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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1968

1968. A pretty drab year. Not a bad one, because, they did make the best of what they had. But, not a very interesting one. Five relatively ho-hum Best Picture choices. Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Oliver!, Rachel, Rachel and Romeo and Juliet. I’d agree that of those choices, Oliver! is probably the best decision. (That or The Lion in Winter. Which feels too on-the-nose.) I think we’d all have something to rally around if, instead of the Paul Newman directorial effort on the list (you know that’s why they nominated it), they nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. (I just heard like ten people go, “Oooh, yeah.”)

Also this year, Cliff Robertson wins Best Actor for Charly. Personally I’d have given Peter O’Toole his richly deserved Oscar for The Lion in Winter, but, whatever. Best Actress was a tie (the only exact tie in Academy history), with both Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) winning. Streisand was the one who should have won, so, at least she tied. Then Best Supporting Actor was Jack Albertson for The Subject was Roses (which I agree with, even though I’d have totally voted for Gene Wilder in The Producers). And finally, even though Stanley Kubrick really deserved Best Director for 2001, Carol Reed wins for Oliver!. This I’m actually very okay with, because Carol Reed deserved an Oscar twice over for his direction of The Third Man (which he got passed over for in favor of All About Eve. You tell me which was the better directorial effort there. [Oh yeah, it also beat Sunset Boulevard. Just sayin’.])

So, that’s why I consider this a pretty drab year. Not necessarily bad, but also — not as good as it could have been.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 1968

And the nominees were…

Lynn Carlin, Faces

Rosemary Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby

Sondra Locke, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Kay Medford, Funny Girl

Estelle Parsons, Rachel, Rachel

This category now, I feel is actually pretty weak. I really only like two of the nominees — Locke and Gordon. The other three — whatever. So, I’m gonna look through briefly and see if I can find some alternatives.

Nope, I found nothing. The best I got was stretching a lead performance to supporting, like Olivia Hussy as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Or maybe, even though this never would have happened even though I’d have been behind it, they’d nominate Judith O’Dea for Night of the Living Dead, since she was pretty good as Barbra (whom they’re coming to get). But, other than that, yeah, nothing really. So, I guess we’re just stuck with a weak year. Well, that’ll make voting easy.

Carlin — Okay, we have a Cassavetes film. Knowing his style as I do, I can confidently say, with every hit there’s gonna be two or three misses. I’m not the biggest fan of the documentary style unless you’re gonna tell a really interesting story (Blue Valentine), have the performances carry everything insanely well (A Woman Under the Influence) or both (Blue Valentine). This one for me does neither. It’s just people acting. I’m glad i watched A Woman Under the Influence first, because this might have turned me off of his films before I’d even started.

The film is about a married couple who are on the road to divorce. They are played by Lynn Carlin and John Marley (you’d know him as Ali MacGraw’s father in Love Story — for which he deserved an Oscar — or, probably more likely, as Jack Woltz, the studio head who has an unfortunate run-in with his prize horse, in The Godfather). The opening of the movie is them fighting and him leaving. And he goes out with his friends and starts drinking. And he meets up with a hooker, and he does all that. And the first half of the movie is him and his friend and the hooker and them partying. And it’s all improv, basically. Or at least feels like improvisation. So it’s just people sitting around and talking, looking like it was filmed with a student film camera. And the other half of the film is the wife (Carlin) going out with her girlfriends and meeting up with a nice man, played by Seymour Cassel (who most people would know from all the Wes Anderson films. He was Jason Schwatzman’s father in Rushmore and was Esteban in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). And they hang out with him, and she takes him to a hotel room, and they almost fuck, but she cries because she loves her husband, even though her husband is with a hooker. And basically the whole film is about how no one can ever be happy, and how we’re just resigned to unhappiness, because that’s what we’re likely to get. You can see why this film appealed to me on zero levels whatsoever.

