Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eileen Heckart in The Bad Seed

Eileen Heckart received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Hortense Daigle in Mervyn LeRoy's The Bad Seed. The film is definitely a departure from the usual Oscar-nominated films, in that it technically is a thriller film that borderlines on dipping into full fledged horror. It's easy to see why the Academy may have gotten confused though, because the film retains a lot of the theatrical elements from the original play and more often feels like a drama pretending to be a thriller. The performances are across the board solid, and I even liked Nancy Kelly's performance even if it had moments of extreme overacting. The two ladies who were nominated for Best Supporting Actress were Patty McCormack, playing the eponymous 'bad seed' Rhoda, and Eileen Heckart, who has significantly less screen time as the mother whose son dies at the beginning of the film. Heckart has an role that begs for an Oscar nomination--she gets to stumble around drunk, scream her lungs out, change emotions within a matter of seconds, and literally point fingers.

But oh, how well she does with each of those aspects of the performance. It's a role that she clearly knows inside and out, having played Hortense countless times on stage with the exact same cast. It's still no less impressive of an achievement. Hortense Daigle comes into the film at the exact right moment, and from the second Heckart walks in the door you feel a palpable change in the tone of the film. After forty minutes of faux pleasantries from every other character, Heckart ushers in a burst of reality that really gets the film moving. It's clear from the beginning that Hortense is viewed as 'common' by even the teachers at her son's school, and Eileen's lanky physicality and unique vocal quality support that downtrodden 'white trash' persona.

Being that this performance was born on the stage, there is an overt staginess to Heckart's performance, but I think it works completely in her favor. By allowing her free reign to stagger across the room and display her emotions freely, Eileen Heckart gives a performance of emotional devastation that will stick with you long after the film is over. She navigates the swift changes of emotion with ease and grace making some of the most unsuspecting moments, such as a hug with Rhoda both haunting and sweet at the same time. She overpowers every other person she's on screen with, and Nancy Kelly might as well have disappeared when Heckart sauntered on screen. She's like a storm set loose on the Penmark household, and the effect she leaves on both the audience and Kelly's Christine is much appreciated.

Eileen Heckart's performance is one that shows the true greatness a supporting actress can achieve with a minimal amount of screentime. Hortense Daigle is a great tragic figure, and I think The Bad Seed would be much worse off without her presence. Her experience in the role and the general theatricality of the performance make this one just shy of a perfect score, but I can't deny that the mark Eileen has left on will be with me for quite some time. Tackling this role with abandon and force, she manages to be calculated and loose in her performance at the same time, and mostly importantly so memorably tragic. An energetic performance that is not easy to pull off. 4.5/5 Thelmas.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My 20 Favorite Movies: Part 1

Alright, let's get this show on the road. I've decided to compile a list of my 20 favorite films of all time and reveal them in groups of four over a couple of weeks. It's not something I'm going to rush to complete because I want to keep my Supporting Actress schedule somewhat reasonable. Before I get some puzzled answers: These are not the films I consider to be the 20 Greatest Films of All-Time or anything like that, but the 20 that I would take with me were I stranded on a desert island. Yes, that's a giant cliche, but it works in this instance.

#20. Into the Wild (2007; Sean Penn)
On paper, Into the Wild is not the type of film that I usually gravitate towards. It's a movie about a college graduate who decides instead of getting a job he is going to hike around the country living essentially as a homeless person. I expected it to be dull and filled with a whole lot of scenes of natural and wilderness, something which I don't really find exciting. Instead, we get an absolutely captivated film that just pulls you in and never lets go. Emile Hirsch gives a tour de force lead performance that easily should have taken home the Oscar that year, especially when Daniel Day-Lewis' usual overacting somehow impressed the Academy...again. Sean Penn's film is clearly deeply personal, and it's clear in every shot.

#19. L.A. Confidential (1997; Curtis Hanson)
This is another case of a genre I usually don't find all that appealing (the crime film) coming out of nowhere and absolutely blowing me away. Films rarely come as complex and multifaceted as L.A. Confidential. It thrives because Hanson puts almost more emphasis on the characters as he does the action and mystery in the story. Working with a talent cast headlined by a volatile Russell Crowe and a tightly wound Guy Pearce, each actor gives off a distinct erotic edge to their character that it's a shame only Kim Basinger managed an Oscar nod--and win. It's a dark and twisted crime noir for the ages, and among the best the genre has to offer.

#18. Chicago (2002; Rob Marshall)
The most fun Best Picture winner in the last 20 or so years (only Forrest Gump comes even close in terms of light-hearted entertainment), Chicago is such an incredibly dazzling and joyous experience each and every time I watch it. It's got showstopping musical numbers (Highlights: I Can't Do It Alone and Cell Block Tango), some deliciously fun performances, and may just in fact be the most recent Best Picture winner that closest mirrors our present society, one where fame is achieved even if one has no discernible talent or is in fact just a terrible person. Rob Marshall just covers that message in so much razzle-dazzle you barely even notice it.

#17. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003; Quentin Tarantino)
Tarantino is well known to be a director who focuses on genres of film that most serious auteurs avoid like the plague, and manages to do wonders with them. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is far and away his most purely joyful film to date, one that highlights his own personal cinematic interests and brings back genres that had long been deemed inferior or silly. As usual the dialogue is typical Tarantino, filled with pop culture references and idiosyncrasies that film geeks go crazy for. Uma Thurman should have been nominated for Best Actress, especially considering the generally weak field that category had in 2003. This is not the last Tarantino film to make an appearance on my Top 20, but there is no doubt that it's the most compulsively watchable.

