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« Melissa McCarthy Rules the Box Office Yet Again | Main | Are you playing along at home? »
Sunday
Jun072015

Smackdown 1979: Barbara, Candice, Jane, Mariel ...and Meryl Streep!

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '79. Three divorcées trying to find themselves or build new lives (a white hot character type / movie theme in the late 70s) battled for the statue with a simple suburban mom and a precocious student at the 52nd Annual Academy Awards.

THE NOMINEES

 

Candice Bergen and Mariel Hemingway were first-time Oscar players in 1979, but they shared the interesting distinction of being previous Globe nominees in the long since cancelled category of "Promising Newcomer/Acting Debut" in 1966 (The Sand Pebbles) and 1976 (Lipstick) respectively. Barbara Barrie , the eldest nominee, was no stranger to good reviews having previously won Cannes Best Actress (for the little seen interracial romance One Potato Two Potato in 1964) but was largely considered a TV actress. She returned to the small screen immediately after her most beloved film role  -- in a TV series based on that film no less making her the rare performer (the only one?) to have received both an Emmy nomination and Oscar nomination for the same exact role! But the Kramer vs Kramer ladies were the marquee draws in 1979 and not just because the public response to their divorce drama was so seismic: Jane Alexander and Meryl Streep had been nominated before and would be again. Especially La Streep. No one could have then predicted that she'd continually obliterate Oscar records over the next thirty plus years but everyone knew she was the Next Big Thing. 1979 was the year of her true ascendance, a third consecutive year co-starring in a Best Picture contender (Julia, The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer) and the small matter of two other much-raved about performances in the same year (Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan). 

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Here to talk about these five turns are author KM Soehnlein ("The World of Normal Boys") and film bloggers Kristen Sales (Sales on Film), Bill Chambers (Film Freak Central), Brian Herrera (StinkyLulu), and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). There's also a must-listen Podcast companion conversation to the Smackdown where we flesh out some of these thoughts and expound on the movies themselves.

Without further ado, the Smackdown...

1979
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 
An in-depth discussion after the jump... 

 

JANE ALEXANDER as "Margaret Phelps" in Kramer vs. Kramer
Synopsis: A divorced neighbor watches two friends marriage crumble and her allegiance begin to shift when she sees the wreckage
Stats: Then 40 yrs old, 6th film, 3rd nomination. 10 minutes of screen time (or 9% of running time). 

K.M. Soehnlein: Points for all that conviction in her eyes! She sells every scene even though the script rewrites her character every time she appears. She’s the measuring stick by which we judge the change in Hoffman’s protagonist: she begins with righteous judgment and ends up as his character witness. But even Ms. Alexander’s talents couldn’t sell the plot-point that she was still in love with her (off-screen) ex-husband. Margaret has fallen for Ted, am I right? ♥♥♥

Kristen Sales: Alexander cradling the knocked-out, asleep Billy, child of Ted (Hoffman) and Joanna (Streep) while talking to Ted about her own divorce is the key to the entire movie. Alexander radiates maternal warmth, the safety and security of “home,” the absence of which the film takes as its central theme. In the divorce court scenes, Margaret, caught between two friends and racked with guilt over her complicity in their break-up, becomes the substitute for Billy: she is the broken home. ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: A demanding role in that Alexander must evidence and track a somewhat turbulent personal life that exists entirely offscreen, plus convey neutrality in the titular battle while being firmly allied with Hoffman's character--with whom she must establish chemistry that can never, for reasons of taste, become romantic. Wisely, if perhaps inevitably, she strikes a note of constant fatigue, and her breakdown while washing dishes feels suitably cathartic and not simply tied to the harrowing events of the day.  ♥♥♥

Brian Herrera: As scripted, Margaret reads as an omnipresent meddling menace, as that impossible friend whose every action seems to always make an already awful situation somehow terribly worse, as if Gladys Kravitz was Medea’s next door neighbor. But in Jane Alexander’s deft rendering, these many moments of nattering flibbertigibbitiness are layered intricately as idiosyncrasies in Alexander’s complex portrait of Margaret’s deeply felt ambivalence. Alexander embodies Margaret’s constantly wavering uncertainty with humanity, clarity and power — no easy task, expertly accomplished here. ♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Though Alexander is a capable actress, the limits of this meek character prevent any formidable or consistent interpretation. It's difficult to get a read on Margaret from scene-to-scene often feeling as if we've missed a key one on the cutting room floor. She's best when she's flummoxed by events beyond her control or emotions as in the courtroom scene in which she doesn't want to be misinterpreted or post-playground accident when she blames herself. ♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Unfairly forgotten due to Streep's tour-de-force. Her courtroom scene is good and her platonic relationship with Hoffman is quite nicely acted" - Brad M. (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 17 ❤s 


BARBARA BARRIE as "Evelyn Stoller" in Breaking Away
Synopsis: An overworked housewife tries to keep the peace between her grumpy husband and her cycling-fanatic son who is going through an "I-talian" phase.
Stats: Then 48 yrs old, 5th film, first and only nomination.  15 minutes of screen time (or 7% of running time). 

