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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1976

Oh, 1976. What a stacked year. Rocky wins Best Picture, which, some people are upset over. I understand. All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, Network, and, Bound for Glory were also nominated for Best Picture. I think we can all agree, there were four great decisions to be made there. Personally, I think they made the best one. John G. Avildsen didn’t necessarily need to win Best Director. I think Sidney Lumet or Alan Pakula would have been better choices (Martin Scorsese was not nominated. Your guess as to why), but you know, Rocky‘s awesome.

As for the rest of the year, Peter Finch wins Best Actor for Network. He beat Sly Stallone (who didn’t need the Oscar), Bill Holden (who had his Oscar already), Bob De Niro (who had an Oscar and would get one four years after this, which may or may not make up for the fact that it was fucking Taxi Driver), and Giancarlo Giannini for Seven Beauties (who went on to get tortured and killed in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Bonus points for also being disembowled in Hannibal). I call that a fair decision. Best Actress went to Faye Dunaway (finally!), also for Network, ending her string of (acceptable) snubs. And Best Supporting Actor went to Jason Robards for All the President’s Men, which, is acceptable (kind of), but — I’d personally have gone for Burgess Meredith or Burt Young for Rocky. But, you know, Robards is awesome.

That’s really it. 1976 is one of the strongest years in Academy history. You know, it’s awesome. (Motif!)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1976

And the nominees were…

Jane Alexander, All the President’s Men

Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver

Lee Grant, Voyage of the Damned

Piper Laurie, Carrie

Beatrice Straight, Network

Alexander — All the President’s Men is a perfect film. I think we all know about it by now, right? Woodward, Bernstein, reporting on Watergate, slowly uncover a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the President. The film is fucking riveting, and might be the best film about news reporting ever made. Hoffman and Redford are fantastic in it. As are Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook (in his deep-throaty way) and Jane Alexander.

Now, as a refresher — since I’m sure you’ve seen the film (I mean, you haven’t actually not seen it, have you? That’s what I thought. We rule by fear here) — Jane Alexander plays a librarian, or bookkeeper, or something like that, who has information about who the guilty parties in Washington are, but she’s unwilling to say anything, because she’s been threatened. And it’s the kind of thing where, gradually, getting her to reveal the information becomes paramount to the investigation. And first they go see her and persuade her to talk to them. And they use her as a roundabout confirmation on things. They ask initials and see if they correspond to whom they think they correspond to. And she talks to them, expecting it to be the only time, and then they go back to her several more times, as they find out more, and she becomes one of the sources.

It’s a good performance she gives. She’s great in the movie. It’s just, she’s kind of no better than third based on strength of performance. She’s in the running because she’s Jane Alexander, and she’s given many Awards-worthy performances in her day, but based on rankings and such, she’s probably third.

Foster — Taxi Driver is a perfect film. But you know this already, don’t you? (Don’t make me have to go through that again.) Quick recap: man drives cab at night. Talks about how he hates the city and wishes they’d flush it down the toilet. He tries to form a relationship with Cybill Shepherd, but that goes sour when he takes her to a porn theater because he doesn’t know how a real date is supposed to go. Then he gradually starts losing whatever hold on reality he had left. He decides to help out a 12-year old prostitute, played by Jodie Foster, and ends up killing about twelve people. You know how it is. But you know, you’ve seen the movie.

Foster plays the prostitute, and she’s really great in the role. I mean, how can you not be in a role like this? If you’re playing a child prostitute, half the battle to an interesting character is won for you. But Jodie really adds depth to the character, by putting on airs of sorts in different situations. You’ll see her almost become a different person when she’s inside the building with clients or out in the cafe with De Niro. I really dug the performance. Plus, just glancing at this list, doesn’t this stick out at you as being a good performance? Don’t you think there’s a reason for that?

Grant — Voyage of the Damned, is, not a perfect film. Damn. I had a good run, though.

