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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1977-1978)

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.

1977

Leslie Browne, The Turning Point

Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl

Melinda Dillon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Vanessa Redgrave, Julia

Tuesday Weld, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Analysis:

The Turning Point is, as I always like to point out when we get to this year, the film that was considered the favorite to win Best Picture that year. Over Star Wars and Annie Hall. Just goes to show you that time is a funny thing.

I will also say, don’t let that prejudice you against the film. Because undoubtedly you haven’t seen this, as almost none of us have before we get into the Oscars. Don’t judge it based on the fact that it went up against those other movies.

The movie is about two ballerinas. Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft. MacLaine is going to be the big star of the company, but ends up meeting a man and marrying him. So she leaves to start a family and Bancroft goes off to become the famous ballerina and head of the company. Cut to twenty years later. MacLaine is happy (ish) and has a daughter and a good life, and Bancroft is happy (ish) and has been star ballerina for twenty years. And now Bancroft is in town for a run of the show, and the two women meet for the first time in years. And the thing is — MacLaine is jealous that Bancroft got all the success, and Bancroft is jealous that MacLaine got the family. Add to that, MacLaine’s daughter wants to be a ballerina and Bancroft takes her under her wing.

It’s actually a pretty good film. It’s not remembered at all, which speaks for itself in terms of whether or not it should have won Best Picture, but on its own, it’s a really engaging drama.

Leslie Browne plays MacLaine’s daughter. She also is, in real life, a prima ballerina. So the dancing scenes are (pun ridiculously intended) on point. That’s something you have to factor into the performance alongside the acting. Her character arc is that she’s a shy, naive girl who goes from Oklahoma to the ballet scene in New York. She starts dating Mikhail Baryshnikov, a dancer who sleeps with most of the women in the company. Her big scene is when she goes off and gets drunk before a performance and comes back and needs to go on.

She’s… fine. Most of the performance requires her to dance, which is what she’s good at. Much of the acting isn’t great, but it’s passable. In this category, the dancing just might be enough.

The Goodbye Girl is a Neil Simon film. Which means quality. Neil Simon wrote such awesome plays and most of the time they turned into really good movies. Or, at the very least, solid movies.

Marsha Mason is a single mother living in New York. She’s dating a married actor. One day, he leaves her. Oh, and to add insult to injury, he sublet the apartment to Richard Dreyfuss, a quirky actor. Despite some early conflicts, they form a truce, staying in their respective ends of the apartment. Of course, this blossoms into love. It’s a great movie.

Cummings plays Mason’s daughter. It’s your standard precocious child role. A lot of the work is in the writing. Simon wrote a great part for her to play, and any halfway capable child actor would end up looking terrific. And Cummings does a good job with it. She’s very likable. Would I vote for the performance? Probably not. Unless I had to. Which I might have to. We’ll see. Not sure I love much of anything in this category.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a pretty famous movie. I shouldn’t really need to explain it. But I’ll give you the quick version.

One night, Richard Dreyfuss encounters a UFO. And afterwards, he becomes obsessed with them, and starts seeing visions of a specifically shaped mountain. And it starts to take over his life, until finally he sets out to find the place, leading to one of the most famous climaxes in film history.

Melinda Dillon plays a woman who sees a UFO one night and, like Dreyfuss, also becomes obsessed with the whole thing. Then her son ends up being abducted later on, and she ends up tagging along with Dreyfuss as he goes to get a glimpse of what’s going on.

She’s good in the part. Mostly she’s there, along for the ride. It’s an adequate performance. She conveys who this woman is well. Happy for her to be here, wouldn’t take her at all. Fourth or fifth for me. Probably fifth.

Julia is a strange film. Part biopic, part memoir, part I don’t know what. And on top of that, it’s based on a Lillian Hellman story about herself that was debunked as most likely being false. So I don’t know what to make of it as anything other than a movie.

Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) decides she wants to try to be a writer. She’s living with Dashiell Hammett at the time. He pushes her to be a good writer, rather than just a writer. She ends up writing a hit play (which is actually The Children’s Hour). She then is contacted by her friend Julia, with whom she grew up, but lost touch with. Julia’s in Germany, and is fighting against the Nazis. She asks Lillian to smuggle some money in for her. She’ll be kept perfectly safe. All she has to do is show up at a train at a certain time and give a signal. And she agrees to do it. It’s a solid film.

Vanessa Redgrave plays Julia. We get very few scenes of her for much of the film. Glimpses via flashback. We see her heavily bandaged in the hospital after an attack (which leaves her with a false leg). Her big scene is when she sits down with Fonda in the cafe. She’s solid in the role, but the performance isn’t anything to write home about. However…

She is a big presence throughout the film. Mostly after the first act. As Fonda smuggles the money into Germany, you get the sense that Julia is there with her, protecting her, as her people are all around, making sure everything goes smoothly. Which enhances the character. Kind of like how you feel Harry Lime’s presence in The Third Man, even though he doesn’t show up until a good hour into the picture. That definitely does enhance the performance.

Overall, I don’t think I love the performance, but in this category, I don’t love much of anything. I might need to take this purely on the hints of the character we don’t get to see, because there’s not really any other choice.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I remember exactly when I watched this for the first time. It was New Year’s Eve/Day 2011. I was home, and wasn’t going anywhere that night. It was 1:30 in the morning and it was going to stop being on Netflix Instant the next day (more specifically, at 3am EST), so I made sure to get it in before it went away and who knows when it would come back. So of course, when you watch something because you have to, you have no expectations for it to be good. And yet, I was blown away by this movie.

Diane Keaton is a teacher for deaf children who is prim and proper by day and dangerously adventurous by night. She goes out to bars in rough neighborhoods, picking up men. She has very rough and violent sex with them. It doesn’t end well.

Tuesday Weld plays Keaton’s sister. In her first scene, she confesses that she’s dating two men in different cities, and one of them (she’s not sure which) got her pregnant. So she’s going to get an abortion in another country. Then we find out she met a man on the plane and got married to him after two days. The marriage gets stale, so she goes off doing drugs and sleeping around, then she gets divorced, then she gets clean, goes off on a therapy kick… she’s the sister who’s off constantly doing crazy shit, while Keaton is the one with the steady job. The idea is that, on the surface, Weld is the character that needs the help and is engaging in the dangerous behavior, but it’s actually Keaton. That’s the point of her character.

Weld plays it nicely. She’s memorable, but I wouldn’t vote for it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I have absolutely no idea what to take here. It’s definitely not Dillon. That’s for sure. Weld… I like the film and I like her, but I like parts of the other performances over hers. So she’s out. I enjoyed Quinn Cummings, but I’m predisposed to liking the precocious child role. She’s not really all that great in the movie, just enjoyable. Wouldn’t vote for for either. So that leaves Redgrave and Browne. And honestly, if it weren’t for the great dancing, I wouldn’t think Browne deserved to be nominated. The dancing can only do so much. So really, by default, the winner is Redgrave. I don’t love the performance, but I’ll take anything I can get in this category, and she was good enough for me to want to take.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Vanessa Redgrave, Julia
  2. Leslie Browne, The Turning Point
  3. Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl
  4. Tuesday Weld, Looking for Mr. Goodbar
  5. Melinda Dillon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Rankings (films):

  1. The Goodbye Girl
  2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  3. Looking for Mr. Goodbar
  4. Julia
  5. The Turning Point

My Vote: Vanessa Redgrave, Julia

Recommendations:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is an essential film. Like much of the Amblin stuff, you’ll forget how most of what you remember is actually such a small part of the actual film.

The Goodbye Girl is an awesome movie. Neil Simon comedy. Good stuff. Hasn’t aged well, but it holds up all right. Good performances, good dialogue. Definite recommend this highly. Also essential for Oscar buffs because of the Dreyfuss win.

