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Smackdown '77: Melinda, Leslie, Tuesday, Quinn, and Vanessa Redgrave

Presenting the Supporting Actress Nominees of '77. A mother with extraterrestrial problems, a highly neurotic swinger, a wealthy political activist, a precocious daughter, and a timid ballerina.


John Travolta opening the envelope

If the characters weren't quite typical this time, the shortlist formation was a familiar mix of career glories. Consider the slotting: Oh look, there's the child actor slot that the Supporting Actress category is famous for going to Quinn Cummings; Tuesday Weld wins the underappreciated enduring talent nod; No typical shortlist is complete without a newish critical darling with momentum which in 1977 was Melinda Dillon (she had created the "Honey" role in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf  on stage but didn't get to do the movie and was finally making film inroads via her role in the previous year's Best Picture nominee Bound for Glory ); Finally, you have to have a current Oscar darling with considerable prestige and fame (Vanessa Redgrave) on hand in any given year. Oops, that's only four. The last type is more rare but not unprecented. The final player fell under what you might call the "novelty" slot (Leslie Browne). When the latter happens it's usually either foreign-born non-actors or famous musicians but in this case it was a soon to be principal dancer with the American Ballet Company.


Here to talk about these five turns are our panelists: Mark Harris (Author of "Pictures at a Revolution," and "Five Came Back"), Guy Lodge (Variety, The Observer), Nick Davis (Associate Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern), Sara Black McCulloch (Rearcher, Translator, Writer) and your host Nathaniel R (Editor, The Film Experience).

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



LESLIE BROWNE as "Emilia" in The Turning Point
Synopsis: A young ballerina becomes the new star of a struggling but esteemed company, just as her godmother once did and her mother longed to before having her.
Stats: Then 20 yrs old, debut film but she only made two more. (51 minutes of screen time or 43% of running time). 

Nick Davis: Because this nomination gets so much flak, I feel oddly protective of Browne, even though I’m not bowled over, either. Admittedly, when I focus on the performance as such, I see how tentative and inexperienced she is. Her Emilia is not as personally or artistically formidable as the script suggests. But when I sit back and enjoy the movie, I buy her doe-eyed adolescence and nascent ambition completely. Inexpert as she is, she plausibly serves the film. ♥♥

Mark Harris: Judging this coattail nomination seems unfair to the earnest Browne, an accomplished dancer and non-thespian cast by her godmother’s husband, Herbert Ross. The film brims with actresses—Bancroft, MacLaine, Martha Scott—who know how to seize their moment (and the haute-soapy, punitive material is basically a two-hour excuse for moment-seizing). It’s not Browne’s fault that she’s too diffident and vocally untrained to do it, especially since Ross gives her little help, the camera doesn’t want her the way it wants Baryshnikov, and the script treats her as a repository of other people’s ambitions. Nice moment when she’s dancing drunk, though. 

Guy Lodge: People blithely refer to “just playing yourself” as if it were easy; it's not, which comes across in both the most and least persuasive gestures of ballerina Browne's alternately nervy and serene self-portrait. She's best, in fact, when acting outside herself: there's a foggy-regal diva's presence, a genuine commitment to character, in her divisive drunk scenes. Elsewhere, Emilia's nervousness within her own skin is hard to tell apart from Browne's: an effective outcome of casting, but perhaps not prize-level acting♥♥

Sara Black McCulloch: Browne’s is the only role out of the list whose character has her own storyline. She’s a young woman who, as Emma puts it, “wants both,” but can’t yet grasp that the world -- especially that of the New York dance world -- is harsh and wants her to choose. Browne’s depiction of a young girl borders heavily on the naive and wide-eyed, but its her interactions with her mother or Emma that really deepen our understanding of her.  

