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« What did you see this weekend? | Main | Yes No Maybe So: "Room" and "Spotlight" »
Sunday
Aug022015

Smackdown 1995: Joan, Kate, Kathleen, Mare and Mira

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '95. A chain smoking First Lady, a porn actress with dreams of hairdressing, a young romantic who lets her passions get the best of her, a famous musician who just wants to live quietly, and an astronaut's wife worrying for her husband in the stars.

THE NOMINEES 

1995 was a shockingly strong year for lead actresses. Though things were less crowded with possibility that year in the supporting competition (notice the leads crowding in here too) Oscar's roster here was exciting too, not just for its range of acting styles and characters but for an all first-timer field. Kate Winslet, Joan Allen and Mira Sorvino were all fresh faces just beginning to win mass attention. Mare Winningham and Kathleen Quinlan were the veterans, and though they'd both had previous awards attention (and Emmy win for Mare when she was only 21 years old and a Golden Globe nod for Quinlan for 1977's  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden), it had never gotten this glamorous: OSCAR NOMINATIONS!

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Here to talk about these five turns are returning panelists Nick Davis (Nicks Flick Picks) and Guy Lodge (Variety). Your host Nathaniel R also welcomes three new panelists Kevin O'Keeffe (Arts.Mic), Conrado Falco (Coco Hits NY) and new Film Experience contributor Lynn Lee. You've read their brief 1995 memoirs and you can also listen to an indepth conversation on the companion podcast.

And now it's time for the main event... 

1995
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

JOAN ALLEN as "Pat Nixon" in Nixon
Synopsis: The First Lady perpetually watches her husband sweat it out as he deals with politics, media, and his own shortcomings
Stats: Then 39 yrs old, 11th film, first of three nominations. 36 minutes of screen time (or 19% of running time). 

Nick Davis: An ideal confluence of tough acting and smart directing, showcased exactly the right amount.  Nixon frequently uses Pat to orient us through key scenes (election results, return from China, breaking Watergate news) but neither Allen nor Stone flattens her reactions into single dimensions.  She’s the most sympathetic presence in the film but also, troublingly, this paranoid tyrant’s staunchest supporter, despite tough-love moments and palpable self-critique for subsuming her life into his. Allen is steely and smart without making Pat a paragon.  She is instrumental to the film’s tricky blend of lucid condemnation and empathetic interest. ♥♥♥♥♥

Conrado Falco: Weird that Allen was nominated as lead by SAG when 'Nixon' is so obsessively focused on Richard. Only sporadically does Pat get "a scene", and the script rarely has time to let us see where she is coming from at any given moment. All the more kudos to Allen, then, who proves herself a master of subtext. I might still feel like I don't really know Pat Nixon by the end, but Allen has given enough to want more. Who is this woman? When can I see her movie? ♥♥♥♥

Lynn Lee: In a heavily male world, she stands out as the woman who understands Nixon and his demons better than any of the men around him.  It’s interesting comparing her to other nominees facing similar challenges: more adept than Quinlan at suggesting additional dimensions to the suffering wife character, she’s also more effective than Winningham at escaping the shadow of an attention-grabbing protagonist.  Hopkins tends to swallow up the screen as Nixon, *except* in his scenes with Allen – which speaks to the subtle power of her performance. ♥♥♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: You can see where SAG voters were coming from with that Lead Actress nomination: through sheer, stately conviction, Allen marshals a  complex, diversion-riddled script into something like the story of a marriage. Biopic turns tend to garner acclaim through the power of recognition, yet as immaculately presented and styled as Allen's Pat Nixon is, her interpretation dazzles with its unfamiliar traits: quasi-Shakespearean intensity, lucidity and a profound empathy that steers just shy of kindness. Oliver Stone's never directed a better performance.  ♥♥♥♥

Kevin O'Keeffe: She makes for a fine Plastic Pat, though many of her scenes feel like repeated beats lost in this never-ending slog of a movie. Still, she does an admirable job melting the plastic away. The night fight scene stands out as the best example of this: a woman as faded as the pink in her nightgown. Her makeup is off, and her kind façade gives way to steely nerve. I wish there were more scenes like that for her. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: “So solid. So strong,” Richard Nixon whispers, almost reverently, as he tries to soothe her unhappiness. The description is apt especially if you’re talking about the reedlike steel of this actress. That ramrod straight physicality is a superb fit whether we’re looking at ‘Plastic Pat,’ the default, or the even less pliant but more emotionally expressive private self. At 192 minutes it’s inexcusable that there’s not more of her, but she’s a cooling foil to Hopkin’s sweaty awkwardness and a stoney-eyed ballast against Stone’s excesses whenever the canted camera stumbles into her. ♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "She packs so much into the line 'you're not a failure' when comforting her husband that you could dedicate to an entire acting class to that one moment." - Don B (Reader average: ♥♥♥½)

Actress earns 28½ ❤s 

 

KATHLEEN QUINLAN as "Marilyn Lovell" in Apollo 13
Synopsis: An astronauts wife watches helplessly as her husbands moon flight runs into... well, Houston, they have a problem.
Stats: Then 40 yrs old, 20th film role. 20½ minutes of screen time (or 15% of running time) 