Carlin’s performance was fine. I mean, she did a good job during the crying scenes. Otherwise I was watching with my head resting on my hand, waiting for something to happen. Which means the performance barely registered at all with me. I mostly saw her sitting there, watching shit go on and not talking or doing anything. Which, is realistic, but not terribly interesting in a film. So, no vote, but I’ll probably give her like third in the rankings just because this category sucks so much.

Gordon — Oh, this movie. I hadn’t seen this movie until this year, actually. Which is understandable, because I just don’t like horror movies. So all movies grouped under the horror category, no matter how not horror they are, I just avoided. Which is why Carrie also wasn’t seen by me before this year either. But, this and Carrie, what they have in common is — they’re not horror films. They’re just not. This one less so, I guess. But this one’s actually even better than Carrie. And the reason for that is really Roman Polanski’s direction. Let me explain:

The film is about Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes moving into a new apartment. And we just see them living their life. Wondering why pieces of furniture were kept where they were, wondering why the neighbors are so snoopy — shit like that. And Ruth Gordon plays an elderly neighbor from upstairs. And she’s always around, offering to give them stuff, things like that. And the whole thing is so normal. The husband is trying to get a part in a play, shit like that. And everything is pretty normal in the film — which is why it’s so fucking great. Everything is so banal, you’re like, “This isn’t a horror movie at all.” The only freaky thing that happens is, one night, Ruth Gordon brings over some desserts she made, and Rosemary, after eating some of it, tastes something she doesn’t like and throws it out. And very quickly after that, she passes out. She has a strange dream where she’s raped by the devil. And she thinks it’s fucked up and all, but dismisses it when her husband says it was nothing.

Very shortly after that, she gets pregnant. And she notices — after a while — that Gordon is constantly around, trying to help her, really being nosy. She keeps sending her to her obstetrician friend (played by Ralph Bellamy, which is so great), giving her drinks she’s made to help along the pregnancy, and it all seems weird to Rosemary, but not too out of the ordinary. But she starts to question things when her stomach starts to hurt, and when she doesn’t do all the stuff Gordon tells her to do, it doesn’t hurt. So she goes to her doctor friend, and he starts looking into everything, when he discovers that Gordon and her husband are known satanists. But he’s suspiciously found dead before he can tell her. And she eventually gets over the pains, but soon finds out the truth. So she tries to escape from her place, but realizes the entire building is filled with satanists, all watching her. And they all tell her that no harm will come to her or the baby, and the whole time she’s trying to get away, but her husband refuses to believe her, and the satanists keep popping up everywhere she tries to turn. And eventually she has the baby, and the end of the film is so great. It’s her finding out her husband was in on it the entire time, and the baby actually is the son of satan, and they tell her — “It’s done. Now, you could leave, or you could be a mother to your child,” and the final shot of the film is her going over and rocking the cradle of the baby.” It’s so fucking good. It really is.

I can’t stress enough how not a horror movie this is. I mean, it’s horror, but it’s not scary. That’s why it’s so good. It’s so fucking normal for the longest time, and by the time you realize it’s not normal — it’s too late. Gordon plays the meddlesome neighbor, and is really good in the role. I can understand why she won. The only thing is, I think I may have liked another performance more. So even though I’m cool with her winning and can see why she’s the top choice, I think I’m still gonna go another way. Which I’ll explain right now.

Locke — I came upon this film quite by accident actually. Well, not really. I was watching The Member of the Wedding on TCM, which isn’t available on DVD, so I made sure to watch it. And after it ended Ben Mankiewicz came on and talked about how the movie was adapted from a book from Carson McCullers, who also wrote the book this film was based on (as well as Reflections in a Golden Eye, which, three pretty good films there). So after they ended it, they were starting this film (or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, I watched them both), and I figured, “Well, I need to see this too, let’s just watch ’em both.” And I started watching this, not really expecting much. For some reason I expected more out of the other one because it was unavailable. But I’ll talk about that one when I get to it. Let’s stick with this for now.