Nathaniel R: What a meta moment in film, this casting/performance was. Much of the film works precisely because of her limitations, especially that supremely bitchy ‘you’re here to dance, not to emote all over the place’ scene.  Emilia is less of a real person than an obvious vessel and catalyst for her two warring moms, anyway. This non-actor has real spots of trouble with line readings but she occasionally surprises as with her fine drunk Russian play-acting bit. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Baryshnikov, when asked, called Leslie Browne’s dancing “nice” in the film. I wish I could say more for Browne’s presence..." - Joel M. (Reader average: ♥½)

Actress earns 9½ ❤s 


QUINN CUMMINGS as "Lucy McFadden" in The Goodbye Girl
Synopsis: A precocious child gets a crush on her mom's new actor roommate but worries that he'll leave, just like the other surrogate dads did.
Stats: Then 10 yrs old, debut film (she only made one more but worked a lot in television for a decade afterwards).  34½ minutes of screen time or 31% of the running time). 

Nick Davis: My runner-up. I’ve rewatched several Neil Simon adaptations recently, thus refreshing my memory of how difficult it can be to sell his quippy, frequently overworked dialogue or to hold onto your own personality and sense of humor without bending to his. Maybe I’m over-crediting a child performer, but she seems like a total natural with language that decidedly isn’t. Sometimes just being herself, sometimes deliberately goading two adults, I buy her wise-assery and her softening toward Elliot. ♥♥♥

Mark Harris: Cummings owned wise-beyond-her-years roles like this in the late ‘70s largely because, as Marsha Mason tells her, “You were never 4½, you were born 26.” Too often, Neil Simon writes her as a precocious quip machine. But even with not-fully-human material, she’s genuinely good. I love her muttered “Jesus” the first time she encounters Dreyfuss, and her teary resistance to him in their carriage-ride scene feels truly kidlike. Her crisp professionalism is in sync with the adults, and her line readings are naturally funny, not over-coached. Plus, she never pushes too hard; in this film that’s something of a miracle. ♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: “You were born 26,” says Cummings' onscreen mom; that appears to have been her lone performance note. Why, soon after honoring Tatum O'Neal's sly, subtle interleaving of adult and juvenile impulses, would voters give this kind of declamatory cuteness a pass? Cummings has pluck; she's no Hollywood kidbot. But she projects no clear idea of who Lucy is, because Neil Simon doesn't either: she reels off one poised putdown after another, yet needs basic adjectives continually defined for her. 

Sara Black McCulloch: I especially enjoyed Cummings' performance because, especially for a child actor, she had a good amount of screen time, her performance never felt too forced and she eased into different emotional ranges. I was either laughing at her quips about her mother's ex-boyfriend, or really feeling for her when Elliot was leaving them. There's a quiet confidence to her that really enlivens her performance on screen.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Despite my allergies to child actors, I confess I only absently sniffled a few times. She’s slightly more natural than the leads. Cummings ably handles that most sitcomy of roles, the wise child with an old spirit. But this is not exactly a challenge and she can’t sell the faulty product that is her character’s about-face toward film’s end when The Goodbye Girl needs a conflict. Perhaps I'm too stingy with the hearts? Good but... ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "I can’t possibly overstate my awe that a child performer in a script this relentlessly “quirky” is able to so effectively play against the grain as everyone else around her succumbs to it, in front and behind the camera." - Nicholas T. (Reader average: ♥♥½)

Actress earns  14½❤s 


MELINDA DILLON as "Jillian Guiler" in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Synopsis: A single mother whose child is abducted by aliens, joins with other believers to chase extraterrestrial sightings and explanations.
Stats: Then 38 yrs old, first of two nominations, her fifth film. (28 minutes of screen time or 21% of the running time) 

Nick Davis: There’s something differently but comparably ethereal about Dillon and Redgrave. Gazing into their eyes, remarkably blue and emotionally transparent, you feel you’re touching some Other Place where both actresses live. They are pleasures to observe. But once Redgrave has you, she starts sculpting, specifying, challenging your impressions. Dillon, by contrast, can seem vague. She captures Jillian’s basic arc without adding much. And in Barry’s big abduction sequence, she looks like she’s hitting marks on a complicated set. ♥♥