Nick Davis: Textured, likeable fulfillment of a role from which Apollo 13 asks fairly little.  It’s entirely to Quinlan’s credit that voters remembered this third-tier character over so many months.  She fleshes out Supportive Wife duties with well-judged aplomb, selling Marilyn as Jim’s best friend and peer, not his idolator.  For all the extraordinary dimensions of this circumstance—and we certainly feel her heightened tension and fear—we gather Marilyn regularly placates kids, mentors other astronaut’s wives, and tends a difficult mother-in-law. Quinlan’s specific playing of each scene articulates lots about those characters, and lots about Marilyn. ♥♥♥

Conrado Falco: Quinlan is stuck with Ron Howard's long-suffering wife role. Her "arc" in the movie consists almost exclusively of worrying about her astronaut husband's well-being. It's telling of the limitations of the role, but also of Quinlan's ability, that she doesn't have a single line in her best scene (when she watches the television waiting to hear about her husband's fate). Quinlan does as much as she can with what she's given, but let's be honest, she isn't given much.  ♥♥♥

Lynn Lee: It’s a solid performance; the problem, which isn’t really her fault, is that the worried wife waiting at home is a character we’ve seen many times before, and Quinlan isn’t given much opportunity to stretch beyond the predictable range of fear to tears to joyous relief.  Within that range, she’s very good.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that she’s up against Joan Allen, who takes a darker variation of that role and makes it much more compelling to watch. ♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: Did Marilyn Lovell really keep her copious eye shadow pasted on, her spider-plant hairdo perfectly primped, every second her husband stared death in the face? Perhaps — but if so, Quinlan doesn't get to project the pride or ferocity of a woman committed to such image control. Instead, she offers a perfectly capable reading of a textbook supportive/supporting part, her regal gaze glittering with tears when required, but not finding much inner fear, fire or desire to project. She's playing a wife, not a woman. ♥♥

Kevin O'Keeffe: She’s the definition of the supportive wife. Unfortunately, that’s about all she is. Quinlan gives good concerned face, but that’s really all she’s asked to do. At worst, her scenes distract from the action. Normally I can’t wait to get back to a woman’s story when we’ve been with a man for a while, but Marilyn doesn’t exist for any purpose other than worrying about her husband. It isn’t totally her fault, but this is really bland work. 

Nathaniel R: Kathleen proves resourceful. No, she doesn’t Macgyver-it as astonishingly as NASA’s team works the rescue mission but she does gives the film the warmth and proud solidity of home that it needs to work as old fashioned Americana beyond its adventure film qualities. She and Hanks have a beautifully unforced chemistry selling this long happy marriage. Once things go awry, she’s mostly there to hang Worry on in cutaways, but her face wears it well. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "I like how she's not the typical supportive wife, she makes it clear she doesn't want her husband to go. Unfortunately the film forgets about her..." - Brett J. (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 17 ❤s 

MIRA SORVINO as "Linda Ash" in Mighty Aphrodite
Synopsis: A hooker meets a man who helps her reform her ways
Stats: Then 28 years old, 8th film, first and only nomination. 36½ minutes of screen time (or 38% of running time). 

Nick Davis: Unlike Quinlan, Sorvino has the whole movie handed to her, once this misshapen script finally gets around to introducing Linda, but she flails with so much opportunity. You occasionally feel her connecting with this girl.  I’d have liked to explore more of the frustration that erupts at the racetrack or the sides of Linda that emerge in the Lenny-free environment of her fumbling courtship with Michael Rapaport’s lummox. But stress-marks and neophyte mistakes abound in this performance: reaching for laughs, cleaving to surface, deferring completely to a writer-director-star who seems disengaged even by his standards. ♥♥

Conrado Falco: Being served with one of Woody's most condescending scripts doesn't help Sorvino. Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holiday did wonders with the "dumb blonde" archetype, but Sorvino's take doesn't go beyond nice, and never reaches hilarious. I think the bigger problem here is Woody's treatment of the character, but Sorvino doesn't manage to elevate the performance. Even though I like the voice, cadence, and general attitude Sorvino brings to the performance, I can't see how she was such a big favorite to win this award. ♥♥

Lynn Lee: Overpraised in 1995, this performance may actually be underrated today.  Beneath the Minnie Mouse voice and cheerfully trashy veneer, there’s a genuine emotional vulnerability at the heart of Linda Ash that Sorvino captures quite well.  Her comedic affect, though, isn’t especially noteworthy – that vocal shtick is wearying (I’d have liked to see her try this role in her normal voice), and most of the humor comes from the script rather than her delivery. ♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: Since the script — far more noxiously contemptuous than I remembered — doesn't give Sorvino's hooker-with-a-heart any spare credit, I will: she's genuinely funny, spritzing lines that are far from Allen's sharpest with her gawky paper-doll body language and that deftly sustained balloon-scratch of a voice. But she hasn't yet the actorly wit to defend Linda from the film's most condescending impulses, to colour her cluelessness with an ingenuity that would make her supposed redemption seem at all self-directed. What might Lisa Kudrow have done? ♥♥♥

