Whew. That title is a mouthful. I know you already know what I mean though, you golden fiends. This very impromptu post is brought to you by a recent Tribeca revival screening of Martin Scorsese's indelible King of Comedy (1983) and this Movie Line interview with Sandra Bernhard herself -- to whom I'm dedicating the list -- who couldn't make it but definitely helped make the movie what it is. My one and only back and forth conversation with Sandra -- over Twitter, the sometimes leveler -- involved how freaking robbed she was for an Oscar nomination for that movie. I couldn't believe I was talking to her but I was not the least bit in doubt that she'd agree with me.
10 Best Non-Nominated Supporting Actress Performances of the 1980s
Honorable Mentions: I think Rosanna Arquette's "Surrender Dorothy" bit in After Hours was quite memorable though the rest of the movie has long since faded; I cherish Martha Plimpton in just about anything but mostly Shy People (1987) and Running on Empty (1988) back in her vibrant teenage River Phoenix-adjacent days.
I Apologize To: Kathy Baker in Street Smart, Mona Washbourne in Stevie (1981), Vanessa Redgrave in Prick up Your Ears and Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places who all won devoted fans for those performances in their respective years (and some awards buzz though not enough for Oscar) but, believe it or not, I haven't seen any of those movies!
10 Bridget Fonda, Scandal (1989)
and nine more divas after the jump...
Fonda had a short run in the movies, opting for family life with composer Danny Elfman instead of the eternally brutal hustle for good roles, but it's hard to not think of her cool barbie doll at the beginning and that needling fermented beach bunny in Jackie Brown near the end and not wonder what we missed out on once she left the screen.
09 Genevieve Bujold, Dead Ringers (1988)
Is this a lead role? I haven't seen the movie in ages but Bujold was doing top notch intellectually and erotically charged work in the 80s (see also Choose Me... no, really, see it). Boy did she love her pills in this movie. It's not every actress who could so easily convince you that she had an a) mutant vagina and b) an insatiable appetite for pharmaceuticals and c) might actually be more disturbed than Jeremy Irons at his most disturbed. This is classic Cronenberg and we'll return to it this summer in the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
08 Tracey Ullman, Plenty (1985)
When I think of this movie, I nearly always think of the weird electric jolt I felt when Ullman first entered the frame. Meryl Streep doesn't always fight for her scenes anymore (Viola Davis was superb in Doubt but Streep didn't even bother to challenge her for dominance there in what should have been a major showdown) but back in the 80s and early 90s it was super rare that she'd let someone wrestle them away without a fight. Annette Bening did it in her WHO IS THAT? cameo in Postcards from the Edge but Tracey Ullman was putting up a fight in just about every scene in this terrific movie debut.
07 Anjelica Huston, The Dead (1987) *sigh*
06 Lena Olin, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) *fans self*
These two actresses were nominated together in 1989 for the now under-seen Enemies: A Love Story but as with many Oscar stories, the film being honored was only part of the story. They had momentum going into it. Huston, just off her Oscar win for Prizzi's Honor and starred for her father for the final time in the elegiac The Dead part of her productive and prestigious run from 1985-1991. Meanwhile Lena was parlaying her Bergman-related fame into an international coming-out party as a stunningly erotic star. I'm confident that I was way too young to fully appreciate either of these movies, and to some extent these women, when I first saw them. These two films were arthouse for adults in the late 80s and, much to their credit, were working as hard as their actresses for their artistic success.
05 Meiko Harada, Ran (1985)
I don't remember much about this movie other than the sprawling impressive visuals courtesy of the legendary Akira Kurosawa and Meiko Harada's absolutely terrifying work as Lady Kaide. I've never quite worked out why Asian actresses have such a hard time winning awards glory but at least the National Society of Film Critics stood up and applauded her with a Best Supporting Actress win.
04 Carmen Maura, Law of Desire (1987)
I promised this list would be off the top of my head... so forgive me that this probably belongs in the leading category but when I think of Law of Desire I have a difficult time pulling away from the scorching sex-a-thon of Antonio Banderas gayish thug. But once I do there's no question that the film's soul is Maura's lonely slip-clad transsexual. I saw this in short succession with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and there's still just no one like Maura for me as Almodovar muses go.
03 Sonia Braga, Kiss of the Spider-Woman (1985)
No one speaks of Braga anymore and that's a shame. She was so damn good in the 80s and especially here in a tricky triple role. She played the mystical title character, the actress William Hurt obsesses over in film clips, and the lover of his cellmate Raul Julia. Interestingly enough Braga did have something of an awards presence. She was Golden Globe nominated for this film and for her also-fine comic work in Moon Over Parador (1988) which reunited her with Raul Julia three years later.
02 Sandra Bernhard, King of Comedy (1983)
Unnerving. Unhinged. Unforgettable.
01 Michelle Pfeiffer, Scarface (1983)
This is the role that temporarily defined Pfeiffer's icy mystique, before she refined it and thawed it just so, entering the pantheon with The Fabulous Baker Boys five years later. Elvira Hancock is one of about two handfuls of La Pfeiffer's inarguably great performances and she's one of the most enduring film characters of the 1980s, too. Michelle Pfeiffer never won many trophies but damn did she ever excel at playing one.
You may have noticed that my top two choices were from 1983. Cher and Linda Hunt were sucking up all the awards traction that year for Silkwood and The Year of Living Dangerously. And, well, it's all in the timing isn't it? Bernhardt was a ferocious unOscary newcomer giving a purposefully offputting star turn and no one was yet ready to take La Pfeiffer's craft seriously... the absurd beauty was still very much in the way. It was never going to happen for either but I've never forgotten or gotten over either of them.
Which Oscar-dismissed supporting ladies do you often think of?