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« Beauty vs Beast: Sister City, Sister Bumpkin | Main | Curio: Lily Tomlin, Movie Fan »
Sunday
Aug312014

Smackdown 1989: Anjelica, Brenda, Dianne, Lena, and Julia Roberts

Presenting the Nominated Supporting Actresses of 1989. Motherhood was the loose theme of the shortlist with a determined mom (Brenda Fricker) facing off against a determined-to-be-a-mom bride (Julia Roberts). Add in 1986's Oscar winner in this category (Dianne Wiest) as a mom so exasperated maybe she wished she hadn't become one in one of 89's top ten box office hits. Rounding out the list was a late breaking pair of women with claims on the same married man. Only one of them is married to him but... well, let's just say it's complicated. It's complicated for all five of these women.

THE NOMINEES

 

Then-unknown Irish character actress Brenda Fricker, gifted with a screen partner who would go on to become Oscar's most-winning Best Actor, took the gold. But the other four were in-demand hot commodities. Lena Olin who had emerged the year before (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) as a memorably erotic screen presence made good on that breakthrough. Anjelica Huston and Dianne Wiest, both recent Oscar winners, had yet more memorable turns in beloved films around the corner. But it was Julia Roberts who was the true breakout of the season... she went super nova literally three days before the actual ceremony with the release of her follow up Pretty Woman. Had the Oscars been a month later she might've won on in-the-moment global mania; the film was a hit everywhere grossing nearly ½ a billion dollars worldwide in 1990.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

You've already heard 'what 1989 means to them' and now here to talk about these five performances are critics Nick Davis (Nicks Flick Picks), Kevin B Lee (Fandor Keyframe), Tim Robey (The Telegraph), Tasha Robinson (The Dissolve), Todd VanDerWerff (Vox) and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). With a shoutout to StinkyLulu for the original Smackdown inspiration in which we revisit Oscar shortlists of the past without all the campaigning and heat-of-the-moment politics that infect each awards race.

Without further ado, the Smackdown...

1989
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

BRENDA FRICKER as "Mrs. Brown" in My Left Foot
Synopsis: A poor Irish mom tries to create the best home she can for her disabled son. But the home sure is crowded and she can't afford a wheelchair.
Stats: 44 yrs old. First and only nomination. 31 minutes of screen time (or 30% of running time). 

Nick Davis: The movie’s best visual trick is continually inserting extra bodies into crowded domestic frames, without using boldface dialogues to emphasize Mrs. Brown’s serial childbearing. Fricker exercises similar economy in her performance: she doesn’t telegraph exhaustion, or grief for buried babies, or almost anything. She’s so confident in her understatement, without being bland. She forgoes opportunities to curry audience favor; taking her pregnant daughter’s side against her scurrilous husband could have prompted some righteous showstopping, but she remains even-keeled. Those Allgood and Wycherly roles from 1941’s Smackdown could’ve used her! ♥♥♥♥

Kevin B Lee: Fricker does more than just score easy points off an archetypal “suffering mom” role. Her lines are delivered straight even in melodramatic moments. She never reaches for the histrionic, a contrast to Day Lewis’ characteristic showiness, and I dare say DDL’s performance would suffer if not balanced by Fricker’s. For all of DDL’s tortured bodily contortions, there’s more subtly impressive work in how Fricker heaves her body in a pregnant state or delivers lines while doing housework; like her character, it’s essential work that goes unnoticed. ♥♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Practically a lead, but gives so much selfless graft to the movie it’s hard to begrudge her supporting honours. Could have been Beatific Ma or Long-Suffering Workhorse; dodges both to make Bridget an impressively real-feeling person, with subtle, don’t-mess authority and her own way of doing things. She catches everything Day-Lewis throws, which is a huge amount, and smoothly, unfussily puts it away. Without being shy or maudlin, she’s awfully touching as this sturdy care-giver, and completely non-monumental, which is precisely what the role wants, no more, no less.  ♥♥♥♥

Tasha Robinson: This performance is fairly one-note for the Oscars. It’s all warm support, with no histronics or scream-offs. But Fricker really gets across the kind of practical, loving stolidness that would let a woman manage such immense family needs—Christy’s especially, but not exclusively. It’s gratifying how endlessly giving, strong, and confident Mrs. Brown is, and how delightful she seems to find Christy, without pity or weariness. This kind of role doesn’t come up often, because there’s so little drama in someone just being a consistent domestic hero. ♥♥♥♥ 