Kevin O'Keeffe: She plays a broad caricature befitting a farce like this. Her performance is fun and high-energy, but there’s not much more there. I kept comparing her (unfavorably) to Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona — whereas that performance had vivid ebbs and flows, Sorvino stays at one shrill pitch the entire film. But it’s a very big performance, and easy to see why it attracted attention. Points for going there; demerits for not knowing how to get out of there. ♥♥

Nathaniel R: While her monotone clueless alto is memorable, it feels like a brave but unwisely hemmed in approach given how little range Woody has given the character in one of his worst scripts (inexplicably nominated). She’s saddled with just two jokes -- Linda's crude! Linda's dumb! (Ha ha?) And yet considering Mira gives the movie its only laughs, she’s not its chief problem. The guileless sweetness she works in — no stock heart of gold but certainly absent of malice or judgement— feels like her own invention. ♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "I'm still knocked over by the physicality of Sorvino's portrayal, both in carriage and voice. Sure it's put on, but what else would you expect from a hooker just trying to get hers in New York?" - James P. (Reader average: ♥♥♥¼)

Actress earns 17¼ ❤s 

 

MARE WINNINGHAM as "Georgia Flood" in Georgia
Synopsis: A famous musician is thrown off her game when her addict sister returns home, emotionally needy, penniless, and desperate for a career boost.
Stats:  Then 36 years old, 13th film, first and only nomination. 45 minutes of screen time (or 39% of the running time). 

Nick Davis: Nathaniel has often discussed the challenges of playing anyone whom other characters discuss endlessly, in larger-than-life terms.  I can’t recall seeing another actor so fully refuse the lure of her outsized reputation within a script, nor be so magnetic in downplaying her own profile, nor seem so craftily passive-aggressive in knowing how much her aloofness and introversion play as maddening indifference.  Winningham’s Georgia seems as spooked by her own life as by Sadie.  She believably plays every beat in the script while suggesting an entire cosmos of other thoughts, totally unaccessed by anyone around her. ♥♥♥♥♥

Conrado Falco: Georgia is the level-headed sister, and she has made a career out of being a serious and thoughtful performer, but this act isn't reserved for her stage persona: it's a pillar in her personal life. The best moments in Winningham's performance come when she peaks into the less controlled sides of Georgia's personality. Think of the moment after Georgia leaves Sadie at the hospital and a nurse tells her she is a big fan. Winningham doesn't break the measured exterior, but somehow lets us know that Georgia is bursting into tears on the inside.  ♥♥♥♥

Lynn Lee: Very understated – almost *too* understated – except that’s exactly what she needs to be.  Georgia is no-drama to Sadie’s all-drama-all-the-time, and Winningham is completely convincing as the calm and grounded one who only occasionally lets her frustration with her trainwreck of a sister bubble over.  It takes some conscious effort to notice how good she is, mainly because JJL, like her character, sucks up so much of the movie’s oxygen. ♥♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: Winningham has the most vigorously exciting lead performance to play with of anyone in her category — a moment of silence, please, for Jennifer Jason Leigh's missing nomination — but doesn't ride its energy. Rather, as the sister who has craftily turned being downtrodden into an upper hand, she makes her co-star work that much harder by resisting her centrifugal motion, marking out the impasse between their characters with exquisitely weary control. Also, if J.Hud got an Oscar for nailing one musical number, where's Mare's? ♥♥♥♥♥

Kevin O'Keeffe: Georgia’s duets with Sadie are the same as hers with Leigh: simultaneously generous and incredibly tense. She’s a quiet, exhausted woman tested by a whirlwind of chaos. Her patience slowly drains as Sadie tests her. Sisterly love is a powerful bond, but contrary to what Sadie thinks of her, Georgia is just a human. Winningham’s expression remains resilient until it finally cracks. She imbues Georgia with a calmness for which lesser actors would have substituted vacancy. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: At first she only performs for us, the anonymous crowd. Backstage she’s opaque, a stranger. Next we’re in her home, intimate, though she’s not exactly welcoming. The progression is not unlike Mare Winningham’s slow burn work. Scene by scene she builds a richer yet uncomfortably intimate backstory about the discomforts and disappointments of family life with an addict. When her f***up sister Sadie confronts her with “I can feel what you’re feeling!” Georgia tetchily protests. The thing is we can feel it because this performance is an exquisite model of emotional clarity and subtext. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "It's a performance reminiscent of the folk music Georgia sings, unassuming and simplistic, but embedded within its framework, complexity and soulfulness." -Andy S (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns 29¾ ❤s 

 

KATE WINSLET as "Marianne Dashwood" in Sense & Sensibility
Synopsis: An emotionally uninhibited young girl is suddenly impoverished with her sister and courted by a wealthy widower. Unwisely she takes up with a dashing cad.
Stats: Then 20 yrs old, 3rd film, first of six nominations. 76 minutes of screen time (or 58% of running time). 

