The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1963

I hate 1963. It’s such a weak year. Perhaps the weakest set of Best Picture nominees of all time. Tom Jones wins Best Picture, and honestly, I can’t criticize it all that much because — does it really matter what won here? Tony Richardson wins Best Director for the film (talked about here), which is pretty terrible, since he beat Federico Fellini for 8 1/2. Which one of those films sounds like it should have won?

Best Actor this year was Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field (talked about here). This was a big decision, historically, him being the first black actor to win Best Actor and all, and I’m totally okay with it. But I can’t help but feel weird about it since he gave much better performances over his career, and the performance was a ‘magical negro’ performance, which makes it feel like a back-handed compliment by the Academy. Best Actress was Patricia Neal for Hud (talked about here), which I really hate as a decision, and Melvyn Douglas also won Best Supporting Actor for the film, which is actually a really good decision.

So, in all, 1963 has about one good decision, plus a really good historical one, which actually works, since the year as a whole sucked, and it was actually a good year to do it in. As for this category — does it really matter what happened?


And the nominees are…

Diane Cilento, Tom Jones

Edith Evans, Tom Jones

Joyce Redman, Tom Jones

Margaret Rutherford, The V.I.P.s

Lilia Skala, Lilies of the Field

Cilento — Triple nomination! Yes. Love it when this happens. Less to write.

Tom Jones is based on the picaresque Henry Fielding novel about the young rogue who manages to get in trouble all the time. Albert Finney is Tom Jones, and he goes around screwing women and getting into trouble until he’s also hanged, and somehow, through crazy circumstances, manages to be saved because of some coincidence that is found out just late enough that he’s almost hanged but early enough to save him.

It’s a very, very light-hearted comedy. It’s not a bad film, but it’s a terrible Best Picture choice.

Diane Cilento plays Tom’s local girlfriend. She’s a commoner, and they fuck and fuck a lot. The first time we see her, she and him are fucking in the woods. And she’s feisty. She’s a really feisty character. She makes you take notice of her. Though she doesn’t really do all that much in the film. She’s barely in it. Though, based on this category, despite her barely being in the film, the explosiveness of the character is enough to put her top three. That’s how bad this character is.

Evans — Edith Evans plays the crotchety old woman of the film. She’s the aunt of the woman Tom wants to marry who doesn’t like him because he’s vulgar and refuses to allow the marriage to take place. And she also is barely in the film, and basically acts the same part that’s been nominated for about a dozen Supporting Actress Oscars — old woman, refuses to let the young people be together. Here it’s more comic, but still ,I can’t vote for this at all. There’s nothing interesting here at all with her performance. If I’m gonna give this to a veteran, I’m giving it to Rutherford. At least she was enjoyable.

Redman — Joyce Redman plays Tom’s mother. We see her in the opening scenes (presented like a silent film, albeit in color. But they do have intertitles, so that’s a plus), where she is a servant in an upper-class household and sleeps with another servant, and gives birth to Tom, and then is chased out (as the dude decides to raise Tom as his own). And later in the film, she shows up, meeting Tom in an inn (not knowing who he is), and engaging in the most sexually suggestive eating scene ever put to film. Watch this:

Then they go upstairs and fuck (at this point, they’re mother and son), and he’s chased out because she’s married. But then later, we find out he’s not really her son, and everything works out, incest-wise.

To me, that scene alone is enough to put her near or at the top of the list, just because — that takes dedication. So she’s definitely near the top of the list for this one.

Rutherford — The V.I.P.s is an ensemble film about a bunch of people getting stranded at Heathrow airport due to fog. These people include:

Orson Welles — a famous movie director with a weight problem (I shit you not, they call it out in the film) who is fleeing the country to Switzerland because if he gets out of the country before midnight he won’t have to pay all the back taxes he owes. He’s traveling with his new protege movie star (who he’s also sleeping with), who wants to star in his film. He doesn’t want her to be in the film, and is just sleeping with her because she’s young and a model, but eventually the fog makes him have to marry her to not pay the taxes, and she then demands, as his wife, to play the part.

Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith — Taylor is an Australian businessman who has ran his father’s tractor company for years and years, and is now trying to sell it to make a huge profit. And Maggie Smith plays his loyal secretary who is secretly in love with him. And he’s scheduled to have a meeting in New York that will ensure a big payment for him, but the delay puts the entire deal in jeopardy. And he thinks he’s ruined, until Smith, out of her love for him, goes and gets the money for him. How she does this relates to the next story.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor — Burton and Taylor play a thinly veiled version of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The film’s writer, Terrence Rattigan, who also wrote The Deep Blue Sea, which Leigh starred in back in 1955, wrote this part of the film about the time when Leigh planned on leaving Olivier for Peter Finch, but didn’t because her plane got delayed because of fog, and she lost the nerve. (The only difference is, there, Leigh was greatly under the influence of her manic depression, and the fog allowed her enough time to come down from it and realize what she was doing. The film makes almost no mention of that and plays it straight.)