Todd VanDerWerff: I had mostly forgotten how much I loved this movie, and how much I loved Jim Sheridan’s work when watching this. So it was easy for me to overlook Fricker, weirdly, even though she was almost always there in the early going. But I thought she was rather a brilliant rock amid the storm of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance. She needs to be someone that we can always gravitate toward if we need a safe haven in any scene. And she is. She’s always there, watching and waiting and steady. ♥♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: A steady foil to the necessarily busy Day-Lewis performance. Neither quite staid nor exciting and she's missing an arc, really. Her quiet strength and authentic humble-stock bearing are moving, though. She’s especially good when reacting to any good news, never familiar enough with joy to not be nervous or uncomfortable in its presence. Her strongest move is surely that double-sided feeling when another woman and speech therapy enter Christy’s life. “I always understood him,” she snaps at her husband, genuine maternal concern touched by petty possessiveness. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "such an astute performer that she can shine without stealing focus. The looks she gives her family members whenever they discover something new about Christy tells us she already predicted or anticipated or knew. She moved me as much as she got me thinking, and that’s a great accomplishment." - BVR (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 26 ❤s 

4 more actresses after the jump


ANJELICA HUSTON as "Tamara Broder" in Enemies: A Love Story
Synopsis: A woman long thought dead seeks out her husband in New York. She isn't surprised to find that he's juggling two new women but she's drawn into his drama.
Stats: 38 yrs old. Second of 3 nominations. 26 minutes of screen time (or 22% of running time). 

Nick Davis: Has Huston ever played someone stupid?  Could she? Surely her smarts would show if she tried.  That palpable intelligence makes a typically instant impression in Enemies, as does her unsettling charisma, linked to her cubist handsomeness.  She’s well-cast as someone who makes a series of disconcerting entrances.  She has fun with Tamara’s deep exasperation but finds empathy and a peculiar sensuality in the part, too. The accent’s a bit marble-mouthed, though, and you occasionally catch her acting: mourning dead children in bed or playing Grande Dame in Yadwiga’s kitchen. ♥♥♥

Kevin B Lee: This strikes me as the loosest, most relaxed of these performances; even her limp that carries unspeakable wartime suffering feels offhand. Playing someone “not alive, not dead” in the character’s own words, Huston achieves a ghostly presence, with the balance of lightness and gravity of an apparition. She’s a few inches taller than Ron Silver, conveying a literally and symbolically towering presence. And yet Huston counters her imposing stature with softness and unwavering tact. Watching her husband’s absurd love quadrangle play out, her eyes convey limitless reserves of patience. ♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Her entrance, reborn in a corridor, va-vooms some life and magic into this rather musty enterprise. Mazursky flatters Huston with doting camera attention, but she deserves it: there’s forgiving warmth to this performance and plentiful, sidelong humour. You wonder if she’s sold out the character’s sorrow to jolly the movie along with sheer charisma, but then she lets ghosts re-overwhelm her, throwing her head back in genuinely vivid pain, and the role builds. Does wonders just sitting, and a perfect shrug when Yadwiga’s in hysterics. A peak Huston year?  ♥♥♥♥

Tasha Robinson: The “protagonist has too many lovers” subgenre is awfully self-indulgent, like watching a millionaire ponder which winter home to sell for a tax break. But Enemies’ Herman comes across as a particular schmuck for not just picking Anjelica Huston, his most chic and funny wife. Huston feels like she’s in a different film from everyone else, one where she gets to play Cruella DeVil. But her breakdown is the most believable, and her high spirits are the most infectious. She’s classy and controlled beyond this sloppy film’s reach. ♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: I love Anjelica Huston’s dry persona in general, so I was all prepped to love her in this, which I had never seen. But I was impressed with the way that she expertly traversed the tonal shifts and emotional rapids of Paul Mazursky’s film, which I found either overwrought or surprisingly compelling, given the scene. The times when I was finding it compelling were usually the times when Huston was onscreen, not just because her storyline is the most immediately moving, but because she handles the wild tonal shifts. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Within Anjelica’s frankly incredible run of creations from Maerose (1985) through Morticia (1993), Tamara is the odd woman out. She’s a different woman and wife from scene to scene, uncomfortably stitched together like a mannered Bride of Frankenstein lumbering around the man she doesn’t want but is bound to. (But even her limp comes and goes). Huston is best when she’s playing into the perception of Tamara as ghost, whether that’s for comic (the Yadwiga visit) or dramatic effect. I don’t fully buy it but she’s magnetic and fun. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Relying heavily on Huston's own charisma and charm to do the work (there's always been something enigmatic about the star - as if she's holding a secret), she brings shades of color to fill in this outline of a character that's more writer's plot device than a fully formed creation." - Andrew (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 23 ❤s 

 

LENA OLIN as "Masha" in Enemies: A Love Story
Synopsis: A concentration camp survivor drives her indecisive lover crazy... and wild. 
Stats: 34 yrs old. First and only nomination.  41 minutes of screen time (or 34% of running time). 