Next Four: Best Picture Winner, Another Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Pixar

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Best Supporting Actress 1956

And the nominees were....

  • Mildred Dunnock in Baby Doll as Rose Comfort
  • Eileen Heckart in The Bad Seed as Hortense Daigle
  • Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind as Marylee Hadley (winner)
  • Mercedes McCambridge in Giant as Luz Benedict
  • Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed as Rhoda Penmark

The Field: After covering four years of Best Supporting Actress contenders, I have yet to have two women get the same score in a single year, thus creating very little suspense or hard choices so here's hoping this year gives me harder time. It seems to be a somewhat crazy year with every performance but McCambridge's having some kind of deranged or melodramatic aspect associated with it. This is the first year I've covered with two nominees coming from one film which means I'll have to figure out how exactly I'm going to make that work. All that being said, Heckart will be the first lady I'll be reviewing. I'm excited to get going on Year #5. Anybody have any thoughts on this group of ladies?

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Releases: Quadruple Feature

In the span of five days I've seen a total of four vastly different new releases, and significantly drained my wallet in the process. I figured I'd go ahead and write up some brief thoughts on each of those. This will probably be a somewhat regular feature going forward, depending on how motivated I am to write about each new release I watch. But I do see a lot of movies in theaters, because that really is the best way to watch them.

30 Minutes or Less (dir. Ruben Fleischer) -With a running time of a mere 83 minutes, it's amazing how many laughs 30 Minutes or Less manages to pack into it's brief running time. The film seriously had me laughing pretty much non-stop and never really seemed to drag it's feet. Jesse Eisenberg doesn't coast on the fact that this is a comedy, and actually gives a surprisingly fresh and humanistic performance while Aziz Ansari (who has never quite hit the right note for me on Parks and Recreation) just goes balls to the wall crazy any chance he gets. His schtick works well for this movie, and every line worth remembering comes out of his mouth. Yes, the plot is kind of ridiculous (made even worse by the fact that it's kind of a true story), and sometimes the story stretches its limitations, but this is yet another great comedy in a year filled with some good ones. B+

Final Destination 5 (dir. Steven Quale) - I have a secret. Even though I sit here and write about Oscar-nominated performances and 'serious' films, I have a real big soft spot for schlocky slasher films that involve teenagers escaping some masked murder, or in the case of the Final Destination series, Death itself. I revel in their extreme overflow of cheesy one liners and stereotypes, and the Final Destination series is one of my favorites. Up to this point, the series was steadily improving with each installment, mostly because the first two films took the concept a bit too seriously, and starting with the third attempts at a deeper meaning were left at the door. This fifth film in the series is something of a drop off from that because none of the deaths are anything particularly impressive, and the characters for the most part were pretty boring (i.e. normal). But the opening bridge scene is pretty great, and Nicholas D'Agosto has a certain boyish adorability that works well. This isn't the best film in the series, but not a completely bad time at the movies. Plus, even when a horror movie is bad, doesn't it almost make it better? (I didn't see it in 3D, so no comment on that) B-

The Help (dir. Tate Taylor) - This is the first movie of the year that really feels like an Oscar contender, and it's really because of the across the board powerful performances by it's great cast. Tate Taylor has done a good job at adapting a somewhat tricky to film novel that could easily fall into stereotype, but the spotlight in this movie is firmly on the collection of amazing actresses this films has gathered. The least impressive is the always hilarious Emma Stone, whose Skeeter seems to be only a means to an end for many parts of the story, though Emma contributes her usual natural charm and phenomenal comedic timing. Viola Davis is the emotional center of the story, and she is just so deeply moving and bares all on screen it's almost numbing. I'm worried about her being pushed in the Best Actress category (even though that's where she belongs), because I have a bad feeling she'll get overlooked. Octavia Spencer is also hilarious and seemingly a shoo-in for a Supporting Actress nod, even though to me the best supporting performance comes courtesy of Jessica Chastain, who adds a much needed quirky charisma to the film. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a well balanced performance with equal parts venom and bounce, and Sissy Spacek is absolutely riotous as her cooky mother. Sure, the film has some clunky moments (mostly anything to do with Skeeter's personal life or family), but it gets done what it needs too and the actressing elevates the material. A-

Conan the Barbarian (dir. Marcus Nispel) - I don't really have a whole lot to say about this movie, mostly because it was just so...inconsequential. I went into the theater with incredibly low expectations hoping to get a campy action film with tons of gore, and that's basically what I got was a boring action film with tons of gore. None of the performances were anything to speak about, though Momoa definitely has the roguish charm down pat. The action scenes were often difficult to follow, numerous times my head was hurting from the pure chaos of every fight. Rose McGowan and Stephen Lang were bizarre yet fun villains, but the ultimate power they were seeking just didn't seem all that powerful. You won't miss much with this one. C

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1983

#5. Glenn Close in The Big Chill: While Glenn is in not bad in any way in The Big Chill, she just never really was meant to be anything more than subtle, reserved and absolutely relatable. Sarah Cooper is such a cliched character, it is a testament to Glenn that she managed to make her seem at all real. A perfect performance for the film she was making, a true ensemble performance.

#4. Amy Irving in Yentl: Probably the most interesting and offbeat performance I've reviewed so far, Irving deserves more credit than she receives for making Hadass so enchantingly alluring. She is asked to do not a whole lot beyond looking beautiful and a few lovelorn looks, but takes this role to its full potential. The film has it's own problems that affect Irving in various different ways, but all the while Irving remains nothing but incredibly interesting to watch. 

