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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1965-1966)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1965

Ruth Gordon, Inside Daisy Clover

Joyce Redman, Othello

Maggie Smith, Othello

Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue

Peggy Wood, The Sound of Music

Analysis:

Inside Daisy Clover is a crazy movie. It’s about the dark side of Hollywood, but in a really satirical, Nathanael West kind of way. The surreal underbelly.

Natalie Wood is a girl who lives with her mother in a trailer on the Coney Island boardwalk. She dreams of being a movie star. Somehow she manages to get a tape to the right person, and they fly her out to Hollywood and sign her to this contract. Great, right? Only, no. Because now she’s in the star system. They change her look, her name, her background, try to make her someone she’s not. They force her into a fake relationship with Robert Redford, who’s gay. It makes her miserable, but also a huge star. There’s a great scene in the film where she tries to kill herself by putting her head in the oven but it goes comically wrong. People keep interrupting her, etc. I really liked this one. It’s a bit campy, but in the best way.

Ruth Gordon plays Wood’s mother, who sits at her stand on the boardwalk, drinks and plays cards all day. Then, when Wood gets famous, the studio makes her put Gordon in an asylum, and tell everyone she’s actually dead. There’s a scene where she’s visited in the asylum where she does a great job conveying so much without any spoken dialogue. She doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but she feels real. She’s the Thelma Ritter of the 60s, taking over where Thelma left off. I think if there were more to her, I’d want to vote for her. But even as is, she makes top two in the category, purely because there are three blanks in this category for me.

Othello is based on Shakespeare. You know, the play. If not, read more.

This is Laurence Olivier, the great Shakespeare interpreter of classical Hollywood. Only problem with that — it’s Othello. Meaning Olivier is in blackface. I can’t support that. But that doesn’t affect our purposes in this category.

Joyce Redman plays Emilia, Iago’s wife. She doesn’t have a whole lot to do until the end of the movie. She acts as Desdemona’s attendant, and maintains Desdemona’s innocence throughout. And then she realizes what her husband is doing and is murdered, as one is.

Redman is fine. But I didn’t think she had much of anything to do at all.

Maggie Smith is Desdemona, Othello’s wife. She loves him, and he’s been convinced that she’s cheating on him. So basically she’s the loving wife who gets shit on for most of the play but continues to love her husband anyhow.

Maggie does a good job with it, but it’s Shakespeare and it’s 1965. I’m simply not voting for Shakespeare in 1965. The performance feels dated, the film feels dated.

A Patch of Blue is a wonderful film. Took my by complete surprise. 1965 had a nice handful of films I knew nothing about before I embarked on this Quest that I came out loving.

Elizabeth Hartman is a blind girl who lives with her prostitute mother and grandfather. She spends most of her days sitting in the park, stringing beads. One day, Sidney Poitier happens along, and the two of them hit it off. And it becomes this beautiful film, where they become friends, and she also falls in love with him (since she only sees the beauty of the person and not the race, don’t you know). I loved this movie.

Shelley Winters plays Hartman’s mother, and she’s fucking GREAT in this. She’s such a selfish, cruel, vulgar woman. Which is the type of performance she excelled at. You really dislike this character, and Winters plays her perfectly. She absolutely deserved to win this category. Not even gonna pretend like she isn’t gonna be my vote. There’s nothing here to even contend with her.

The Sound of Music is a pretty famous musical. You probably should have seen it. I don’t think I need to explain this one. You don’t get this far into the articles without knowing what this is.

Peggy Wood plays Mother Abbess, the mother superior of Julie Andrews’ convent. She’s… there, sometimes. She and the nuns sing “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria,” and then she tells Maria to go off and get away from the convent for a while, sending her to be governess to the Von Trapps. Then she returns later, as Maria comes back to take her final vows, but realizes she’s in love, so she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to tell her to go get some Captain dick.

She’s fine. The issue with the performance is two-fold. One, she’s barely in the film. They only nominated her because she’s a veteran. And two, she doesn’t do her own singing. So there’s absolutely no reason for me to think this performance is anything other than fifth in the category.

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The Reconsideration: It’s Shelley Winters, and it’s not even close. Ruth Gordon doesn’t have enough to do and really only makes second because the other three performances are not even close to being vote-worthy. I’m not voting for Shakespeare this far into the game. The performances are too theatrical. And Peggy Wood is someone no one would vote for (she’s barely in the movie, has nothing to do, and doesn’t even do her own singing). It’s Shelley Winters by a mile. The performance speaks for itself even without the rest of the category being what it is.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue
  2. Ruth Gordon, Inside Daisy Clover
  3. Maggie Smith, Othello
  4. Joyce Redman, Othello
  5. Peggy Wood, The Sound of Music

Rankings (films):

  1. A Patch of Blue
  2. The Sound of Music
  3. Inside Daisy Clover
  4. Othello

My Vote: Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue

Recommendations:

The Sound of Music is an all-time essential. All around. There should be no one who’s even remotely into movies who hasn’t seen this movie. Even just getting through life people see this movie. I wouldn’t go so far as to say all human beings need to see this movie, but you have to just happen across it at some point, right? Whatever — if you are a film buff (or an Oscar buff), you must see this movie.