K.M. Soehnlein: She must have decided early on that since her scene partners were shameless hams, she needed to downplay everything for balance. What a light touch she has! She’s like a sad/wise silent movie clown (e.g. that mostly-dialogue free sequence when she puts flowers in her hair and fails to seduce her husband with a fancy meal and opera music). When she finally lets loose a momentary cheer for her son mid-race, it’s some well-earned joy. ♥♥♥

Kristen Sales: Barbara Barrie’s role in Breaking Away, ostensibly as Wife and Mother, begins so much in the background, you barely notice as she steals the movie. It’s a movie about a cycling race and Barrie’s is a thrilling, come from behind victory. While her role is as an archetypal mother, Barrie finds the nuances within; even the deliberate way she dusts the furniture or cooks breakfast is imbued with a kind of self-possessed, All-American small town poetry. ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: A sitcom actress approaching a sitcom archetype--the homemaker who keeps the peace between her hardheaded husband and quixotic son--with professionalism and a surplus of warmth. Love when she shows son Dave her unused passport and her comic seduction of Paul Dooley, both of which strike the same conspiratorial note: she has these two wrapped around her little finger. But she's near enough to tears in the former scene to hint at disappointments masked by her dotty energy ♥♥♥♥

Brian Herrera: Barbara Barrie (as “Mom”) delivers a heaping, calorie-conscious helping of mother-love circa 1979. Mom’s scripted to be a loving, patient witness as the two men she loves most — her husband and her son — must wrestle and parry to find their way back to each other. Barrie develops extraordinary texture, nuance and specificity every frickin’ second the camera glances her way (powerful proof of that “no small parts” maxim) but remains tethered by the limits of the material. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: That way she holds her “Valley of the Dolls” paperback while half-talking to her fussing husband is endearing perfection - a snapshot of years of boredom, love, and minor invisible escapisms as part of the furniture… excuse me, family. Barrie has virtually nothing to do but “mom around" in the background but she aces her key scene (the passport) by underplaying the self-reflection; any trace of self-pity would sink it by drawing attention to how much the movie has reduced her to cook and maid. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "In keeping with the staid tradition of the obligatory single acting nod afforded a Best Picture nominee. But Barrie is ineffably likeable here, and that’s a lovely intangible." -Brookesboy (Reader average: ♥♥½)

Actress earns 17½ ❤s 

 

CANDICE BERGEN as "Jessica Potter" in Starting Over
Synopsis: An aspiring "singer"/songwriter dumps her husband to pursue her dreams but soon wants him back after he's begun another relationship
Stats: Then 33 years old, 18th Film, first and only nomination though she'd later become an Emmy queen. 27 minutes of screen time (or 26% of running time). 

K.M. Soehnlein: As the temptress who must be overcome so that love can prevail, Candice sorta rises above stereotype by comically selling the character’s belief in her terrible singing. Crying to her ex, she manages to convey real emotion—the little modulations in her throat—while never forgetting she’s in a comedy. But her best line (“The thing about love is you can really make an ass of yourself”) happens off screen, with the camera on Burt. The film robs her of her redemption, and she offers little more. ♥♥

Kristen Sales: Bergen’s Full Comedy performance in Starting Over strikes the kind of fearless, confident, slightly “This girl’s nuts!” chord that must have attracted her ex-husband (Burt Reynolds) in the first place. Jessica (Bergen) gives the film an uptick of humor and shot of energy in her few short scenes, usually singing (poorly). But far from a caricature, nightmarish ex-wife, Bergen is even better in lowkey scenes, like when she surprises Jill Clayburgh by matter-of-factly stating she has a Master’s Degree. ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: The golden mane, the sultry voice, that, ahem, blouse: Bergen's glamorousness is wielded such that she becomes a bracingly vulgar presence here--the de facto American in a movie that feints at being European, and a definite respite from Jill Clayburgh's Jill Clayburgh-ness--even before she serenades Burt Reynolds with that arch, Ethel Merman-meets-Laura Branigan singing voice. All this leaves her oddly exposed, though, and the award I'm most inclined to give her is for being a good sport.  ♥♥

Brian Herrera: That vulnerability and bravado, that glamour and goofiness, all remixed into a character by turns intimidating and endearing — seems mightily familiar post-Murphy Brown but what a revelation Candice Bergen’s Jessica must have been in 1979. You can sense the tight-wire experiment here, though, and it’s a delight to witness Bergen pushing herself to discover ever greater heights of her own absurdity (especially in that brilliant seduction serenade). A deserving nomination from an endearing, peculiar mess of a movie. ♥♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: What a bizarre role! I don’t quite know whether to follow that with “what a performance!”. Is Bergen mercilessly lampooning this awful woman or merely amping up the comedy (which the movie needs) with sadistically good aim? Her terrible singing is the biggest running joke but her best double-sided trick, that tips me a smidge closer towards “what a performance!”, is that devastasting open-bloused sexiness (“how do I look?”) chased by an antiseptic sex scene. Her hit single “Better Than Ever” sure is a lie!. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Beautiful woman. Good line reader. Stiff actress." - Rob B. (Reader average: ♥♥½)