#3. Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek: It's always great to see a stock character become something amazing in the hands of a talented actress, and that is exactly what Woodard does here with Geechee in Cross Creek. Stuck in an abysmally boring film with a charisma-less lead like Mary Steenburgen, it's nice to see Woodard transcend those limitations and take on the challenge to make the "black servant" stereotype unique and entertaining. By simply being funny, charismatic, and energetic, Woodard steals the who movie away and delivers a delightful performance. 

#2. Cher in Silkwood: A performance of utter devastation that thrives off the fact that she doesn't have much to do, Cher does very little wrong. Her simplicity is her biggest strength, and by keeping the herself subdued and sullen, this background part takes a step firmly into the spotlight. Dolly is a terrible sad human being, and Cher portrays this with an almost uncanny amount of restraint and calculation. She is a true supporting actress in that her journey adds to the incredibly storyline of Silkwood and somehow manages to make the already amazing Meryl Streep even more amazing. A truly astounding achievement from an icon who is often underrated as an actress.

#1. Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously: There was just no way not to give the win this year to Linda Hunt's gender-bending performance as Billy Kwan, she just could not be denied. She is heartbreaking, mischievous, and completely natural in every which way while playing Billy. The complete journey he takes over the course of the film is brilliantly calculated, and each emotional note hits the exact perfect note. It may not be a performance that I love or call one of my 'favorites', but it is impossible to take away from her technical acting achievement. One of the mst admirable choices made by the Academy.

The Year in Review: This year took way too long to finish, and that wasn't because any of the ladies were particularly bad or tough to write about, but rather because the films they starred in were without a doubt the worst collection of nominated films to date. Even though they were a whole half a point away, you wouldn't believe how much I would have liked to give Cher 5 Stars and the win, but like I said there was no way that Linda wasn't winning this one. I was surprised to see Glenn fall into last place, especially over Amy and Alfre, from who I was expecting very little but that the way these things work. I will probably start the next year mid-week, after a few other posts but I'm glad to be finished with 1983 and start my first round at this new blog.

Shoulda Been a Contender: Sigourney Weaver in The Year of Living Dangerously

All Supporting Actress Nominees Ranking:

  1. Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker" 
  2. Linda Hunt in "The Year of Living Dangerously"
  3. Anna Paquin in "The Piano"
  4. Cher in "Silkwood"
  5. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father"
  6. Claire Trevor in "Dead End"
  7. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall"
  8. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"
  9. Alfre Woodard in "Cross Creek"
  10. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas"
  11. Amy Irving in "Yentl"
  12. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth"
  13. Rosie Perez in "Fearless"
  14. Glenn Close in "The Big Chill"
  15. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago"
  16. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  17. Holly Hunter in "The Firm"
  18. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz"
  19. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence"
  20. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Glenn Close in The Big Chill

Glenn Close received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Sarah Cooper in the Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill. I don't think I'm the right age to fully understand the appeal of The Big Chill. It seems to be one of those films that is represents an entire generation of people, in this case those who were the same age as the characters in this film. It's a character driven ensemble film that follows a group of college friends who reunite after the suicide of one of their close friends. The cast consists of plenty of great actors/actresses, including Tom Berenger Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, and Jeff Goldblum. Close plays Sarah, who is married to Harold (Kline), and at one point had an affair with the now-deceased friend Alex. Her and Harold are almost the heart of the group, and everyone stays at their house for the weekend after the funeral.

Sarah is the emotional center of the film as the one who clearly loved Alex the most, and she serves as a catalyst for a lot of the discussions that go on in the film about him. Glenn gets ample opportunity for showy moments of crying alone, silent devastation, and silent knowing looks. I admire a lot about this performance, and in fact Glenn does get a lot right here. She takes the cliched character of the seemingly loving, supporting wife who has deeply hidden feelings of guilt and passion for another and embraces it and makes Sarah seem like a real, relatable person. Not for a second does she fall into the traps many other actresses have fallen for, and instead realized that it is more powerful to let the us realize the emotions that she is feeling and put the pieces of the puzzle together. I have to be honest--it took me awhile to place all the puzzle pieces together concerning her relationship with Alex.

While I admire all of those understated aspects of Glenn Close's performance that is also the main issue I have with the performance, because I just don't feel like The Big Chill was meant to have any particular cast member stand out more than another. It's a film about a group of friends and the bonds and connections they have from their youth, and the journey they take together over the course of the film. One of the main emphases in the movie is friendship and the importance of it even when you become adults. I think the cast realized this was not about any one individual performance, and instead worked together to create a powerful ensemble that works well together.

So, with all that being said, I have to say that Glenn gave a perfect performance to suit her film--but not one that alone is particularly special or outstanding. She made every single cliched and terrible plot twist work to her advantage (even the ridiculous one involving Mary Kay Place), and maintained a serene and calm style throughout the film. This was definitely one of the toughest performances to rate because on one hand she is perfect for The Big Chill, but on the other she doesn't really compare to the other four nominated ladies on her own. So this may be hard for some to understand considering the fair amount of praise in this review, but she's getting a strong 3/5 from me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A New Direction


Welcome to Flames...On the Side of My Face, my new blog that I am very excited to get off the ground and dive headfirst into. Some of you may have wandered over from my previous blog, called Oscar Field Report, and may perhaps even be confused by the change. Basically I felt that my previous blog had too narrow a focus and that was evidenced by the fact that I hadn't posted more than five or six posts a month, and the time period between posts was getting more and more lengthy by the day. Thus, the creation of this new blog where I plan to broaden my posting topics beyond just the Supporting Actress category.

