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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1975-1976)

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.

1975

Ronee Blakley, Nashville

Lee Grant, Shampoo

Sylvia Miles, Farewell, My Lovely

Lily Tomlin, Nashville

Brenda Vaccaro, Once Is Not Enough

Analysis:

Nashville is an all-timer. A masterpiece. And impossible to explain.

A bunch of different people work and interact over the days preceding a political rally in (insert title here). That’s really all you need to know.

Ronnie Blakley plays a famous country singer who just got over a breakdown and is “triumphantly” returning. Only she’s a nervous wreck, has so many emotional problems, and is basically being herded about by a controlling manager and a team of people. She ends up in the hospital for heat stroke, has a fight with her husband, and slides right back toward another breakdown. She has a great scene where she’s supposed to be singing and starts rambling and telling all these stories instead.

It’s a really impressive performance. The singing is strong, and she handles the emotional scenes really well. There’s so little to vote for in this category, she’s easily in play for a vote.

Lily Tomlin plays a gospel singer who has two deaf children. Her big arc is that she is pursued by Keith Carradine, a womanizing country singer. Eventually she gives in and cheats on her husband with him, and the second they’re done having sex, he’s on the phone with the next woman he’s going to sleep with.

She’s very good in the part. Though between the two from this film, I feel as though Blakley’s performance was better. So, in the end, I wouldn’t vote for Tomlin, but she’s up there, and is definitely someone you could consider or vote for if that’s how you feel.

Shampoo is almost like an American Cabaret. If that makes sense. It’s about the carefree days before the Nixon administration, when everyone was happy and having sex and didn’t have a care in the world.

Warren Beatty is a hairdresser who gets so many women it’s incredible. He wants to start his own salon, but doesn’t have the money. So he turns to one of the women he’s sleeping with, who is rich. She invites him to a fundraiser that night with her husband, who is bringing his own mistress. The whole movie takes place on the day before the election. It’s hard to explain, but it’s really good.

Lee Grant plays the rich woman who is sleeping with Beatty. She’s…there. A lot of short but memorable moments. I think a lot of why she won has to do with the fact that the Academy felt they owed her something for blacklisting her for nearly 20 years for not testifying back in the 50s. She’s good, and the category’s weak, so she’s probably top two, but I don’t see really enough here to take her on performance alone. The question is, will I have to take her anyway?

Farewell, My Lovely is based on the Raymond Chandler Marlowe book. Stars Robert Mitchum as Marlowe. Kind of a throwback. A neo noir, in an era when neo noir was coming back into fashion.

He’s hired by a big man named Moose to find his old girlfriend. Thus setting off a classic detective chain of events. It’s a good story. The film is a bit too tired to work. It feels like it’s going through the motions of a bygone era.

Sylvia Miles plays Mrs. Florian, a former showgirl and current alcoholic. She’s the widow of the owner of the club where the girl used to work, so Marlowe gives her booze and asks her questions. She reminisces for a bit and gives up some information. Then she shows up later when Marlowe needs more information. Very brief scene. It’s really only just the one scene she has. It’s brief and at the beginning of the film. Much like her Midnight Cowboy scene. Hard to want to take her when she has such little and inconsequential screen time.

Once Is Not Enough is based on a book by the woman who wrote Valley of the Dolls. So that should give you an idea of the tone, whether intentional or not. It’s almost a Fifty Shades of Grey for the 70s.

A virgin comes home after being abroad and ends up in a relationship with an older man (daddy issues), it’s a whole thing. I really didn’t like this movie very much. It’s like Joe Eszterhas wrote it. Very campy.

Brenda Vaccaro plays a woman who sleeps with a lot of men and isn’t ashamed of it. That’s the character. She’s blunt, says it like it is, and sleeps with a lot of men. It’s so over the top. This is one of those nominations that doesn’t hold up at all. She might end up fourth in the category for people who are amused at how over the top campy this character is, but there’s no way you can actually take her.

