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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1973-1974)

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.

1973

Linda Blair, The Exorcist

Candy Clark, American Graffiti

Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon

Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon

Sylvia Sydney, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Analysis:

The Exorcist is a movie you should have heard of. It’s pretty famous all around.

I also really shouldn’t need to tell you who Linda Blair plays.

Now, this was a movie I specifically wanted to go back to in order to watch the performances. The direction speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone would argue that this movie wasn’t immaculately directed, Oscars aside. But the performances aren’t always deeply analyzed, so I made it a point to go back, now in my more mature days, to watch the film for the performances. And we start with Linda Blair.

As Reagan, she’s clearly one of the most memorable characters of all time. It’s like Scout Finch. You’re already starting on second base with a character that memorable. She’s fine in the movie. Totally fine. The way Mary Badham is fine as Scout. However, in this case, what everyone remembers about the performance is stuff that’s not the performance. It’s the atmosphere, the makeup, the voice (that’s not hers. It’s Mercedes McCambridge). The rest of the time, she’s just a girl. I used to think she was top two in the category, but honestly, this time, I could make the case that she’s actually third overall. I wouldn’t drop her any lower, since she does feel like a real human in the other scenes and doesn’t come off that badly the way some child actors do. And she is committed to the other scenes where she has to do all the fucked up stuff. The way she moves and everything is really well done for someone her age. So I’m not going to discount any of that, and still believe she’s solidly in the conversation. But I don’t know if the performance is as strong as I used to think it was, and the way most people would think it is based on how they remember the film. Let’s see how the rest of the category shakes out before we make any decisions.

American Graffiti is an American classic. Where were you in ’62?

A bunch of high school kids on the night before graduation go around town and party and examine their lives. There is no Dazed and Confused without this movie. It’s wonderful, the soundtrack is amazing, and the cast all went on to become famous actors.

Candy Clark plays a relatively minor role and managed to be the one who got the requisite acting nomination for the film. She’s in the Charles Martin Smith (aka Toad) storyline. She goes off with him after hearing he has his own car, even though it’s really his brother’s car, and pretty much everything that happens to them over the course of the night is one bad thing after another. She’s basically the pretty girl who isn’t overly bright, but isn’t stupid by any means. Shirley MacLaine played this part a bunch. She’s around during that great liquor store scene, and does a solid job with it all.

I don’t love the performance, but she is delightful. In terms of pure acting, she’s fifth, but in terms of how much I loved the performance, she’s probably fourth. Wouldn’t take her, but I do appreciate the effort.

Paper Moon is one of my favorite films. I love it so much.

Ryan O’Neal is a con man. He shows up at the funeral of a former girlfriend, only to meet her 9-year-old daughter, who may or may not be his. He agrees to drop her off at her aunt’s house in another state, since she has no place else to go.

He uses her as an opportunity to make some money, hustling the brother of the man (accidentally) responsible for the girl’s mother’s death out of some money. The girl sees this happen and demands her cut of the money. She eventually works her way into his scams, which are going door to door to the families of the recently deceased and using their grief to sell them overpriced bibles that he claims the person ordered just before their death with their initials engraved into them. And the rest of the film is the two of them going on con adventures and becoming close. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Tatum O’Neal plays the girl, Addie Loggins. She’s wonderful in the part. Yes, it feels like a 9-year-old being coached at times, and yes she is definitely the lead of the movie, but how can you not love this performance? She feels like such a pro here, the way she stares rather than saying anything and holds her own against her (actual) father and the other actors. I completely understand those who don’t love the performance, but I am not one of those people. I adore this performance completely.

