It's the return of "Stinky Lulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown" now in its new home at The Film Experience. The year is... [cue: time travelling music] 1980. That year's Oscar roster was a semi-surprising mix of silly comedy and warm drama with a preference for fresh as dew faces. Oscar ignored notable performances that found favor at the Globes in various ways (Beverly D’Angelo in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Lucy Arnaz in The Jazz Singer, Dolly Parton in Nine to Five and Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy) and instead honored these five...
Eileen Brennan, Eva La Galliene, Cathy Moriarty, Diana Scarwid, and Mary Steenburgen. For each actress it was their first and only Oscar nomination... which is quite rare (as TFE readers have researched/noted. That statistic could theoretically change since Moriarty and Steenburgen still act regularly. Steenburgen was recently even seen in a Best Picture nominee (The Help, 2010) for which she shared in the SAG Best Ensemble win.)
Will Mary Steenburgen win the Smackdown like she won the Oscar? Read on!
Matt Mazur (Pop Matters) is a New York-based publicist. His vast archive of actress interviews (including Sissy Spacek and Courtney Love) can be found here. Follow him @Matt_Mazur
Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) is the founder of The Film Experience, a Guru of Gold and CNN International Oscar pundit, and the internet's actressexual ringleader. Follow him @NathanielR
Brian Herrera (aka StinkyLulu) convened the first Supporting Actress Smackdown and hostessed more than thirty. He is a writer, teacher and scholar presently based in New Jersey, but forever rooted in New Mexico. Follow him @stinkylulu.
And You! We also factored in reader ballots sent by e-mail! So let's get to it...
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN
EILEEN BRENNAN as "Captain Doreen Lewis" in Private Benjamin
Synopsis: A proud and mean Captain's career and dating life are tripped up by a ditzy blonde princess who keeps getting in her way.
Stats: 48 yrs old. 20 minutes of screen time (18% of running time). One of three Oscar nods for Private Benjamin
Glenn: Capt. Doreen Lewis is never given an arc, much to the detriment of the film – although we’ll say nothing of that weird lesbian denouement, yes? – so Brennan has less to work with. Still, even without a three-dimensional character, it’s no surprise that the film goes downhill the moment it leaves the army base and Brennan’s assortment of sour faces and vocal deliveries. She never betters the look of horror she gives upon Goldie Hawn’s disrespect at roll call ♥♥♥
Matt: Fun, frisky, yet commanding work by a veteran character actress that is a perfect fit for the Supporting Actress category. Brennan is divinely evil and steely but there is also a depth. Though her character skirts parody, as a producer Brennan's co-star Goldie Hawn was smart to cast Brennan in a role that requires it's performer to be extremely rigid in the vocal and gestural elements of the character. To play this woman, much discipline was required and Brennan was an actress of tremendous skill. Playing someone so regimented and buttoned-up can be a disaster but Brennan rises to the challenge memorably. ♥♥♥
Nathaniel: How on earth does she make a frown read as a self-satisified smirk? It's magic. The way she condescendingly squeaks "Judy. Benjamin." after meeting Private Benjamin alone secures my love (and laughter). And yet, she never betters that five star introduction, mostly because there's little character left to play thereafter; the film references An Unmarried Woman but its a weak imitation of the then popular liberated woman subgenre of movies. It needs but too rarely serves up Brennan's delicious comic bullying . ♥♥♥
Reader Write-In Votes: "Flawless comedic performance with unexpected layers" - Christian. (Eileen's average w/ readers ♥♥♥½) .
StinkyLulu: There’s a wondrous alchemy in Eileen Brennan’s performance. It’s a nothing nonsense nemesis of a role, as riven with cheap gags and hoary cliches as the whole of Private Benjamin. But Brennan — through a deft mix of fearlessness, vulnerability and schtick — lets you delight in Captain Doreen Lewis just enough to make loathing her that much more fun. A master class in comedic villainy ♥♥♥♥
Eileen wins 16½ ❤s
EVA LE GALLIENE as "Grandma Pearl" in Resurrection
Synopsis: An old woman takes in her disabled granddaughter after a tragic car accident and guides her in finding her life's purpose as a healer
Stats: 81 yrs old... the last Oscar nominee to be born in the 19th century. 15 minutes of screen time (14.5% of running time). One of two Oscar nods for Resurrection
Glenn: Her stage background comes in handy for this very theatrical role. She handles the character’s rather grandiose moments much more elegantly than director Daniel Petrie does in other moments. Still, the role is little more than a mechanism to kick the story into its next phase and then slink into the background. Le Gallienne has a way of focusing the viewer on her, it’s just a shame the script gave her more to do ♥♥♥
Matt: Deceptively simple work from one of America’s greatest stage actresses, and bringing La Galienne’s single film performance to life is an accomplishment that co-star/producer Ellen Burstyn lists as one of the proudest of her career. Technically virtuosic, warm and complex, La Galienne has very little screen time but her character’s impact on the film is staggering. Her work here is all about seizing every moment and relishing the finer details and gestures of the character. Burstyn once told me that something La Galienne does in their final scene has stuck with her for her entire career: The actress lowered the register on her voice and turned up the volume when she said the word “love” at the end of a climactic scene between the two women -- she “dropped the word into her heart”. For me, the clear winner for a performance that is deep, profound and under-recognized ♥♥♥♥♥
Nathaniel: Her rich theatrically trained voice is so full of shading, memory and unspoken conversation that you yearn for her company whenever she's offscreen. That makes her too infrequent conversations with her screen granddaughter (Ellen Burstyn, the film's lead) rich and universal, elevating what is essentially a stock role (elderly advice dispenser). I mention the voice because it was so hard to see her performance in the bad vhs version online, the only one currently available. (sigh). I'm eager to see the film properly because her final scene is a marvel. ♥♥♥
Reader Write-In Votes: "What I loved most about this performance doesn't really lend itself to long discussion: it's heartfelt simplicity. One of the most heartbreaking goodbyes I have ever watched." - Nick C. (Eva's average w/ readers ♥♥♥) .