Yeah, I didn’t like this movie at all. I wasn’t sure what the point was. It’s about a boat full of about a thousand Jews, leaving Germany and looking for asylum. And the whole thing is, no one wants them. Every country refuses to take them. Because it’s 1939, they want no part of that Germany business. And as each country refuses to take them, the German crew prepare to run the ship onto a reef and kill all the passengers, only proving whatever the fuck point Germany was trying to make. This is based on a true story, but I figure you can gather that. If it’s World War II, and it’s the Academy, and Quentin Tarantino is not involved, it’s probably based on some bit of fact. Anyway, that’s the main story, eventually a bunch of European countries agree to take them in — which, the film then tells you that over 60% of the passengers ended up dying in concentration camps anyway, so you know, that movie totally had a point, at two and a half hours.

Seriously, why would you make a movie, almost 40 years after the fact, about people running away from Germany, and all the countries turning them down, only to have them triumphantly find a place to go to, only to, ten seconds after fading to black, take it all away and be like, “Psych, most of them died anyway.” Why the fuck did we just watch the movie, then? Take some fucking liberties, Hollywood! You do it everywhere else.

Anyway, that whole main plot I told you about? Yeah, that’s like, thirty minutes of the film. The rest of it is one of those boring ass Titanic or Crash type deals, where we just follow the stories of all the people on the boat, like we give a shit. We care about the main story, if anything. Why the fuck do we care about their personal bullshit? There are a thousand. You gonna go over all of them? Exactly. This whole movie just rubs me the wrong way. Anyway, Lee Grant plays one of the passengers. It’s the requisite nominee for the film. You knew it had to get one. It’s about the holocaust. They’d cry foul if it didn’t. I honestly don’t remember what she did specifically, because I was bored to tears throughout the entirety of the film. I know there’s something going on with her husband, and then he jumps overboard at one point, maybe dies, I feel like someone gets stabbed with a pair or scissors or something, or maybe that’s what I wanted to do during this, and I know once her husband’s gone she goes crazy and starts cutting off all her own hair. I don’t know why.

As you can see, I don’t particularly like the film, nor do I really intend on voting for the performance. But don’t worry, she won the year before this for Shampoo. That I can get behind. This — no. It’s a filler nominee.

Laurie — Carrie is a film that had somehow managed to elude me for so many years. I mean, it’s a horror movie, and I just don’t like those, they hold no appeal for me, so that’s part of it. The other part is, it was never really on TV when I was a child, so I never accidentally started watching it. Some films I at least remember watching part of as a child and knowing nothing about them. Hell, the first time I watched Pulp Fiction at 15 or whatever it was, I practically remembered the scene where Ving Rhames chases Bruce Willis into the pawn shop as though I’d seen it a dozen times before. But Carrie, nothing. I mean, you know about the film. How can you not know the basic story of girl, psychic powers, pig’s blood. But that’s seriously all I knew. It was one of those movies that just sat on my Netflix Queue (whichever one), waiting to get watched at some point.

I really only watched this movie for the first time like — two months ago. Early April. I remember, because I was engaged in a series of messages, writing about something else, and in them I wrote an offhand comment about how I was watching it. So for that reason alone, I might not be as positive about this film as some other people will. I understand some people think the moon of this film and think it’s an essential film and a must-watch, but, for me it’s just a really good film. Understand that before I begin.

Now, the film did manage to grab me from the very beginning. Mostly because the opening credits are shot over slow motion images of Sissy Spacek taking a shower. Full nude. There’s bush in this movie from its opening shot. And she showers, and she gets her period, and it freaks her out, because she doesn’t know what it is. So she starts screaming, and all the other girls — because this is about as exaggerated as high school can get — start laughing at her and throwing tampons at her. And the sympathetic gym teacher consoles her and yells at all the other girls. And Carrie, with latent psychic powers, ends up busting a light bulb above her head because she’s so upset at what the girls are doing. Right there, the film had my attention.

It’s a really strong opening. At first I was like, “It’s a bit extreme, but, an interesting start,” and then when it was all said and done, it did what it was supposed to do — get me invested in the film. It was really weird though to see the creepy credits and to see full bush just nonchalantly walking around.