Julia is a solid film. Won two Oscars, so that makes it essential for Oscar buffs. Other than that, just a movie I recommend that has a lot of good moments. Let’s call it a highly recommend.

The Turning Point isn’t essential unless you want to talk Oscars. Outside of that, it’s just a solid drama that’s worth a watch if you’re interested. Outside of that, it’s been forgotten for a reason. Mostly a product of its era.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a film that I really liked. I don’t think most people would love it, so I won’t push it too hard on you. But I do think it’s worth a watch. I think Diane Keaton is great in it

The Last Word: Without Redgrave, this might be one of the five weakest categories of all time. Even with her, it still might be bottom ten. She’s really the only one you could take. All the other performances have such strikes against them. It’s all Redgrave, this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1978

Dyan Cannon, Heaven Can Wait

Penelope Milford, Coming Home

Maggie Smith, California Suite

Maureen Stapleton, Interiors

Meryl Streep, The Deer Hunter

Analysis:

Heaven Can Wait is Warren Beatty remaking Here Comes Mr. Jordan. (Which was later remade as Down to Earth with Chris Rock.)

Premise: football player dies two weeks before the Super Bowl in a freak accident. He goes up to heaven and tells them there’s no way he was supposed to die. They check the files — he’s actually right. They fucked up. Only problem, his body’s already been cremated. So they need to get him a new body. In the meantime, they get him a loaner body. That of a millionaire whose wife and assistant conspired to kill. So he shows up and acts as this millionaire for a few weeks. He thinks he can get himself ready to play in the Super Bowl, but actually he ends up falling in love with Julie Christie, an activist who’d been appealing to the millionaire to help her cause. It’s a really terrific film. All versions of it are good.

Dyan Cannon plays the millionaire’s wife. I haven’t seen the performance in a while, but I remember her being really over the top. Funny, but way over the top, to the point where you couldn’t really vote for her. In fact, I feel like some people might even think she shouldn’t be nominated. I won’t go that far, but I definitely wouldn’t take this performance.

Coming Home is a film about (insert title here) from Vietnam.

Jon Voight comes home from Vietnam without legs. Bruce Dern comes home with PTSD. Jane Fonda is Dern’s wife, volunteering at the VA hospital, who falls for Voight. It’s a great film.

Penelope Milford plays Jane Fonda’s friend who works at the VA hospital and likes to go out partying at night. The real emotional core of the character is that she works where she does because her brother came back from Vietnam with PTSD, and she’s there so she can be near him. She gets a big moment after the brother kills himself, but otherwise, it’s just a pretty good performance. Don’t know if I’d put her any higher than third here.

California Suite is a bit of an ensemble film, about a bunch of people staying in an LA hotel. I can go through the different stories, but basically only one matters for our purposes. It’s Neil Simon, so it’s at worst pretty good. Some parts are better than others, and overall, it’s a watchable movie.

Maggie Smith plays an actress nominated for an Academy Award. She doesn’t think she has any chance at winning. Added to the stress is her husband, played by Michael Caine. He’s gay, and the marriage is one of convenience. She’s up in her room, with a car waiting to take her to the ceremony. She gets increasingly nervous, and drinks a bunch. Then, after the ceremony, when she loses, she gets despondent, drinks too much and makes a fool of herself.

It’s an adequate comic performance. Maggie is solid. Maggie is always solid. Do I love it enough to take it on its own? No, not really. In this category? Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

Interiors is Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman. So if there ever was a recipe for me to not like a movie… this is definitely one of them.

The film is about three daughters who are gathered at the house of their mother after their father leaves her and she attempts suicide. This sets off a chain of family dramas and such. I don’t love the film. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows my tastes.

