreyfuss. And Dreyfuss shows up in the middle of the night, with a key and a lease, so she has to take him in. And then the next half hour is them bickering and not liking each other because they don’t want to live together and disliking each other’s habits. And then of course they start to like each other and get together, and aww. You know how it works. It’s wonderful.

Anyway Quinn Cummings plays the daughter of the mother — played wonderfully by Marsha Mason. And she’s a precocious little child. And if you know anything about me, you know — game over. That role gets me every time. She basically gets to be the child that is older than she is. The mother treats her basically as an adult a lot of the time. I think her first line is, when Marsha Mason comes in and tells her the boyfriend left, and the one thing she says is, “What a shithell.” Right there, I was sold. And she gets to be the witty child of the movie. I don’t think she does particularly much character-wise, but she doesn’t need to. And in a year like this, even though I know she’d never win, she’s totally getting my vote. Because I can do that. It’s not like there’s a definitive winner here.

Dillon — How do I even to begin to talk about Close Encounters? First off, if you haven’t seen it — just watch it. I mean, do you doubt Steven Spielberg at all? Okay, before 2008?

It’s about aliens. People see flashing lights, are drawn to them, and stuff happens. First we get a bunch of scenes of people looking for stuff. Then there’s a scene of a child playing with his toys who goes out to the lights and disappears. And his mother is Melinda Dillon, so we’re clear.

Then we meet Richard Dreyfuss. He’s driving one night and he sees the lights overhead and they cause his truck to go crazy. Then he walks around and finds himself on a highway where police are chasing UFOs, and, after seeing them, he has an image burned into his brain. And, like all the other people that were there, he starts to obsess over it. He starts seeing it in his dreams, he starts making it out of the shaving cream in his hand, he makes it out of the mashed potatoes on his plate, he starts destroying his garden to build an exact replica of it in his house. Naturally his wife can’t take it and leaves him. Then, elsewhere, the people looking for shit decode noises and find the five note phrase, that I’m sure everyone knows by now:

And basically, Dreyfuss and Dillon, he had seen her when he encountered the UFOS, since she thought the lights would lead to her son, and meet up, having the same symbol in their brains, and realize that it’s Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. So they go there, make it past all the government vehicles and stuff, and get to a hangar, meant to meet the aliens, and then the ship lands, the aliens come out, and the the son comes running out along with other people who came aboard, and then Dreyfuss decides to leave with them. That’s the movie. It’s really simple.

The movie itself is wonderfully made and has a really simple story. The reason I don’t love it as much as Spielberg’s other films is — what’s the point? It’s really just building to a wondrous moment at the end. And you know, hey, it’s great and all, but, I wasn’t born in the 60s and 70s, so it just doesn’t translate to me as well as it does to them. Or even early 80s children. I wish it did, but, I identify a lot more with E.T. than I do Close Encounters. But you’re picking between great films, so it doesn’t matter.

Also, Dillon in the film is — well, she’s there. I didn’t particularly see anything that great in the performance, but, whatever. It’s not like I was gonna vote for her.

Redgrave — Here’s your winner. Vanessa Redgrave had this shit all sewn up from the get go. I mean, I’m not voting for her, for personal reasons (you know my preoccupation with precocious children roles), but, it’s clear she’s the one that should have won here. First, she’s a good lead actress in a great supporting role. She also tends to excel in supporting roles. Like Robin Williams. He was nominated a bunch of times for lead, but he’s better off getting a Supporting Oscar because he excels at those too. So, she was nominated a few times for lead, and the Supporting makes sense for her. She’s not really someone who’s gonna win lead. Plus, she’s awesome. And also, it’s the perfect part.

This film is about Vanessa Redgrave even though it’s really about Jane Fonda. Vanessa Redgrave is Julia. Jane Fonda is the main character. She gets a letter from Julia after a bunch of years, asking for her help with something. This is after she becomes a successful playwright. And she’s asked to smuggle something into Germany, where Julia is a resistance fighter. And the whole middle of the movie is Fonda traveling there, trying not to be caught. Then she gets there and Vanessa Redgrave shows up for one big scene. It’s like a ten or fifteen minute scene where they just talk at the table. And Redgrave is good in the role, because it’s meant to be like, Fonda has looked up to this girl their entire lives, so you see her bathed in this soft light, looking angelic, meanwhile she’s got a broken leg from fighting and is tired and everything. And we find out she’s got a daughter and they chat, and eventually Julia leaves. Then later on we see her get the shit kicked out of her during some sort of police thing. And she gets murdered and the whole thing is covered up very secretly. And then Fonda goes back to try to find the child and we find out that no one wants the child, but also we don’t know if there even is a child, and it ends with Fonda not knowing the fate of the child.

Redgrave was gonna win this. I mean, she’s not superb in it, but she’s all over the movie, has her one big scene, and it’s the perfect kind of movie to reward her for. So, while I’d vote for Cummings, I get it. And I’m cool with it.

Weld — All right. Now here’s the movie I’ve been waiting for. This is a movie I talked about in the Best Actress category, even though Diane Keaton wasn’t even nominated for it. I think I’d seen somewhere a long time ago, while looking up Annie Hall, someone saying Diane Keaton should have won Best Actress for this instead of that. So I added it to my Instant Queue and forgot about it. Then, I saw it was expiring on 1/1/11. Netflix tends to do that. A lot of things expire on the first of the month. So there’s always a scramble that last week to get them all in, whether you want to watch them or not. So, New Year’s Eve, I’m sitting at home and watching the last, like, three of these movies. And I know from experience that Netflix changes over their movies around 3:30-5 am. That’s when most sites change over to the next day, because that’s when the least amount of traffic is there. So this was literally the last one I was gonna watch. I think I started it exactly at midnight. And I wasn’t going to watch it. I figured, “Fuck it. I’ll put it in the regular queue, get to it some other time.” But then I saw it wasn’t available on DVD, so I figured, “Fine, I’ll trudge through it.” Then I started watching and — god damn was this a spectacular film.

