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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actress, 1981-1982)

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.

1981

Melinda Dillon, Absence of Malice

Jane Fonda, On Golden Pond

Joan Hackett, Only When I Laugh

Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime

Maureen Stapleton, Reds

Analysis:

Absence of Malice is an interesting film.

Paul Newman is the son of a mobster who runs a legit business. One day, a story is written saying he’s being investigated in a murder of a union guy. His life falls apart. The union helps ruin his business, the actual mob keeps tabs on him in case he snitches, it’s a bad situation. He goes to the reporter who wrote the story, Sally Field, and proclaims his innocence. She then finds out he’s telling the truth and helps him clear his name. It’s pretty good. I don’t love it, but it’s a solid film.

Melinda Dillon plays a woman who comes to Field to say that Newman is innocent. Field assumes she’s a girlfriend and is doing what she’s supposed to do, but Dillon reveals otherwise. She knows Newman couldn’t have done it because he was with her at the time… as she got an abortion. Only she works for a catholic school and can’t have this come out. Field prints the story anyway, and Dillon is horrified. She later kills herself.

The performance is really short. It feels like she’s only on screen for about five minutes. She’s fine, and there’s a hint of a better character, but it doesn’t seem like she has a hell of a lot to do. Kind of like Close Encounters. There’s not much of a performance to even give. It is what it is. I’m okay with the nomination, but I wouldn’t vote for it.

On Golden Pond is such a wonderful film. Though you have to get over the fact that it looks like a Lifetime movie. Because it does.

Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn are a retired couple who vacation every summer (insert title here). Fonda’s just retired and is just a cranky old man. Their daughter shows up to announce she’s gotten married, and the guy has a son. So they go off on their honeymoon, leaving the kid with them. And much of the film is a lot of little vignettes and humorous scenes, with a few emotional ones at the end. It’s a lovely movie, mostly because of the veteran performances.

Jane Fonda plays the daughter. She and her father don’t have the best relationship (mirroring her own relationship with her father, which the performance owes a lot to), and they clash initially. And then she disappears for much of the film and comes back later to have a heartfelt talk with him and clear things up.

It’s not the best performance. It feels way overdone in a bad way. Don’t think it holds up particularly well, and I think the performance banks a lot on the fact that it mirrors the real life situation between her and her father. But it’s also… I mean, her big moment is doing a backflip. I liked the performance five years ago, mostly because I love the film. But I can’t really vote for this. It’s a cop out vote for a weak performance. I feel like the nomination is due to outside factors more than the performance itself.

Only When I Laugh is Neil Simon. But almost forgotten. This was a difficult one to find. I think I actually had to rent it from iTunes.

Marsha Mason is an alcoholic actress who’s just finished rehab and is trying to stay sober. That’s what you need to know. I remember really liking the film, though I haven’t seen it in a while.

Joan Hackett plays one of Mason’s friends. She’s vain and superficial. She’s only concerned with her beauty and concerned about aging. She gets an early scene and then disappears for the next thirty minutes. Later, she throws a birthday party for her 40th, and her husband happens to ask for a divorce on that same night. Mason goes to her house to console her and she ends up hearing her entire life story. She then has to take care of Mason, who ends up falling off the wagon. They get to confront one another about each of their insecurities.

It’s a nice performance. She gets a nice line where she says, “I found a long gray hair on Kevin’s jacket last night. If it’s another woman’s, I’ll kill him. If it’s mine, I’ll kill myself.”  She feels like a well-rounded character. There’s a certain liveliness to the performance, though it won’t appeal to everyone. In a category like this, I’ll consider her strongly, because there’s not a whole lot here that actually feels substantial.

Ragtime is based on the E.L. Doctorow novel. It takes real and fictional characters and ties them together into a deeply interesting story about American history. Generally considered one of the great novels of all time.

I’m not sure how to even get into the entire plot of the film, so I won’t bother. I’ll talk specifically about our nominee. I will say the film is long, but it’s good.

Maureen McGovern plays Evelyn Nesbit, who is kind of a famous character. Famous for going through a murder trial.

