The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1980

Oh, 1980. A prime example of how badly the Academy can fuck up because of their — preoccupations.

Ordinary People wins Best Picture and Best Director (for Robert Redford, talked about here) over Raging Bull. What can you do except shake your head? What terrible decisions.

Timothy Hutton also won Best Supporting Actor for Ordinary People, which, as I said here, is actually a good decision. Robert De Niro won Best Actor for Raging Bull, which, at least they didn’t fuck up there, and gave a deserving performance its due. And Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for Coal Miner’s Daughter, which — the category was between her and Mary Tyler Moore for Ordinary People, and either one would have been acceptable. Some may have their own personal opinion on the matter, but both were good choices.

Which brings us to this category. I don’t like it. But on the other hand, I don’t give a shit. So, there’s that.


And the nominees were…

Eileen Brennan, Private Benjamin

Eve Le Gallienne, Resurrection

Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull

Diana Scarwid, Inside Moves

Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard

Brennan — Private Benjamin is another one of those Goldie Hawn comedies that went over so well in teh 70s and 80s. I don’t get her appeal in most of them, but this one happens to be one of the better ones. So I get it.

The film is about Goldie, whose husband (played by Albert Brooks) dies on their wedding night. He dies as he ejaculates. Then, in her despair, she gets conned into joining the army by a wily recruiting sergeant (Harry Dean Stanton). So now she’s in the army, which is not the right place for her. She’s very spoiled, so she thinks it’s gonna be this easy thing. It’s not. She tries to get out of it, but eventually decides to stick with it, since she’s never completed anything in her life. So she goes through, and eventually becomes a better soldier and a better person — you know how it is. And it’s pretty funny too. It’s a good movie.

Eileen Brennan plays the antagonist of the film — the officer who can’t stand Hawn and knows she shouldn’t be there, and, no matter what happens, continues to not like her. And she makes her life difficult, and she is the recipient of many pranks and such — you know the role. Brennan is good in it. I wouldn’t vote for this performance, but Brennan is pretty great, so that carries some weight. But still — I  probably wouldn’t put her more than third for a vote. Maybe second. She’s not really in the film all that much.

Le Gallienne — Resurrection is an interesting concept, but a boring film. Ellen Burstyn gets injured in a car accident and suddenly gets the ability to heal people. And she goes around, healing people when they get into accidents. Like, a little girl chokes on something, she fixes her. She finds that she can heal people who are injured. And most people are cool with it, but her husband goes nuts and can’t handle it. And the film becomes about how she can’t live in society because of this gift. It’s an okay film, kind of boring, looks like it was shot BBC style. Very flat, very stagy.

Eve Le Gallienne plays the Marie Ouspenskaya role in the film. She’s old, shows up for one scene, gets an Oscar nomination. That’s really all she does. She shows up, is old, says she accepts that death will come, and dies. That’s it. One scene, maybe two. Nothing major, but she was a respected acting teacher, like Lee Strasberg, so I get the nomination. But she is clearly a #5 here. No way she should have won.

Moriarty — Raging Bull is Raging Bull, and if you haven’t seen it and need me to summarize it, you’re a terrible film fan and we’re not friends.

Moriarty plays La Motta’s second wife, Vickie. She’s really great here. I mean, watching the performance, and seeing who else was nominated here — I don’t see why she’s not the vote. To me, she was the best in the category. Most years, she’d probably be a #2 and not get voted for, but here — she out does everyone else.

Scarwid — Inside Moves is a fascinating film. It’s almost three films in one. Or rather, it’s one film, and continues an becomes something else, while still being the first film, and then becomes something totally different. It’s strange. And yet — it works.

John Savage, who was Steven in The Deer Hunter, plays a dude who tries to kill himself. That’s the opening of the film. He jumps off a building and tries to kill himself. Problem is, he didn’t jump out of a high enough window, so he survives, and becomes crippled. And he starts going to bars to drink his sorrows away. And while he’s there, he meets other outcasts of sorts with similar problems. And they have this motley group of friends. And he becomes one of the people at the bar and gets over his problems. And he becomes real good friends with the bartender, played by David Morse. And they become best friends. And then, one day, Morse and Savage go to a basketball game. And afterwards, Morse starts heckling one of the players, who tells him if he’s so good, why doesn’t he play him. So Morse plays the dude and kicks his ass. He’s really good. And the guy’s like, “I can probably get you a tryout for the team.” And Morse tries out for the team and gets on. And he becomes this local phenom, becoming a star out of nowhere at age 30-something.