First off, the film begins in such a 70s way, it’s incredible. It starts in a club, and there are flashing lights and shit, and it looks so fucking 70s. And Diane Keaton is in the club, and it’s clear she doesn’t belong there. She’s a meek schoolteacher, and yet, here she is, scoring drugs and picking up a shady man and having kinky sex with him. And that’s the film. Originally she’s looking for a good men, and then she just descends into this crazy life of unsavory men and sex and stuff, and then the next day she’s going and teaching kindergarten. She’s a nymphomaniac kindergarten teacher. What a perfect role for any film. She basically uses the whole thing as an escape. And the best part is, she’s looked at as the better sister. Because —

Tuesday Weld plays Keaton’s sister. And when she meet her, she’s someone who has just had an abortion (I think) — she had at least one abortion at some point, possibly others, and sleeps around a lot, and then brings home a Jewish man to her ultra Catholic parents, and then runs off with him, and then she introduces her sister to swinging, and they have a crazy sex romp, and then the man leaves her — the whole thing is just so fucked up. And yet, the way it’s presented, it’s the most utterly realistic thing you’ve ever seen. The amount of disbelief you have is only, “There’s no way any person would ever do this,” and then you look up the trivia and see — this is based on a real story. An actual kindergarten teacher was a closet nymphomaniac and happened to be raped and killed one night. Oh yeah, that’s what happens here.

Throughout the movie, Keaton has the chance to settle down with a nice man (William Atherton, who you probably know best as the reporter asshole in Die Hard, or the asshole in Ghostbusters, or the crazy doctor in Bio-Dome), and constantly goes back to her hoodlum fuck buddy (who, ironically, is played by Richard Gere). And what happens is, one night, she meets Tom Berenger in a bar, and he’s a closeted gay man, who has been sleeping with a dude who ended up going back to his wife (I believe that’s what happens), and Berenger is the kind of guy who is like, “I’m no faggot,” and goes inside and pounds a dude in the ass. They actually do a good job with the character. And she meets him at the moment where he’s looking to prove that he’s straight, and she has no idea. So she takes him home, and he fucks her, and he can’t get it up, because he’s not interested in women. So she starts saying something to him, which is the exact wrong button to push, so he basically rapes her and strangles her at the same time, and once he orgasms, he realizes she’s dead. So he just leaves, and that’s how the movie ends, with her dead on the bed. It’s fucked up, and yet, amazing.

The whole movie is fucking great. It’s perfectly realized. It was directed by Richard Brooks, who himself is a fantastic director who directed a lot of fantastic films, including: Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (nominated Best Director, and the film got a shitload of nominations, including Paul Newman for Best Actor, Elizabeth Taylor for Best Actress, Best Picture, and Burl Ives wasn’t nominated for it, but it helped him win Best Supporting Actor for another film he did that year), Elmer Gantry (which he won for writing and Burt Lancaster won for Best Actor), Sweet Bird of Youth, The Professionals (nominated for writing and directing), In Cold Blood (nominated for directing), The Happy Ending (which Jean Simmons got nominated for), $ (a heist movie with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn and Gert B. Frobe, aka Auric Goldfinger. So, the man’s done a lot, and worked in a lot of different styles, as you can see.

Weld’s performance is good. She makes a nice impact in her few scenes. That’s what counts here. I feel like, if they weren’t gonna vote for Cummings because she was a child, Weld was a legitimate second choice here for them. She’s a second choice for me, so I must assume, based on this category, she was their second choice as well.

One last thing about this movie — I knew it was gonna be interesting because the credits ended with “…and LeVar Burton.” That is always a good sign. I guess you could say I knew the movie was well-rooted.

My Thoughts: For me, Cummings is the vote. No need to sugarcoat it. I like those performances, they’re gonna get my vote. Simple as that. That said, knowing the Academy wouldn’t vote for it, Vanessa Redgrave was a great choice here. Tuesday Weld would also have been a good choice.

My Vote: Cummings

Should Have Won: No preference. Nope.

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. Vanessa Redgrave is a legend. I can see why they wouldn’t give it to another kid. I think the limit is one per decade max. It works no matter how you look at it.

Performances I suggest you see: The Goodbye Girl is a great fucking movie. Totally hysterical, very smart, and a great romance too. It’s really just a wonderful film that most people should see. I can guarantee that most people who see it will enjoy it (enjoy meaning, won’t hate. You won’t regret watching it). Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as I’ve said, is the film Diane Keaton should have won the Oscar for. I’ve talked about it there and how great it is. If you want to see a great 70s movie — this is a great 70s movie. I can’t tell how much people will want to see it, because — well, look what it’s about — but I can highly, highly recommend it. Just be prepared. And Close Encounters is such an essential film — watch it. It’s not my personal favorite Spielberg film but — look at how many fucking great films the man has made. This is a great movie. It resonates a lot more to older people than people my age (I feel), but it’s still a great film. Richard Dreyfuss is awesome in it. And Julia is a great film as well. I did like it. I love that train sequence. Not sure how many people will love it, but I can recommend it as a good film. The rest is on you doing your homework.


5) Dillon

4) Redgrave

3) Browne

2) Weld

1) Cummings

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