The film starts with Alan Arkin, a deaf mute, working in a hardware store. His friend, who is either also deaf or just knows how to sign, is pretty dumb. He’s kind of mentally retarded. He’s one of those Lenny type guys (Of Mice and Men. Just checking), who doesn’t know any better. And we first see him passing by a bakery and wanting the cakes. So he breaks the window, the alarm goes off, and he just eats the cake, not noticing he’s committing a crime. And Arkin and him are friends — they’re the only two friends they have in the world. And the dude is committed to an asylum, because his actions are usually overlooked, but that one was just one too many. So he’s in an asylum, which leads to Arkin going out on vacation. Or at least, that’s what they called it when telling him he should do it. So he goes and moves in to an upstairs room in a house owned by Sonda Locke’s family. They rent out the room for extra money. And he goes upstairs and stays there, mostly keeping to himself. But then Sondra Locke comes up and starts talking to him. And she hears him playing records and listening to the vibrations, and gets interested in the music, and eventually she starts confiding in him all her feelings and stuff. And they have this really tender relationship. And we see her basically living out all the horrors that come with being a teenager. And he has his own storyline, with the retarded friend and with  black doctor (that’s a whole other storyline, not really relevant to this specific nomination), town drunk — all of that.

But Locke’s character is mostly trying to overcome her small town and go and be a classical musician. And they tell her she’ll never do it because she’s a woman. That’s her character. I’m not gonna ruin the film because — I just can’t. I don’t want to spoil this one for one, and two, the plot isn’t really important. This is a film you just watch. It’s about the characters, not necessarily what happens to them.

The reason I loved Locke’s performance so much is because — I can relate to it. I watched this and immediately understood the character. I loved how she played it, and I thought everything about the character and her performance was perfect. That’s why I’m not voting for Ruth Gordon. This performance is special to me, and I’m sticking with it. However, the only slight caveat of sorts here is — it’s kind of a lead role. Arkin is introduced as the main character, but, once he moves into the house, Locke takes over for a good stretch, and then they go back to Arkin and then back to her, and then sometimes to the two of them, and really, she’s the lead female in the movie. Now, granted, I get why she went supporting, because, this gave her a better opportunity to win. But it is a lead role, and normally I’m not for category fraud, but I love this performance too much to even care. She was never getting a Best Actress nomination. I support the nomination and the performance. Plus I think the movie’s pretty damn good as well.

Medford — Yeah, the requisite Best Picture nomination. What I mean by that is — if a film is nominated for Best Picture, they give it at least one acting nomination. For the big films, they tend to give them two. That is, the serious contenders. This year, you’ll notice, Oliver! got Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, Rachel, Rachel got Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, this got Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, and The Lion in Winter got Best Actor and Best Actress. Romeo and Juliet got zero. That’s how you know it was never going to win. I haven’t of course tested this theory by looking through all the years (but I’m sure I will at some point), but rule of thumb is, no acting nominations, no chance. If you’ll notice, the films generally pair up either both leads, both supporting, or a lead and a supporting in the same category. That’s how I feel it matches up the majority of the time. But usually if a film in a five-nominee year wants a chance, it usually needs two acting nominations. It’s all dependent on the film, each case is different, but generally, that’s how it works out. So, really, this is just a Best Picture nomination, because — there’s no other reason for it to be here.

The film, though, is a biopic of Fanny Brice. She was a vaudeville era comedienne, and, if you watch The Great Ziegfeld, she actually plays herself. And, I’d seen that film before I saw this, and, just watching her cameo in that, I was like, “Holy shit, that’s Barbra Streisand.” Because, seriously, look at a picture of her. Tell me that’s not perfect casting. The film details her dream to be a star, start in vaudeville, move up to the follies, and then her marriage to — I forget the husband’s name, he’s played by Omar Sharif — who is a gambler who she’s in love with but who isn’t the best of men. He gets involved in some shady shit. It’s a brilliant film, mostly because of Streisand’s performance. She really owns this movie. This is the real “A star is born” performance, not like A Star is Born, which she remade eight years after this.