Here’s where the film takes its turn. It becomes about Morse becoming this big star player and forgetting about his friends at the bar. He stops coming around, and stops hanging out with most of them (except Savage), and starts avoiding them because he’s embarrassed of where he came from. And eventually they get over it, and all the people from the bar go to a game, and everyone’s happy. It’s actually a really good movie.

Diana Scarwid plays a waitress at the bar who, in the second half of the film, starts a relationship with Savage. And they have this tender relationship, and it’s really sweet, and there’s some complications at one point, but eventually they persevere, and it ends happily.

What I liked about Scarwid’s performance is how real it felt. She felt like a real person. She wasn’t flashy, but she was really, really solid. I’d really like to vote for her here, but I think Cathy Moriarty did a better job, overall. That, and, there’s the matter of Mary Steenburgen.

Steenburgen — Melvin and Howard is based on this anecdote about a dude who came forward after Howard Hughes died to say the Hughes left him a bunch of money after he picked him up, hitchhiking in the middle of the night. And the film is an extended version of that. What ‘really happened,’ sort of thing.

Melvin is this good, but ne’er do well country boy who, in the middle of the night, finds a man — Hughes, played by Jason Robards — in the middle of the desert. Hughes was riding a motorbike and crashed and was injured. So Melvin gives him a ride and endears himself to him during the ride. but when Hughes says who he is, Melvin thinks he’s joking, because he looks homeless. And then Melvin goes home, where his wife — Steenburgen — says she’s leaving him for another man. And she goes off. And the rest of the film is about the two of them. And their problems. It’s not really about Hughes at all. And Steenburgen plays this woman who is pretty dumb, but sweet. Her sole aspirations in life are to go on a game show and win. And she does that, but Melvin fucks it up — it’s a whole story. They do poorly, then do well, then fuck it up, but want to do better, then Melvin gets the notice that Hughes put him in his will, and has to go to court to fight for the money.

In real life, they discovered that it was a fraud, but here, they play it as true. The film is okay. Not fantastic, but okay.

Steenburgen is pretty solid in the role. I think she was really good here. I wouldn’t vote for it, because to me it wasn’t a performance that was unquestionably the winner, and if something isn’t unquestionably the best, then I take the quality of film into account as well. And to me, Moriarty wins that battle hands down (performance and film quality), so I vote for her over Steenburgen. Though Steenburgen’s had the better career, so I get why her winning is the better decision historically. But I can’t vote for her. I just didn’t like it enough to vote for it.

My Thoughts: To me, Cathy Moriarty clearly gave the best performance in the category. So I vote for her. I don’t care so much about the end result, just because — Mary Steenburgen’s had a nice career. So I’m cool with her winning. But I’m still voting for Moriarty. To me, she was best.

My Vote: Moriarty

Should Have Won: Moriarty

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. It’s not a major enough decision to where it could be bad. Moriarty gave the better performance, but Steenburgen had the better career. So, it evens out historically. It’s fine.

Performances I suggest you see: Raging Bull. If you haven’t seen this, you’re dead to both me and the world. And you don’t really like movies.

Private Benjamin is a great film. It’s very funny. One of the better comedies of the 80s, and one of the better female-driven comedies of recent times. There are very few comedies with female stars that are truly good. Usually they fall into stereotype. This one doesn’t, really. It’s pretty funny all the way through. And if it’s not laugh out loud funny, it’s engaging. It works. It’s a good film. Check it out.

Inside Moves is actually a very fascinating film. It shifts gears quite a bit. I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to be, but it’s totally engaging all the way through. I recommend this one, just because it’s so different. A lot of people might not like this, but there will definitely be a few people who really do, and that’s why I’m recommending this. Because it’s very good, and very unlike most other films.

Melvin and Howard has its moments, but, I was expecting a lot more Howard and a lot less Melvin. And that wasn’t the case. I kind of tuned out midway through. But I still give it a minor recommendation just because — I don’t know. Oscar winner, maybe? Most people probably wouldn’t care for this, though. Hell, I didn’t even particularly care for this. But the Robards bit at the beginning was pretty funny, so I’ll mention it for that. And Mary Steenburgen is naked in this, if you care about that sort of thing.

Resurrection — not that great a film overall, but an interesting concept. It’s very stagy, looks like a Lifetime movie, but the concept is intriguing. And it wasn’t totally awful. I didn’t particularly care for it, though. I guess I’m mentioning because — maybe someone will see this because of it, and maybe they’ll see something in the concept and end up taking the concept and creating a better film than this out of it. It’s possible, so why not mention it? I didn’t much care for it, though.


5) Le Gallienne

4) Steenburgen

3) Scarwid

2) Brennan

1) Moriarty

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