Mark Harris: What a joy to revisit; Dillon has a wistful, abstracted/depressed manner that I’ve always loved (it’s more distilled in Absence of Malice). That said, this remains a surprising nomination, one that could as easily have gone to costar Teri Garr. Dillon’s work as a quietly frazzled, apparently newly single mom (a warmup for Dee Wallace’s E.T. character) doesn’t have a showcase scene; maybe she got in because smart voters granted her co-credit for the sweet “performance” of 3½ year-old Cary Guffey, and because of her slightly otherworldly quality, which suggests that maybe the aliens didn’t pick her kid by accident. ♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: Dillon's is not the best performance in this lineup by a long chalk, but it is, perhaps, the most resourceful. Handed a character little defined beyond her maternity — frequently a hindrance, dare I say, for the women of Spielberg's cinema — she quietly, watchfully turns Jillian's oddly scripted combination of single-minded devotion and hazy, semi-hypnotised instinct into a compelling paradox of character: she's at once driven and drawn by the gaps in her knowledge♥♥♥

Sara Black McCulloch: Dillon’s character Jillian is there mainly to confirm everything that Roy has seen. Like the other maternal figures in this film, she seems disconnected from the greater arc, despite having her own encounter with the extraterrestrials (and especially after they’ve taken her son). Still, while Roy’s obsession with aliens is likened to a fascination, hers is framed as pathetic and hysterical; she doesn’t want to understand UFOs, she just wants her son back.   

Nathaniel R: Spielberg’s infamous “wonderment” closeups rarely get better than Melinda’s. Then again they’re not usually performed with such a mix of primal feeling and relatable opacity, Dillon empties her face out so we’re not quite sure — Gillian also isn’t — what she’s feeling. Fear and wonder and confusion and curiosity are all projectable possibilities. She’s quite good but I’d argue we lose any initial richness in the final third as Spielberg’s own awe starts hogging all the close ups. ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Dillon does a lot emotionally with this role that is a little underdeveloped...." - Eoin (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns  14¾❤s 


VANESSA REDGRAVE as "Julia" in Julia
Synopsis: A wealthy socialite becomes an anti-fascist activist during World War II, enlisting her famous playwright friend to undertake a dangerous mission on her behalf.
Stats: Then 40 yrs old, her 20th film, 4th of 6th nominations, only win. (20 minutes of screen time or 17% of running time). 

Nick Davis: Let’s acknowledge how unplayable this part is, with Lillian and Zinnemann in total thrall to Julia as radiant paragon. Camera and costar just gawp at her, while she assumes ever more mythic proportions. But Redgrave adds so much texture: glinting self-satisfaction in early scenes; humiliation in the hospital, with facial, bodily, and vocal expressivity severely constrained; and delight but also sobriety, pragmatism, even some gritty impatience in the pub sequence. That exquisite passage elevates the whole film. ♥♥♥♥♥

Mark Harris: Avid, eerily calm, romantic, formidable, kind, fervent, charismatic, a head taller than everyone else, and a head taller than this often too decorous movie, Redgrave remains indelible—a Supporting Actress gold standard. That restaurant scene—her great moment—is an acting class. There’s generosity and intelligence in how Zinnemann and Fonda make room for her, almost physically, as if her evangelical ideals need room to radiate. Rewatching, I was shocked at how little she’s in the film; I remembered her as filling it. That’s just what a performance in a movie about being haunted by memory has to accomplish. ♥♥♥

Guy Lodge: Being handily the best actor — irrespective of role — in a nominee field isn't always a case for the gold. But Redgrave trounces her competition here, in an assignment that is far the trickiest of the five. As the title character and overseeing conscience of this dusty drama of moral duty, she's an elusive pentimento-concealed object of fascination, yet sensually and intellectually vivid enough to power audiences through a quest that unfolds mostly in her name rather than in her presence♥♥♥♥