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The Reconsideration: This is a really weak category. Not a whole lot going on at all. Vaccaro is too over the top to consider, Miles has no screen time to speak of, Tomlin is second to Blakley in her film, and Grant is amusing but really doesn’t have much to do at all comparative to what you’d think based on her winning. I’m left with no other alternative than to vote for Ronee Blakley here. She’s the only performance I feel even merits real consideration. I get Grant as a winner in a year like this, but Blakley’s is the only performance I feel is worth taking.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Ronee Blakley, Nashville
  2. Lee Grant, Shampoo
  3. Lily Tomlin, Nashville
  4. Sylvia Miles, Farewell, My Lovely
  5. Brenda Vaccaro, Once Is Not Enough

Rankings (films):

  1. Nashville
  2. Shampoo
  3. Farewell, My Lovely
  4. Once Is Not Enough

My Vote: Ronee Blakley, Nashville

Recommendations:

Nashville is an essential film for all movie buffs. Altman is one of the great directors and this is his masterpiece. Must see.

Shampoo is an essential film because of how famous and important it is for the 70s. Gotta be seen, even if it feels dated in a lot of ways.

Farewell, My Lovely is worth it because it’s a noir mystery. Not even remotely essential, but hey, if you like the genre, go for it.

Once Is Not Enough is worth it if you really like overly campy movies that don’t seem to get the joke. Showgirls is one. Otherwise, no need to watch this at all.

The Last Word: It makes sense that Grant won and I can be okay with the decision. Do I think she gave the best performance in the category? No. But with the category as weak as it is, I really only see one alternative, which is Ronee Blakley. Maybe some would say Lily Tomlin. That vote split, along with the idea that she was owed something for being blacklisted, is how Lee Grant ended up winning this category. So I’m fine with it. But I still think Blakley gave the better performance.

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1976

Jane Alexander, All the President’s Men

Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver

Lee Grant, Voyage of the Damned

Piper Laurie, Carrie

Beatrice Straight, Network

Analysis:

All the President’s Men is an all-time great political thriller. An all-time great film. One of the greatest American films ever made.

It’s about Woodward and Bernstein investigating Watergate, and eventually uncovering the corruption and scandal inside the White House that led to Nixon’s resignation. It’s a perfect film.

Jane Alexander plays a bookkeeper who has information about where all the money went. Deep Throat told them to “follow the money” but she’s the one who knows where the money went. She’s the person Woodward and Bernstein keep going after who refuses to talk because she’s been followed and threatened, but eventually is persuaded to talk. She gets a couple of scenes, and a lot of her work is through subtle expressions and movements. So it’s an important role in the movie that was elevated by great work by an experienced actress, but overall the part isn’t significant enough and the performance isn’t substantial enough to actually vote for. It’s basically a solid extended cameo. And since we have another performance that’s essential the same thing and much more memorable, she falls pretty quickly to the back of the pack in this one.

Taxi Driver is an American classic. You’ve probably seen it, because most film buffs see this within the first hundred or so movies they ever get into in the early years.

Jodie Foster plays Iris, a teenage prostitute. She stumbles into De Niro’s cab one night, and he becomes fascinated with her. So he seeks her out and takes it upon himself to become her guardian angel, and save her from this existence. Only she doesn’t seem to want saving.

What makes Jodie Foster’s performance so good is the fact that she makes you forget that she’s fourteen. She gives the performance of someone in her early 20s. And yet, you really feel like this is also a child who has no idea what’s really going on. It’s just the right amount of maturity and naiveté to make it plausible. It’s a really impressive performance for someone her age. It’s the type of performance where the nomination is the reward most of the time. But in a category like this, she actually warrants serious consideration for a vote.

Voyage of the Damned is the story of a ship that carried a bunch of Jews from Germany to Cuba in 1939, just before the real start of World War II and the Holocaust. The passengers think they’re escaping just in time, but they slowly realize that the Germans had no intention of ever letting them get off the ship, and that it was designed to set them up as an example for the world to turn them away, proving that since no one wants them, no one can blame them for what happens to the Jews.

The film is about three hours long, and kind of plodding. But the cast is insane. Look at this cast: Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow, Oskar Werner, Malcolm McDowell, Orson Welles, James Mason, Lee Grant, Katherine Ross, Ben Gazzara, Denholm Elliott, Jose Ferrer, Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Fernando Rey, Maria Schell, Janet Suzman and Jonathan Pryce. Crazy, right?