I am still going to continue on with my ranking of every Supporting Actress nominee and will hopefully get the pace up to at least a performance or two a week. At the same time, I plan on posting about a variety of other entertainment-related topics, especially television, other movies I'm watching, and new theatrical releases. I'm going to write about the Emmys in the next couple of weeks, and have some other specific projects in mind that I will unveil when they fully develop in my mind.

But, to inaugurate this new venue, I decided the best thing for me to do would to introduce you to my tastes in movies and television by revealing my 20 Favorite Films of All-Time, as well as my Top 10 Television Shows. Expect those to be revealed gradually in the next few days,  along with the conclusion of Best Supporting Actress 1983 and the start of another year. Thanks to anyone who has followed me over to this new location, hopefully it will become a home for my thoughts for the foreseeable future.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously

Linda Hunt won an Oscar on her first nomination for her performance as Billy Kwan in Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously. As far as reputations go, Linda Hunt's performance has one of the more illustrious in Oscar history. It's easy to see why, because nothing about Billy Kwan screams 'Supporting Actress' in any way shape or form. The Year of Living Dangerously is about an Australian reporter named Guy Hamilton (a strapping Mel Gibson) who is covering the political turmoil in Indonesia in 1965. The film was advertised and promoted as a love story, but to me felt less about Hamilton's relationship with British Embassy officer Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), and more about his relationship with Billy Kwan. Billy narrates the film and he appears in a majority of the scenes, with his presence being felt in even the ones he isn't in.

I don't give Linda Hunt as much credit for playing a man as I probably should, because in all honesty she has a lot going in her favor physically. Her voice is the main factor in allowing her to convincingly portray a man, because it has such a unique, intellectual quality that really glues her performance together. Despite all these natural factors working in her favor, it still is a wonder to behold Linda Hunt's performance as Billy Kwan. Linda Hunt manages to portray his complex emotional journey grounds the entire film with a stunning amount of openness and vigor. Not for a single moment do we ever see even a glimpse of Linda Hunt, only Billy Kwan.

Billy Kwan is an unbelievably difficult character for anyone, man or woman to make feel like a real person. He somehow is the narrator of the film, a shrewd manipulator of events, and a victim of the corrupt government all at the same time. His emotional journey is the center of the film, as he transforms from an innocent and naive optimist to a jaded and weary cynic in the course of less than two hours. At the start of the film, Billy openly expresses his admiration and faith in the current government led by General Sukarno. He speaks of him with total confidence and even a bit of wonder that is so earnest even though it's clearly misplaced. Despite this you want to completely believe him and hope he's right, because he's making the best of what is so clearly a terrible situation. The scene where he talks about the culture and gods to Guy is when you first fall for Billy's infectious passion for his people, and so does Guy.

That likeability Hunt gives Billy is what makes the rest of the film such a tough one to watch. We that confidence and optimism Billy garners slowly fade in a sequence of undeniably heartbreaking scenes. His love for a local woman and her child is a focal point, and it's here that Hunt achieves the emotional climax of her performance. It's ultimately a crushing experience what becomes of Billy, as it is so different from where he was at the beginning of the film. Her performance is one of the most natural and impossible to notice that I've seen, which is only a compliment from me. It's not hard to see what all the hype surrounding this performance is about. It's a performance that goes beyond the call of the script and flourishes for it.

It's hard to write about this performance (great performances often are), so I can only recommend that you go watch the film and judge for yourself. Drop the misconceptions (good or bad), and what you'll find is a decent film with one of the best winners this category has seen. 5/5 Thelmas.

Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek

Alfre Woodard received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Geechee in Martin Ritt's Cross Creek. The film is a biopic of writer Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings (a dismal Mary Steenburgen), the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Yearling, among other novels. After struggling for year to write a novel, Rowlings moves to Cross Creek, Florida in an attempt to have solitude for her to write, and becomes inspired by the colorful inhabitants of the area. Woodard plays Geechee, a stereotypical African American servant that essentially serves as the comic relief of the film. It's a role that is common in these types of period dramas (see: Hattie McDaniel), and one that can get pretty stale quickly. What Woodard manages to do in the film is make this cliched role a substantial one and very nearly steal the entire movie.

One of the virtues of this performance is the physicality that Woodard brings to Geechee. She's just a character with a lot of energy and is a force of nature, and Woodard creates a natural balance between the quieter moments and the scattered liveliness that is Geechee. She takes the stock character and all of the cliches associated with but elevates all of those elements to make her incredibly funny, relatable, and a relief from the dreafully slow pace of the rest of the film. Meant to be the opposite of the main character, Woodard's charisma and simplicity in her performance add unexpected amounts of humanity and joy to the film, and that really is all because of Geechee. Whereas Kinnan Rowlings is drab, boring, and reserved, the exuberance expressed through every single line reading and sassy remark just injects so much that is valuable into Cross Creek.

The scene for me that really clinched this performance as a movie-stealer is the pivotal moment where Geechee is about to leave Rowling's employment to go with her husband, who Rowlings got released from jail. Even though we have seen little in the way of chemistry between Steenburgen and Woodard thus far (once again because of Steenburgen's stiffness), Woodard managed to completely convince me that her and Rowlings have this great and meaningful friendship. When an actress can pull you in and create an entire relationship from nothing, and make you feel something between the two all by herself with no help from her costar, there is no doubt that the performance is a great one.

Oftentimes throughout the film you feel as if Woodard is saddled with basically nothing to do, part of her main storyline is terrible because after this buildup to the return of her husband, he stays for literally five minutes before taking off. But it almost doesn't matter, because this performance is all about defying  the limitations set by the film and role itself. Woodard takes this stereotype and everything about the character and says "I'm going to make this great." It wasn't written that way, but is only because of Alfre Woodard. She's just so loveable. This review may have not indicated my grade the best because of the admiration I have for Woodard elevating the material, but this performance gets 4/5 Thelmas.

