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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1967-1968)

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.

1967

Carol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie

Mildred Natwick, Barefoot in the Park

Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde

Beah Richards, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Katharine Ross, The Graduate

Analysis:

Thoroughly Modern Millie is a really fun, jaunty musical that just happens to be about white slavey. Which is pretty great.

Julie Andrews is a go-getter in 20s New York. She wants to meet a rich businessman and marry him. She befriends Mary Tyler Moore, who lives in her building. The lady who runs the building is a shifty Asian woman who keeps trying to sell them into white slavery. It’s a crazy screwball musical with a lot of weird cinematic flourishes that make it a fun watch.

Carol Channing plays this crazy rich widow who lives out on long island. She’s… something. Rich, eccentric, and batshit crazy. She plays this so fucking over the top that it defies words. And yet… it wins you over. It might not, and you might find her annoying. I get that. This is a wildly over the top performance, which is pretty much high risk high reward. You’ll either be amused, or you will really not like it. Neither one really ends in a vote, it seems.

Barefoot in the Park is Neil Simon. He’s pretty good.

Robert Redford and Jane Fonda just got married. She’s free-spirited, he’s straight-laced. Comedy ensues. That’s basically the film.

Mildred Natwick plays Fonda’s mother. Fonda and Redford set her up on a blind date with Charles Boyer, an eccentric artist who lives in the attic. It seemingly goes horrible, but then she sleeps with Boyer anyway. A lot of the time, she’s there to react to the insanity going on around her, then gets to be the comic character in the end. It’s a capable performance. Capable but not particularly memorable. Doubt she gets higher than fourth for most people in this category.

Bonnie and Clyde is significantly more well known than the previous two films in the category. Kinda famous. You may have heard of it.

Bonnie Parker meets Clyde Barrow. They go off robbing banks. They avoid the cops… until they don’t. That’s pretty much the movie. A lot happens. No need to get into it, because it’s a movie you should see.

Estelle Parsons plays Blanche Barrow, wife of Buck Barrow, played by Gene Hackman, Clyde’s brother. She’s something else in this movie. A lot of people will see this as one-note. She yells and screams a lot. She’s very loud and annoying. But that’s the character. Yes, she screams a lot, I’ll grant you that. I believe “screaming horse’s ass” is what the real Blanche called it when she saw it. But this is a fully formed character. Watch her final scene, where she’s all bandaged up. It’s a masterclass of acting. Even if you don’t vote for her (but in that case, who do you vote for?), you have to admit she’s top two in the category.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a movie about a dude who comes to dinner. What, did you think it was more complicated than that?

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are excited when their daughter comes to visit them. Only not so much when they find out she’s coming home with a black fiancée. I mean, sure, he’s Sidney Poitier and he’s a doctor, but still… that’s tough. We have two liberal parents being tested in their beliefs when their daughter brings home a black fiancée. And we watch as they come to terms with this over the course of the day.

Beah Richards plays Sidney Poitier’s mother. (Oh, yeah, they come to dinner too. It’s actually more than one person who comes to dinner.) She shows up pretty late in the game, and shows herself to be a loving, wise mother. The mothers know what’s up. They see the couple is in love, and that’s all that matters. The fathers are thinking practically, about all the shit they’re gonna have to go through. She gets two big scenes, one with Sidney Poitier and one with Spencer Tracy. She gets to be the voice of reason who convinces him to soften his views.

It’s a decent performance. It’s one of those where — the performance itself is just okay, but what it represents is way larger than that. So I can see sentimentally wanting to vote for this. But I don’t think it’s fully there. Third, maybe fourth? I wouldn’t vote for this. She gets a really nice speech with Tracy, and that’s the crux of the performance. I’ll give her props for that scene, but as an overall performance, it feels like it’s more about what the words represent than the physical performance itself.

The Graduate is a comic masterwork. It’s arguably the film of the late 60s. Bonnie and Clyde was an important film for what cinema was going through (in terms of violence and what could be shown on screen), but The Graduate is the film that perfectly captured what the country was going through at the time.

Benjamin Braddock has just graduated from college and has no real idea of what he’s gonna do with his life. He’s aimless and drifting. So he casually allows himself to be brought into an affair with an older woman. Oh, and then he also ends up dating the woman’s daughter. It’s fucking great.

Katharine Ross plays Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter. She doesn’t really show up until about an hour into the movie. Hoffman goes on a date with her, even though he doesn’t want to, and actually finds himself starting to like her.

The thing with her as an actress — she’s gorgeous, but she has limitations. She does a lot of her acting with wordless expressions. Which is fine. She does a great job here. I just don’t know if I really like the performance enough to vote for her. I think a lot of what makes me (and most people) want to take her is because the character is so memorable in our minds. But when you sit and watch it… I don’t know if I actually want to vote for her. Though in this category, if you really don’t like Estelle Parsons, she’s really the only other choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I love going back to this category, because it reminds me of how different things are in context. I had a friend who saw Bonnie and Clyde for the first time not long before I went over this category again, and they told me how annoying they found Estelle Parsons’ performance. And I thought, “You know, maybe she isn’t the choice in this category.” And then I went back to look at it, and I honestly couldn’t see another choice.