Nick Davis: 90s-born moviegoers for whom Winslet has always existed may overlook what an intrepid declaration this performance was, broadcasting instantly amidst esteemed company how long she’d be around, and how fortunate this made us.  Still, this isn’t Girl, Interrupted: neither Winslet nor the film seems hell-bent on “introducing” her or pulling focus.  She evades temptations to play Sensibility exclusively. Marianne’s face constantly reflects her doing shrewd and necessary algebra, deducing motives and forecasting outcomes.  She seems believably of Austen’s period despite her headstrong, impetuous presence, and generously furnishes pathos, humor (“Good morning, Fanny”), and subliminal carnality. ♥♥♥♥♥

Conrado Falco: Winslet has been trapped in sterile and tortured housewife limbo for too long. Her Marianne is a reminder of how magnetic and exciting a performer she can be. She is a perfect match for Thompson, displaying a playfulness that most directors have forgotten she is capable of conveying. To wit: her comedic delivery after she first meets and is carried home by the dashing Mr. Willoughby. The degree to which she is smitten by this cavalier could be laughable if she didn't make it so humanely endearing. ♥♥♥♥

Lynn Lee: What strikes me this time around (besides the fact that she’s really more co-lead than supporting) is Winslet’s *control* – an odd word for Marianne, who’s supposed to be incapable of restraining her emotions, but I mean it as a compliment.  She could have gone over the top; she doesn’t, instead showing an organic trajectory from passionate, impulsive, self-centered teenager to chastened, more mature realist.  Marianne’s story is in some ways a pretty sad one, but Winslet sells every phase of her evolution. ♥♥♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: A confession: I often find Winslet a slightly pinched, unyielding actor, though I remembered her Marianne as one of her warmer, more generous turns. This revisit left me less impressed: her readings are graceful, her timing sly, yet I felt little of the character's impetuosity or recklessness. There's a considered, gathered intelligence even to the teen's headlong rushes into feeling; the mature confluence of sensibility and sense, so hard-learned by Marianne, is achieved from the outset in the performance itself. ♥♥

Kevin O'Keeffe: Only 19 when she starred in this movie, Winslet imbues Marianne with equal parts grace and passion, the former often masking the latter. It’s a beautiful mix of emotions that belies her young age. She plays off her scene partners with great generosity, never dominating a scene but sharing it. Her best moment: utter joy fades into confusion, then horror, at a ball. She plays each extreme to the hilt, as exuberant at the scene’s start as she is devastated at the end. ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Winslet’s purity of emotion — they read like primal forces on that face which was crafted by God for the big screen— is a superb fit for Marianne. "I conceal nothing!" she tells her sister as blunt comparison but there's a hint of angry boasting. Her family keeps warning her that it will rain but Winslet plays things heightened enough that you know she brings the storm with her. On a more grounded note, watch the way she leans into her declarations, as if she can force intimacy and emotion on others through suggestion and proximity. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "One can see the talent that is Kate Winslet being birthed here. It's as if Ang Lee told her that this was her Golden Ticket to being an acting legend, but only if she seized the moment" -Christopher J.  (Reader average: ♥♥♥¾)

Actress earns 28¾ ❤s 

The Oscar Went To... Mira Sorvino

BUT THE SMACKDOWN DISAGREES... And hands this super competitive Smackdown to MARE WINNINGHAM with Joan Allen and Kate Winslet a fraction away from a literal tie just behind her. Which is funny because Georgia Flood surely had no designs on prizes lacking Pat Nixon's ambition or Marianne Dashwood's love of attention. But she is damn great in that picture.  


Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? The companion podcast is up. For context we also looked back at 1995's vintage, the sudden Jane Austen trend, the breakout double feature of Nicole Kidman, a bonus podcast on lead actresses and films to revisit, and Dolores Claiborne's Judy Parfitt.

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 1948195219641968, 1973, 19791980, 1989, and 2003. (Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site.)

NEXT UP: WE'RE DOING 1954 ON AUGUST 30th SO GET TO WATCHING THOSE MOVIES

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Reader Comments (55)

The only one I haven't seen wins. Such are things. Will remedy this asap.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

Can anyone really deny Eva Marie Saint? One of the most deserving Oscar recipients in Supporting Actress. She is a wonderful actress whose work in many other films sadly did not get Oscar's attention. See 1970's "Loving," if you further evidence of her range and versatility. And to capture grace, elegance and poise, take a look on YouTube at her "mystery guest" appearance on "What's My LIne?" while she was in New York filming "North By Northwest." Now that is a movie star!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Winslet should've won. I blame Guy Lodge for the loss :-)

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

Oops. I got so excited when I saw 1954 was the August smackdown that I jumped in with the Eva Marie Saint shout out. So sorry!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

You now I think this is a very strong line up,all are deserving yes Quinlan could have been excised but it is she who lets us now how much Hanks will be missed,like someone said she sells intimacy,hard to do.

Winningham is perfect just look how Georgia holds her cup,Allen's drunk scene or her bit at the long table with Hopkins are my 2 fave scenes,cooled on Sorvino so much I took her out and put Anjelica Hustons tiny Crossing Guard performance in,i'd love to now what others think od Anjelica in this cos it's a teeny role and she was sag and gg nommed..