Actress earns 16½ ❤s 

 

MARIEL HEMINGWAY as "Tracy" in Manhattan
Synopsis: A precocious student is torn between studying in London and moving in with her much-older boyfriend in Manhattan.
Stats:  Then 18 years old, 2nd film, first and only nomination.  24 minutes of screen time (or 25% of the running time). 

K.M. Soehnlein: Woody’s masterpiece begins in voiceover, telling us he’s “romanticized New York all out of proportion.” The same could be said of Tracy, the most emotionally well-adjusted 17-year-old ever. That doesn’t stop Hemingway from conveying the core truth of her character: she’s the only grown-up among all these stunted adults. I found myself wanting another film running parallel to this one, following Tracy through her days, a testament to how much life Hemingway breathed into this enchanting young woman. ♥♥♥♥

Kristen Sales: Woody Allen announces Manhattan as a deeply romantic fantasy from the opening scene and the film largely succeeds or fails on the strength--the relatability, the believability--of Allen’s romantic fantasy object: Mariel Hemingway. Witness the justly famous final scene, when an 18-year old Hemingway talks Allen down from his “romanticized all out of proportion” heroism with the clear-eyed optimism and open-faced honesty that can only come from a girl who’s never been to Europe. ♥♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: Hemingway's lack of stylization compared to her co-stars only looks more refreshing, even shocking, in the rearview, now that there's a prescribed methodology for acting in a Woody Allen film. Unfortunately, she can be so unaffected as to frequently seem as "cow-like and dim" as Peter Bogdanovich described her characterization of Dorothy Stratten, no matter how precocious her dialogue. I reckon Hemingway's performance is given too much credit based on the protective feelings a girl in Tracy's shoes inspires. ♥♥

Brian Herrera: Viewed today, Manhattan seems a grimly prescient Woody Allen opus — an aesthetically stunning yet strikingly charmless film. Only Mariel Hemingway’s characterization of the guileless and forthright Tracy seems to somehow float above the creepy muck, glib acidity and addled over-sophistication that propels the film. When Allen’s character breaks Tracy’s heart, Hemingway’s vivid vulnerability ruptures the film’s peculiar, cruel detachment. Still, we trust that Tracy will be okay; it’s Allen we’re not so sure about. Like I said. Prescient. ♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: In Manhattan’s most heartbreaking scene, Tracy whispers “leave me alone” as her older lover Isaac, who has just dumped her, tries to console her about the dumping. Mixed messages! And boy does Tracy get them and give them. Sort of. Hemingway doesn’t quite sell the teenage contradictions embedded in this masterpiece’s text but she more than perfectly captures (or embodies) that thrilling dangerous moment when youthful confidence peers down at messy adulthood… and promptly throws itself off the cliff in a hurry to get there. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "It would be too easy to turn the 17 year old woman in Isaac's life into either a bimbo or a naive waif. In fact, for a good portion of the movie, it seems as if Tracey will tip towards being the naive waif. However, Hemingway imbues her with a silent conviction that pays off in spades with the finale. " - Christopher (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 19 ❤s 

MERYL STREEP as "Joanna Kramer" in Kramer vs. Kramer
Synopsis: A deeply unhappy mother leaves her only child to find herself. 18 Months later she seeks custody but finds her ex-husband a changed man.
Stats:  Then 30 yrs old, 5th film, 2nd nomination/1st win. 27½ minutes of screen time (or 26% of running time). 

K.M. Soehnlein: From her iconic first close-up to her final tear-stained surrender, YOU CAN’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF HER. I loved rediscovering pre-mannered Meryl: her sharp focus, careful physicality, and containment of emotions. Her testimony on the stand is a marvel of complexity: Joanna is rehearsed and strategic but also full of desperate feeling. We believe her even as we are forced by the film to root for her husband. Without Meryl, this battle of the sexes would have been a lopsided fight. ♥♥♥♥♥

Kristen Sales: The opening shot of Meryl Streep looks like a Renaissance painting of the Madonna and child; Streep’s re-entrance in the film is a total horror movie cue: pressed up against a glass window, borderline stalker pose, eyes red-rimmed with angry tears like Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus. Streep balances Joanna’s crazed impulses with the steely conviction of a woman assured of her decision to leave but still desirous of the love she left behind. ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: Streep is often powerless, at this stage in her career, against narrative and camera strategies that would frame her character as the boogeyman, but much like her homophonic namesake Mariel, she is fortunate to have a final scene that leaves an endearing, indelible afterimage. Joanna's instantaneous thaw in the penultimate shot is magical, not the least for how Streep seems to startle herself with that gasp; she makes clear, in that moment, just how starved Joanna's been for kindness.  ♥♥♥♥

