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Meet This Month's "Smackdown" Panelists

The Supporting Actress Smackdown of '89 arrives on Sunday August 31st, two weeks from now. We'll be celebrating 1989 here and there until then as "the year of the month". You need to get your votes in, too, (instructions at the end of the post). If you've wandered in from elsewhere and are like, "What's a Smackdown?," here's how it started and here's last month's entry on 1973 with its companion podcast. The year in question this time is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

no, these ladies are not the panelists

The Smackdown Panel for August

Without further ado let's meet the voices who will be watching and discussing the '89 hits Steel Magnolias and Parenthood. They'll also be sounding off on the Oscar-winning bio My Left Foot and the underseen actressy curio Enemies: A Love Story. Stay tuned.

new panelists

Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, film critic and producer of nearly 200 video essays exploring film and media. He is Founding Editor and Chief Video Essayist at Fandor Keyframe and founding partner of dGenerate Films (a distribution company for independent Chinese cinema). His video "Transformers: The Premake" was featured in over 20 news outlets including the New York Times, Slate and Entertainment Weekly. [Follow him on Twitter | IMDb]

What does 1989 mean to you?

1989 was such a fascinating year for summer movies: could one imagine the likes of "Do the Right Thing" and "Born on the Fourth of July" slated among the current stack of superhero blockbusters? So many other great movies worth mentioning... but what comes to mind first is "Dead Poets Society" and Robin Williams as the high school English teacher we all wish we had..


Tasha Robinson is a Senior Editor at The Dissolve, Pitchfork Media’s playground for movie lovers. Her writing and interviews have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles TimesOrlando Weekly,Science Fiction Weekly, and at the NPR Books website, and she's been a recurring guest on Filmspotting, Slashfilm’s Filmcast, and The Sound Of Young America, now known as Bullseye. She is still trying to cope with Hayao Miyazaki’s kinda-for-real-th-s-time retirement. [Follow her on Twitter]

What does 1989 mean to you?:

It was such a crossroads year. The Little Mermaid brought American animation back from the abyss, and the Disney Renaissance enabled the animation boom that followed. We’re still feeling the impact of the revelation that America could produce animation that was not just art, and not just fun for adults as well as bored kids, but insanely profitable in a way that made studios sit up, take notice, and get involved. And James Cameron’s The Abyss was similarly a turning point for CGI effects. That entirely digital not-a-Russian-water-tentacle was like a signpost pointing to how innovative and creative special effects could get, when anything filmmakers could possibly imagine could be rendered inside of a computer. All that, plus Steven Soderbergh’s debut, Spike Lee’s breakthrough, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which gave us Keanu Reeves: Major Movie Star. 



Todd VanDerWerff is the Culture Editor for Vox.com, where he writes a lot about TV and movies. Before that, he was the TV Editor at The A.V. Club. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Grantland, Salon, Hitfix, and The House Next Door. [Follow him on Twitter]  

What does 1989 mean to you?

"Honey I Shrunk the Kids". Which isn't even accurate, because I didn't see it until it came out on video the next year. But I remember feverishly waiting all summer, checking the movie listings every week, to see when it would hit one of the two (two!) screens in the nearby "big city" of Mitchell, S.D. Then I would go to the pool, and my friends and I would imagine what the movie might be like, based entirely off of the vague recollections of another friend who had seen it on a trip to Sioux Falls. By the time Honey made it to Mitchell, it was almost time for school. "Batman" had held it off that long. So I didn't see it until the next year, when it finally hit video. I liked it, but of course I would like it. I was 9, and 9-year-olds don't yet know how to be disappointed. (It also received my father's highest praise: "Boy, I'll bet they had fun making this one!") But it might have been my first true movie obsession, and for that, I have to thank it for a lifelong love.


returning panelists

Nick Davis tweets, blogs, and writes reviews and is a professor of film, literature, and gender studies at Northwestern University. His first book "The Desiring Image" was published last year. [Follow him on Twitter]

What does 1989 mean to you?

I experienced 1989 as the Berlin Wall falling to the tunes of "Back to Life" and "Buffalo Stance," with Blush and Bashful spotlights strobing all around us.  My family moved to Germany a year later and I was disappointed to see the reunification going down somewhat differently. No one was dancing in a brown slip before a burning cross, which was how I then conceived of freedom in action.  For the first time, I saw four of five Best Picture nominees in theaters (Oliver Stone excepted) and I walked a mile each way to see "Steel Magnolias" three times in the cinema, which is what all the 12-year-old boys on the Marine Corps base were doing. Ken(ny) Plume and I got in trouble in English class the next winter for talking while Mr. Petrashune was trying to teach us. We were simply agreeing that "Driving Miss Daisy" obviously didn't deserve to win if the director wasn't even nominated.