Cher in Silkwood

Cher received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Dolly Pelliker in Mike Nichol's Silkwood. The film is about the a worker at a plutonium plant named Karen Silkwood (played wonderfully as always by Meryl Streep) who discovers wrongdoing and deceit going on in the company and chronicles her quest to make change happen. It's a type of film that any Oscar watcher has seen millions of times with different variations (North Country, Norma Rae, etc.), yet Mike Nichols does a good job at making it different enough to keep you engaged and making it a character study about Karen more so than about the politics. Cher has a tough role only because the character of Dolly, Karen's lesbian housemate gets very little to do plot-wise, and to be honest the film would still work without her being in the film. However, it's a testament to Cher's performance that she made Dolly so memorable and linked with the film in my mind.

Whenever I had heard about this performance in the past the most common thread that shows up is how 'de-glammed' Cher got for the part, which is impressive considering the larger than life, glamorous persona she has developed for herself. But I can't really give her too much credit in that department, only because I feel it's unfair to the other nominees. I'm sure that Alfre Woodard, Linda Hunt, and Amy Irving all have significant differences from their characters (well, Hunt has some pretty obvious ones), but because I'm more unfamiliar with them those differences are not nearly as clear. So the physical aspects of the role (Dolly is always very butch, unkempt, and plain) aren't weighing all that heavy on my mind.

What Cher does so well to make this performance an amazing one is convey the emotions of Dolly in such a subtle yet effective manner. From the very beginning you can tell that Dolly is a sad person, and that is because of every single move and expression on Cher's face. Even when she's joking around with Karen you sense the pain in the performance. This is because Cher is a good enough actress to realize that she doesn't need to be over the top and that simplicity is so much more relatable and heartbreaking. For much of the film Dolly is just kind of there in the background, and even after she gets a girlfriend you never really sense any sort of emotions of happiness and her depression is still blatantly obvious. I found myself always drawn to what she was doing in the background, and searching for a break in character that didn't come.

Her relationships with both Karen and Drew (Karen's boyfriend and the third roommate) are both interesting, because in many ways she is both the third wheel and a potential love interest for Karen. The two have a complex friendship, and although it's clear for most of the film that the relationship is platonic, but two brief scenes in particular hint at something more and you can almost see it working out between the two in a strange sort of way. Her and Drew seem to never really talk throughout the film and have an almost quietly antagonistic relationship, which make a particular scene in which she 'misses' Drew bizarre and almost out of place. Cher makes both relationships work well, and the scenes where her and Drew have those intense moments are cold and very combative yet not obvious at all.

A performance of utter devastation that thrives off the fact that she doesn't have much to do, Cher does very little wrong. Yeah, the accent sort of waxes and wanes, but I've been the type to judge too harshly based on accents, and her voice is probably not the easiest to speak in accents. Her simplicity is her biggest strength, and by keeping the herself subdued and sullen, this background part takes a step firmly into the spotlight. Perhaps the most emotionally powerful performance reviewed on this blog so far (only Claire Trevor comes close). 4.5/5 Thelmas.

Amy Irving in Yentl

Amy Irving received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Hadass Vishkower in Barbra Streisand's Yentl. There are certain nominated performances that come with a certain reputation attached to them. They range from laudatory (Patty Duke) to nonexistent (any of the women from 1937) to divisive (Anna Paquin). However, Amy Irving's performance comes attached not only with negative word of mouth but also the dubious 'honor' of being one of the two performances nominated for both an Oscar and a Razzie.What isn't often talked about (due to the trite nature of the awards) is that the Razzies make many of the same "mistakes" that the Oscars do, namely they like to give statues to names and careers rather than individual performances. Recent undeserving "winners" including Jessica Alba who won for four not that bad performances, The Jonas Brothers for a concert movie, and just like Oscar itself, Sandra Bullock for a performance that wasn't nearly as bad as her competition (namely Miley Cyrus and Megan Fox).

But to get back to Amy Irving, you probably have deduced that I didn't hate this performance nearly as much as most, and actually found it surprisingly haunting and unique. The role of Hadass Vishkower is one that both is and isn't demanding, because for a majority of the film, Hadass is purposely very passive and less a character than an object of desire for Avigdor. Irving is forced to rely on her physical appearance and glances to convey any sort of added layers that the character might possess. And, in a very interesting way she does. The number of adjectives that can describe Amy Irving's performance are infinite, but some of the best include: elegant, poised, subtly sexual, erotic, haunting, mysterious, intriguing, creepy, strange, and fascinating. Her facial expressions and looks serve to always keep you guessing on what exactly she is thinking and feeling, and part of the fun of this performance is that you never feel you understand or know Hadass, and that is how Jewish women were viewed.

But yes, because Yentl is such a dreadful film, Irving has some problems that she just cannot work past. After her and 'Anchal'/Yentl get married, we are forced to watch countless scenes of Irving lusting after Barbra Streisand that are not only painfully awkward but also not one ounce believable. The attraction that she has to 'Anchal' is more based on the actions of the character and less on Streisand's feminine performance, and you can feel it between the two characters. They feel more like sisters from the very beginning of their 'relationship', and Irving never manages to make any sort of romantic sparks feel believable. Part of the problem is that these scenes just keep coming one after another for quite some time, and it makes both Irving and Streisand seem gradually more worse scene after scene. By the end all that interest that I had felt for Hadass in the beginning fell to the wayside as I grew bored with her. No, that isn't Irving's fault completely, but Streisand's as both a director and actress.