Here, Taylor is leaving Burton, and doesn’t tell him. She leaves a note at the house for him to find when he gets home, which she figures will be after they take off. But the delay allows him to find the note and come back to the airport. And he confronts her and they have some heated discussions. And eventually Taylor loses the nerve to go. But, at one point, as everyone is stuck at the airport overnight, Burton is sitting quietly at a desk, writing checks, and Maggie Smith approaches him (because he plays a business magnate) and begs him to help Rod Taylor with his problem (because he needs to deliver money as soon as he gets there otherwise his deal falls through). And Burton sees that she’s in love and helps them, no questions asked, because he’s softened by his own personal situation.

Anyway, the part of the film we’re dealing with is this one. Margaret Rutherford plays a duchess who is in danger of losing her house. Her estate isn’t doing so well, and, in order to not lose it, she’s been traveling to America to work. Actually do work, to pay for the estate. And she’s this batty old woman who is a bit off her rocker, and is basically the nutty Helen Hayes of the film (if you’ve seen Airport). And she doesn’t really do all that much. She’s given something to help her sleep by the concierge (or someone), which causes her to become drunk-like and be all crazy. And then she ends up making lots of money because Orson Welles sees her estate and decides to film there, and, since it’s an American film, they pay ridiculous amounts of money to film there. They tell her she’ll get a certain amount, like 1,500 pounds, and she’s like, “For three weeks? Shit, that’s more than I need. 1,500 pounds for three weeks is fantastic.” And then they’re like, “A day.” And she’s secretly like, “I’m rich, bitch!” It’s a nice little portion of the film.

The film itself is pretty good. I actually really like it. I know it’s not a great film, but I like it nonetheless.

As for Rutherford’s performance — she’s the comic relief. She’s fine. She doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel here, but, she’s funny enough, the category sucks, and she’s really the only non-Tom Jones nominee. Plus she’s a veteran, and I like her film more than I like Tom Jones. So, that puts her near the top of the list for a vote by default. But the category blows, so I’m not sure if it matters.

Skala — Lilies of the Field is literally about this: a bunch of German nuns build a chapel. Or at least want to. They can’t, because they’re nuns. Out of nowhere, Sidney Poitier a magical negro drifter shows up and offers to work for them for money. They tell him they can’t pay him, but he’ll be repayed by God. He’s like, “Fuck you. I need to get paid.” But eventually, he comes around and decides to help them. He helps them build a church, and when he’s done, they celebrate, and he slips out quietly. That’s the film. That’s all it is.

People fucking love this film, and I don’t get it. I see subtle racism and religion, two things I don’t like. So I just don’t get it.

Lilia Skala plays the head nun. She basically is the one that convinces Poitier to help by telling him eternal love is his reward for helping them. That, and, there’s a scene where he teaches the nuns English. That’s really all she does. You’re fucking crazy if you think I’d ever vote for this film or this performance. She doesn’t do anything!

My Thoughts: I honestly don’t know what to do with this one. I don’t like any of the performances enough to vote for them. Skala is off, so really, this is gonna come down to Rutherford and one of the Tom Jones nominees. Which one? Well — not Evans. She’s out. To me, Cilento was really feisty and Redman had the most screen-time. So, I guess, Redman. She had the great sexy eating scene with Finney, which was made all the better by the fact that they were actually mother and son (the characters, not the actors).

So, it’s down to Rutherford, who was the veteran nomination, and was charming in the role, and Redman, who gave quite a funny performance. Which do I vote for? Fuck if I know. Can I not vote for anyone?

I guess — I guess I’m going with Rutherford. If I were going strictly on performance, I’d vote for Redman, but here — I just don’t like Tom Jones all that much, and the fact that it won Best Picture hurts it. I don’t’ want to give it another award. Plus, Rutherford was charming enough, and why not give a supposed veteran an Oscar? I mean, I don’t really know what else she did, but why not? The other three can cancel each other out like the three Godfather or the three Waterfront nominees. And none of them were as good as any of those. Plus, The V.I.P.s holds some interest to me as a film, so — fuck it, let’s go with Rutherford.

My Vote: Rutherford

Should Have Won: No one.

Is the result acceptable?: Sure. Biggest blank category of all time. It didn’t matter who won here. No one would give a shit.

Performances I suggest you see: Tom Jones. It’s enjoyable enough. Give it a shot. If anything, you can decide whether or not you think it should have won Best Picture (though, if you do that, be sure to see the rest of the nominees. Don’t be one of those people who says it should have won just because you liked it and havent’ seen anything else).

The V.I.P.s is an ensemble film. It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. And that’s what takes precedent. Plus you get all the stars, and — it’s worth checking out. I’ve seen this twice and each time I watch it, I’m more interested in seeing it. I think this is secretly a pretty good film. This is a film I’d want to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon where the sky is overcast and it’s really shitty outside. On a day like that, I could love this film. So I recommend it.

Lilies of the Field — apparently this is a really great film. I watch it and see a magical negro helping nuns, with both subtle racism (from the Academy giving him the Oscar) and religion on display. So forgive me if I’m not over the moon about recommending this one. But it’s by some accounts a great film, so I guess I should mention it for that.


5) Skala

4) Evans

3) Cilento

2) Redman

1) Rutherford

One response

  1. Jacob

    Actually, Margaret Rutherford was a veteran. In the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, she was sort of what Betty White or Angela Lansbury are in America today, she was their national treasure, and portrayed Miss Marple in four Agatha Christie film adaptations in the ’60s, as well as playing the part of Madame Arcati in David Lean’s classic comedy Blithe Spirit.

    November 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm

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