Mildred Natwick is fine, but if she’s not nominated, no one really misses her in this category. Fourth at best for anyone, I’d imagine. Carol Channing is fucking batshit crazy, and no matter how much you like the performance (and I do really enjoy it), there’s no way you can actually vote for this. I mean… maybe you can make a case that sounds sane? But she’s fucking off the wall in this movie. And then Beah Richards — maybe the message is more important than the performance? Not for me.

So really, it’s either Katharine Ross or Estelle Parsons. And I really don’t see any depth to Ross’s performance to take her. I know a lot of people will, given the film, and I can accept that. I just can’t vote for it. For me, it’s Parsons all the way. Maybe with a stronger field she’s not the choice, but the field is the field. And with these choices, I take Parsons.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde
  2. Katharine Ross, The Graduate
  3. Beah Richards, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  4. Charol Channing, Thoroughly Modern Millie
  5. Mildred Natwick, Barefoot in the Park

Rankings (films):

  1. The Graduate
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  4. Thoroughly Modern Millie
  5. Barefoot in the Park

My Vote: Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde

Recommendations:

Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate are two of the most essential movies of all time. You NEED to see them as a film buff. Like, now.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is essential, but not at the level of the other two. You need to see it, just not in all caps. And you can wait until you get home. Finish the dessert, then go home and see this.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is such an awesome musical. First off, a musical about white slavery starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore? Why would you not want to see that? Oh, and the amount of cinematic tricks George Roy Hill employs here makes it more than the average musical. Some people might not go for that. I think it’s awesome. I highly recommend this movie.

Barefoot in the Park is Neil Simon, which makes it worth seeing. Not essential at all though. However… Neil Simon, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford. That will certainly make it appealing for most people. So, it’s worth it. It’s perfectly decent. Just not overly memorable or essential.

The Last Word: Your call. I say this is easily Parsons, with Ross as a distant second. Richards makes sense for the message more so than the performance, but if you want to make a case for the performance, then go for it. Don’t think you take Natwick or Channing in any situation. I think they made the right choice here.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1968

Lynn Carlin, Faces

Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby

Sondra Locke, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Kay Medford, Funny Girl

Estelle Parsons, Rachel, Rachel

Faces is a John Cassavetes film. Very indie. Handheld and verité style.

It’s about the disintegration of a marriage. We see the husband leave work and party with a coworker and other women, and then comes home to his wife and asks for a divorce. We then watch them over the course of the night as they go around various places and interact with various people.

Lynn Carlin plays the wife. She has a great fifteen minute scene with her husband, where we see both the monotony and love inherent in their marriage, and she has a really good moment when he asks for a divorce out of nowhere. She laughs it off, and then he repeats it. And she has this wonderful moment of silence, where instead of responding, she just stares at him. She then goes out to a club with friends, and ends up at a house with Seymour Cassel and three of her friends. He basically flirts with all of them. She tries to keep it together and have fun for most of the night, but to no avail. She then takes a bunch of sleeping pills, trying to kill herself.

Rosemary’s Baby is a film you probably should have heard of. Pretty famous. What makes it such a great film is how utterly normal the whole thing is, until it gets fucking terrifying.

Ruth Gordon plays Mia Farrow’s neighbor, who is exceedingly nice and trustworthy, until you find out she’s a satan worshipper. You know how it is. We all have that neighbor.

It’s kind of a perfect role for Gordon, and I can see why she won. I feel like she doesn’t in a different year, but given the competition, it makes total sense. I don’t know if I love the performance enough to vote for it, but in a year like this, I just might have to.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is based on a Carson McCullers novel. She wrote four books. Three of them were turned into movies. The other two were Reflections in a Golden Eye (Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, John Huston. Great Brando performance) and The Member of the Wedding (Julie Harris was nominated for Best Actress for it).

This one is about Alan Arkin, a deaf mute, whose best friend (the Lenny to his George, big and slow) is put in an institution because of a crime he committed without realizing it was a crime. He moves into a family’s home, renting a room to be near the institution and his friend. He goes around, befriending random people, an alcoholic drifter, a black doctor, his daughter, etc. That’s the brunt of the film.

Sonda Locke is the daughter of the family whose house Arkin is staying in. They made her give up her room so he could stay there. Naturally she isn’t pleased with that. Plus she’s a teenage girl, so she has a bunch of her own shit going on. She and Arkin eventually develop this sweet friendship, where she is able to confide in him.

The performance is fine. I remembered loving this when I saw it the first time. Not sure I feel the same way now. She’s fine, but I’m not over the moon about it. I think I really identified with the character at the time. I also liked how she and Arkin had this nice kinship. Two lonely people finding common ground. But really, after five years, there’s nothing here I can really vote for. I can just appreciate the character for what it is without feeling the need to vote for it in the category. Ultimately, I feel like the performance is fine, but I really can’t vote for it.

Funny Girl is Barbra Streisand’s first film, and it’s her coming out party. They knew what they were doing when they made this. She fucking shines.