Nick Davis: Olin’s citation arrives one year after her surreal omission for Unbearable Lightness of Being but is no mere apology nod.  She does less obvious Performing in Enemies than Huston or Stein—a surprising claim given the huge impact she makes as a hot-tempered mistress and dyspeptic daughter, prone to dramatic tantrums.  Still, it’s a smartly contained performance, rooted in Masha’s watchful, skeptical silences rather than her fiery outbursts or earthy appeals. Olin privileges Masha’s intelligence and specificity, too.  She’s no mere sensual foil for Yadwiga’s naïveté or Tamara’s cleverness. ♥♥♥♥

Kevin B Lee: This performance feels very sexy and contemporary (even today) while invoking classic 40s Hollywood goddesses: the sexual volatility of Hayworth; the deep-voiced, hard-edged worldliness of Bacall. Reconstituted in Olin’s camp survivor, those fantasy personae gain new significance with the concentration camp tattoo on her forearm: they are strategies for building a new self in a new world that doesn’t quite feel real. Olin runs through a stunning repertoire of gestures through the film to convey all this: the look in her eyes during lovemaking being one unforgettable example. ♥♥♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Finds a basenote of husky unsurprisability in her part that takes her clear to the finish line, even when she could have embellished it more or tried out grabbier effects. Her speeches have a habit of feeling like speeches. Does well to let Masha’s instability creep up on you: she has to undermine her own sexy strength, or act insouciant while being otherwise. It’s shrewd playing, in a well-proportioned role, so why isn’t it a knockout? Masha/Olin’s maybe crying out for more point of view than she gets. ♥♥♥

Tasha Robinson: There are only a few roles for women more thankless than the shrewish, calculating, overbearing homewrecker Olin plays here. Most of them have “hooker” in the description. The problem with Olin’s portrayal is that it’s never clear whether Masha loves Herman, or just loves control. Olin seems checked out part of the time, and over-the-top in the clinches. This would have been a stronger film all around if there’d been more sympathetic balance between Herman’s wives, and not just a sense that they’re mostly awful—especially Masha.  

Todd VanDerWerff: I have a hunch I’ll be in the minority on this, but I found this performance wildly over-the-top in a way that rarely worked. She’s stunning in smaller moments, like when she looks at herself in the mirror near the movie’s end, but Olin’s interpretation of Masha involves a lot of capital-A Acting of the type I normally don’t like. Plus, there’s an uncomfortable sense that the Academy mostly nominated her because she’s playing “the sexy girl,” a type they love. But she’s almost too goofy to be sexy. ♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: “A little crazy but tremendously interesting”. Olin dances on the edge of Too Much but you’d better to match that description. The actress’s slyest impulse is to suggest, subtly but often, that Masha actually enjoys and feeds off her own despondency and alarming moodswings. More than any other actor she understands the ‘not alive, not dead’ screenplay mandate for these survivors and plays to both consistently; In her body she’s thrillingly present but in her soul there’s just morbidity. “If you hear I’m dead, don’t come to my funeral.”  ♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Olin is wonderful at showing her coldness, her disaproval or her anger. Her only small missteps happen in her louder scenes" - Gabriel (Reader average: ♥♥♥⅓)

Actress earns 23⅓ ❤s 

 

JULIA ROBERTS as "Shelby" in Steel Magnolias
Synopsis: A diabetic Southern bride eager to be a mother gets pregnant against the doctor's orders. Her own mama is none too pleased about it. 
Stats: 22 yrs old. First of 4 nominations. 37 minutes of screen time (or 32% of running time).