As you may have guessed reading this review, it is difficult to put into words why I liked Irving's performance so much. With a minimal amount of dialogue and a character that is basically a Stepford Wife, Irving creates an impression that is both beautiful and perplexing, in the best way possible. Despite a weak second half, I have to be honest and admit that this performance left me meditating on it for days afterwards, and if that isn't a good performance that what is? 3.5/5 Thelmas.

Best Supporting Actress 1983

And the nominees were...

  • Cher in Silkwood as Dolly Pelliker
  • Glenn Close in The Big Chill as Sarah Cooper
  • Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously as Billy Kwan (winner)
  • Amy Irving in Yentl as Hadass
  • Alfre Woodard in Cross Creek as Geechee

The Field: After a year where I found myself struggling to sit down and watch the movies and write about them (It took me two months, which should be sign enough how much I enjoyed the year), I'm hoping this year will compel me to do better. It definitely has an interesting group of films and actresses that on paper look incredibly diverse and unique. I've only seen the winning performance, so once again I'm going in blind on the rest. That's how most of these years pre-2000 will be, though.

The Verdict -- Best Supporting Actress 1962

#5. Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz: A career recognition Oscar nomination if I've ever seen one. Ritter plays the character of Mrs. Stroud with a robotic proficiency that gives her character very little personality and and underwhelming sense of mediocrity. Yes, her final scene is a blockbuster and had she been allowed to expand on that, she just might have been able to deliver a better performance than this average one.

#4. Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird: Young Mary Badham just doesn't have the experience or acting talent to play the role of Scout in the American classic. She makes Scout loveable and relatable, but can't quite navigate the complex emotional journey that her character is supposed to go through in the course of the film. I can't fault the poor young actress too much, because she tries her best but just can't reach that deep. She's too happy and unlike the character.

#3. Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth: This rating was the most disappointing of all these five performances for me to give. It's because the potential in this performance following that first scene was just so great. In that first startling scene, she gives a completely different performance from the rest of the film. Heavenly goes from being intelligent, independent, and unexpectedly morbid to a simple minded prop that the rest of the characters manipulate with ease. It's not Shirley Knight's fault per se, but I can't reward her too amply.

#2. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate: The most iconic performance in the bunch, but being iconic does not make the performance a great one. Lansbury does a great job at making Mrs. Iselin a memorable screen villain, but not one with a particular amount of depth. Instead, she just plays a really great caricature of a villain that can't rise about that status as a caricature. I don't want to sound too down on this performance, but I don't see what everybody else does. It's a one-note performance done quite well.

#1. Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker: Patty Duke's performance just could not be denied the win. This is a performance that just grabs a hold of you at the start of the film and continues to be startling and moving throughout the film. Duke doesn't just play Helen Keller, but channels her in every single way possible. Beautiful, haunting, and complex. None of the other nominees even comes close to touching her in terms of effectiveness. A one-note performance done brilliantly.

The Year in Review: By far the easiest verdict I've had to give to date. Patty is just heads above every other nominated lady. It wasn't a particularly fun year to do for me, as you can tell since it took me over two months to do it (Yikes!). I promise to speed the process up for my next year! Promise, promise, promise! Also, I choose all my years randomly, so as much as I love recommendations for years to do, I prefer to keeps this spontaneous and out of my own hands. But I may do a poll someday. =)

All Supporting Actress Nominee Ranking:
  1. Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker"
  2. Anna Paquin in "The Piano"
  3. Emma Thompson in "In the Name of the Father"
  4. Claire Trevor in  "Dead End"
  5. May Whitty in "Night Must Fall"
  6. Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"
  7. Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas"
  8. Shirley Knight in "Sweet Bird of Youth"
  9. Rosie Perez in "Fearless"
  10. Alice Brady in "In Old Chicago"
  11. Mary Badham in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  12. Holly Hunter in "The Firm"
  13. Thelma Ritter in "Birdman of Alcatraz"
  14. Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence"
  15. Andrea Leeds in  "Stage Door"

Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird

Mary Badham received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as "Scout" Finch in Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. When I first watched To Kill a Mockingbird it was almost five years ago in my freshman year of high school (yes, I'm a yungin), and I think everybody else in my class had the same reaction to the film as I did: BORING! I now realize that this was probably because we had spent more than a month laboriously going over the book, which wasn't all that bad, but quickly became tedious. We had all the metaphors and symbols and characters drilled into our heads, so the movie just seemed like something we'd seen thousands of times in the last month. So my knee jerk reaction to this movie has always been negative, but this time I came out of the movie having such a great appreciation for it. The film is a classic American movie, that delivers so many memorable and emotionally involving moments. And Mary Badham had something to do with that.

This is only the third year I've covered of the Best Supporting Actress category, and I've already seen a few child performances, and after going into each expecting the performances to be wooden and completely coached, Mary Badham is the first that I really felt the guiding hand of the director or an acting coach inserting themselves into the performance. Throughout the film it is just clear that Mary Badham wasn't a very natural actress, and couldn't really stand up to the high standards that the film demands. Instead, Mary only gets bits and pieces completely right with her overall performances. What she does great is get all the broad strokes correct. She nails the sweet side of scout, as well as the adventurous and rowdy side perfectly. You can tell she is having fun with the playing scenes, whether she is fighting a boy or being rolled down the road in a tire. She delivers her lines with a considerable amount of spunk and attitude, and seems to be having fun doing so. 