StinkyLulu: I’d probably be a sucker for Eva LeGallienne’s Grandma Pearl even if her entire performance was just her having beatific reactions to her granddaughter discovering the dimensions of her gifts. But LeGallienne’s depth of presence in the scenes bookending those many reaction shots — as early on, when she’s Edna Mae’s caregiver, rebuking herself for bringing out that photo album; and finally, when they both stand as two women bonded by their intimate proximity to death — well, LeGallienne just slays me. True, Madeleine Sherwood’s (awesome) cameo might thrill me most, but it’s LeGallienne’s work throughout Resurrection that moves me deepest ♥♥♥♥♥
Eva wins 19 ❤s
CATHY MORIARTY as "Vicki LaMotta" in Raging Bull
Synopsis: a young woman marries a prizefighter
Stats: 20 yrs old. 1st nom. 31 minutes of screen time (25% of running time). One of eight Oscar nods for Raging Bull
Glenn: She certainly fits the bill as an object of affection, and with the black and white photography the camera is positively in love with her. Her deep voice would make her hard to pin down in the landscape of 1980s cinema, but for Vickie it is perfect. Unlike others in the genre, Moriarty exhibits a physical presence and mental strength just as potent as her beauty, something her character was wise to develoe from years of being surrounded by brutes ♥♥♥♥
Matt: Competent work from this newcomer, but a performance I find to be a tad overrated by Oscar-watchers, whose preference tend to skew young, blonde and ingénue. Moriarty’s lack of experience shows when she is stacked up against such a powerhouse as Robert De Niro, and while Scorsese’s skill at teasing out complexity and nuance from unknowns provides basic support, Moriarty’s characterization is not terribly imaginative or well-realized when you consider some of Scorsese’s triumphs with younger supporting actresses such as Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver), Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear) and Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence) ♥♥
Nathaniel: Her first (silent) scene involves men staring at her. "What are you thinking about? Why do you keep looking?" Pesci asks DeNiro and that's a reasonable question since Scorsese & Moriarty present an often blank slate bored beauty for men to project on to (at first lustfully to Vicki's advantage and later with jealousy to her danger). Moriarty holds her own, smartly underplaying in her best scenes (frontloaded though they are as she sizes up Jake and tests her own considerable sexual power) but her eventual outbursts are less gripping and the film is, finally, uninterested in the woman beside the bull. ♥♥
Reader Write-In Votes: "She's great for a beginner [in a Scorsese movie], but the character is 2.5-dimensional at best...and Moriarty is no Foster or Minnelli." - Paul (Cathy's average w/ readers ♥♥♥) .
StinkyLulu: Cathy Moriarty’s Vickie LaMotta feels like a triumph of Scorcese’s acuity for verisimilitude in casting. She looks and sounds like she might have actually once been Jake LaMotta’s child-bride/trophy-wife/punching-bag. And while Moriarty’s languid melancholy looks great through Scorcese’s worshipful lens, the performance remains gossamer thin ♥
Cathy wins 12 ❤s
DIANA SCARWID as "Louise" in Inside Moves
Synopsis: a lonely waitress falls for her disabled boss and his best friend at a local pub.
Stats: 25 yrs old. 28½ minutes of screen time (25% of running time). The film's sole Oscar nod.