She’s a chorus girl, married to a millionaire. She cheats on him all the time. One day, she poses naked for a statue, and in response, her husband shoots the artist. The trial is a huge circus. Her husband’s lawyers say they’ll give her a bunch of money in a divorce if she plays ball and says the guy took advantage of her. She does. Only once the guy is acquitted, the lawyers show up and say, “Oh, yeah, now he’s suing you for divorce. So now you take much less money or get nothing.” So she has to take it.

The performance is definitely memorable. The scene with the lawyers is played with her being totally naked. She screams at them but then realizes she’s got no other play so she’s like, “Shit, where do I sign?” She’s lively in her big scene, but otherwise I kept watching an actress do a good job but also show limitations. Which means its the kind of performance I can appreciate but not vote for.

Reds is a movie about communism. A really long, but good, movie about communism. It’s about John Reed, who wrote Ten Days That Shook the World. Played by Warren Beatty. It’s a movie half about communism and half a love story between him and Diane Keaton. It’s good.

Maureen Stapleton plays Emma Goldman, a famous anarchist. Every time I watch this movie, I feel like there’s gonna be more of her in it. She’s got an early scene, then disappears for a long stretch of time. When she is on screen, in her limited screen time, there’s a certain… steeliness to it. She’s tough as nails. It’s a strong performance. No real “Oscar” moments, though. Which would hurt her in most years. But this year… there’s no competition. So she floats to the top of the competition pretty easily.

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The Reconsideration: This category is about the lesser of five evils. Dillon doesn’t feel like she has any screen time, Fonda has a performance that some people might openly laugh at (that I don’t think is overly great). McGovern has a performance that could work, but she’s not quite good enough in it to fully pull it off. So it’s either Hackett or Stapleton here. And honestly, Stapleton has a certain wonderful air to her character that makes me like her. She speaks in bursts of concise sentences. You believe everything she says. The movie’s three hours and she doesn’t have much memorable screen time, but what she does get is very well spent. So, I’ll take her. If I had a different category I might not, but I don’t, so it’s her.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Maureen Stapleton, Reds
  2. Joan Hackett, Only When I Laugh
  3. Elizabeth McGovern, Ragtime
  4. Melinda Dillon, Absence of Malice
  5. Jane Fonda, On Golden Pond

Rankings (films):

  1. On Golden Pond
  2. Reds
  3. Only When I Laugh
  4. Ragtime
  5. Absence of Malice

My Vote: Maureen Stapleton, Reds

Recommendations:

Reds is probably an essential film. Not sure if it’s an all-time essential, but it feels like film buffs ought to see it. For Oscars, for its place in history, for the actors… yeah, call it essential.

On Golden Pond is such an awesome movie. Fonda and Hepburn are awesome. The loons! I consider it essential, but it’s probably not. Not in the way Reds is essential. Plus it doesn’t hold up very well outside of the cast. It looks like a TV movie and feels like one at times.

Only When I Laugh is a movie that I liked quite a bit. It’s hard to find (not sure if it’s gotten any easier to find than five years ago. I imagine it has), but I feel it’s worthwhile. Neil Simon. Good characters, enjoyable plot. You may hate it, which I can understand, but I recommend it. (Also not essential at all. Typically the harder to find something is, the less overall essential it’s going to be.)

Ragtime might be a semi-essential movie. It’s a big epic film based on what I assume is a very famous all-time novel. I don’t love the film. Parts of it bore me to tears. But it feels like something most people should think about looking into. Not essential. Has reasons to see it. You wouldn’t be shamed by others for not seeing this one.

Absence of Malice is good. You can’t go wrong with Paul Newman. And you have Sally Field here. If Newman was nominated for an Oscar for a part, you should probably see that movie. Plus it was directed by Sidney Pollack… definitely worthwhile. Not essential, but recommended.

The Last Word: It’s probably only Stapleton in this one. Fonda, Dillon, McGovern? Ehh. Hackett you can maybe make a case for. Stapleton seems like the all around best choice in a weak category. She holds up the best historically, that’s for sure.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1982

Glenn Close, The World According to Garp

Terri Garr, Tootsie

Jessica Lange, Tootsie

Kim Stanley, Frances

Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria

Analysis:

The World According to Garp is a very bizarre film. Yet I love it. I don’t even know why I love it, but I do.

