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