It's the facial expressions and the quieter moments where her performance completely falls apart. Her chemistry with Gregory Peck is fine enough, at least until they have to have a 'touching moment' and Badham utterly fails to show the complexities of Scout, instead making her a generic young child. Her facial expressions are constantly changing, and you can see Badham over-thinking things and failing to stay in character. She basically has only one facial expressions, where she scrunches up her noise and acts 'grumpy' or 'angry' or 'sad' or 'scared'. She just doesn't have the range or acting experience to make Scout seem like anything other than a normal kid, and not the complex character she was in the novel. She has one or two good moments where she pours on the sweetness and you forget about her limitations, one of them being the confrontation at the jail she manages to as cute as can be.

Then there is another glaring problem with this nomination that has absolutely nothing to do with Mary Badham--she is not at all a supporting character in this movie, and is more of a lead than even Atticus Finch is. Sadly, the Academy and the Oscar campaigners in general like to relegate child performances into the supporting category to get votes they clearly wouldn't have gotten in the lead category (after all, they are only children ;) ). But it just annoys me to no end, as it does many others. That being said, with a supposedly strong Best Actress race this year (Bancroft and Page were both quite good), little Mary Badham didn't quite belong in that category either. When it comes down to it, Mary Badham gives a performance that would be perfectly alright----were it not an Oscar nominated one. But since it is, I have to be critical and say that she fails in every way but in the most general sense. Badham is good as a rowdy youngster, but just not convincing as the central character in one of the most revered American novels of all-time. 3/5 Thelmas.

Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker

Patty Duke received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Helen Keller in Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker. It's been more than a week since I've seen The Miracle Worker, and the reason why I've waited so long before writing about it is because the film, and Patty Duke's performance in particular, is one that I think deserves some time for my mind to process. It's such a visceral and intimate film that left me in a state of awe. The film works on so many levels, it's an incredibly engaging and emotional experience, but not one that leaves you devastated or depressed afterwards. Bancroft and Duke work well together, giving almost completely opposite performances in terms of their focus (Bancroft's is emotional, Duke's physical). However, what really makes the film work is the way the two actresses work together well without really having complete chemistry, because there is supposed to be something of a barrier between Helen and everyone else in the movie that Annie is trying to break down.

The role of Helen Keller is one that is almost impossibly difficult on paper. How do you make a deaf and blind character convincing and not over the top or unrealistic? Somehow at the age of 16, Patty Duke makes her Helen Keller startlingly real. At the beginning of the film, Helen is treated by the rest of her family at times like a horror movie monster (particularly the shot where Annie pulls up on the carriage and Helen is sitting on the porch sticks out in my mind), and at times like a pet. However, no matter what the rest of the cast is doing, Duke does an amazing job at keeping Helen's actions consistent and never once breaking character. Every single time she thrashes around Duke looks as if she's a newborn chick trying to get it's bearings in a way that is endearing and natural. It's always like that, which is tough for an actress to maintain as flawlessly as Duke does.

An integral part of the film and this performance in general is the emotional distance that the character is supposed to have. Duke never really has to go difficult places emotionally, and instead handles two basic emotions: Happiness and Anger. It's not a criticism, part of the point of the film is getting Helen to realize the complexities of life. She's not a character who is quite at the emotional level she should be at for her age. Quite possibly the most fascinating and entertaining part of the film is the epic 8-minute fight scene between Annie and Helen over dinner that is more brutal than most modern day blockbuster action sequences (certainly more than any in Pirates 4). Patty Duke hits every single note in the film perfectly, diving into her performance wholly. She has an animalistic quality throughout the film mixed with the perfect amount of innocence to make a fascinating character.

When it comes down to it, Patty Duke's performance is one-note because in many ways that is the only thing it really can be. She nails every single aspect of the character without attempting to over complicate the performance or add any extra unneeded depth to Helen. She plays it straight and beautifully. It's a great performance that is in it's own league among other Oscar-winning roles. 5/5 Thelmas.

Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth

Shirley Knight received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Heavenly Finley in Richard Brooks' Sweet Bird of Youth. The movie itself is more of an actor's showcase than a great film. Geraldine Page, Paul Newman, and Ed Begley (in his Oscar-winning role) are all very good, with Page being the clear standout of the film with her absolutely outstanding performance. Knight has the most thankless role in the entire film, as her character is the worst written and severely underutilized. The film is about the return of Chance Wayne (Newman) to his hometown, where he hopes to entice his ex-girlfriend Heavenly to return with him to Hollywood despite the resistance of her father (Begley), a local political boss. Knight doesn't have a single scene with Geraldine Page, however, which is a shame.

When we first see Heavenly Finley, Shirley Knight makes an incredibly good impression, giving a weary and hugely self-aware performance. From the start of the film we are told that Heavenly is under the control of her father, but the scene where we actually see her she proves to be much more hardened and clever than the rest of the characters give her credit. Knight imbues Heavenly with this defiant resentment towards her father, which is startling different than we as viewers would have expected. Her surprising intelligence mixed with her good looks creates a sort of alluring intelligence, and she is clearly knows all about and is not fooled by any of her father's tricks. This first scene gives you high hopes for the performance of Shirley Knight, who is absolutely startling and strong, far cry from the beautiful love interest she is intended to be.

Sadly, however that one scene is just about all that we really get to see from Shirley Knight. The rest of the film she never seems to get another chance to expand on that intelligence she showed in the first scene, but instead is dragged around by the other characters to keep her away from Newman. For a character that seemed so independent and clever on first glance, Heavenly is so weak and easily manipulated for the rest of the film and it's almost a slap in the face. Her one or two scenes with Newman show them to have a strange but stilted chemistry, and all the 'fire' in their relationship is mostly told rather than shown. All that she showed in her first scene is gone around him. The scene with the boat is strange and Knight isn't given enough to work with, and the rest of the film she might as well be a statue with the amount stone-faced stoicism she has.