A Patch of Blue is a terrifically underrated 60s movie with great performances all around. I love this movie and think everyone needs to see it. If you’re a film buff, see this movie. Because it’s a hidden gem and you should give it a chance to become one of your favorites.

Inside Daisy Clover is a fucking wonderful movie. Campy as shit, so be aware of that going in. There’s a tone to this movie that, if you’re not ready for it, is going to turn you off. But either way, it’s a great satire about Hollywood and I really liked it because it was different from a lot of the stuff of this era. Big fan of this. CAn’t call it essential, but I can recommend it highly. (I mean, Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Ruth Gordon and Christopher Plummer. What’s not to like?)

Othello — ehh. I don’t know if they’ve made a definitive film version of Othello. This one doesn’t feel like it. Olivier seems to be overacting, and it just feels stale. Don’t love it. Maybe see it if you’re into Shakespeare or Olivier or really into the Oscars and want to see four nominated performances. But otherwise, no need, really.

The Last Word: Oh, this is Shelley Winters all the way. Not even close. Three of the performances are not voteworthy. Even if Maggie Smith is great, you still shouldn’t really think Shakespeare was the best performance into the 60s. Redman too. No way you really think that’s best. And then Wood is a no-go for me because she has nothing to do and doesn’t do any of her own singing. So what’s the point of the nomination? Ruth Gordon is the only other person you could take, and I don’t know if her character is there enough to actually vote for. I can understand taking her, but for me, Shelley Winters is by far the winner here, and they made a great decision taking her.

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1966

Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wendy Hiller, A Man for All Seasons

Jocelyne LaGarde, Hawaii

Vivien Merchant, Alfie

Geraldine Page, You’re a Big Boy Now

Analysis:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a masterpiece. It’s like Streetcar. Where it’s basically a play on screen, but the acting is so great and the film is so well shot that it transcends a simple theatrical recitation.

The play is about a married couple on a college campus, a professor and his wife, played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They’re coming back from a party and they’ve invited another professor and his wife over for drinks. And we see all their marital and personal problems play out, both before, during and after the other couple arrives.

Sandy Dennis play Honey, the wife of George Segal, the other professor. She starts off by getting too drunk, and you think the character is going to be this awful, shrill comic relief. But then we find out more about her, and she turns into this beautifully tragic character, because at first she seems like she knows nothing about the situation, and her husband’s feelings about her (he really only married her for her money), but the more the night goes on, you get the sense that she might actually know everything, which is precisely why this character and performance work as well as they do.

She’ll pretty much always come out a winner in this category, and rightly so. There’s something tremendous about this performance, and there’s a reason it’s so boring to see her as the choice every time we look at this.

A Man for All Seasons is a fucking tremendous film. About Sir Thomas More, who refuses to grant Henry VIII a divorce from his wife. Very famous historical event. More is thrown in prison and eventually executed purely for believing in his convictions. Paul Scofield is fucking tremendous in this, and it’s just a great, great film.

Wendy Hiller plays More’s wife. And she’s basically the cold, distant character we’ve seen her play before. There’s not a lot of depth to the character for much of the performance. She’s the dutiful wife who is unsentimentally diligent in her duties and behavior. She doesn’t understand why her husband is acting this way, and isn’t afraid to show it. She comes off as potentially annoying for much of the role, but it’s her final scene that got her the nomination, and rightly so. She gets to show emotion after holding it in for so long. Completely get the nomination and wanting to vote for her. Don’t think I take her, but she’s solid.

Hawaii is a big budget, three-hour epic about the founding of the state of Hawaii. Because isn’t that what we all want? George Roy Hill directed it too. So there’s that.

Basically we watch as Christianity comes to Hawaii. Max von Sydow is a pastor, Julie Andrews plays his wife. And we watch as they try to bring Christianity to the natives for three hours, and have a bunch of personal problems and shit. The movie’s all right. Looks fine. I was bored. Because three hours of religion is not my idea of a good time.

Jocelyne LaGarde is the Queen of Hawaii. She’s a very memorable woman. Big and jovial. She didn’t speak English, so all her lines were learned phonetically. She’s definitely a screen presence. And you remember the character. Not sure this is something you vote for. The casting is good, but the performance isn’t particularly memorable. I don’t know. I can be okay with the nomination, but this is definitely not something I vote for.

Alfie is a great film. Michael Caine’s starmaking performance. This is a very influential film, since it started the film where the main character narrates to the audience and breaks the fourth wall.

Alfie is a limo driver and a cad. He treats women like objects and brags about it. He’s got multiple girlfriends and doesn’t take much of anything seriously. He fathers a child but wants nothing to do with the mother. Though one day he finds out he may have TB and has a nervous breakdown. But pretty soon he’s back to his usual ways.

It’s a great film. Well-written, well acted, just great on a lot of levels. Incredibly misogynist, I’ll say that up front. But I feel like it’s not a misogynist film, but rather a film about a misogynist. Though one could argue otherwise, which I understand.