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

I'll always have a soft spot for Sorvino and her work here. I agree with Kevin that it's easy to see why she attracted attention - only Winslet gets to play as big, and Sorvino has so many other affects here. But I love her in that awful movie, and I think her last scene is beautiful. And her choices immediately post-Oscar were so canny, working with Del Toro and his cockroaches, Kudrow, her sister at the time in dimbulb genius, and a (wannabe) stylish Chow-Yun Fat action movie, I'm a little sad we didn't get a bigger career.
I watched Georgia yesterday thinking this smackdown was a race between Allen, Winslet and Winningham (which it was) and ended thinking I'd overestimated Winningham's chances (I'm not a smart man) since she's playing so quiet and making the part look easy. But I can see, just a day later, how that performance will stay with me. And I'm with Lodge on that moment of silence.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Damn you Guy Lodge!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Has the winner of the Smackdown ever placed so far behind (4th) in the reader's votes? I can't remember a case of that.

Agreed completely with Mark: just the shot of Georgia controlling the shit out of her coffee cop while seeming so cazh distills some of the great things about the performance.

I rewatched The Crossing Guard last week and still don't really like the movie, though it's interesting. I like Huston in it, as I usually do, but not enough to promote her into this field. (It's a little prurient that the movie blatantly drafts off her past history with Nicholson, but also a credit to her that it doesn't always feel on screen like that's what's going on.) Still, at least one of the podcasters has got Huston's back on this one.

Yay, Georgia! For me, this might be the most neck-and-neck-and-neck SAS race the Oscars ever posted, but I'm thrilled Winningham won. And I'm as surprised as Mike that she did!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Oh, and @patryk, and since I won't be in the '54 crew, I'll just say here that Nina Foch in Executive Suite is one of my favorite nominations in this category, certainly from the 1950s. She'd have been my pick in that race (though I've never seen Broken Lance), and I hope folks watch the film, which is also amazing. Like Georgia, it's a personal touchstone for why I love the Oscars... I'd never have seen either movie or maybe even have heard of them without this platform, and Foch and Winningham similarly embody the Actors Branch going out of its way to honor restrained work.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Still processing all the great write-ups. For me the challenge with 1995 was trying to separate performance from movies I didn't really enjoy. "Aphrodite" was so loathsome that I was probably too hard on Sorvino, and "Sensibility" does very little for me so I struggled to find remarkable things about Winslet as well.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

For me it goes like this:

Joan Allen (Winner)
Mare Winningham
Mira Sorvino
Kathleen Quinlan
Kate Winslet (I can NOT stand her!)

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Guy, you don't have to resort to aliases.

(Just kidding, @stjeans!)

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Joan Allen's the hands down Oscar winner for me that year. And after reading the comments and the stellar 28 1/2 star rating I assumed she'd take the smackdown title too. Quite a surprise to see Winningham and Winslet sneaking past her. I wouldn't have nominated either Sorvino or Quinlan in '95. For me, at least one of their spots would have gone to Piper Laurie in what I'd say is her career best work in "The Grass Harp". The vehicle's a bit shaky - but Laurie's peerless, never resorting to that artificially lowered voice she sometimes used when she was in "I'm a serious actress " mode. She makes Capote's sweetly determined Dolly a memorable creation Certainly one of that year's most pleasantly unexpected acting highlights.. Plus - even though it's 40 years after her hey-day as a leading lady at Universal - she looks so amazingly fresh and pretty.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKen

while i can't get behind guy's dislike of kate (but she's a fellow Brit! that's like bad-mouthing the queen! the actual queen - not the film, bad-mouth that all you want...) i'm loving his assessment of marilyn lovell. while re-watching "apollo 13" for this i kept thinking whose idea was it to make her look like endora from "bewitched"?!?

i'm a little surprised that kate wasn't the eventual smackdown winner (why?!? if you need me i'm going to be wandering the english moors in the rain..), i can certainly respect the win of mare winningham in such a wonderful, subtle performance. it's the kind of work that is so easy to overlook, especially within her own film where leigh is practically begging to be noticed.

i posted all of my thoughts on these 5 women over at my website

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

I agree with Guy's assessment of Kate. I have never cared for her either, and while this is probably one of her better performances, I don't think she had the charisma to pull off the character (a problem I often have with her). I also don't think the contrast with Emma Thompson, who is magnificent in this film, served her well.

I'm surprised by the low reader average for Winningham. I really liked her restrained performance, though I would have placed her behind Allen at #1. With another actress, Pat Nixon could have been just another bland forgettable "wife" role but Allen makes her both brittle and sympathetic, which is an accomplishment.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Nick Davis- Funny, but I will never use an alias since I"ve always been VERY vocal about my dislike of the 2 C(K)ate's (Yes I also dislike Blanchett). Should I fear for my security now? Anyone else with me on this?

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

I figured Quinlan's casting in a familiar "wife" role would come up as a demerit but I'm surprised how many folks feel the movie isn't really interested in her, or resented the time we spend with her. For me, she's just so appealing on first contact that I'm always eager to check back in. I think one thing I admire about most of these performances is that the films include exactly the right amount of each for my taste. I might be biased by growing up around so many military wives, which is very close to what Marilyn Lovell is, but I've never seen anyone else in any other movie capture the vibe of the officer's wife as gamely and fully as she does.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

This was a really competitive year! I really didn't know who would win. I am surprised that Mira didn't get as much love as the others though.