Where does one even begin to explain this? Glenn Close is a nurse during World War II who tends to a dying soldier. He can’t move or speak, and can only utter the sound “Garp.” She, wanting a baby, but not a husband, and him having a condition of being constantly erect, essentially rapes him. He dies, and she gets pregnant. The child is named Garp. And becomes Robin Williams. And we follow his life. I’ll leave it at that, because there’s so many weird, wonderful things that happen throughout the film.

Close is Garp’s mother, who starts as the main character, and slowly recedes into the background. It’s borderline lead, but she does recede the older Garp gets and is ultimately a supporting character. Though you could definitely make the case for lead.

She is a force of nature in the film. Blunt, direct. One of those characters who is both funny and fascinating at the same time. Put it this way, there’s a scene where she’s walking with him up the street, and they pass some prostitutes. He points out that they’re prostitutes and she goes, “Really? … I want to ask one of them something.” So she pays the hooker to go for coffee with them and starts asking all these questions about how much she enjoys sex, and this and that, because she’s interested in it intellectually. All this in front of her son. Then she goes, “Do you want to have sex with this woman?” At which point he’s like, “Sure I do.” And she then pays for him to have sex with the hooker.

It’s a very memorable character. And this her first screen performance. It’s a little surprising she didn’t win, though not really. Because the category is strong and there were at least three potential winners here. It’s a hell of a character, and there’s no way you wouldn’t consider her top two or three for the category.

Tootsie is one of the great comedies of all time. Bar none. It’s hysterical and holds up even now.

Dustin Hoffman is an actor who is, shall we say… difficult. He keeps getting fired because no one wants to work with him. In desperation for a part, he dresses like a woman. What was a throwaway part on a soap opera becomes a recurring role. Not to mention, he’s falling for the show’s leading lady. It’s wonderful. It really is.

Two supporting performances in this one, both great.

Teri Garr plays Hoffman’s friend. She’s lovable, and ditzy. She’s the one trying out for the part that he ends up getting. He has no idea how to tell her, and when she almost catches him, he has sex with her to cover it up, even though they both know it’s a bad idea.

She gets some great moments, a lot of which are very subtle. There’s a great moment after she and Hoffman sleep together and she’s talking about how sex changes things between friends, and she glances under the covers at her body and her eyes go wide for a second. Great comedic stuff out of her. She’s definitely worth considering for a vote.

Jessica Lange plays the lead of the soap. She’s a single mother, sleeping with the director. She becomes friends with “Dorothy,” not realizing she’s really a man. It’s one of those performances that could be generic, but she puts a certain level of class in it to elevate it. A lot of her winning has to do with the double nomination, and this being the exact type of performance they like to award for an actress like her. This is the kind of performance that people either like because she’s good-looking and likable, or dislike because it seems almost stock and like a “generic love interest” part. But actually, there’s a nice subtle degree of complexity to the part, and she is definitely right up there in the category.

Frances is a biopic of Frances Farmer, an actress from the mid-to-late 30s, whose most famous role was in Come and Get It, which won Walter Brennan an Oscar and was directed by Howard Hawks. Outside of that you probably haven’t really heard of her unless you really love Nirvana.

She’s portrayed as a rebellious girl who leaves her oppressively small and conservative town for bigger things in Hollywood. Then she becomes successful and ends up going through drugs and mental breakdowns, etc. It’s a pretty good film. Jessica Lange is terrific in the lead role (which played a part in her winning here, which we can talk about more both later and when we talk about Best Actress for this year).

Kim Stanley plays Frances’ mother. She’s a typical kind of stage mother, whose desire for fame eclipses any love they have for their child. After Frances has her breakdown, she’s put into her mother’s care. And everything her mother does is not helping her get over it at all. She’s trying to get her to go back. She has her big scene where she says how Frances “threw it all away” and is trying to keep her in the house so she can eventually go back to Hollywood.

Stanley’s strong here. She’s got enough screen time to qualify, but for much of the movie, her scenes only last about a minute. So when you’re watching it, you’re constantly wondering where her screen time is. But she ends the performance on a high note. That’s what holds her over into being a worthy nominee.

I wouldn’t take her, but I think she’s very strong, and in a different year, would end up possibly contending for a vote. But this category is surprisingly strong. And I don’t think this role ultimately cuts it for me, in the end.