Tim Robey has been reviewing films for the Daily Telegraph since 2000, alongside a few interviews and other bits and bobs. His writing is mostly here. His recommendations series is here. [Follow him on Twitter]

What does 1989 mean to you?

I'd love to pretend I was all across Hou Hsaio-hsiaen's "A City of Sadness" at age 11, but no. 1989 means scattered things to a bookish child swotting up for exams, not yet a movie buff, much more of a fantasy and computer game nerd. I remember three films at the cinema – "Batman," "Indiana Jones," "Back to the Future III," "Ghostbusters II," at a push. A cast and crew premiere for "License to Kill" (my dad was involved on the insurance side). Strange peer obsession with "Look Who's Talking". This was maybe a year before I was Oscar-aware, but it may mark the point where I started watching flicks on VHS I wasn't meant to see yet ("The Fly," "Aliens," "Robocop") and, via these illicit thrills, just beginning to get the bug.


And your host

Nathaniel is the founder of The Film Experience, a reknowned Oscar pundit, and the web's actressexual ringleader. He fell in love with the movies for always at The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) but mostly blames Oscar night (in general) and the 80s filmographies of Kathleen Turner and Michelle Pfeiffer. Though he holds a BFA in Illustration, he found his true calling when he started writing about the movies. He blames Boogie Nights for the career change. [Follow him on Twitter]

What does 1989 mean to you?

Three visual memories became so burned into my psyche it's like I'm still watching them on loop 25 years later: Pfeiffer slinking on a piano top, Madonna dancing in a field of burning crosses, and Ursula the seawitch's body language.  All other '89 film memories are relatively wispy intangibles by comparison but there's two I should share. This was the year I learned what 'business' was in acting, watching Andie MacDowell fiddle with a glass during conversation in "sex, lies and videotape" and the year I first tasted the lurid addictive thrill of being an 'Opinion Maker' dragging a guy's guy high school friend of mine to "Steel Magnolias" and feeling way too proud when I talked him into loving it. 


The readers are the final (collective) panelist. You have until Thursday August 28th to get your votes in on any of the performances you've seen grading them on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (perfect). We excerpt quotes from reader ballots and your votes count toward the outcome.  

1989 Supporting Actress Nominees
• Brenda Fricker My Left Foot [Netflix Instant | Amazon Instant | iTunes]
• Anjelica Huston & Lena Olin Enemies: A Love Story [Amazon | Netflix | iTunes]
• Julia Roberts Steel Magnolias [Netflix Instant | Amazon | iTunes]
• Dianne Wiest  Parenthood [Amazon Instant -whod've thought that the biggest hit among them would be the hardest to find now? It's not available through either Netflix or iTunes!]


Say "HELLO" to our panel in the comments and tell them what you think of when you think of "89". And like the film experience on Facebook and follow Nathaniel on Twitter while you're at it.

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Reader Comments (27)

I was too young to actually remember 1989 but looking back on it now, despite it kinda being a really good film year, the only things that truly stick out to me were Rosie Perez shaking it at the beginning of Do The Right Thing, Ursula's Divine grin from Little Mermaid, that sinking feeling of realizing the Japanese portion of Mystery Train didn't go on for the full movie, how fresh, erotic and 'new' Sex, Lies, and Videotape felt and the wonderful sisterly bond you could really feel in that cemetery scene in Steel Magnolias.

That said, I predict right now that this'll be one of the closest Smackdowns in Smackdown History! All of these performances are SO good.

Oh and can I just properly be the first one to say it? Laura San Giacomo, ya'll.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First


August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

I was surprised when the Smackdown reminded me that Julia Roberts was even nominated for this role. It's a well-liked film, a generally loved actress with awards history, but I feel like most people wouldn't immediately recall that "Magnolias" is among her nominations. Is it just my own biases confusing my sense of history, or has this become kind of a footnote for Roberts?