Maureen Stapleton plays the woman the father leaves the mother for. She’s kind of unmannered, which means that she’s basically a normal person as compared to the rest of the boring people in the film. She’s the one who seems coarse that all the daughters can’t see what he sees in her. She’s the only person with energy. It’s kind of a generic role, but she brings a certain classiness to it. She’s not really in the film all that much, and she’s fine, but I don’t see it as something I can vote for.

The Deer Hunter is one of the greatest Vietnam films ever made. I love it, even though it’s indulgent as shit. Do not care at all.

A bunch of Pennsylvania steel workers are good buddies. One of them’s getting married. Three of them are going off to war. We see them before war, during war, and after the war. It’s fucking great. See the movie, because you need to. It’s an all-timer.

Meryl Streep plays Linda, who at first is dating Christopher Walken. She lives with her father, a drunk who beats her, and gets engaged to Walken shortly before he, De Niro and Savage go off to fight the war. Then, after only De Niro comes back and not Walken, she starts up a relationship with him.

The character could have been pretty one-dimensional, but not when she’s played by Meryl Streep. Meryl does a hell of a job with it. The character as written barely exists in the script. So what the character is in the final film is very much a product of what she brings to it.

Is it something I want to vote for on its own? No, not really. But this is actually kind of a weak category. I have no idea what to do with it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category seems strong when you glance at it, but it’s really not. None of the performances feel fully formed. I do not particularly like the Maureen Stapleton performance and I cannot vote for Dyan Cannon. So that’s two gone. Milford wouldn’t be higher than fourth if the category were stronger, so she only gets third. It’s pretty much between Streep and Smith here, and I have no idea what to do with it. Smith is having fun with her part, which could have used with a bit more screen time, and Streep is taking an underwritten part and making it a memorable one. Honestly, I don’t know.

I think it’s the stockiness of the Streep character, how one-note she’s supposed to be that makes me not want to take her. Most of why I’d want to vote for her is because I love Deer Hunter. But I also only want to vote for Maggie because the part is amusing. So I don’t know.

The tiebreaker is gonna be what I’d do if I were voting in 1978, and didn’t know Meryl would go on to be Meryl, and win this category the year after this, etc. etc. And I feel like, because I love Deer Hunter so much, I’d take her performance. But you know what, in the end, I think her character doesn’t have any kind of arc and with more to do or more structure, it would have been perfect for the award. Here, Maggie Smith, the way the character has a defined arc, has great comic bits, and a touching end to the character… I’ll take Maggie. It’s rough, but I’ll take Maggie.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Maggie Smith, California Suite
  2. Meryl Streep, The Deer Hunter
  3. Penelope Milford, Coming Home
  4. Dyan Cannon, Heaven Can Wait
  5. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors

Rankings (films):

  1. The Deer Hunter
  2. Heaven Can Wait
  3. Coming Home
  4. California Suite
  5. Interiors

My Vote: Maggie Smith, California Suite

Recommendations:

The Deer Hunter is an all-time essential film. Must see for film buffs.

Coming Home is an essential film, but not as much as Deer Hunter. Still, must be seen. Great 70s film.

Heaven Can Wait should be seen. It’s a great movie. I say it’s essential, even if objectively it isn’t.

California Suite is only essential for Oscar buffs and Neil Simon fans. It’s got a great cast on it so it’s worth it for them. I think it should be seen, though you’re under no obligation to do so. You’ll be fine without it.

Interiors — if you love Woody Allen, especially Woody Allen dramas, and/or you love Ingmar Bergman, you’ll like this movie. If you don’t, then this will be a rough watch for you. I can’t recommend it. You’ll know better about whether or not this is something you think you’re gonna enjoy.

The Last Word: I have no clue what to do with this one. My gut says it’s between Streep and Smith. You’d be okay taking either. I don’t see a real favorite in this one or a better choice. So I’m cool with it. And, historically, it evened out in terms of wins, not that it matters all that much. I think either one is a good choice. The category is what it is.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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