Anyway, the rest of the film goes as follows. Carrie goes home, where her mother, Piper Laurie, is a crazy as fuck Christ nut. She’s very religious and is batshit on top of it. She tells her daughter the blood is from sin and locks her in a closet to pray for forgiveness. Yeah, she’s crazy. And then we see Carrie going around, looking up telekinesis, because she thinks that might be what she has, while this other stuff happens. And this other stuff is, Amy Irving plays a girl who is probably the only one that doesn’t pick on Carrie. She feels bad for her. And what she does is, she wants to help her, so she has her boyfriend agree to take Carrie to prom. And the rest of the fim is Carrie all happy about going and feeling like she’s finally being accepted a little bit. And meanwhile, the popular girl, the main antagonist to her, gets her boyfriend (John Travolta, naturally) to set up the pig’s blood stunt.

And really, the film plays like a fairy tale until the very end. We see this girl go from complete outcast, to having a nice time at the prom, and we see her date actually start to like her, and we see things really going well. She even gets voted prom queen and him prom king. But then — of course, you know the pig’s blood is coming, so, at that point you’re like, “Oh god, not now, she’s so happy, don’t do it!” But, it happens. And it causes her powers to kick in and she ends up locking the doors and setting the whole place on fire and killing just about everyone in the school. Then she goes home, where her mother is praying and doing her thing, and then attacks her and kills her, before taking the house down on the two of them and killing them both. And then the very end of the movie is Amy Irving, the only survivor, having a dream about going to Carrie’s grave and having her bloody hand reach up and grab her from out of the ground.

It’s a really great movie. What really makes it work is the fairy tale aspect of it. They really build up sympathy for Carrie and really downplay the whole telekinesis thing, which is really what makes all these Stephen King adaptations work. Take The Shining. Downplay the fact that the kid has powers and play up everything else, and the fact that he has them isn’t that big a deal. Whenever they don’t downplay all the bullshit that Stephen King includes, the films end up sucking. So, yeah, the film is really good. And really short too. It does exactly what it needs to do in 98 minutes.

Piper Laurie is good as the mother. She gets scenes where she quotes scripture and stuff and is loud and crazy. But, personally, I wouldn’t really vote for her. I just, wasn’t into the performance that much. Solid, perfect for a film, but not worth a vote here. That’s how I rate this performance.

Straight — And now this one. This one’s gonna be complicated. Because — well, let’s just get into it.

First, Network is a great film. Now, I don’t hail it as high a masterpiece as others hail it, and that has a lot to do with the fact that I love Rocky, and I love Taxi Driver, and I love All the President’s Men, and I’d seen and loved all those films from before I even got into movies. And this whole time I was hearing, “Network, it’s so great. It should have won that year. It really should have beaten Rocky.” And I’m like, “…but I like Rocky.” So maybe seeing it last affected my opinion slightly. But, even when I saw it, I loved it. I thought it was utterly brilliant, and I thought it correctly predicted what would happen to television twenty years early. I just, didn’t think it should have won Best Picture over those other films. And based on the fervor there is for this film, to me, it feels like I’m saying that Casablanca is a piece of shit or something. Which, I’m doing neither (especially the latter). I’m just saying, of the five films nominated for Best Picture this year, Network would be my fourth choice. Since they’re all nearly perfect (or perfect) films, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. But, it had to be said.

Now, the film is about Howard Beale, which isn’t a surprise, the prologue tells you in voiceover right at the very beginning. And he starts out as a news anchor, and then is told he’s going to be fired. And when that happens, he goes — well, he goes a bit, funny in the head. A tad fuckered, if you will. He goes crazy. He says that he will publicly commit suicide on his last show. He starts to make crazy speeches and go on rants and shit on live television. And the Network, seeing the ratings he’s getting, decides to leave him on the air. Because all they care about is ratings. And the other two major players here are William Holden and Faye Dunaway. Dunaway plays the ruthless executive moving up the corporate ladder. All she wants is a hit show.