Nick Davis: What a huge difference a director makes, either relaxing an intuitive, inexperienced performer, as Garry Marshall managed, or totally unnerving her, as Herbert Ross notoriously did.  Hence, Roberts’s wavering accent (and she’s from Georgia!) and indelicate handling of subtext (regarding Jackson’s philandering).  She stiffens under copious closeups in Act One, as if hauled into a spotlight and told, “Prove yourself! Be fabulous!” Despite these awkward impressions, though, Roberts makes Shelby’s diabetic attack both harrowing and humanizing, all without getting mawkish.  And once Jack Jr.’s born, she nails every beat. ♥♥♥

Kevin B Lee: I’d heard about director Herbert Ross’ intense displeasure with Roberts’ acting in this film, but upon viewing her first scenes any consideration of her performative talent took a back seat to just basking in the sheer radiance of her screen presence. For the first 20 minutes she’s pure human sunshine, bringing disarming charisma to a character who’s really an annoying brat on paper, at least until we learn she’s diabetic. Unfortunately those later scenes depicting her debilitation exposes her weaknesses: she’s just too full of life to play dying. ♥♥♥♥

Tim Robey: Totally fun, promising and head-turning, but not yet a pro at commanding the rhythm of her scenes. Then again, it’s hard to tell: the editing snacks on her from every angle. The close-ups after her salon fit feel like try-hard inserts. You see a star born but not yet quite in charge – it’s embryonic work, an acting job in an incubator. She makes you miss her when she’s gone, but when would that not be true of Roberts in a movie? I think we miss Roberts, not Shelby.  ♥♥

Tasha Robinson: I’ve defended America’s Sweetheart #57 for decades against people who find her grating, but in this particular film… well, I find her grating. Maybe it’s her movie-diabetes, which the film treats like tuberculosis in La Boheme, fainting couches and all. Maybe it’s the Blanche DuBois accent. Maybe it’s the way the film is filled with far-more-fabulous women who thoroughly out shine her. But she’s so middle-of-the-road here, it’s ridiculous that she was the only one nominated. I think she got the death-sympathy vote. ♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: In my head, this was always nominated because the Academy recognized a star in the making. But that’s me reading knowledge of the future onto the past. So then I thought maybe it was a beautiful woman suffering beautifully, a type the Academy often loves. But Roberts (to her credit) really does allow herself moments of true ugliness in this part. So I genuinely don’t know why she was nominated here. She’s certainly fine, and she plays both the sweet and stubborn sides of the character well. But why♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Director Herbert Ross famously dissed Julia’s acting after the fact in an interview claiming that “she could only play the top of scenes.” It was mean to say so publicly but… he wasn’t wrong. Her coquettish self-absorption is exactly right for the part and her romantic love for Jackson reads completely authentic. Elsewhere, authenticity is not the word. She visibly waits for each line then overplays it. It’s a star-is-born moment, but the actress hasn’t yet caught up to the star’s dazzling surface. Soon, Julia, soon. ♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Shelby could easily be one of the most annoying characters but Roberts gives her a renegade warmth and spirited defiance that is attractive, more than repellant." - Christopher James (Reader average: ♥♥½)

Actress earns 17½ ❤s 

 

DIANNE WIEST as "Helen Buckman" in Parenthood
Synopsis: An exasperated lonely single mother finds her secretive teenagers slipping away from her and worries for them constantly.
Stats: 41 yrs old. Second of 3 nominations. 25 minutes screen time (or 20% of running time). 

Nick Davis: I like Parenthood’s ambitions but mostly dislike its script and direction. Howard lamely encourages the actors to sling out highly variable punchlines without remotely disguising that’s what they are.  Nobody emerges unscathed.  Still, among the adults, Wiest’s heroism is second only to Martin’s in summoning sympathy and authenticity within this artificial framework.  She also gets to respond to the movie’s best, most earnest performance, by tiny Joaquin Phoenix.  In the scene where he calls his delinquent father, they conjure levels and complexities of feeling that Parenthood otherwise barely attempts. ♥♥♥

Kevin B Lee: Wiest isn’t helped by the sit-commy material and directing that never fails to reduce characters to types. Also doesn’t help that she is out-acted by a 15 year-old Joaquin Phoenix in the film’s most affecting scene. This strikes me as the closest to a pity nomination in the group, partly for the role (sympathetic single working mom character), partly for being game enough to serve as punchline for the vibrator joke that’s the film’s signature moment (once bawdy and outrageous, now dumb and dated). ♥♥

Tim Robey: Because we’re not at Hannah level, I tend to assume Wiest’s making the best of a so-so job here, but she’s Just. Too. Good. Peerless at letting infinite-reservoir-of-patience overrun into very precise and funny hysterics. The “I was at Woodstock” bit and the “This is my favourite” bit and the “I have no life” bit are easy bits, sure, but she sells them with a rare combination of zing and truth – LOVE her jumping up and down on every monosyllable of the last one. Film-trumping neurotic-comic gold. A joy.  ♥♥♥♥