My ballot for 1995

Kathleen Quinlan- Apollo 13
I think Quinlan will get a lot of flack in the smackdown. People will say she is just a coaster nomination-- that the movie carried her and not the performance itself. And unfortunately I have to agree with that assessment. She has good chemistry with Hanks, but they don't have many scenes together for most of the movie. Without him to anchor her, Quinlan has no connection with any other characters including her children. That phone conversation sounded very bad. There is not enough urgency in her performance and her interactions just didn't ring true for me.
1.5 hearts

Kate WInslet- Sense and Sensibility
Marianne may be physically restrained by corsets and bodices but emotionally she is an overflowing dam barely containing her flood of emotions. Marianne doesn't hold back how she feels, doesn't believe that she should, and can't understand why everyone else in her life isn't doing what she is doing. Winslet is able to convey Marianne's youth and naivete. As she is required to be physically stiff, she makes use of her face to convey everything. So many expressions. On paper Marianne sounds like a spoiled child and in a lesser actress's care we could end up hating her. But Winslet allows Marianne to be the person she is without judging her. She lets us see her at her worst and her best. Unwilling to only make Marianne just a sympathetic victim, she creates a character instead.
3 hearts

Mira Sorvino- Mighty Aphrodite
Oh thank God she shows up in this movie! As the audience just about drowns of boredom (and we are not even half way done yet) Sorvino tosses us a sexy. ditsy, and lovable life raft. She spends the rest of the movie resuscitating the audience. Such heavy lifeguard lifting is admirable and I now see why the Academy gave it to her.
3 hearts

Joan Allen- Nixon
Pat Nixon was a formidable woman and someone needed real backbone to play her. Luckily for us Joan Allen has spines in spades. She presents Pat not as an extension of her husband, nor a Lady Macbeth pushing him towards her own goals. Pat Nixon is her own person, with her own opinions, hopes, and dreams. Allen believably stands up and holds her own with Hopkins. I wished she had more scenes.
3.5 hearts

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertom

The sacrilege of dissing the great Kate. Hands down the winner. Enjoyed all the opinion despite how wrong some are.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

Thanks so much guys! (Except for *the* Guy - kidding)
So happy you all found so much to admire in these performances. I've only watched Winslet's and parts of Allen's and Quinlan's (I want to watch the whole of Nixon, at some point, but I don't know if I want to finish Apollo 13. No interest in Mighty Aphrodite but deeeefinitely want to watch Georgia.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Baffling that Guy could give Sorvino 3 hearts and Winslet only 2. Plus throwing shade at her with that reference to her Globe speech for The Reader.

That said, this is such a wonderful line-up. Allen, Winningham and Winslet are all some of the best nominees in the history of this category. Quinlan and Sorvino are by no means atrocious either.

The field reminds me a lot of the 2010 or 1974 Lead Actress race in that it runs a gamut of several acting styles and the overall high quality field. We have elemental emotion (Winslet), understated mystery (Winningham), steely empathy (Allen), good-natured humor (Sorvino) and a warm presence (Quinlan).

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R

It was a pleasant surprise to see one of my comments quoted for the reader write-ins! I wish I could articulate how I felt about the performances half as well as the panelists, these are always such a joy to read.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBJ

@ Stjeans: No, I'm with you, I hate Kate Winslet too, always have, always will.
We share an indifference towards Lupita Nyong'o, too...

But I love Cate Blanchett,!! So we differ on her.


About this Smackdown, I love Mira Sorvino's performance, and I don't share the panel's putdown of Woody Allen's script, I think Mighty Aphrodite is one of his best movies actually

Joan Allen; my recollection of her performance consists of her sitting or lying with a drink or cigarette in hand, looking sour. That's about it. I'll never forget Anthony Hopkins' astonishing and towering performance, though.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

So exited for you all to hear the podcast tonight! Was a blast to record – such smart insights, especially about the movies themselves. Thanks for hosting these, Nathaniel, they're always such a treat to read. Participating was even moreso.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKevin O'Keeffe

I'm surprised at the outcome especially since Winningham's performance did nothing for me. It was the one that I was missing that I was able to watch before the Smackdown, never could find Mighty Aphrodite, about two weeks ago and I've already forgotten it. I expected Allen or Winslet to emerge victorious but never her.

Here's my ballot:

Joan Allen-Nixon
Achieving the difficult task of fleshing out the seemingly unknowable Pat Nixon the respected but underappreciated Allen through gesture and nuance presents as clear a picture as we’ll ever get of this most enigmatic of first ladies. Rather than the enameled Stepford wife that is Pat’s known persona she gives us a woman who feels things deeply and who puts up that wall to hide the innumerable slights and indignities that her thoughtlessly cruel cold husband heaps on her through the years. 4 stars.

Kathleen Quinlan-Apollo 13
A strong actress in the devoted wife role, she expands it through humor and flintiness. When she takes the stand against the media trying to intrude into her family’s crisis when they’ve only showed indifference before she does well balancing her fear and resoluteness and those grace notes follow throughout the performance but the role doesn’t provide her with enough to do to merit the award. 3 hearts

Mira Sorvino-Mighty Aphrodite
It’s killing me but I haven’t seen this performance. I’ve heard much negative feedback about it so I don’t think I’m missing a classic piece of cinema, I just hate to make a decision without having seen all the work. It’s so odd for a film, a Woody Allen film at that, with an Oscar winning performance of a relatively recent vintage to be so inaccessible.