Brian Herrera: It’s a rare supporting actress turn that notches Oscar’s nomination (and win) in its first minutes, not its last. Meryl Streep’s work as Joanna (the wife and mother who decides to step away from those sacred roles and toward her independence) is revelatory, not simply of Streep’s formidable gift but of Joanna’s frailties. With every wordless wince, Streep conveys her character’s unscripted complexity, always reminding us that Joanna’s much more than that monster watching from the coffee shop window. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: In a story full of uncommonly vivid emotional duels (ice cream / custody / deadlines) that are difficult to shake, one single image remains the stickiest - Joanna staring through a window watching her son, a ghost mother haunting the entire film after willful (figurative) suicide. It's the legend's first genius characterization and still one of her gutsiest, so forcefully claimed as to demand our sympathies, whatever the collateral damage, but never asking for the audiences love. Bonus points: those bookend scenes are an astonishing illustration of how to complete a character arc.  ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Streep has been criticized for relying too heavily on craft and technique, but stripped of any artifice, as she is in this film, she skillfully manages to plumb the depths of Joanna's conflicting emotions making the actions of an unsympathetic character understandable. The Academy doesn't always recognize genius immediately, but with this performance they completely got it right." - Andrew (Reader average: ♥♥♥♥½)

Actress earns 28½ ❤s 

The Oscar Went To... Meryl Streep
AND THE SMACKDOWN AGREES IN A LANDSLIDE 

Holy mackerel! 

 

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? Listen to the companion podcast - 45 minutes of conversation about the movies of 1979 (these ones and others) and the bridge it was to the 1980s cinema and the snapshot of gender politics of the era

Thank you for attending! 
Please do share it on facebook or twitter. Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941195219641968, 19731980, 1989, and 2003. Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site

Further Reading? 1970s themed articles are here

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Reader Comments (46)

Yay for the return of the Smackdown!! And so much sharp, beautiful writing in these blurbs. Perfect Sunday brunch.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick -- glad you liked. Can't wait till your back because i always want your blurbs too!

June 7, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think I'd rank them like this:

1. Barbara Barrie - mostly to make up for the missed nomination from her excellent work in 1964's One Potato, Two Potato, but also because she's a standout in a male-dominated cast.

2. Meryl Streep - Yes, I know I'm crazy for not giving the Oscar to Meryl, but we don't always have to give Meryl the Oscar. If she hadn't made Kramer in 1979, do you think she would have been nominated for Manhattan?

3. Mariel Hemingway - The best part about Manhattan in terms of a performance, Hemingway was a revelation to me when I saw this at a way-too-young age. I was happy to know that the one character from this movie who got to me emotionally was the one who was rewarded with a nomination.

4. Candice Bergen - I like Candy and I'm glad she's an Academy Award nominated person, but she would have much bigger and better things for her career in the not-too-distant future. Starting Over is a harmless rom-com, still much better than most of the crap we get today.

5. Jane Alexander - I miss Jane Alexander. Am I crazy to think she should have finally won her long-overdue Oscar for 1983's Testament? Of course, Shirley MacLaine's long-overdue Oscar came that year. But if we give MacLaine 1963's Oscar for Irma La Douce and give Patricia Neal 1968's Oscar for The Subject Was Roses, everyone is happy right?

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

Interesting. This was one of those years where the winner is a given and I was more interested in seeing how the rest stack up.
Watching the movies, I kind of thought Mariel and Barbara were miles ahead of Candice and Jane, so it's neat that each performance had enough fans and detractors on the panel (or, in Jane's case, down-the-middle ambivalence) to keep them just about even.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Streep is leading? Not really category fraud, but she's just there, all the time, even when we don't see her. Little screentime, but that's a Hannibal Lecter case. The movie is a two-hander, and it is about her, too.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Cal -- i thought about that while watching. We see her picture CONSTANTLY and everyone's headspace is caught up in her for the movie. It is very Hannibal like situation only... um... without the serial killing.

Mike -- yeah. the performance were divisive enough that i hope our podcast conversation is interesitng to everyone tonight.