Tasha Robinson: This was the film where I fell in love with Dianne Wiest. (Even though she’d played the exact same role in Lost Boys two years earlier.) It’s such a lovely, layered piece of acting: equal parts sweet, clueless, and angsty, with vulnerability, loneliness, and real anger hidden underneath. I love how she can simultaneously communicate “I just want to help my poor kids” and “I’m going to snap and kill these brats.” I would have given her the Oscar. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Todd VanDerWerff: Maybe 1989 was just a phenomenally weak year for supporting actresses. Or maybe the Academy just loved Dianne Wiest that much. Because she’s quite good in this, but she always is. Yet the movie around her is much more of a mess than I remembered, and kind of horrifying by the standards of 2014 racial and gender politics. Wiest gets a few big scenes where she gets to shout, and her relationship with her daughter (played by a young Martha Plimpton) is fun. But the character’s arc is non-existent. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Of the many many things I love about this actress, her voice ranks high. Her pitch flips from soothing to shrill to sad on a dime as this harried mom. “I was at Woodstock ferchrissakes!” is overkill but her best jokes have a delicious fed-up interiority (“one for my wallet”) like she’s spent way too much time alone, talking as much to herself as the teenagers she knows aren’t listening. Exceptionally funny but dramatically grounded when it counts, listening to her young son’s heart break on the telephone. ♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Can I give this performance 10 hearts?!  It's such a lived-in, funny, real piece of work." - Suzanne (Reader average: ♥♥♥♥)

Actress earns 24 ❤s 

THE OSCAR WENT TO... Brenda Fricker

AND THE SMACKDOWN AGREES AND SALUTES THIS...

Brenda Fricker weeps as Mrs Brown when her son scrawls Mother on the floor in "My Left Foot"

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? A companion podcast is coming soon where we flesh out these feelings and talk about the films themselves and our moviegoing histories

Thank you for attending! 
Share it on facebook or twitter. Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941195219641968, 19731980, and 2003. Previously 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site

Further Reading? 1989 themed articles are here

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Reader Comments (41)

Every acting class I've been a part of (and I've been in some top notch classes), at some point, after a particularly chewy piece of Williams or O'Neil, the teacher will admonish the toothy beaver on stage standing in the ruins of the room, that the best acting isn't "acting," it's re-acting to the events around you. This is what Fricker does, and does so well. I totally agree with the outcome of the panel, but am surprised that none of you gave her the full 5 stars. She blew everyone else away imho and is definitive of supporting player. As one of you pointed out, without her quietness, DDL would be way over the top and the film out of balance.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

My ballot: Julia Roberts- Steel Magnolias

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Don't worry Julia, I mostly have nice things to say. When you are going up against 3 Oscar winners (Sally, Shirley, Olympia) a rising star (Daryl) and a big personality (Dolly) you had better bring it. Julia doesn't blend into the background and acquits herself well. But I think the nomination came because of the role itself, not her performance. Shelby is the sympathetic non cranky/crazy woman who puts family before herself. Anyone who took this role could have been nominated. Just think, if Daryl and Julia had switched roles, Ms.Hannah might have an Oscar right now. 3 hearts


Leno Olin- Enemies: a Love Story
I am tempted to give her an extra half heart for that awkward licking sex scene alone. Olin gets the big scenes where she ACTS. Of the three women, she gives the best performance. Masha is passionate and alive and I can see why Herman is attracted to her. Also of the three women, Masha is the only one who could go on without him. She just doesn't want to- Herman is her addiction. Olin overacts in some of the scenes, but I blame the director more than her for that. 3 hearts

Anjelica Huston

Oh poor Anjelica Huston. Olin gets the hot livewire role, Stein is the most sympathetic, and then there is Huston. She has the least amount of screentime and she isn't really given a character to play but an enigma. We don't understand her motivations or why she does what she does (or why she tolerates what she does) It is an underdeveloped part and there is only so much Huston can do with it. 2 hearts

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Roberts has four Oscar nominations, not three.

Fricker ***
Huston ***
Olin ****
Roberts ***1/2
Wiest ***1/2

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHelen M.

It's so sad to see Fricker give such a beautifuly quiet performance and how her career outside of Ireland has never really amounted to anything because it is hard to cast an actress like Fricker in anything but either way it was such a deserved oscar win and really shows the greatness of the oscars in giving an unknown actress like Fricker an oscar because she deserved it. This is actually a good list of nominees with some louder and quieter performances and really is a good mix of the year's best. Some other women I think would have been deserving are Pat Carroll (The Little Mermaid) and Rosie Perez (Do the Right Thing).