Madeline Kahn plays a stripper named Trixie who O’Neal picks up along the way. She joins along, with O’Neal giving in to her every whim, spending most of his money on her expensive tastes. She’s a completely vain and selfish woman who puts on airs all the time. Madeline Kahn is so perfect at pretending to be one way and letting the curtain drop momentarily to show you what’s really going on in a perfectly comic way. There’s a moment where she’s walking up a hill toward Tatum O’Neal, giving this nice southern drawl, trying to be sugary and nice. And then she slips momentarily and shout, “Oh, son of a bitch!” and has to catch herself and go back to the original voice. She’s one of those characters who is so completely a phony to everyone except the man she has wrapped around her finger. And the rest of the scene with her and O’Neal on the hill is really terrific, where she goes from trying to be nice to demanding to bargaining to a threat of mutually assured destruction and trying to compromise. It’s a really great performance. I can actually see taking her in this category.

Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams is a film a lot of people are not gonna like. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what it feels like.

Joanne Woodward is a housewife who is bored with her life, and reaches a crossroads after the sudden death of her mother. A lot of the film is her dreaming about the past, wondering how things could have been different if she made different choices. I didn’t much care for the film. It’s fine, but it wasn’t for me.

Sylvia Sidney plays Woodward’s mother, and she feels like a real mother. Calling at 8:30 in the morning, telling stories of what happened when she went shopping. I used to think she was on screen for like three minutes, but she actually has  solid ten minutes. She leaves an impression (especially with that death scene, staying in character the entire time), and I understand the nomination, but make no mistake, this is a veteran nod, through and through. Definitely wouldn’t vote for it.

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The Reconsideration: Hmm… this one changed for me. To start, I think the only person who wouldn’t get a vote in this category is Candy Clark. I could see every other person receiving votes given a large enough sample size. She’s the only one I think people would end up not taking. It comes down to exactly how I felt — I liked it, and I think she did some subtle work and the nomination was well-deserved, but I don’t love it enough to actually vote for it. And then, Sylvia Sidney. As a veteran and as a well-defined character, I can completely see some people wanting to vote for her. But I wouldn’t. Not against the other three. (There’s a definite section of people who would take Sidney. And those people would definitely not take Blair, I feel. And that’s fine.)

So now we have three left. There’s compromise for two of them. And usually in that scenario I take the third (as I did in 1971). But this one’s a really interesting case…

Linda Blair is admittedly really good in The Exorcist and it’s one of the more memorable film characters of all time. But how much of that is due to the overall direction of the film (how fucking creepy does Friedkin make it?), the sound design, the makeup, and the voice work by Mercedes McCambridge? She deserves a lot of credit for what she accomplishes, but I don’t know if I can really vote for it. Some could, and I get that, but the other two… yeah, I think she’s third for me.

So now, where I thought the category would be kid vs. kid, it’s actually Paper Moon performance vs. Paper Moon performance.

Here’s the rub with these two… Tatum O’Neal is undoubtedly the lead of the movie. It’s not even a question. She’s the lead. But she’s also wonderful in it. As is Madeline Kahn. If they could have tied in this category, I’d be a very happy person. But they couldn’t.

Here’s the negative for me about Madeline Kahn. She’s admittedly great in the part. But… in a movie that I love, that I think is a perfect film… her section is the least interesting. I kinda hold that against her, in a weird way, even though I shouldn’t. But she is truly the supporting performance of the film, which also is important to note.

I’m torn. Because on the one hand, O’Neal is a lead and a lot of her performance comes from a strong script and great work by Bogdanovich to put her in a situation where she could do good work. But she still delivered the work. And even if you’re bumping up against the fact that this isn’t pure acting the way some other performances are, there’s no denying how good she is in this movie. You get that nervousness when you hear child actor, thinking there’s no way she could be that good, but there’s no denying it when you see the performance.

And, on the other hand, Madeline Kahn is a true supporting performer in this movie, has a few wonderful scenes (the one on the hill is so good), and truly delivers the goods. She’s both vulnerable, over the top comic, and unlikable to the point where you understand her, you laugh at her and you want to see O’Neal foil her in the end.