It’s a musical biopic of Fanny Brice, a vaudeville entertainer who, if you actually saw The Great Ziegfeld, she’s actually in it as herself. Streisand is perfectly cast.

Kay Medford plays Brice’s mother. She’s basically a Jewish mother from Brooklyn. She’s only in the film for about ten minutes, and it’s essentially a veteran nomination. She’s fine in the role, but she’s barely in the film and has nothing to do. There’s no way you can actually vote for her. Seriously, she’s only in the film for about ten minutes. Clock it.

Rachel, Rachel is Paul Newman’s directorial debut. I’ve always wondered if that had something to do with it getting nominated for Best Picture or if they legitimately really liked it.

The film stars Joanne Woodward as a spinster teacher on vacation for the summer. She’s shy and a virgin. She meets a friend she lost touch with and sleeps with him. She thinks they’re gonna have a future together, but for him it was just a fling. Soon after, she thinks she might have gotten pregnant…

Estelle Parsons plays a fellow spinster schoolteacher who is friends with Woodward. She looks exactly like Velma from Scooby Doo. She invites Woodward to a religious revival, and Woodward goes, despite not really wanting to. And you think she’s just really religious, but then afterwards, she tries to kiss Woodward. That messes up the friendship, and there’s a nice scene later where she apologizes and tries to make peace. Woodward then shows up at her house later in need of help, and the friendship is repaired.

She’s only got about three scenes. She’s very solid in them and it’s a well-drawn character. I wish she had a little more to do in the film. Parsons plays her real well, and I wanted there to be more of her. As it is, I don’t think I could vote for this.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Medford literally has only ten minutes of screen time, so she’s out. Estelle Persons is solid, but I wouldn’t vote for her. Locke is a sentimental favorite but not something for me to vote for. It’s between Ruth Gordon and Lynn Carlin. Gordon is such a perfect version of that neighbor we all have that I almost want to take her based on that. And Carlin, while I don’t love the film, does a great job with her character. I kind of wish there were more of her character on screen so I could really feel like she earned the vote. Here, I don’t know if I love the overall character/performance/role combination enough to take it.

I don’t really love any of my choices. So at least since Ruth Gordon felt most believable, I’ll stick with her. Carlin is a close second, and maybe on another day, she’s the choice. But we’ll take Ruth.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby
  2. Lynn Carlin, Faces
  3. Sondra Locke, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  4. Estelle Parsons, Rachel, Rachel
  5. Kay Medford, Funny Girl

Rankings (films):

  1. Rosemary’s Baby
  2. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  3. Funny Girl
  4. Rachel, Rachel
  5. Faces

My Vote: Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby

Recommendations:

Rosemary’s Baby is an essential film. End of story. If you love film, you need to see it.

Funny Girl is essential for Oscar buffs. Also essential for people who want to see what a force of nature Barbra Streisand is. It’s got one of the famous lines in cinema and one of the famous film songs. So it’s worth a watch for a lot of reasons. Can I say it’s really essential? No. But it’s highly recommended.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a solid film, but not essential, and not something everyone’s gonna love. I recommend it because I liked it a lot, but I can’t say everyone needs to see it. I think you should see it because it’s a solid film with interesting characters that’s not really about much of anything so much as it’s about the characters. And I love films like that.

Faces is John Cassavetes, and if you really want to see how to make an independent movie, watch this movie (and all of his movies). This looks like it was made in his and his friends’ apartments over the course of like, a week. You could have made this movie. And that’s the point. It’s not essential, but it is important to see what real independent cinema in the late 60s looked like, so I think people ought to see this.

Rachel, Rachel is Paul Newman’s directorial debut, so there’s that. It’s a pretty good film at that. Not essential, and can easily be skipped, but it’s definitely a worthwhile film if only because it feels like this era after the studio system is gone and people are starting to experiment more with technique and subject matter. For someone interested in that stuff, I think that’s interesting as hell. Maybe you don’t give a shit, and won’t feel the need to see this. Who’s to say?

The Last Word: What do you do here? The easy answer is to say Ruth Gordon. And I guess that is the answer. Because Medford isn’t enough of a performance to rate a vote. Parsons is good and gives the character depth, but is there enough there to actually vote for? (Notice how I didn’t say she just won the year before this, because it’s irrelevant. Though since it was the year before this, I will say that this performance isn’t as good as the previous performance. Though this is a different category, so different rules apply.) Locke, I love the performance, but I feel like most people will dismiss it as an “angsty teenager” performance. Which I can’t argue against. I understand that. Carlin is solid, but are there enough people who 1) have seen the performance (though we’re assuming anyone voting has seen all five, as it should be) 2) would vote for it? I think if it’s not Ruth Gordon, it’s gotta be Lynn Carlin. But that said, Gordon feels like she’s probably the choice here. They probably went the right way, if it wasn’t Carlin. Either seems like a worthy vote/winner.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. When watching Faces Carlin’s performance really stood out to me. I liked Locke a lot (and the film. Very much a hidden gem, that), and I liked Gordon, but I feel like the greatness of the film sort of elevates the opinion most have of the performance. Carlin, though in a great film herself, stood out to me as a truly great performance.

    May 5, 2016 at 8:33 pm

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