Sara Black McCulloch: The film’s namesake, played by Redgrave, features her for just a few minutes out of the two-hour running time. The dynamic between her and Fonda feels so out of place, mainly because their relationship has failed to flourish on screen. It’s hard to even call this a supporting performance -- let alone one worthy of award-winning recognition -- because Redgrave’s Julia is mostly fuel for flashbacks -- making her less of an active player in this film..  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: How to even describe what she’s accomplished, running such rings around the image-making and the text that she’s both anti-centrifugal and centrifugal force; drawing the movie into her center but still pushing us enigmatically away. She’s an especially riveting mass of contradictions, that violent wild-eyed idealism holding hands with girlish affection, in the film’s centerpiece sequence. In Vanessa’s fierce and bracingly anti-sentimental star turn, she complicates Julia’s love for Lillian with a little condescension and naked impatience. ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Perfect; it would have been nice for her to have some actual competition in this category." - Craig (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 25 ❤s 


TUESDAY WELD as "Katherine" in Looking for Mr Goodbar
Synopsis: The swinging sister of a an equally promiscuous schoolteacher moves from one addiction to another: new men, pills and booze, group therapy
Stats: Then 34 yrs old, 19th film, first and only nomination. (13½ minutes of screen time or 10% of the running time). 

Nick Davis: Weld is so singular—ebullient but acidic, sunny yet corrupt—that her movies were usually built around her. She’s hard to assimilate into someone else’s vision or story. Moreover, her role in Goodbar is stranded between a showcase part and an underwritten distraction. Within those limitations, her work is odd but intriguing. While Keaton’s Theresa favors a deadpan attitude toward high-risk behaviors, Weld’s Katherine performs her feather-ruffling but fundamentally safe role in the family with maximum histrionics. ♥♥♥

Mark Harris: Weld’s function in this rather hateful cultural artifact is to serve as a cautionary tale. “I’m in trouble, I’m in real trouble,” she quavers, drinking, popping pills, planning her abortion, weeping, and skating into hysteria—all within two minutes after we meet her. “I’m sorry to lay all this on you,” she tells Diane Keaton. You don’t say! Gosh, do you think things will turn out well for her? This is big, showy, leave-it-all-on-the-field acting; maybe Weld does too much, but she’s resourceful and idiosyncratic enough to make you wish the censorious script had been more interested in her character. ♥♥

Guy Lodge: Weld is in less of this restless, jangly film than I remembered: she certainly makes her scenes count, in ways some viewers might occasionally find overbearing. Even at her most shrill, however, I sense she attributes a canny note of performance to Katherine's hysteria and self-pity, in pointed contrast to our heroine's attempt at incremental, near-invisible inner collapse. And I love the blitheness — still an act, but a more elegant one — with which she eventually wears her debauchery♥♥♥

Sara Black McCulloch: One quick blink of the eye, and there is Weld. Blink again, and she’s gone -- this is the best way to qualify her time on screen. When she is there, she’s either warning her sister of her lifestyle choices; suffering the consequences of her own actions; or she’s simply there to pacify the audience in between scenes of Theresa’s slow self-destruction. She could have been more than this had the screenplay made more room for her.  

Nathaniel R: Weld and Keaton capture that unique distant intimacy you can sometimes find in siblings who enjoy their compartmentalized supporting role-playing to the leading other. The way Katherine deploys “Rock of Gilbatrar” as mantra to describe her equally messy sister feels like another delusional addiction. Is the performance too manic for a movie that already has so many tics? Maybe. But Weld smartly modulates it down whenever Katherine has temporarily found a new fix (man, therapy, other). ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "I admit to a slight bias in favor of the film itself, which has unjustly faded into oblivion thanks to Annie Hall. But Weld nails this role and is as compelling as Keaton." - Paul (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 15 ❤s 


The Oscar Went To... Vanessa Redgrave
who delivered that infamous "Zionist hoodlums" acceptance speech that did not keep her in Oscar's good graces. But there is no denying the win in a landslide decision here so...

 Congratulations Vanessa! Again.

Would you have chosen similarly, dear reader? Want more? The companion podcast is available (two 40 minute parts) in which we flesh out some of these thoughts and discuss 1977 in more depth. So listen in!

Thank you for attending! 

Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 19481952, 195419641968, 1973, 19791980, 1989, 1995 and 2003. (Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site.)