So, yes, objectively, Madeline Kahn is the choice to take in this category, because Tatum O’Neal is one of the most blatant cases of category fraud there’s ever been. But, on the other hand, and I think I’m not alone in saying this… I don’t care. I’m giving this to Tatum O’Neal.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon
  2. Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon
  3. Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  4. Candy Clark, American Graffiti
  5. Sylvia Sidney, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Rankings (films):

  1. Paper Moon
  2. The Exorcist
  3. American Graffiti
  4. Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

My Vote: Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon

Recommendations:

The Exorcist is full stop essential. Just a human. Don’t we all see this at some point? Even if you don’t like “scary” movies, everyone sees this. I remember seeing this in theaters in 1999 when they rereleased it. That was fun. But yeah, you have to see this movie.

American Graffiti is an American classic and is a very essential movie. You have to see this, and I guarantee you’re gonna enjoy it because it’s so much fun.

Paper Moon is a perfect movie. I say it’s essential. Not as objectively essential as the previous two films, but for me, it’s an essential movie and I think anyone who loves movies needs to see it. It’s absolutely wonderful all around. If we’re gonna be friends, you have to see this movie.

Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams is one of the films I liked the least the first time I did this Quest. I haven’t gone back to watch it, but I suspect I still don’t like it all that much. It’s not essential in the least, either. If you don’t see this movie (and it’s not the easiest movie to see, though it’s not particularly hard to find, either), you wouldn’t be missing much of anything.

The Last Word: I truly think that you’re either taking Tatum O’Neal or Madeline Kahn in this one. O’Neal is blatantly a lead, and shouldn’t be voted for in the purest sense of the category. But honestly if they cared they wouldn’t have nominated her here. So I have no issue with it. And honestly, if you think she’s too much of a lead to take, Madeline Kahn is right there from the same film and is just as good. Linda Blair feels like a red herring. The role is mostly played for her, and she’s solid enough to truly earn the easy nomination, and I can see someone wanting to make the case for her, but I don’t know if she’s the right choice. And then Sidney, I get, as a veteran nomination, but I don’t think she’s really the vote. I think O’Neal and Kahn are the two here, and I think they made a good decision. (Either one would have been great.)

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– – – – – – – – – –

1974

Ingrid Bergman, Murder on the Orient Express

Valentina Cortese, Day for Night

Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles

Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Talia Shire, The Godfather Part II

Analysis:

Murder on the Orient Express is a famous title, but an underseen film. Everyone knows the title, not everyone knows what the movie is about, and even less really know just how stacked the cast of this movie is.

It’s based on Agatha Christie and is a Hercule Poirot story. He’s on a train stuck in some ice. On the train, a dude is murdered. Stabbed 12 times. So while the train is stuck, Poirot interviews all the potential suspects on the train. They all give their stories, one by one, and in the end, everyone is gathered together to tell them who did it and how he figured it out. Classic detective story.

The film is awesome. Albert Finney is great as Poirot, and check out the rest of this cast: Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqualine Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthon Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York. Oh, and by the way, it was directed by Sidney Lumet.

Ingrid Bergman plays one of the people on the train, a Swedish missionary. She sits down to be questioned, and is nervous and twitchy. She stutters and gives a very actorly performance. The kind of performance trying to do more with limited screen time. She’s literally on the screen for about six minutes. The entire thing feels overdone and underwritten.

This honestly goes down to me as one of the most shocking wins of all time. (I won’t use the word undeserved. I’ve moved passed undeserved. But I’m really surprised this won over the competition. She herself apologized to one of the other nominees after she won.) I think they just really wanted to get Ingrid Bergman an Oscar. Otherwise, I can’t explain this. Because I’d be shocked if anyone saw this performance and actually wanted to vote for it.

Day for Night is François Truffaut. It’s also a film I had to go back and rewatch because it’s the one that I most discounted when I first watched it and it’s the one that I already know most people would vote for in this category. So there was no way I was gonna write up this category again without really going back and looking at this performance. Which was actually okay, since I can do most of this category in my sleep (I’ve seen the Shire and Kahn performances so many times I can practically quote them line for line).