Sean T -- i've never seen One Potato Two Potato but would LOVE to. how did you see it? (it seems hard to find)

June 7, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I would have voted for Streep in leading, too, no matter how much I love Field in Norma Rae and, specially, Fonda in The China Syndrome.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Thanks so much everyone! A great project that keeps on giving.
I especially missed Nick in this one, though, because I remember he doesn't love Meryl's performance and would be interested in hearing his thoughts.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Streep is by far the winner here. No question. I'm in the minority, I guess, but I truly dislike Mariel Hemingway's performance in Manhattan. I think she's so dull and wooden.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I enjoyed reading everyone's impressions. Is it just me or are characters today no longer this complicated? I re-watched Kramer a few months ago and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It's a well made, entertaining and satisfying film. I still can't believe Streep started off in 3 best picture nominees in 3 years. Incredible combination of talent and good fortune. Thanks.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSarah T

Starting Over would have been so boring without Candice Bergen! I think the Academy missed some big performances this year (Leland Palmer and Veronica Cartwright especially), but I'm glad she was included.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Meryl all the way for not only one of the best supporting performances ever, but one of the most important. We cannot forget that Meryl actually WROTE HER OWN COURTROOM MONOLOGUE and convinced Benton to include it, lest her character be shallow. That is, her performance not only gives us a sympathetic look at what could be the second chapter of A DOLL'S HOUSE, but, at the level of production, is a massively feminist gesture.

"I should have painted clouds."

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

A not unexpected nor unwelcome outcome and I'm happy to see the return of the Smackdown. All the actresses gave skillful performances but none had as complex a character to play as Meryl and she did it beautifully. Of the nominees she was the proper choice though mine for the year is the un-nominated Barbara Harris in The Seduction of Joe Tynan.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I love Alexander in KVK she easily sells the bak story

I was disappointed on research that Valerie Harper in Chapter Two,Leland Palmer in All that Jazz and Rachel Roberts in Yanks were not nominated,why do you think this was,thoughts Nat on those 3 in particular plus any other 79 near miss or snub.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

a.k.a. "Rob B"

My contribution:

Meryl Streep: 5 hearts. Some of her acting tics are very apparent, upon retrospect, but still a devastating performance in the courtroom scenes. She and Dustin were very deserving.

Barbara Barrie: 4 hearts. "Character Actress in that 'once in a lifetime' role."

Jane Alexander: 3 hearts. Good but some of those line readings in court are awful.

Candace Bergen: 2 hearts. I don't remember this movie much, but I can't imagine being that impressed with Miss Bergen. She's like Cybill Shepherd. Beautiful woman. Good line reader. Stiff actress.

Mariel Hemingway: 1 heart. I have absolutely no idea why she was nominated, unless it was for great beauty. Kristy McNichol or Tatum O'Neal or Diane Lane, for contemporaries, could have done so much more.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Meryl 28 and half out of 30❤️❤️❤️

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteramirfarhang

forever1267 -- ohmygod. imagining Diane Lane in that right now and am stunned by the thought. She was such a good actor right out of the gate.

Mark -- we will adddress some of those people in the podcast.

Joel 6 -- i still have never seen that movie but I love Barbara Harris so i should.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yay!! Return of the smackdown! Cannot wait for the podcast too.

Glad that Streep was the clear winner. She's so phenomenal in that movie, and I would argue better than in Sophie's Choice (DON'T KILL ME!).

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Nat, Eileen Brennan (R.I.P.) also recreated an Oscar-nominated role (in Private Benjamin) in a follow-up TV series in which she not only was Emmy nominated (several times) but actually *won* the Emmy for that role. It must be extremely rare though.

I agree that Meryl Streep is a co-lead in Kramer vs. Kramer for basically all of the aforementioned reasons. Isn't the film a *three-hander* though? I think a case could be made for Justin Henry being nominated for Best Actor, too, although of course that never was going to happen.

Anyway, for me Meryl Streep > Barbara Barrie > Jane Alexander > Candace Bergen > Mariel Hemingway (who I'm assuming was nominated for her "You have to have faith in people" send-off, which IS one of the greatest movie endings of all time, in my opinion).

Thank you for the Smackdown!

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I came too late - but here goes:
Barbara Barrie: It's amazing the academy even noticed her performance, given how it's undermined by the abrupt editing that cuts short her best scenes. The genial feeling for the film swept her along with the other nominations. It's sheer feel goodness secured it's BP nomination and the original screenplay has many wonderful moments. Barrie offers great support for Paul Dooley's performance. She's the wise, patient go-between, offering insight into the two men for whom she makes a home. I wish the editing/screenplay hadn't cut short Barrie's impressive ability to suggest an equally compelling story beyond her husband's and son's. 2 hearts

Candice Bergen: She's not offering support here, as there's nothing to support. That she and Jill Clayburgh managed nominations acting opposite a barely there Burt Reynolds, attests to their skills. She creates a near comic masterpiece of a performance on her own. Take her scenes on their own and it's like a short film about the delusions of a near middle-aged woman, with a complete lack of connection to those around her. Better Than Ever, indeed. 3 hearts