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

@Eoin: That's interesting you'd say that, because I've read Fricker opine that the Irish film industry never really gave her many opportunities even after My Left Foot, and that she thinks the film went underappreciated at home despite, in her view, putting Irish cinema back on the map. Thoughts on that, or on perceptions of Fricker in her home country?

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Huh... I didn't realize Jackson was supposed to be a cheater. Interesting.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Glorious Smackdown, as always! I was pleasently surprised to see my review of Olin's performance quoted.

My ratings:
Fricker - ***
Huston - ****
Olin - ***
Roberts - **
Wiest - ****

Not really a fan of Roberts' performance and, for that matter, any performance from that film. Read on Rotten Tomatoes : 'Each of the women talk like they're reading a bumper sticker.' - Jon Niccum. This is hilariously true.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel

It's fascinating to consult Google now to see what comes up with each actress. Bios, Wiki articles and Rotten Tomatoes averages constitute Olin's and Wiest's, and the news option doesn't appear for either of them. Julia Roberts is Julia Roberts to this day even if Jolie, Aniston and Lawrence have taken up a chunk of the conversation that her name used to echo over. Anjelica Huston, for all her talent and skill, is unable to escape the almost literal specter these days that is Jack Nicholson, even in Google search results. And in what seems like truly bitter irony, Brenda Fricker seems to have fallen into the worst of times, with money issues, a reputation for being "prickly" and "too reclusive for her own good" and a depressing list of physical and mental problems.

None of that has to do with their performances or talent, but in a year where I liked each performance (if not the movies housing them) and don't begrudge any actress the nomination she received, it would have been nice to see Fricker having some of the opportunities that Wiest still gets and Olin not being relegated to Attractive and European Woman Over a Certain Age. It would also be nice if I could still recognize Anjelica Huston, but that's a different Hollywood pressure gone awry unfortunately. Luckily Roberts is in complete control of her career, mainly by not giving a crap as to what people think of her from the looks of it, and Wiest seems to do her own thing at her leisure, which is an awesome position to be in.

For what it's worth, Fricker is aces, Wiest is queen, Huston and Olin are solid tens and Roberts didn't need the luck but gets a seven anyway.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

Huh. Maybe time to rewatch My Left Foot, a movie I aggressively disliked when I saw it the first time. My heart belongs to Dianne Weist this year, as in all years.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

I wasn't expecting Fricker to win here. I don't like the movie. In any case, I loved reading the panelist's opinions. Well picked!

Can't wait for the podcast. Lots of Steel Magnolias, I presume.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue: I saw My Left Foot (haven't seen Steel Magnolias, Parenthood and Enemies), but I'm still thinking I'd nominate two of the title characters (Kim Walker, Shannen Doherty) and the hippy teacher (Penelope Milford) from Heathers before considering ANY of the people the Academy cited.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Wonderful Smackdown! I am pleasantly surprised that I was quoted. I would never think to list Wiest among my favorite actresses, but I am always so happy to see her in everything. She's terrific.

I'm not a fan of My Left Foot (or its winning performances) either, so I'm somewhat surprised that Fricker came out on top as well, though the thoughts on her enhancing DDL's performance are interesting.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Awesome Smackdown, as always. I'm a bit surprised that there wasn't more passion for the 'Enemies' wives, as I loved both of them and probably would have backed Olin for the win. Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly claims it was Anjelica Huston who was running neck and neck with Brenda Fricker (perhaps due to her stellar year).

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Based solely on performance it's Branda Fricker in a walk IMO.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I'm glad you all went with Fricker. I feel she was the best choice, too, and My Left Foot is one very good movie.

I noticed that you had Steel Magnolias as the first of three nominations for Julia Roberts. She's actually been nominated four times now thanks to August: Osage County and category fraud.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

So happy to be quoted, and of course it would be for Julia Roberts, my first actress love (that's what happens when your mother raises you on movies she loves - Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride every day at age 6).

However, Weist was my clear winner, although I now feel like I missed something with Fricker, who I liked but didn't love. Great smackdown and can't wait for the podcast!

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Chris -- Wiest was my clear winner as well though i gave her the same heart grade as Olin. I really wanted to use half grades this time which i couldn't.

Sean T -- yeah, when typing this i forgot about AUGUST. funny since it is the most recent but i'm fixing it now.