This is a movie about the making of a film. And we see all the behind the scenes stuff that goes into it. All the chaos of making a complex scene work on camera, all the different relationship and jealousies, etc. It’s an impressive film about the making of films. I don’t love it, but I really respect how they recreated the chaos of a film set.

Valentina Cortese plays a former top actress who is now reduced to supporting parts. She also drinks too much. Her big scene is one where she is completely unable to remember her lines and keeps opening the wrong door. She’s got a big personality, is appropriately temperamental, and puts on a good show. I completely understand most people saying she should have won this category. But she gets her one scene and then basically disappears for most of the rest of the film. She gets one scene on her last night when she’s drinking and regaling everyone, but that’s about it. I think she’s solid, and in this category definitely can contend, but I don’t know if I take her.

Blazing Saddles is one of the greatest comedies ever made. Bar none. Mel Brooks made three of the fifty funniest movies of all time. Two of them came in the same year. This year. (That’s right, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles were made in THE SAME YEAR.)

I shouldn’t have to explain what this is, because any movie fan will have seen this before the age of like, 16, but we’ll give a brief outline anyway: a corrupt political boss trying to build a railroad through a western town hires a black sheriff to protect it, figuring that will tear the town apart and allow him to more easily take it over. However, that proves to be his undoing, as the sheriff is actually up to the job.

It sounds weird, explaining Blazing Saddles like that, doesn’t it? Doesn’t matter. This is one of the funniest movies you will ever see. One of my absolute all time favorites. What Mel Brooks accomplishes in this movie is nothing short of genius.

Madeline Kahn plays cabaret singer Lili Von Shtupp. She’s basically doing Marlene Dietrich, down to the comical German accent (which she even writes in). She shows up with a great dance number (“I’m Tired”), and then invites Sheriff Bart back to her dwessing woom after the show, intending to seduce and then abandon him. Only she ends up actually falling for him instead.

It’s a hilarious performance. This could have just as easily not been nominated and no one would have batted an eye. But seeing this nominated, now everyone can be like, “Of course. She’s GREAT in this movie!” No one would actually vote for her (but you’d want to), but man, is she terrific in this movie. If there were more to her character, than I’d make the case that you could actually take her. But there’s really not all that much to the character. The nomination is for her ability to turn it from a one note parody into something with depth and pure hilarity, nothing more. Let’s face it — everything below the waist is kaput.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a great 70s women’s picture. Only in 1974 could you get a film like this. Oh, and Martin Scorsese directed it, in case you didn’t know. So you can start paying attention now, if you weren’t going to before this.

Ellen Burstyn is a woman who’s husband is killed. So she decides to take her son and go out to become a singer, the life she never got to live when she was younger. So she and the son drive and she tries to find work. After a few false starts, she ends up in one town as a waitress, and also ends up finding love with Kris Kristofferson.

Diane Ladd plays Flo, a waitress. (Yes, that’s where the stereotype came from.) She’s a real firecracker. Loud, brassy. At first, Burstyn doesn’t like her and they don’t get along. Ladd doesn’t particularly have a problem with her, but Burstyn doesn’t like her. Then one day they have this awful day at the diner and Ladd has an outburst, and all of a sudden, they’re friends.

She’s completely charming in the role, and it’s one of those performances that you might think is one-note, but after rewatching it and giving it time to sink in, you realize it’s actually really quite essential to the film and is really believable, more so than you’d think.

The Godfather Part II is kind of a big deal.

It’s interesting that Talia Shire got nominated for this one and not the first one. Arguably she had more to do in the first movie. But here, her character is more pronounced. Though doesn’t she feel oddly out of sync with who the character was in the first film? Or maybe it’s just because the character is such an afterthought that it feels disconnected and doesn’t flow from beginning to end? At the beginning, she’s the wayward sister who, after the death of her husband (we all know why), she went off and started sleeping with a bunch of men, ignoring her children and spending a lot of money. That makes sense. And then she shows up near the end of the film (with us having completely forgotten about her in the meantime), suddenly having cleaned herself up, stopped being bitter about her (douchebag) husband being killed, and now is sort of a calming, motherly presence in the family. She makes the plea for Fredo (“he’s so sweet and helpless”), which is a great scene, but outside of that, she really doesn’t have a whole lot to do.