Mariel Hemingway: I was disappointed revisiting this film. Full of dizzy, neurotic, aggressively vengeful and self aggrandizing people, Tracy is truly a respite from the adults who dismiss her because she's a child. And that is due to the completely open and natural performance of Hemingway. When she says “Not everybody gets corrupted”, you pray it will be true for her. This performance still is touching and natural despite the current view of the creepy relationship she's involved in. 4 hearts

Jane Alexander: Another warm, witty, wise character from Jane Alexander during her brief time in the academy's favor. It's too bad she now plays judges in various TV courtroom dramas. She gives true support to Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer softens his strident, belligerent character traits. Too bad she didn't have any scenes with Meryl Streep, to deepen our understanding of her side in the movie's battle. I kind of wished the Kramers would die, so Billy could be raised by Margaret. 3 hearts

Meryl Streep: I appreciate this performance more after seeing it again. I've never understood the appeal of this film and the academy's generosity to it. Meryl Streep's performance disguises the fact that there's really no story connected to Joanna Kramer. The depth of her feelings of anguish and guilt are all there in her performance, filled in by her. They're not in the screenplay. She shows that she would become a master at creating more character than may be apparent in the material she's given to play. 4 hearts

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterROBS

I'm in agreement with those not feeling Mariel's performance. It bugged me when I first saw the movie and I still can't get excited about it.

Yeah, Meryl...::sigh:: 1976-1983 were very good years.

Barbara Barrie has always been more of a stage actress than a film or TV actress in my book, even though she's enjoyed a long and lucrative career on the small screen. She will go down in history as originating the role of Sarah in Company and in 2014 received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for I Remember Mama at the Gym at Judson.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

This made my Sunday. It was really enjoyable reading the Smackdowner's comments--Streep's are especially fascinating and salient. My favorite moment in that performance comes in the courtroom scene, when she's asked if Ted has had extramarital affairs. Her flicker of amusement before she replies "No" is an early example of how imaginative she is as an actress; you can tell by that expression that Billy had told Joanna about Ted's one-night-stand and his comically innocent non-sequitur ("Do you like fried chicken?") (Maybe it was Robert Benton who created that backstory for her and directed her to reveal that in the moment, but I'm thinking it was Streep, because she's usually this creative in pretty much all her roles.)

Side note: I'm one movie away from seeing all the performances nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Does anybody have any idea where I could find a copy of "The Bachelor Party" (1957)? Carolyn Jones' entire six-minute performance is on Youtube, but not the movie itself, and I want to see the whole thing. Sometimes the film surfaces on TCM, but it's too expensive to change my cable subscription, and Internet searches haven't yielded anything. I'd appreciate any ideas!

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

holy mackerel did Meryl deserve this win! such an amazing performance and truly fascinating character. When she tells ted that one day she'll jump right out the window, it stops you in your tracks and makes you wanna know more about this woman.

i'm also in the camp of not understanding the praise for mariel hemingway. and now i really want to see what diane lane would've done with tracy. (great suggestion forever1267!)

thanks for another amazing smackdown! and if anyone's interested i posted my own ballot on my website.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

My ballot looked like this:

I haven't seen Starting Over

4. Hemingway- She doesn't sound like a real 17 year old, but a 17 year old forced into doing a role in a high school play. Kind of wish we had Jodie Foster like Allen originally wanted.

3. Barrie- The part isn't really interesting but Barrie does try to turn this stereotype role on its head.

2. Streep- Streep is able to spin her straw of a part into gold, but only so much.

1. Alexander- My vote. Their scene on the park bench when he asks if she would take her husband back is so real. I believe these two people would actually have this conversation. Alexander doesn't allow her character to quickly fall in love with Ted, instead she becomes his friend and confidante and he hers. This was the most interesting part of the movie for me because most films would have them jumping into the sack. Their platonic relationship out of necessity was fascinating and watching Alexander do this was Hoffman was wonderful.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

Candice Bergen was fun to watch, but in my opinion it was no way an Academy award nomination worthy performance. I think her best scene is her last scene in supermarket, her reaction there is superb, but still far from outstanding. Im still amazed she (and Jill) managed nominations for that movie, for that role, cause there were many more deserving performances in academy friendlier movies. i used to think 4 hearts, but since she ws nominated its 3.5 stars

Mariel Hemingway was ok, but also nothing spectacular. She was so sweet, yet so wooden at times. 3.5 hearts

It was a long since i saw KVK and i havent seen BReaking away

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterToni

Nat please discuss Cartwriht in Alien and Harper in Chapter Two on the podcast.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Thanks for another really enjoyable Smackdown. I haven't seen Chapter Two, and saw Breaking Away a long time ago and would need to see it again to comment on Barbara Barrie's performance, but I like the other three performances very much. I'd never quite thought of Jane Alexander's role as changing from scene to scene but now that it's been pointed out, that seems right - but she's still giving a very good performance in the role. Streep is great in her role (leading? supporting? It can be argued both ways). And I am a big fan of Hemingway in Manhattan. The film is perhaps the only overrated film in Woody's filmography - it's misanthropic and the protagonists are often irritating and I'm not even sure the film is even 'about' anything particularly clear...but Hemingway is terrific. The break-up scene in particular showcases why her work here is so special.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I appreciate everyone's opinion, but really no contest. You cannot take your eyes off Streep in this film. Plus, as mentioned, extra points for writing her own courtroom scene.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