Glenn: A strange film gets an even stranger nomination (literally the only nomination for the film from any awards body.) Richard Donner’s film initially hasn’t the slightest idea how to utilise her greatest asset: the juxtaposition between Scarwid’s lower-ranged voice and pixieish appearance, She is, however, eventually given a couple of nicely-handled speeches that at least help explain how she was nominated and why her character exists at all. ♥♥
Matt: Dreadful, grating work and a baffling nomination. When the big claim to fame is the return of Oscar-winner Harold Russell (The Best Years of Our Lives) to the screen, you know your movie is the definition of “failed Oscar bait”. Released to coincide with “International Year of Disabled Persons”, Inside Moves is 1980’s I Am Sam, and Scarwid, if you will, is her film’s Dakota Fanning: childlike, wide-eyed, inexperienced, yet still somehow sort of oddly endearing despite her total lack of skill. Weird performance, even weirder movie, really weird character. ♥♥
Nathaniel: Initially the film seems only half interested in Scarwid but soon she's ingratiating herself with easy-to-work with wallflower warmth. Scarwid handles the 'just one of the guys that's noticably a girl' friction well in a pivotal party scene and nails romantic cowardice in her closeups. But the script undercuts her work in the final act, making her naturalistic performance a bit inscrutable or at least at odds with the plot-mechanics. ♥♥♥
Reader Write-In Votes: "As written, Louise is always more plot convenience than character, in any one of Inside Moves' skimpy subplots. But as performed by Scarwid, she's a credible, charming, and compassionate woman, one whose emotional uncertainty and odd sense of humor easily elevate this surface-skimming role." - Matthew. (Diana's average with readers ♥♥½) .
StinkyLulu: Inside Moves just makes me feel really bad for Diana Scarwid. She somehow takes the ridiculous and shabbily-written role of Louise and delivers a decidedly okay performance, only to be steamrolled by the Dunaway-train the following year in Mommie Dearest? No one deserves that… At least she got this (nearly incomprehensible) Oscar nomination for her trouble. ♥♥
Diana wins 11½ ❤s
MARY STEENBURGEN as "Lynda Dummar" in Melvin & Howard
Synopsis: a flighty woman leaves her loser husband (twice!) and shakes it at tittie bars and game shows to pay the rent
Stats: 27 yrs old. 32½ Minutes of Screen Time (34% of running time). One of three Oscar nods for Melvin & Howard.
Glenn: Works hard to make the initially unlikable Lynda palatable and relatable thanks to the kind of bubble and pep that can only be found in a fresh-faced newcomer digging into such an opportunity. Steenburgen’s lack of audience baggage allows scenes like that in the strip club and the tap performance to have an authentic giddiness (think Amy Adams in Junebug) where with a big star they may have appeared more as affected showboating. It’s of little surprise that she won the Oscar ♥♥♥♥
Matt: Another I find to be slightly overrated. Her sweep of the critic’s prizes is perplexing given the cutesy-quirk factor of her performance (this is a character that Zoeey Deschanel would play today and that’s cause for alarm). Meant to be charmingly effervescent, Steenburgen at times comes off gawky and shrill but acquits herself nicely in the film’s quieter moments. (Strange, that the Academy would choose to not nominate her the following year for a much stronger, voter-friendly turn in Milos Forman’s Ragtime) ♥♥
Nathaniel: I might be tempted to argue that Lynda is an early version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl but instead of male-scripted fantasy Steenburgen roots this happy/sad beauty in arrested development reality; she's adorable but a girlwoman mess. The actress is smart enough to give her a very youthful physicality that's full of nervous energy, sudden movements and weird instant enthusiasms for foolhardy pursuits (stripping, tapdancing, sandwich-making, remarrying Melvin). Plus she's a scream -- that weird waving/dance she does when she sees Melvin at the strip joint? I died. ♥♥♥♥
Reader Write-In Votes: "The scene that sealed the deal for my #1 placement was her talent show performance - the mix of nervousness, devil-may-care sexuality and dagginess was just brilliant." - Travis. (Mary's average w/ readers ♥♥♥♥) .
StinkyLulu: Steenburgen's performance captures the peculiar mix of comedic absurdity and human vulnerability guiding Jonathan Demme’s fascinating riff on the American dream. It’s an enigmatic, charismatic and silly performance (one that would almost make more sense if it were Altman directing Shelley Duvall) that also confirms Mary Steenburgen’s gifts as a distinctive and welcome screen presence ♥♥♥
Mary wins 17 ❤s
OSCAR vs. SMACKDOWN
You really wanna marry me again?
Oscar tied the knot with Steenburgen without a moment's hesitation (she also won the Globe and the holy trinity of critics prizes: NYFCC, LAFCA, and NSFC) but after an intermittently passionate but nonmonogamous flirtation the Smackdown says:
It's not you, Mary, it's us."
And chooses Eva Le Galliene... in this tight race.
We love you, Grandma!"
Thank you for attending the Smackdown!
If you're new to the Smackdown here is last month's pie-throwing brawl and the old archives at StinkyLulu. Previously this month in the lead up we covered the Teachers from Fame, Born in '80 Beauties, Stinky's First Oscars, These Character's Intros, and we meant to cover the most storied snub (Beverly D'Angelo in Coal Miner's Daughter) but ran out of time. Sorry Bev!
Coming Soon: The Final 2 Smackdowns of the Year!
TUES, OCT 29th Supporting Actresses of 1968
Featuring Discussions of Rosemary's Baby, Funny Girl, and More... (New Panelists TBA)
SAT, NOV 30th Supporting Actresses of 2003
10th Anniversary Party for Cold Mountain, Mystic River, and More... (Panelists TBA)