I’d want a reason to vote for her, but she’s not in the film nearly enough for me to make that case. That’s the problem. She’s solid, but I can’t really vote for this with the film ignoring her for so much of it as it does.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’m left wanting in this category.

If only Madeline Kahn had her Paper Moon performance here and not last year. She’d have been the vote by a mile.

I’ll start by saying Ingrid Bergman is not on screen enough to register as something I’d want to nominate, let alone vote for. And then — while I really like Talia Shire’s performance, a lot of it is influenced by what I know she did in the previous film. And since the film forgets about her for so long, I can’t rightly vote for her either. So she’s out.

Madeline Kahn — hysterical, and in a normal year she shouldn’t come close to actually contending for a vote. But here, I don’t know what else there is, so she actually makes it to third. Maybe even second for me. Still wouldn’t take her though unless I absolutely had to. I don’t think there’s enough of the character there to really vote for. She leaves you wanting more, which is the true masterwork of the performance, but it also keeps you from realizing how little of it there actually is.

Valentina Cortese actually makes top two for me, even though I don’t love the performance and she really disappears for the second half of the picture. That’s the problem for me. She’s not there enough to warrant a vote. If the character continued past the one big scene, I’d be more than happy to take her. But it’s not.

So really I’m left with Diane Ladd, who makes a strong impression, created a character whose name became eponymous with the waitress stereotype, and is just an overall delight in the film. Most years she probably wouldn’t be the vote, but I have no other real choice here, and she’s the one I’d feel best taking. So here we are.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  2. Madeline Kahn, Blazing Saddles
  3. Talia Shire, The Godfather Part II
  4. Valentina Cortese, Day for Night
  5. Ingrid Bergman, Murder on the Orient Express

Rankings (films):

  1. The Godfather Part II
  2. Blazing Saddles
  3. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  4. Murder on the Orient Express
  5. Day for Night

My Vote: Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Recommendations:

The Godfather Part II — do I have to say anything?

Blazing Saddles is an essential movie. An essential comedy, and on a personal level, if you haven’t seen this then we can’t really be friends.

Murder on the Orient Express is an awesome movie. Not essential, but with the cast, and the story, and Sidney Lumet, it’s something you should see. It’s terrific. So we’ll call it a highly recommend, with an essential rating for Oscar buffs, since Bergman won for it.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is essential for Oscar buffs and Martin Scorsese fans. Which includes a lot of the movie buff population. It’s a great film and a great 70s film. Highly recommended, really terrific. So you should probably just see it.

Day for Night is one of the great Truffaut pictures. People love this. I think it’s very good. I don’t love the film, but I respect the shit out of it and think it’s a really impressive piece of work. Maybe people consider it essential. I think you can get by without it, but also that you should probably see it. It’s one of the more essential foreign language films out there.

The Last Word: I don’t like this category for voting purposes. What the hell do you do? Most people would take Cortese and be done with it. I don’t think she’s on screen enough or enough is done with her character to warrant that. To each his own there. Talia Shire is an afterthought in her film and was lucky to get the nomination. Madeline Kahn was never going to win even though she’s absolutely wonderful. You could make the case for her if you really wanted. Ingrid Bergman, I feel, is one of the worst winners of all time in the category owing to the fact that she has almost no screen time and basically won because she’s who she is and because there was no real competition. So to me, that leaves Diane Ladd as the choice. Which is why I’m okay with people taking Cortese here. There’s not a whole lot you can really do. So as long as you make a clear case as to why you’re taking who you’re taking, you’ll be fine. And no, I don’t think the result was a good decision. In case that wasn’t obvious.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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