NEXT UP: 1984 is our 'year of the month' so the next Smackdown is on August 28th, 2016 looking back at that film year as well as its Supporting Actress nominees (Glenn Close, Lindsay Crouse, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Geraldine Page, and Christine Lahti)

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Reader Comments (30)

1977 such riches in supporting,my list only keeps 2 from this roster my winner Redgrave and Weld who is meant to be a whirlwind in and out of the film as that's how she lives life within a whirlwind.

I would add

Joan Plowright in Equus
Lilia Skala in Roseland
Joan Blondell in Opening Night

Why couldn't they have tossed Martha Scott in The Turning Point in their instead of Browne who is just a vacuum Scott makes all her scenes worthy and let's us know in her line readings her relationship with everyone.

Redgrave is simply one of the best winners ever.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

No argument here. Vanessa was great in this film, and it's unfortunate that Jane more or less gave up film work in the 80's. Have you done 2002? That was a very competitive year.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Fascinating analysis as always from all. In this weak line-up, despite the presence of three very fine actresses, I wouldn’t have expected any other outcome though as great as Vanessa is she would have been my runner up had Joan Blondell been rightly nominated for Opening Night. Redgrave would be the only one of this five who would make my own ballot were I able to pick. Mine would be:

Joan Blondell-Opening Night-Winner
Teri Garr-Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Vanessa Redgrave-Julia
Diana Rigg-A Little Night Music
Martha Scott-The Turning Point
Be that as it may this is my take on the five in the running today.

Leslie Browne-The Turning Point-Not a complete blank slate, she’s amusing during her drunk scene and she dances beautifully, but as close as possible without actually being just that. Her voice is flat and without expression and her acting wooden. A complete tagalong nomination. 1 heart.

Quinn Cummings-The Goodbye Girl-She’s cute and fresh the way movie kids often are that bares little relation to how children are in the real world but she’s hardly extraordinary. She peps the movie up with her presence but a nomination for that is out of all proportion with her contribution. 2 hearts.

Melinda Dillon-Close Encounters of the Third Kind-She does wonders with a part that asks little of her but to portray anguish at various levels. Her strongest scenes come when she and Dreyfuss are on their trek to the mountain and as she sees it for the first time her eyes full of liquid yearning for her lost boy. Because the role offers such a limited scope, despite what she does with it, it’s not really an award worthy part but of this group she gives the second strongest performance. 3 hearts.

Vanessa Redgrave-Julia-Rewatching the film for this I was struck by how brief her role is. Her presence hangs over the film so heavily, due to the force of her personality, but she really only has bits and pieces and her one spotlight scene in the café. She is completely present, her eyes convey volumes when the camera turns her way I just wish there was more of her in the film to flesh out the performance. She does the most she can with the role but the part is more an ethereal ideal than a person. Still of the nominees she’s the clear champ. 4 hearts.

Tuesday Weld-Looking for Mr. Goodbar-Playing Diane Keaton’s hot mess of a sister the always resourceful Weld does what she can to make her nothing character a person but there is so little there for her to work with. She flits in, dithers and screams and vanishes again from the narrative. 2 hearts.

I’m going to go into a little depth here. What an odd nomination. Viewed now it would seem to be a career nod for a respected actress, though always a purposeful outsider, who with great design eschewed big time recognition. But she was only 34 at this time and though it didn’t turn out that way it would have seemed she had decades more time to secure a nod for a real showcase role. Perhaps it was an acknowledgement that the Academy had erred in bypassing her for truly brilliant previous work in Pretty Poison, A Safe Place and Play It As It Lays. An amazingly versatile talent who must hold the record for the number of roles she refused that were great triumphs for other actresses. She turned down Bonnie & Clyde, Elaine in The Graduate, Lolita, True Grit, Norma Rae, Cactus Flower, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Rosemary's Baby, the 70's version of The Great Gatsby, Polanski's Macbeth, The Stepford Wives and The Rocky Horror Picture Show for various reasons but mostly she’s said because she felt they would make her too famous and rob her of her privacy. What I find most impressive about that is considering the wide variety of actresses cast in those roles she would have made sense in all of them while the others would not. For example could you see Dyan Cannon in True Grit or Kim Darby in B&C&T&A? No way but Tuesday yes. A wonderfully idiosyncratic actress.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Wow, totally agreed re: those who mention Joan Blondell in Opening Night. I only saw that for the first time 5 years ago, and it hit me like a train. I only knew her from Busbee Berkeley spectacles. What a film.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher

Sans Browne (who nabbed what should've been Joan Blondell's slot), I consider this a marvelous line-up. And while I can't really knock Redgrave's victory at all, my personal favorite here is the always-compelling Dillon. Cummings and Weld have many memorable moments too.