Mare Winningham-Georgia
She’s a solid, calm presence in the whirlpool of disastrous activity that Jennifer Jason Leigh creates wherever she goes. She shows the anguish that her sister’s thoughtless selfishness inflicts on her in many subtle expressions but the role is thin and she can only flesh it out so much. She does have a surprisingly affecting voice however. 2 hearts

Kate Winslet-Sense and Sensibility
The undisputed winner. True Marianne Dashwood is the meatiest of all the roles in competition but the massively talented Winslet runs through the entire gamut of emotions that the part offers like a racehorse set free. Her joy in living is palpable when she is in love and her devastation when she is abandoned gut wrenching and real, surrendering to the sensibilities of the title. She also doesn’t overplay her slowly dawning maturity towards the end of the film. She is calmer and more knowing, it’s her sly gesture that removes her mother and younger sister from the room when Edward comes courting, but still capable of bursting into girlish pleasure when Eleanor’s hopes are realized. 5 hearts.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Very happy about Mare Winningham's victory, especially because it comes from such discerning judges and over keen competitors.

Nick Davis makes an excellent point about younger moviegoers taking Winslet for granted. As a 90s child, I became acquainted with her when she was giving uninspiring performances in humdrum prestige projects and being heralded as a Great Lady of the Screen. She's too familiar and ballyhooed an actor to produce great excitement in me, but had I discovered her in 'Sense and Sensibility' or 'Holy Smoke,' I think my perception of her would have been different.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Well, I definitely can't be @StJeans, since I'm vigorously pro-Cate. And sometimes pro-Kate, too, even if this writeup suggests otherwise. If it makes anyone feel better, she's my hands-down Best Actress winner (and a hypothetical five-heart recipient) for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This was so much fun, everyone. Thanks, Nathaniel, for once more putting it together so beautifully.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGuy Lodge

Great write up and a lineup like this (minus Sorvino and Quinlan) makes me happy the Oscars introduced this category back in 1936. Each of the top three actresses are wonderful and while I'd personally only nominate Joan Allen (Winslet and Winningham are close) the other two are just as great. I was surprised Allen didn't win because I would vote where her and while the film Nixon dragged a lot as soon as I saw that hair arrive and Allen after I knew I would be in for some life because Allen does that in all her films which is why I'm saddened even more since 2005 that she hasn't done much of anything of note.

I've seen 4 of the performances from 1954 still to see Executive Suite which I will quickly check out. There's no question even from the four I've seen that Eva Marie Saint was the best. It takes a lot for an actress as unestablished as Saint to take on the beast that was Brando in the early 50's and she does it so well that it makes me love the movie even more. I mean that gloves scene for anyone should prove she was a great choice. Hopefully the site has more time to talk about 1954 because there can be dozens of articles written about how Grace Kelly who won for the lesser of her three films that year won against the tour de force that was Judy Garland in probably not her most iconic role but her most praised role. Also Dorothy Dandridge getting that nom is just as big now as it was then because since her only 9 other women have been nominated in lead with probably the weakest among all 10 African American actresses nominated is the only winner.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Brian Z -- it's on Instant Watch, do it!

Cal -- Guy will be hearing that a lot today :)

Nick -- i think the winner has placed really far back before. Dead last i think with Renee Z for 2003.

Dave -- i think everyone struggles with that which is why it's so much easier for everyone not named Meryl Streep to get nominated for movies that people love. hence all those coattail nods.

Everyone -- winningham had my vote but i would have also been thrilled with a winslet win since they were both 5 stars in my book.

BJ -- share your other writeups. why not!

Eoin -- isn't it so crazy that oscar started without this category? unthinkable really. I always want to know what they would have nominated from 1928 through 1935.

August 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's always a treat to read these write-ups. Thanks Smackdowners for such incisive critiques! Mare Winningham would have received my top prize as well, and I'm glad that such a subtle performance received recognition from the Academy.

In considering more recent Oscar noms, is Catherine Keener's Harper Lee the closest analogous performance to Georgia in terms of being low-key and subtle? Winningham and Keener both play women with steely exteriors that nevertheless generate warmth and generosity underneath the surface. It seems like Oscar likes their supporting actresses to emote more openly in their roles. "Less is more" is certainly not their preference.

Looking forward to the podcast companion later on!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCameron

Can't think of another Supporting Actress roster with three Five-Star performances. 1996? 1950? 1995 may just be the category's peak.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

John -- i think that just goes to show you how few movies they watch -- with so many supporting roles getting nominated mostly because they're in the right movies. Because there's gotta be several super worthy contenders as often (or even more often) than there is in lead wherein there are quite a few yaers with nearly entire rosters of greats.

August 2, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Suprise, surprise! I thought Winslet was going to win by a landslide. I like Mare and I will always defend Mira's performance.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Who says the academy doesn't acknowledge cartoon performances.