Mike M -- i don't remember Huston being in the running for the oscar but that year is weird for me since i was paying less attention than usual. I thought it was between Fricker and Roberts but perhaps i misremember. Anyway my vote is all Wiest though i seem to remember critics being very pro-Olin.

peggy sue -- weirdly steel magnolias didn't get discussed as much as i thought it would (we recorded today)

F -- i don't know what you mean about Huston. she seems like the exact same actress she always was. in appearance. she was always more "handsome" than beautiful per se but damn her face is memorable.

Eoin -- cosign Nick's question. I thought things didn't go well for her in Irish film either?

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I was not kidding when I said I was excited for Tasha Robinson! The Lena Olin bit was particularly interesting, as you have the gays hyperventilating on how sexy the performance is and in comes the only woman in the panel and mercilessly shoots it down. She almost singlehandedly tipped the scale from Olin to Fricker with that 1 heart evaluation.

Hopefully, the podcast will be available soon and we'll be able to hear everybody expand on their takes! :D

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

all i can remember of julia roberts in steel magnolias is her playing her diabetic meltdown like she was linda blair in the exorcist

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I love Dianne Wiest. And Joaquin Phoenix started the masturbation trend in Parenthood that followed him in To Die For and The Master -- masturbation trend and The Master -- never mind lame joke. I love both actors and wish Wiest would come back to claim her stature as the Walter Brennan of Supporting Actress Oscar winners -- she's one shy of three. She deserves to be in the three-timers club. God she's fabulous.

Funny no one brings up the fact that Huston and Roberts were nominated together in consecutive years and each time lost to an Irish unknown. Kathy Bates beating both women in the game of award season magnet. And also cultural relevance with the people on the street.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I would kick out Huston and replace her with Maclaine,sure it's a Jube Squibb type role but god she has all the funniest lines,if Julia wasn't so good and made us feel for her then Sally's graveside breakdown would not work,i was glad Julia did not play her as a brat,i truly believed Sally and Julia were mother and daughter..

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

Julia's work was lovely. was it worth a win? Maybe not. But it was a true moviestar performance. I think it was Vincent Canby of the NYTimes who compared her breakthrough role in this to Audrey Hepburn's in Roman Holiday and I agree that in Steel Magnolias, she was sweetly vulnerable, exquisitely beautiful and although the film is equal slices cheese and ham, Roberts was never that. She seemed touchable and real.

I watched Enemies recently and was just so disappointed with how sexist it was. The female roles in that were just awful and the male lead was odious.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterton

Carmen -- there were straight guys on the panel! They think she's sexy too :)

Par -- i would use that as a pullquote on a Steel Magnolias revival poster if I could.

September 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I didn't get a chance to [re]watch the films and vote this month but reading this was - as always - a delight!

What year is the next smackdown on?

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I love three of these performances, and I like the other two. My love is for Wiest who was superb as always, Roberts who was the heart of the movie thanks to her natural talent and Olin who was disturbing and fascinating in Enemies. I also like Fricker and Huston though not love them.

I think my winner would be Weist though Roberts and Olin would be great winners for me.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSabina

goran -- this was meant to be the season finale but i'm working on another celebrity guest so if i snag him or her we'll do one more before resuming post Oscars :)

September 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

a 90's one i hope,97 would be gr8.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

My winner would have been Dianne Wiest but all are wonderful actresses and interesting films but while I love Steel Magnolias I was much less engaged by most of these movies than the '73 group.

Brenda Fricker – My Left Foot
Fricker is the compassionate and warm moral center on which Day-Lewis masterpiece performance of a difficult and gifted man turns. Using subtle choices she makes a character that could have been pushed to the sidelines by the force of the lead's dilemma memorable. It's a strong performance but I was never blown away by it. 2 1/2 hearts.

Anjelica Huston – Enemies, A Love Story
A terrific almost comical performance in the heavy mix that is Ron Silver's life in the film. That she's wonderful is no surprise, she's Angelica Huston after all, but her bemused attitude to all that she finds after "returning from the dead" keeps her interactions with the other characters fresh. 3 1/2 hearts

Lena Olin – Enemies, A Love Story
Where Angelica is all wry detachment Olin throws every emotion that she's feeling right in Silver's, and therefore the audience's, face. It's bracing work which I eventually found exhausting. 3 hearts.

Julia Roberts – Steel Magnolias
Rising star nomination-If anyone from this ensemble deserved the nod it was Sally Field. Roberts surely glows with star quality in her big break role and she has some nice moments but it's not a revelatory performance. You like her and she gets the job done but any competent actess could have turned in the same piece of work. It's the way the camera loves her that makes her memorable not her acting. 3 hearts.