Lee Grant plays one of the passengers. I don’t remember too much about the performance except that she’s pretty histrionic in it and has a big moment where she shaves off her own hair like they wood in a concentration camp. That’s her big Oscar scene and is why they singled her out over everyone else. (The blacklisting guilt also was part of that as well, I’m sure.)

Here’s the haircutting scene that got her the nomination:

It’s one of those performances that’s fine, but also kind of one note. I don’t know. She’s either fourth or fifth. At least with her, she gets the big haircutting scene to differentiate her from Jane Alexander, who’s just kind of there. Either way, no way I’d vote for this.

Carrie is a weird and crazy film that shouldn’t work, but does.

Sissy Spacek is an ostracized high school student who starts to discover she has telekinetic powers. She lives with her domineering, overly religious mother, and all she really wants is to live like a happy, normal child. And then there’s of course the famous prom scene…

Piper Laurie plays Carrie’s mother, who is a real force of nature. She’s very religious, and also very unstable. She’s constantly punishing her daughter, preaching fire and brimstone sermons to her. It’s a very committed performance.

She plays the character to the nines, to the point where she could be accused of going overboard. I don’t know if she hits that point, but she gets close to it. She has a lot of scenes where she’s the centerpiece, and there’s no mistaking that you will remember her. The only question is whether you think she’s strong enough to vote for or if you think she went a bit too over the top and veered into camp. I’m still not sure exactly where I fal lon this one.

Network is an eerily prescient film about what the state of television would become.

Peter Finch is a network news anchor who is about to be fired after a new regime takes over the station and doesn’t like his ratings. So, in the midst of a mental breakdown, he announces that he’s going to kill himself, live on the air, the following week. And naturally, the ratings skyrocket. So they keep him on, and let him do whatever he wants, which, in his state, involves all sorts of ramblings and rants about the state of the world. And rather than get him the help he needs, the studio milks him for the ratings. It’s a fucking great film.

William Holden plays Finch’s friend and one of the executives of the studio, who starts an affair with Faye Dunaway, the new executive who takes over and is only interested in ratings.

Beatrice Straight plays Holden’s wife, who has one scene in the movie. It’s famous, because she won for only having five minutes of screen time. He sits her down and admits his affair to her. It’s not worth trying to explain, it’s just easier if you watch it:

It’s a powerful performance. The only real question is whether or not this is enough screen time to vote for. That’s it. The scene only is clearly worthy of consideration. It’s gonna come down to how it holds up against the competition.

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The Reconsideration: I don’t like this category at all. The films are great, but the performances aren’t anything I’d want to vote for. Alexander is an extended cameo, Grant is way to much for me to consider.

Laurie is really strong, but to me, the performance veers a bit too much into camp for me to actually take it, though I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for doing so. And Foster… she’s good, but I feel like I’d need a little more to actually want to vote for her for any other reason other than it’s the Jodie Foster Taxi Driver performance.

Which leaves me with Beatrice Straight, who has an absolutely electric five minute scene that holds up on its own even if it is all too brief. I’ll take those five minutes over everyone else. And that seems to be what everyone else thought at the time, which is exactly how she ended up winning.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Beatrice Straight, Network
  2. Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver
  3. Piper Laurie, Carrie
  4. Lee Grant, Voyage of the Damned
  5. Jane Alexander, All the President’s Men

Rankings (films):

  1. All the President’s Men
  2. Taxi Driver
  3. Network
  4. Carrie
  5. Voyage of the Damned

My Vote: Beatrice Straight, Network

Recommendations:

Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, Network and Carrie are all in name alone essential. You should know how essential they are just by reading the titles. Any film fan must see them.

And Voyage of the Damned is okay. Not great, just fine. Big ensemble drama. Not essential at all, and if you don’t see it, you’re not really missing a whole lot. But it is decent and if the idea of the cast appeals to you, you should check it out.

The Last Word: I don’t think anyone takes Grant or Alexander. I can see Laurie being the choice, most people could see Foster being the choice. And if you can accept Straight only having five minutes of screen time, she’s also clearly worth a vote. So it comes down to which of the three you feel strongest about. I think they made a solid decision. I’d have been okay with any of the three.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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