So happy the Smackdown is back again! My choice is definitely Streep, though Alexander, Hemingway, and Barrie (love her in that seduction scene) all have their moments as well. I couldn't connect with Starting Over at all. Burt Reynolds was so...nothing and Jill Clayburgh, felt to me like she was playing Annie Hall's boring sister that everyone forgets about. At least when Bergen was onscreen the movie livened up a bit but it was nothing I would've nominated her for.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBJ

This one was a done deal. I'm surprised that Barbara Barrie got more hearts than Alexander and Bergen.

StinkyLulu covered so many great races. So sad that I missed them. Can't believe Anjelica Huston lost!

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Mariel Hemingway was far and away the best supporting actress that year.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

My memory of these performances: Hemingway and Streep are lights-out good, Barrie fleshes out a tiny role in a wonderful way, and ... Alexander was the Kramers' neighbor (I really remember nothing about this character/performance). I still haven't seen Starting Over.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercash

Streep > Alexander > Hemingway (Never seen Breaking Away and Starting Over)

@Sean T. - um, No. If it had been like that, Babs would never be an Oscar-winning actress. It would've been better if they gave Liz Taylor's first win to McLaine.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterfadhil

MacLaine also won Best Actress from New York and LA in 1983 (She lost NBR to her costar Winger) and she was the rare woman to carry a Best Picture-winning comedy. Her performance ranks with my favorite Oscar winners. I can't think of anyone else who could have played Aurora Greenwood.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Shirley MacLaine most definitely should've won for The Apartment. I don't begrudge her win for Terms of Enderment though, except to say that I wish it could've been a co-win (with Debra Winger) as those two performances are every bit each other's equal and a real pas de deux in the way of Thelma and Louise, Amadeus and Salieri, and Ennis and Jack.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

MAKE SURE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST, people. We go way more in detail on the movies, particularly Kramer vs. Kramer and some ladies we wish would have been recognized in this category.

June 7, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel, I watched One Potato, Two Potato on VHS recorded from The Movie Channel. It probably aired in the late '80s or early '90s, and I actually still have the tape.

The movie is very good. One that sticks with you for a while. Barbara Barrie is 15 years younger in it, so it's a much different role compared to her turn in Breaking Away. She really makes you grieve for her character. Bernie Hamilton and a youngish Richard Mulligan provide fine support. It was nominated for Original Screenplay, and it's my choice as the winner.

@fadhil - That's not a bad trade. But what about Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel?

@Suzanne - MacLaine did truly embody Aurora Greenwood and she completely took charge of that movie. It's tough to compare such great performances, but it's certainly fun to discuss them.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

i thought manhattan was a great movie and everything but i have no idea why mariel hemingway's performance is praised. what people thought was guilelessness or innocence was some sort of mental deficiency.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermcv

I only was able to watch one of the movies (K vs. K) and, even though I've only seen two of the five nominated performances, I think that Streep truly deserved this. I hope that I'll be able to watch all of the performances for next month's Smackdown.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGab

Haven't seen most of these performances, but I really, really strongly dislike Mariel Hemingway's performance (if you can even call it that) in Manhattan. She looks and sounds like she's in a pool of molasses - everything is slow and pained and affectless, and not in a good way. She offers no insight into the character at all. It would be fine if the things Woody's character says about her were supposed to be kinda-sorta untrue, but those things are echoed by things she says, and in Hemingway's hands, I just don't believe them. I don't understand the praise this performance gets AT ALL.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

What a fantastic smackdown! This is a fascinating mix of actresses here. I miss the 70s so much--it just seemed like there were more wild cards in the AMPAS choices then. Now I'm going to listen to the podcast.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Jane Alexander in Kramer vs. Kramer—THREE and a half HEARTS
I adore this performance, and I think Jane gets it just right in some really strong scenes. But I don’t think she’s able to completely overcome the sense that this cardboard character is a blatant, maybe-too-obvious catalyst for Ted’s introduction to the Age of Enlightenment. Also, to me this feels like a coattail nomination. The picture was so well-loved by both the Academy and the public that it felt appropriate to invite Jane to the Big Party too. This reminds me of Amy Adams’ nomination for Doubt. It’s not bad, it’s just not completely deserved. Still, that courtroom scene is a doozy.