Vivien Merchant plays the wife of a fellow patient Alfie befriends during his institution stay. She’s your typical housewife, without any kind of intrigue in her life. Until Alfie, that is. They sleep together, even though neither particularly wants anything to do with the other. And then some time later, we find out she got pregnant. So he takes her to get an abortion, which is a harrowing event for the both of them.

The beauty of this performance is how utterly normal it is. She’s the demure housewife who doesn’t say much and cares the way a wife is supposed to care for her husband. And it’s that subtlety that makes it so utterly believable. You completely understand who this woman is and what she’s feeling at all times, even if she isn’t speaking (which is often). The scene after she has the abortion is wonderful, where she breaks down, as is her final scene, where Alfie sends her back home. This is a performance I can get behind. Definitely someone I’d put in contention for a vote, even if it’ll be tough to beat Sandy Dennis in this one.

You’re a Big Boy Now is technically a Francis Ford Coppola movie. But don’t get your hopes up with that, because this movie is fucking insane.

It’s about a boy trying to grow up and get out from under his overbearing parents. He’s in love with an actress, who has no interest in him. And naturally there’s the girl next door who is constantly by his side, even though he ignores here. It’s a standard story progression, only it’s this fucking bizarre 60s madcap comedy that does not hold up today. Trust me on this. You’re gonna think this is one of the strangest movies you’ve ever seen.

Geraldine Page plays the main character’s mother, and I’m pretty sure most people who see this will agree that it’s one of the weirdest (and arguably worst) nominated performances ever. I don’t know what the fuck this is. Maybe this performance was looked at better in the 60s, but now… wow. It’s as if she made the worst possible acting choices in every scene. She completely hams it up, almost as if she never got to do comedy, so in her first chance to do so (in a movie that she probably figured wouldn’t really be seen), she went for it. Because I can’t explain what the hell this is.

She’s fifth in the category. And if I were attempting to rank all the nominated performances for all time (which I’m not, because that doesn’t do anybody any good), I’d have this in the bottom ten. I don’t know what this is and didn’t much care for it at all.

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The Reconsideration: There’s not much to reconsider, but we’ll go through the motions.

The Page nomination — I won’t go so far as to say it shouldn’t be here, but I will say I just don’t understand it. No way. And then LaGarde… she was a non-actress who didn’t speak English. Are you gonna praise the naturalism? I don’t get this. Some people might vote for this, and to each his own. But to me, this is an instance of good casting and not good acting. The screen presence is there but the performance is not.

So then we have Wendy Hiller. A veteran giving an appropriately fine-tuned performance. Much of the performance isn’t particularly interesting, and her final scene is the one that stands out. I guess you could want to vote for her. I’m just not feeling it. To me, she’s a 2 or a 3 and nothing more. Originally she was a 2, but now I’m thinking I like Vivien Merchant’s performance more. There’s something so wonderful subtle about it that I really appreciate this second time around.

Either way, I wouldn’t take either of them above Sandy Dennis. Her performance is incredible, and will be my vote almost every time I go through this category. It’s just that good. She holds her own against Burton and Taylor at the top of their games, which is no small feat. Completely deserved.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  2. Vivien Merchant, Alfie
  3. Wendy Hiller, A Man for All Seasons
  4. Jocelyne LaGarde, Hawaii
  5. Geraldine Page, You’re a Big Boy Now

My Vote: Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Recommendations:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an all-time essential for film buffs. Flat out is. All around, you need to see it, end of story. It’s an acting masterpiece.

A Man for All Seasons is a true film buff essential movie. That is to say, if you’re the false kind of film buff who says they love movies, but that just means you love 80s movies and the “classics” and don’t go much deeper, then you probably won’t see this. Real movie buffs need to see this movie. It won Best Picture, it’s a great film, the writing and acting are all tremendous. It needs to be seen.

Alfie is a wonderful film. Maybe not essential, but highly recommended. Michael Caine is wonderful, and it’s a great example of a 60s movie that breaks all the taboos of what subjects you could or could not talk about during this era and also just provides a wonderful break of the “classical” style of moviemaking. It’s a great film, and pretty important for the era.

Hawaii is a three hour epic about people bringing Christianity to Hawaii. If that interests you, by all means. Otherwise, I thought it was pretty boring, looked fairly nice, and a solid cast, and was a check off the list of a director I greatly admire. Other than that, you don’t really need to ever see this if you don’t want to.

You’re a Big Boy Now isn’t even essential for Francis Ford Coppola’s filmography. It’s a fucking bizarre movie that most people won’t like. Feel free to give it a shot, but trust me, this is the kind of movie you watch and go, “What kind of awful student filmmaking is this?” Believe me when I say you more than likely will not like this if you seek it out. (And as of this posting, the entire film is on Youtube and has been for five years, so it’s getable if you want to.)

The Last Word: It’s a completely deserved win by Sandy Dennis. She’s the choice. I could see someone taking Hiller, and maybe Merchant. I know some people will want to take LaGarde. Which I guess if you really think so, that can be understood given that the performance isn’t trying to act at all. I still think this is all Sandy Dennis in a landslide and that this was a great decision.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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