When in comes down to it, Shirley Knight's performance hinges on a single scene, which quite frankly is enough to make her deserve the nomination. Had her performance been able to keep up with that high quality she would have been a formidable contender this year, but the script treats Heavenly more as a prize than a character. The rating I'm giving her might seem high considering the amount of negatives I threw at her in the rest of this review, but for that one scene she really is a wonder to behold. 3.5/5 Thelmas.

Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate

Angela Lansbury received her third and final Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Mrs. Iselin in John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate. The film is generally acknowledged as a classic, and while I did like it a good amount, I found that it also had a lot of flaws that bothered me. It's major weakness was definitely the acting ensemble, which is surprising. From the charisma lacking performance of Frank Sinatra, to the robotic delivery from Laurence Harvey, and the non-existent Janet Leigh, the main cast left a lot to be desired. Lansbury gave the best performance of the film, and one that has become a timeless classic for good reason. The plot concerns the son of a right-wing political family who has been brainwashed as an assassin for the Communist party. Lansbury plays his mother, the manipulative forced backing the entire film.

The best way to describe Angela Lansbury's performance in the film is 'iconic'. She has such an amazing presence throughout the film, and you're eyes almost gravitate towards her whenever she appears on screen. From that first moment in the film where she comes rushing on stage to greet her returning son only to turn the moment into a publicity opportunity you can tell that Mrs. Iselin is going to be a despicable character, though it is not until you see her sinisterly watching over her husband as he attacks a war general at a press conference that you can really tell exactly how evil she will turn out. By giving Mrs. Iselin a certain callous and deceptive presence mixed with one that almost seems chipper at times, it makes you fear her even more because Lansbury gives you a feeling something deeper is going on. She plays her part in a very straightforward manner, and really is just great at being evil. With her expressive eyes, and unassuming appearance, she is not the most obvious villain by any means, but makes herself into a great one.

The length in which it takes to fully unveil Mrs. Iselin's actual intentions gives Lansbury the time to build up the mysterious and intriguing nature of her character, but at the same time is limited by her slow build as well. That is because during the entire film she feels very one-note and lacking in personality. Yes, she is mysterious and intriguing, but you never really feel like those aspects of the character are ever explored, and her motivation and purpose never feels touched on. She's great at being all of those things, but her entire build-up climaxes in a single monologue at the end of the film that even still only hints at giving her character some added depth. That being said, this monologue is really her shining moment in the entire film, and Lansbury does a phenomenal job of giving a bracing, demented, and impactful moment that I'm sure will having me thinking it over for days. The best way I can think of describing her performance is that it is 90% one-note yet iconic, and 10% engaging beyond the surface.

This may seem like a bizarre comparison for some, but Angela Lansbury's performance in The Manchurian Candidate is in the same vein as a Darth Vader or a Sarumon, albeit on a less fantastical scale obviously. Her Mrs. Iselin is just pure evil, and she does a really great job at making her character as despicable and interesting as she can, but in the end she's just the villain meant to be beaten and never feels like a real, palpable character. I admire this performance a lot, and it's really iconic and memorable, but it's getting only  4/5 Thelmas from me. I hope this isn't too controversial, because I know how widely loved this performance is.

Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcatraz

Thelma Ritter received her sixth and final Oscar nomination for her performance as Elizabeth Stroud in John Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz. Thelma Ritter has a reputation for being one of the most deserving actresses not to win an Academy Awards (fellow nominee Lansbury does as well, I think), and it is so clear that this sixth nomination is a final 'We're Sorry' nomination if I've ever seen one. I'm not trying to take away from her other nominations and I'm sure this performance has it's fans, but it just isn't one that would normally be nominated had it been anyone other than Ritter. Basically, the Academy felt guilty and thus came Ritter's sixth nomination.

All that being said, I suppose I should go on to talk about the actual performance. Birdman of Alcatraz is an incredibly dull and emotionless film, with Burt Lancaster giving a stiff and uninspired central performance as Robert Stroud. I do enjoy Telly Savalas' Oscar nominated performance, however. The film is about Robert Stroud (Lancaster), a federal prison inmate whose love and care of birds earns him the nickname 'Birdman of Alcatraz', and all the troubles he goes through during his time in jail. Ritter plays his caring mother, who eventually turns on her son after he marries a woman she does not approve of. Her character really doesn't have much depth to her, only really getting significant characterization in her final scene or two. The rest of the performance is awkwardly stilted and mundane. She's very robotic and cold.

It is only in that final scene where the pain on Elizabeth Stroud's face is so evident and she feels betrayed after giving him everything for years and being the crux of his life and motivation. Yes, we as viewers are supposed to dislike her for turning on her son and help to keep him from getting bail, but for a moment you can't help but relate to the woman. Ritter's simple blank stare speaks volumes, and it's a scene that almost saves the entire performance, perhaps were Ritter allowed to expand on it with some subsequent scenes. According to further research I've done on Elizabeth Stroud's life, she fought hard to keep him from getting parole following this scene, but Frankenheimer obviously didn't feel like delving further into the legal aspects Stroud's life.

Thelma Ritter's performance in Birdman of Alcatraz is one that I don't have much to say about, as you can tell by this unusually short review. It's a nomination that reeks of guilt from the Academy, in a role too thin to really take off and go anywhere. The final scene is a blockbuster, and that alone will raise her performance's score by an extra .5 (much in the same way that Holly Hunter did in 1993), but the stiff, average nature of the performance keeps her from getting too high. 2.5/5 Thelmas.