Barbara Barrie in Breaking Away—THREE HEARTS
If there’s anyone who can breathe life into the tired cliché of quiet strength, it’s Barbara Barrie. I thank her for taking on the thankless “nice mom” role and easily creating a warm presence that permeates this movie. Still, she doesn’t really get much of an arc to build to any strong emotional crescendo. Evelyn is there to keep peace in the house and pie in the oven. Barrie doesn’t get that Oscary-type, punch-‘em-in-the-gut scene actresses in this category usually get. Hell, she doesn’t get more than a handful of 30 second-plus scenes. As such, this nomination is in keeping with the staid tradition of the obligatory single acting nod afforded a Best Picture nominee. But Barrie is ineffably likeable here, and that’s a lovely intangible.


Candice Bergen in Starting Over

Due to technical issues, I was not able to rewatch Starting Over online. More’s the pity, because I have fond memories of this little film, and Candice’s surprisingly hilarious turn, which I saw many moons ago. So sadly I must abstain.

Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan—FOUR HEARTS
This is a quiet, calm character who manages to stand out among all the jittery, chatty neurotics surrounding her. Tracy, with her strong sense of self-assurance, comes off as more mature than the so-called adults who are continually making bad choices right and left. Mariel delivers her dialog deliberately, as if she’s actually thinking about what she’s saying, as opposed to the film’s other characters, who seem to be sputtering any random thoughts that spill out of their hyperactive brains. Her last scene’s poignancy derives from her complete lack of affectation. Her skillful underplaying is either supremely confident acting, or a newcomer’s simple, direct approach. It might be both, but it pays off wonderfully. Especially as she delivers the film’s most memorable line.

Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer—FIVE HEARTS
First things first: Here, Meryl seduces America.There was no else in this group who stood a chance against her cultural onslaught, her hurricane talent. This could be one of my favorite performances of hers, because the emotion is so truthful without all the rankling fussiness that marked some of her later work. Her naturalism as Joanna feels like a departure before the fact from the actress we’ve seen all these years. There’s a purity of performance here that pretty much disappeared after Silkwood. Sure, she’s Meryl, so of course her talent is supernatural. Still, it shouldn’t have to scare us. And here, it doesn’t. But it is scary how good she is. And the legend begins.

****Meryl is my winner, but my choice for Oscar that year is Barbara Harris, Meryl’s co-star in The Seduction of Joe Tynan.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Really great Smackdown, though the winner was clear right from the start. Made me want to watch Breaking Away again (great movie) and finally see Starting Over, which I'd always meant to see but never got around to. I think the rankings here pretty much match my own memories of the performances from these movies. It was a good list of nominees that year.

I love the Smackdown and look forward to the next one.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Bergin - 1 heart - Such a weird performance for admittedly a weird part. It's never clear if we're supposed to think she's talented or not, because good Lord that talented actress just cannot sing so it's hard to believe that she becomes successful. But then she's...not? It seems the script just needs her to be talented/successful or not depending on the scene. And her physicality was SO stiff to the point of seeming frozen. It all added up to just plain confusion.

Barrie - 2 hearts - In another comment thread I believe someone mentioned that Alexander is the Jackie Weaver nomination this year, but for me Barrie is clearly that slot. A small supporting wife role in a Best Pic nominee, she has very little to do. She does it well, but even when she finally gets a scene to say more than one line the film apparently cuts her off as she's about to say something! Such a weird edit.

Hemingway - 3 hearts - Fine, natural, low-key enough to see how a delusional older man woudl not feel threatened by her and could project whatever he wanted her.

Alexander - 3 hearts - A lot to balance, including shifting alliances and a friendship that has to remain platonic, she does it well, making it all seem effortless.

Streep - 4 hearts - So refreshing to see a relatively focused, un-flittery (yep, I'm just going to throw that word out there) performance from her. So simple and yet so layered.

June 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

It's not at all surprising to learn Streep wrote Joanna's monologue on the stand: This is a revelatory moment, and only the actress who has done her homework and gotten under the skin and into the soul of this character would know exactly what she is thinking/feeling and why, and how best those emotions should be expressed. I wish all of her performances over the years had employed the same kind of introspection and not relied so heavily on technique and tricks. Kramer ranks #1 as her most organic work (followed by Silkwood and Prada), and is her most well-deserved Oscar win. The other ladies couldn't match her artistry here, and never stood a chance.

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

I'd also award it to Streep for sheer watchability. At this stage in her career the camera loved her. But the flick, which I rewatched an hour ago (thanks to the fantastic podcast; thanks, guys!), is a step above TV movie. I didn't believe for a second -- not a second -- in her abrupt final decision. It's a cheap script moment for which the fraudulent courtroom scene has prepared the audience. Lots of stuff in this movie felt like kitsch. Why couldn't Kramer have surprised the audience and been an adequate chef? Why reverse the embarrassing Hepburn with the cigar scene in Woman of the Year</>? As for Hoffman, I much prefer him when he's playing an ass, indifferent to audience expectations (e.g. All The President's Men, Straight Time, Tootsie).

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAlfred

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