The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1979

1979 is well-covered on this blog. I don’t like it. I don’t mind Kramer vs. Kramer winning Best Picture over Apocalypse Now and All That Jazz so much. The films speak for themselves, and it’s pretty clear which ones are better. My problem is that Robert Benton won Best Director for Kramer vs. Kramer over Francis Ford Coppola and Bob Fosse (talked about here). That’s sickening.

Best Actor this year was (rightfully) Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer, and I fully support that decision, because he’d won one of these twice over by this point and had nothing to show for it. As much as I love Peter Sellers and Roy Scheider, Hoffman was the choice. Best Actress was Sally Field for Norma Rae, which, as I said here, I love as a decision. And Best Supporting Actor this year was Melvyn Douglas for Being There, which is no secret that it’s the single worst Best Supporting Actor decision of all time. The worst. Robert Duvall was clearly the choice there for Apocalypse Now.

Which brings us to this category — a slam dunk if there ever was one. When Meryl wins a category, she really wins a category.


And the nominees were…

Jane Alexander, Kramer vs. Kramer

Barbara Barrie, Breaking Away

Candace Bergen, Starting Over

Mariel Hemingway, Manhattan

Meryl Streep, Kramer vs. Kramer

Alexander — October is double nomination month, it seems.

Kramer vs. Kramer is perhaps the most realistic film ever made about divorce. The film begins with Meryl Streep telling her son she’s leaving. She leaves, leaving Dustin Hoffman, a workaholic father, to care for the kid himself, which he knows almost nothing about doing. Over the course of the film, he adjusts his life and becomes a better father. Just as he gets the hang of it, Meryl comes back. Hoffman refuses to let her see the kid, because she walked out. She sues for custody. They have a hearing, and custody is awarded to Meryl because she’s the mother and they assume the mother is always the better parent. Hoffman doesn’t contest this because he doesn’t want the boy to have to go on the stand during a trial. That’s the film, it’s really amazing. You need to see it.

Jane Alexander plays a neighbor of Hoffman’s and friend of Streep’s. Hoffman at first blames her for Streep leaving because she supported her decision. She’d listened to Meryl complain for months about the marriage and tells Hoffman Meryl did a very brave thing. Then, over the course of the film, Hoffman and Alexander grow close, because they’re both single parents, and she sees that he’s actually a good father and actually sort of moves closer to his side. That’s pretty much all she does. Alexander is solid in the role, but — once you see Meryl, you know that she never had a shot here.

Barrie — Breaking Away is a great film about bicycle racing. I shit you not. It’s awesome.

It’s about four friends hanging out in their small town. None of them have gona to college after high school. The main guy is crazy into bike racing and Italian racers. He listens to opera and tries to impress girls by pretending he’s an Italian exchange student. The other three are Daniel Stern, Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earl Haley. You may have heard of them. And the kid goes around, training on his bike, much to the chagrin of his father and approval of his mother. And the film culminates in a big bike race that’s just terrific to watch. It’s awesome.

Barbara Barrie plays the kid’s mother. And she’s basically there to act like a foil to the kid’s father. It reminded me of — if you’re my age, you probably know this — Doug, with Mr. and Mrs. Dink. Mr. Dink says all this stuff, and Mrs. Dink says these really sarcastic things under her breath after he finishes. That’s basically what Barrie does. The father gets to be angry and saying shit, and the mother is like, “Calm the fuck down, you’re gonna have a heart attack. Let the kid do what he wants.” She’s hilarious here. I really liked the performance. Thing is — ain’t no one in this category beating Meryl. So, good, but no vote.

Bergen — Starting Over is an interesting film. Not great, but okay.

Burt Reynolds and Candace Bergen have been married for fifteen years. She says she’s leaving to go be a singer. After a while, his parents try to set him up with another woman — Jill Clayburgh. They start dating and things go well. Then Bergen comes back, wanting to be back with Reynolds, and the rest of the film is him deciding between going back with his wife or staying with Clayburgh.

It’s okay, as I said, but isn’t anything special. Bergen, however, is very funny here. Not at the beginning. She leaves. But then when she comes back, she’s hilarious. Because she comes back and tries every trick in the book to get Reynolds back, and she sings one of her songs for him and it’s so terribly out of key — she does a good job with it. I support the nomination. Though no vote. She’s no better than a number four. This is Meryl’s category.

Hemingway — Manhattan is a Woody Allen film. We’ve established what I think about Woody Allen films. Let that inform how you read my reaction to this one.

Manhattan is — well it starts with the “Rhapsody in Blue” opening, which really doesn’t have much to do with anything except, it’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Allen waxing poetic about New York and shots of the city. Then the film starts. Woody Allen is a writer (big fucking surprise) dating a 17-year old girl (Mariel Hemingway). And the film is about — who the fuck knows? I tuned out once they introduced Diane Keaton as his friend’s mistress and they were talking about Dostoyefsky and shit. Or whatever the fuck it was. Right there — I was done. I don’t remember what this is about, but I despised every minute of it. I hated this movie.

Hemingway plays the 17-year old girlfriend, and you’ve got to be fucking kidding me if you think she should have been nominated here. No way. No fucking way.

(In case you didn’t catch my drift, I’m not voting for her.)

Streep — Meryl plays the boy’s mother who leaves then comes back for custody of him. Just watching the performance, it’s clear that she is the only person you can vote for. She’s that good. Plus, she gave one of the top two performances the year before this, so if there was any slight reason why one wouldn’t vote for her, that eliminates it. Meryl wins this by a landslide.

My Thoughts: Come on. It’s Maryl all the way. You’re insane if you think there was any other choice.

My Vote: Streep

Should Have Won: Streep

Is the result acceptable?: The only acceptable result there could have been in this category. One of the best of all time in the category. A+

Performances I suggest you see: Kramer vs. Kramer is a tremendous film. It’s really, really great. My only gripe with it, as I always say, is the fact that it won Best Picture and Best Director. Otherwise, it’s a flawless film. Perfect in almost every way. See this film. It will make you a better person.

Breaking Away is also an amazing, amazing film. It’s so much fun. I highly recommend this. It will make you feel better about everything. It’s so great.

Starting Over is okay, but not essential. If you like Burt Reynolds, Alan Pakula, or romantic comedies, check it out. Otherwise, you’re not missing anything.

And Manhattan, I loathe. I despise this film. But, it’s Woody Allen, and is considered a classic. I have to mention it. I refuse to recommend this to you, though.


5) Hemingway

4) Bergen

3) Barrie

2) Alexander

1) Streep


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