Dianne Wiest – Parenthood
Unsurprisingly Dianne Wiest takes a rather stock character, the divorced mother with rebellious kids, and finds ways to make it original. Her "This is marriage speech" to Martha Plimpton is worth the nomination alone but she adds color to all the small moments of Helen's journey. There are so many instances but my favorite is her subtle reactions as Keanu reveals the abuses of his childhood, she certainly drew some of his best acting out in that scene. 4 1/2 stars.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I'm surprised that Wiest's performance turned out to be somewhat divisive - didn't expect her to score less than three from anyone. I remember loving her in Parenthood when I saw it a couple of years ago, even though the movie itself is mediocre at best. (And with Ron Howard at the helm, how could it not be?)

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Steel Magnolias is an orgy for actressexuals and it deserves a whole podcast or a song & dance tribute with the entire Film Experience team.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Just three years later, Fricker would play supporting fiddle to Macaulay Culkin as "Central Park Pigeon Woman" - so poetically IMDb names her character.

It was nevertheless the best performance that won.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertomo

lol tomo, I remember that character in "home alone 2".

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

I'm kinda surprised that fricker managed to come out on top, not because it's a bad performance - it's very solid work, but it's just, well, unmemorable. i just watched MY LEFT FOOT in July for something else and when it came time for this smackdown had a hard time remembering anything that stood out. i re-watched just for fricker and felt that any competent actress could've given the same performance.

also, lena olin's masha character, as written, is eye-rollingly bad. but i think that olin the actress found a way to elevate what she was given and make her seem plausible. she's so much better than the material.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

@Carmen: "All the gays hyperventilating": Nathaniel's already pointed out that there are multiple straight guys in this group, but I'm disappointed that these assessments come off as mere effusion. I thought these cases, including Tim's and Todd's more skeptical ones, made more nuanced points than that.

When the podcast goes up, you'll all hear Tasha double down further on her assessment of Masha as just a despicable person, and I have to admit I still don't understand this. Eager for anyone who can help me see this POV (including Tasha, if you're reading).

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

I've read the Singer novel, and it's an competent, memorable, brittle little book: the accusations of misogyny are appropriate. Not in the film, thanks to Lena Olin and Mazursky's direction: she comes off as Will Incarnate. It makes Mazursky's achievement in Enemies, A Love Story all the more impressive.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

btw I urge readers to watch Enemies, A Love Story in light of Mazursky's death. In a career that before 1990 boasted one highlight after another, it's his best film.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

alfred -- hmmm. you might not like the podcast assessment of his direction then.

abstew - agreed on Olin's elevation of her problematic role. In fact, as written I think she does the most heavy lifting of any of the nominees but I think Wiest was the best in the category. Just transcendent while also navigating all of the movies best and worst impulses beautifully. she's of the movie but still better than the movie considerably. and that scene with the photos is my favorite "clip" from any of these women.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I can't wait to hear it. To me the finesse with which Mazursky modulates the tones is the film's biggest strength.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

1. Huston
2. Roberts
3. Olin
4. Wiest
5. Fricker

September 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

1989...The year Oscar chose substance over celebrity. No sellouts to the 2 biggest names in Hollywood (Cruise and Roberts), but they awarded the 2 truly deserving (and less seen) performances of 1989. I remember the collective "who?" at the office the next day. Of course Fricker's was a career peak, while DDL was just getting started.

September 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Forgot to watch Enemies: A Love Story. So back to the 3 remaining actresses:

1. Dianne Wiest- She's just so at ease, so recognizable in who she is representing while not feeling like a performance. The movie is a bit too of a mess and too irresolute in resolution but my favorite parts of the film involved her.

2. Julia Roberts- In reality, there are 3 Steel Magnolias actresses (Dolly, Shirley, and Olympia in that order) who I'd flip Roberts out to be nominated instead but her traumas to me feel real and her futile attempts against the wills of body to live a normal life also feels real and understandable. Part of that tragedy playing so well with me may be based also on Sally Field's reactive performance to all things Shelby, but I remember watching this for the first time being very apathetic over what I've seen in Julia Robert's career and being impressed.

3. Brenda Fricker- She's compassionate, strong, quietly dignified and necessary for a movie but call me a millennial I preferred her post-Oscar bounce roles in Home Alone 2 and Angels in the Outfield where she is pretty much her role as Mrs. Brown adjacent.

September 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

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