Anyway, Medford plays Streisand’s mother. She plays it exactly as you’d picture a Jewish mother from Brooklyn. Only thing is, she’s barely in the film and isn’t even a focal point at all. She’s just there to be her mother. It’s the kind of performance that’s just — delightful. You know, she’s good in the role and enjoyable. That’s really all she functions as here. And it’s a fine performance and all, but — no vote.

Parsons — End with a whimper. This is by far one of the worst Best Picture nominees I’ve ever seen. It’s not that it’s a bad film, if I went by that, then it would just be below average. But, just how it got on is what makes it bad. This is the first film Paul Newman ever directed, and it stars his wife, and is a small scale, “actor’s” drama. And I guarantee you that’s only reason it was nominated. How do I know? He won the fucking Golden Globe Best Director award! WON! And the film wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture there. The Golden Globes are by far the most corrupt of the awards shows. Barbra Streisand fucking won Best Director there. And you know all about the million Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp nominations. When you see that, you know — it’s how it is. The Academy was the same way. If it’s classy and by someone they like, they’ll vote for it. What bullshit.

The film is about a schoolteacher who is a virgin. She’s still living with her mother, and hates it. She likes being away from her. And over the summer, she has an affair with a former high school classmate. And at first she thinks it’s the real deal, but soon finds out he only wanted to fuck her. And worse — she’s pregnant. Or rather, she thinks she is. This causes her to rethink her life. She decides to leave her mother to raise the child somewhere else. But then she finds out that the “child” is actually a benign cyst. Even so, she’s changed. So she decides to move anyway. That’s the film. It’s one of those, people being moody and internal all film.

Now, where Estelle Parsons comes in is — she’s a fellow teacher at the school with Woodward. She’s a closeted lesbian and urges Woodward to attend her church with her as an excuse to tell her the feelings she has for her. It doesn’t work out, but Woodward is nice so she remains friends with her. That’s pretty much the performance. It’s whatever. She’s in the movie. Never gonna vote for it, probably no better than fourth. Like I said, product of a weak year and a weak film that gets support because of who made it. Sometimes you have to deal with this kind of shit with the Academy.

My Thoughts: It’s really between Lock and Gordon. And personally, despite it being a lead role in a way, I much prefer Locke. I thought she was so much better. Gordon had the benefit of her film being better, being a veteran actor, and also being a screenwriter who was nominated a few times for Oscars. So she was always going to win, and I’m okay with that. I’m still voting Locke, because I really liked her performance the best.

My Vote: Locke

Should Have Won: Locke, Gordon

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Rosemary’s Baby is the better film (best in this category, even), and while I thought Ruth Gordon was just there (albeit interesting. But I just saw her as a piece of a great film rather than a standout performance. You know what I mean?), I’m very okay with her winning. Still would have voted for Sondra Locke though.

Performances I suggest you see: Rosemary’s Baby is a fucking great movie. Seriously, it’s wonderful. What makes it work as well as it does is the fact that it’s all played so normal. The film is about devil worshipping neighbors who have satan impregnate their neighbor with his son. You’d think they’d play it for suspense, but they don’t. The whole thing is just so fucking casual. The first half of the film is literally just Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes hanging out with the neighbors. And she gets pregnant, and that’s it. Nothing is that out of the ordinary. And that’s what makes the whole thing so fucking unsettling. Seriously, this is a film everybody needs to see, because it’s so fucking good.

Also, Funny Girl is a great film with a great leading performance by Barbra Streisand. It’s one of those force of nature performances. She’s so fucking good in this movie. She makes the whole thing really entertaining to watch. I highly recommend it if you’re into musicals.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a film I liked a lot, and mostly because of the Sondra Locke performance. I didn’t much get the whole Alan Arkin and the retarded friend thing, but the scenes with him and her were really great and really touching. I liked how they did her character and I liked the film a lot. I recommend it. Not sure how many people will like it or not, but hey, you never know until you watch, right?

Rankings:

5) Parsons

4) Medford

3) Carlin

2) Gordon

1) Locke

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