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Oh God! I'm pathetic! I voted like two weeks ago. Can't wait for this!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

This is an awesome panel!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

Dave: While this movie still resonates and has legions of fans, it has become a footnote in Julia Roberts' career. Maybe because her superstardom did not really begin until Pretty Woman came out the next year. She was just the ingenue of the film.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

Nathaniel and Kevin took my responses - 1989 is all about Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, which I saw maybe 8 times that year, and Madinna's Like a Prayer album, which I had on permanent repeat that year.

Also, Dianne Wiest should be in every movie!

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

1989 was the first year I started paying attention to the Oscars. I was 13. That was the beginning of it all for me with movies and the Oscars.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

1989 is No Holds Barred. The fifth Star Trek and Nightmare on Elm St. movies. The final James Bond movie to be released during the summer. Batman, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters–and the most unpleasant movie targeted at children–Little Monsters.

1989 in music was Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Back to the Future Part II, The Little Mermaid, Harlem Nights–me and Anne Hathaway turned 7 in November of 1989.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

If I were going to give Anjelica a supporting actress nod for 1989, it would be for Crimes and Misdemeanors. A strangely unsettling presence whenever she's on screen, and for the entire film after she's dead.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

/3rtful - RHYTHM NATION -- oh i loved that so much.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was so unaware of anything film related back then. Batman is the only film I remember, and that was because I saw the movie alone when I was very young in another country that had lax fire safety rules. All the seats were full, as were the aisles, and the standing room areas had parents with kids on their shoulders. The theater was so packed and I was so short that the only space left available was the space directly in front of the screen,where other kids and short adults were. I had a very difficult time following the movie since I had to move my head in a clockwise direction frequently to see the entire screen, though I do remember noting that the actors had very clean nostrils, which seemed a remarkable feat to do for all those people for young me.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

1989 means Jessica Lange in Music Box. The End.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@F: Amazing.

@3rtful: "Miss You Much" is still among my Top 10 most-played tracks on my iTunes and is never likely to budge. But the whole album is brilliance.

@Suzanne and @Nathaniel: An entire area of my closet still smells like patchouli because I have kept my scented Like a Prayer cassette tape. You?

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Also, Todd's story is THE BEST.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

That is a great panel! 1989 was the year I graduated high school and my big film memories from then were Batman ushering in a new era of blockbusters, Do the Right Thing hitting people in the face and Steel Magnolias assuring me that camp cinema was alive and well.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErik Anderson

I'd change Brenda Fricker with Fiona Shaw for that uncomfortable table scene.

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Todd & Nick -- best line "and 9 year -olds don't yet know how to be disappointed"

August 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Well, Steel Magnolias is certainly not a footnote in Julia's career as it plays a very big part in her her narrative regarding her ascent to superstardom. Let's not forget that she won the Globe for it, then went on to be Oscar nominated, and only a few weeks later, Pretty Woman came out. So it was certainly a big bang in terms of public awareness for her.

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbacio

1989 was the year the Wall came down and the year Olivier, Cassavetes and Lucille Ball died. Not my favorite year at all. Living in Berlin, where at the time most English-language films were dubbed, I only went to see super-huge or super-cult titles that could be seen in the original version, so Batman, Do the Right Thing, License to Kill, New York Stories, When Harry Met Sally... One of my favorite films that year was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (released in Germany in February '89).

I can't participate in the Smackdown because I'm pleased/shocked/embarrassed to report that I haven't seen any of the four films in competition.and doubt I'm going to be able to by the deadline. (Coincidentally, I'm in Berlin again right now.)

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul - !!!! I guess you were too busy training for your future as the star of an Oscar winning short film at the time ;) have fun in Berlin. I also LOVED LOVED LOVED Women on the Verge at the time. It was released in the US in late 1988 but I think i didn't see it until the spring of '89 or something?

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Holy shiiiit, look at the mom pants on Julia Roberts. Wow.

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMeryl

Yay for Tasha Robinson! I still have the /Film podcast of The Master, that she took part in, and I listen to it from time to time, even though it's not my favorite PTA movie. She was fantastic as a guest contributor, and I look very much forward to her opinions about the performances on the upcoming Smackdown, and about the movies, if an accompanying podcast should follow.

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Does anyone remember Cousins? the Cousin, Cousine remake with Isabella Rosselini and Ted Danson.... I was obsessed with thta movie in 89. I must've seen it 10 times. That's my '89

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

Yes, yes and thanks, Nat!;-) Back in the States Sunday night, so I'll be reading and listening to the Smackdown through the jetlag in Los Angeles.

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Murtada! -- I do! Isabella and Ted Danson had great chemistry. Who would have thought?

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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