Victor/Victoria is very similar to Tootsie. Just opposite. And a musical.

Julie Andrews is a poor singer who can’t get a job. And through your typical musical circumstances, she ends up working as a man. Or rather, as a famous male female impersonator. Got that? She’s a woman, pretending to be a man, who performs as a woman. And comedy, music and romance ensue.

James Garner is a mobster who falls in love with Andrews, and Lesley Ann Warren plays his moll. She’s… well, actually, this will be easy to understand even if you haven’t seen it. Judy Holliday mixed with Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain. That high pitched voice and the ditzy personality. The main crux of the performance is that Garner is convinced Andrews is a woman, and Warren is like, “No! That’s a man. Trust me, I’m a woman, and I can tell.” And of course she’s wrong.

This is a performance that owes a lot to the actresses of the 40s and 50s, and I think that’s what’s ultimately keeping me from wanting to vote for it. It’s a great performance, and in another year might end up higher for me. I think it’s the fact that she’s basically a cartoon character (which is the point, admittedly) is what’s keeping me from wanting to vote for it. Since I’ve already wanted to vote for the original. The copy is just amusing to me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Really surprised at how solid this category ended up being the second time around. I could make a case for voting for all five of them. This is actually going to be one of those situations where it’s not about who was best so much as it is which one I liked best and want to take over the others. Because I can make a case for voting for three people here.

First off for me is Kim Stanley. She’s good, but the whole thing feels too on the nose for me. I don’t feel strongly enough about it to want to vote for it. Objectively, her performance is better than Lesley Ann Warren’s, but Warren is more entertaining, so I’ll rank her higher. But theoretically she should have been the first one off. However you want to do it, they’re both not being voted for.

So that leaves me with three choices, two of which are from the same film.

Now, for all the outside reasons from this year, I completely understand the Jessica Lange win. However, being perfectly honest, I really only liked her performance as high as third. She’s very solid, and she adds a lot of depth to what is otherwise not a particularly demanding role, but I just don’t think there’s anything overly vote-worthy about it as compared to the other two. Of course, ask me a different time, and I’ll say otherwise. But where I’m at right now, I don’t love it on its own enough to vote for it without taking into account the fact that she was double-nominated.

Then there’s Teri Garr and Glenn Close. And you’d think — hell, I’d think — that means it’s an easy win for Glenn Close. I’m still kinda thinking she takes it. The character is brash, independent, and completely unforgettable. But, to be honest, having just watched the performances again… I think I’m gonna go with Garr. She has a high-wire act of a performance that never goes full into histrionics. She’s high-strung, but never falls off into the deep end. It’s the perfect mixture of comedy, pathos and entertainment. I’m gonna take her.

 

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Terri Garr, Tootsie
  2. Glenn Close, The World According to Garp
  3. Jessica Lange, Tootsie
  4. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
  5. Kim Stanley, Frances

Rankings (films):

  1. Tootsie
  2. The World According to Garp
  3. Victor/Victoria
  4. Frances

My Vote: Terri Garr, Tootsie

Recommendations:

Tootsie is an all-time comedy and an essential film for all.

The World According to Garp is a great film, a highly recommended film, but I’m not sure if it’s wholly essential. In my mind, it is. So I’m calling it essential. But I think that’s on that second, “Mike Essential” list and not “all time” essential.

Victor/Victoria is fun, but isn’t overly essential. It’s amusing, but kind of overlong and overdone. But it’s funny, and the cast is great. It might have been better served if it were made twenty years earlier. A recommend, but not an essential film.

Frances is worth it because of Jessica Lange. Not essential, but a solid biopic with a great central performance. I recommend it, but it’s the least essential film in the category.

The Last Word: Lange makes the most sense, given all the pieces: her, the role, the performance, the double nomination. Close makes a lot of sense because of how great and memorable she is. I think Garr is completely worth taking as well. And even Stanley can have a case made for her, should one want to go there. Warren… possibly even as well. There’s almost an embarrassment of riches in this category (which is funny, since the last few felt like the exact opposite of this), and I don’t think you can really go wrong in a choice. I also think they made a good choice, even though there were other goods ones to be made as well.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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