Did anyone else notice Stone's homage to Of Human Bondage, when Pat hugs Dick and all you see are her eyes?

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterROBS

Ulrich-For me it was Lupita's performance inn "Twelve years(...)" that left me indifferent, but I think she might do great things IF someone decide to give her a juicy part. Plus I highly enjoy her on the red carpet. She as great fashion instinct & seems to have so much fun with it!

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersjeans

I have seen Georgia many times over the years. It's right up my alley. A movie about relationships between two complex female characters, aided by sensitive performances by Max Perlich and Ted Levine. The amount of subtext played by these two actresses is astounding. Look at Leigh's Sadie close enough and you will see the moments in which she reveals her awareness of how much life she sucks out of everything and even the realization of being helpless about it and the guilt. JUst deeply rich. The same is true regarding Georgia. She is so good at hiding how she feels, her generosity hiding the impatience for Sadie. From their very first scene, we can feel these two have been through hard times and Georgia seems to always be able to move on, even if only to be practical about it. I almost get the feeling this whole story could happen all over again after the movie's final scene. Sadie goes backstage to see Georgia. She is a little improved. Georgia accepts her in her life again, with certain boundaries. Sadie screws it up again. Winningham is so excellent at having physical action (again, as a way to muffle how she really feels). Her making of food, her mug holding, her handling of the towel around her neck. So realistic and subtle at the same time. We forget she is a character actress because I think casting directors don't really know what to do with her, but look no further than her performance in Mildred Pierce to find an actress with a range that knows no bounds. She could have played Mildred herself and delivered an incredible performance.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMr.Goodbar

I've been thinking: There have been many men nominated for playing U.S. presidents but how many women have been nominated for playing First Ladies? Off the top of my head, I can only think of Joan Allen and Sally Field. Who else?

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

Nathaniel - Totally agree. I think expanded best picture field has actually stunted exceptional supporting actress performances from being nominated, more than the category's usual reliance on attention from other branches. Most of the performances that now get nominated are riding on best picture nominee coattails. This decade's supporting actress lineups have been unusually dull. I count maybe five fantastic performances.

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I love that you overturn Oscars with a visceral confidence. Yes! I look forward to Sue vs. Meryl because how great if they could have swapped roles to see who was better? Meryl would win again but we know Sue had a chip on her soldiier and wanted to throw it. Good luck. Just telling the truth here.

I was gonna say, who can tell what would happen to the careers of the other actresses if they had have won instead, but nothing really came of Mira Sorvino so I'm just gonna imagine it'd unfold just as it otherwise would have...

August 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Yay Mare! I was about to cry sabotage on that reader rating. With hindsight, I'm glad Kate didn't win this year and she managed to dial down the histrionics of her earlier performances as she grew as an actress.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

My dad has chimed in to say Quinlan deserved better here. Though I think he's still an Allen voter.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Quinlan confused me because one of her character's big moments is telling the press that no one cared until the story turned tragic, when that is her character's *exact* function in the film - to blatantly raise the emotional stakes. Hell, isn't crisis and near tragedy why we got an "Apollo 13" movie at all? But I guess that's the script's misplaced faux concern, not hers.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

I'd probably rank them like this:

1. Joan Allen
2. Kate Winslet
3. Mare Winningham
4. Mira Sorvino
5. Kathleen Quinlan

It's a crime that Joan Allen never won an Oscar, but I'll admit that I never gave Kate Winslet an Oscar in my own little Academy Awards world.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSean T.

Dave S. - "Apollo 13" as a whole seems clearly critical of the fact that so soon after the moon landing, Americans were already losing interest in the space program, and it took a crisis to get their attention again. There's definitely something a bit ironic about the fact that the movie itself works as well as it does because it's centered on the crisis. I don't think it undercuts the critique, though, or Quinlan's performance.

Anyhoo, I didn't mind the time spent with Marilyn Lovell that much because Quinlan was quite good, but I just didn't think the role presented any really interesting actor-ly challenges...and, as I said on the podcast, I'm not really sure how it could have without blurring the movie's focus. Which reminds me, is anyone watching that TV series "Astronaut Wives Club"? Marilyn Lovell is one of the characters, I think.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Wow, apart from Peggy Sue, I think I'm the only person here who actually liked Mira Sorvino's performance. Thanks for using my blurb!

That said, I did rank Kate's performance just a touch higher, despite the distracting wig.

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames

@ James: what am I, chopped liver?!!
I wrote "I love Mira Sorvino's performance".

August 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Still Team Winslet. That could have prevented the dual embarrassments of Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino and a later shitty win by Kate Winslet in "The Reader." Hindsight's a bitch tho.

August 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSamson

So without Guy Lodge's Winslet haterade, she would have won this easily, correct? Boooo. I think I would have pulled for Winningham at the time, but Winslet would have made an incredible winner. Too bad this started the path down her awful actual Oscar win. Demote Stone to supporting, ditch Quinlan, nominate Leigh in lead, and presto! And the less said about Mira Sorvino, the better. Ugh.

August 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Ahhh, the Winslet-haterade, so quenching and so refreshing, everybody should take a sip... It will do you good.

August 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

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