So what she does is, aside from partnering up with a radical terrorist group for a reality show (not kidding), goes over to Bill Holden, who runs the news division and Finch, and offers her help in making the news better. And he’s against the whole thing, because Finch has always been his friend. But Dunaway starts sleeping with him and he agrees to do it. And they sleep together as she starts making the show more “watchable.” And the thing is, she’s crazy dedicated to her job, and sees the affair as nothing but an opportunity to allow her to do what she needs to do, while Holden sees it as a breath of fresh air. He feels alive. He plans on leaving his wife. Which I’ll get to in a second.

So then they give Finch his own show, where he rants and raves all he wants, until he discovers that the conglomerate that owns their program is going to be bought by an even bigger one. And since he’s preaching against that sort of thing, he goes on a big stink about it. Which is a n0-no at the network. And they send him into Ned Beatty, who gets a brilliant scene with Finch, where he basically uses his insanity against him, making him think he’s an angel or voice of god, and coerces him into preaching about other things than the merger. It’s a brilliant scene. So then Beale goes back on air, but it’s not as good, because it’s not as interesting. So ratings start to go down. And then Dunaway, sensing opportunity, hires the terrorist group to kill Finch live on the air, looking at it as a great way to get great first episode ratings on their new show. And the film ends with a brilliant epilogue saying that it was the story of Howard Beale, “a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.” The film is brilliant, and is a great example of how network television operates nowadays. Also, Robert Duvall is in it. And I feel that always helps.

Now, Beatrice Straight. While Holden is with Dunaway, he decides he wants to leave his wife of 25 years. That’s Straight. And he goes to her to ask for the divorce, and, this is what happens:

It’s a brilliant scene. Straight is note perfect in it. The only thing that gives me pause is — you see that scene? Well, that’s the entire performance. Seriously. She’s only on screen for five minutes. I just don’t know if I’m comfortable enough to vote for a performance that’s on screen for that short a time span, no matter how great it is.

My Thoughts: Okay, pretty good category. We’re gonna need to go down from bottom to top. First off, Lee Grant is off. The movie’s long, the movie’s boring, the performance isn’t win-worthy, and she won the year before this. So she’s out. Thank god. It gets more difficult from here. I guess, off second has to be Piper Laurie. I mean, she gave an Oscar-worthy performance in The Hustler, but, I don’t think I find this performance strong enough for a vote here. So, she’s off. Which leaves — Foster, Straight and Alexander. I guess — Alexander has to come off first. I hate doing it, since, I really want her to have an Oscar, but, no matter how you cut it, she’s third here. It’s really between Straight and Foster. Those were the best two. And, hindsight tells me Jodie will win two after this, and that she doesn’t need my vote now. But the performance is just too iconic and the film is just too iconic. I have to vote Jodie. I mean, it’s fine that Straight one, since — well, you saw the performance, but, can I really vote for something that’s only five minutes long? I just can’t. It feels like cheating. I’m the first one to say it’s great she won though. Because, you can see. She earned it.

My Vote: Foster

Should Have Won: Uhh — tough call. Foster didn’t need to win, so I don’t think she “should have” won. I just liked the performance best. Straight was great, but, not essential that she won. So, sll things considered — I don’t have a preference. Yeah, I can’t really call this one.

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. It’s not like the performance sucks or anything, it’s fucking great. It’s just — there’s too little of it. And Jodie got her Oscar(s). So, really it’s only Jane Alexander who got screwed here. It’s a shame, but it’s not like the decision is all that unacceptable because of it, you know what I mean? There were worse choices to be made here, and they didn’t make them. So by that rationale, and by the performance itself, yeah, acceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: It’s fucking Taxi Driver. Do I need to say anymore?

It’s fucking All the President’s Men. Do I need to say anymore?

It’s fucking Network. I think you get the idea by now.

(That means all three are must-sees, and if you haven’t seen them (in that order, that’s the severity if you haven’t seen them), feel the appropriate amount of shame.)

Carrie is also a great film. I don’t necessarily consider it a must-see, probably because I never actually saw it until I was in my 20s. It is a great film though. They really do a great job of building up sympathy for Carrie (though I could really do without all the obvious Hitchcock references. But then it wouldn’t be De Palma, right?)

Rankings:

5) Grant

4) Laurie

3) Alexander

2) Straight

1) Foster

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