Can't wait for future smackdowns!

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I was super excited to see this feature return, and I loved the write-ups (although I have only seen Close Encounters out of all the nominees). Weirdly, I prefer the close ones where everyone seems to have a different favorite over the ones like this where the is a clear winner, if only because I love seeing the differing takes on the performances.

That said, at least I know to make it a point to move Julia to the top of my Netflix queue (if it is available, natch)

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

Vanessa Redgrave would win her sole Oscar in a category without a diversity problem. So fitting of her politics.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Will there be a podcast? This would be an interesting year to talk about in general. And I am missing the podcasts in general.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter C

I'm going to have to join the naysayers on my onscreen daughter, another precocious kid, and I don't think they ever figure out how to get more performance than what's written. Yours truly, OTOH, plays calm desperation in a way that overcomes the trite script and makes it work as both comedy and drama. And so take that to anyone who says I only "play myself" or owe everything to my then-husband's writing.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Mark and Nick, what a delight! :)
Had the impression Sara was judging the roles rather than the performances, though.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Peter C - yes, as I said at the end of this article, the podcast for this should be up tomorrow .

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Joan Blondell outshines Redgrave to me.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSean Casey

Thank you for studying the ladies, but has anyone the slightest idea why Jason Robards won his second consecutive Oscar over Peter "Equus" Firth, Obi Wan Kenobi, Misha and Maximilian Schell. Did anyone see that coming back in 1978?

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFrank JP

I'm an idiot and stopped reading past the performance comments lol, sorry. Yay for the podcast return!

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter C

Actor & S/Actor were bad categories that yr.It's Guinness for me.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

How wonderful that Vanessa Redgrave won it handily then and now - and some nice high marks too. I saw all of these films back in the day, but had no time to re-watch for this.
But you were right in line w/ my memory of them.

Leslie Brown was just too insipid, but looked the part. **
Quinn Cummings I remember as being cute & not as good as Jodi Foster would have been.**
Tuesday Weld didn't make that much of an impression on me **
Melinda Dillon shone with maternal fierceness - vivid impression of her. ***
Vanessa Redgrave at her most luminous, every phrase given a touch of spin. **** !!

Can't wait for the podcast - thx.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

i'm so excited for the return of the smackdown! even if this year's winner was kinda pre-ordained. i wasn't able to see THE TURNING POINT since they took it off Netflix and I've never seen it before (i know, i know...) but was able to watch the other 4 performances. I really liked how different each of the nominated films were. even though i didn't love all the performances...here are my takes:

Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
It's always hard for me to get behind praise for child performances. Most of the time the children aren't even old enough to read, so the thought of them making "choices" for their character to play seems to be giving them way too much credit. They aren't acting, they're riding on charm. And most of the time mimicking what a skilled director is asking of them. As the wiser-than-her-years daughter Lucy, Cummings is saddled with being the straight man to Marsha Mason's frantic recently jilted mother Paula. Without the "adorability" factor so often found in juvenile work and forced to speak Neil Simon dialogue that most adult actors would have a difficult time in sounding natural, Cummings comes off as stiff, mannered, and completely stripped off any childlike qualities that would have made this performance anything close to believable. ♥

Melinda Dillon Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A movie like Close Encounters is never going to be concerned with its human characters, creating interesting back stories or character arcs for the actors to play. It's about the spectacle and the entertainment value - aliens are coming down to earth in spaceships! The human characters are essentially set pieces to move along the fancy effects. And Dillon, as a mother whose son is abducted by the interstellar visitors, seems to have a lot to work with in theory. But she curiously doesn't really seem that worried or concerned about her son's disappearance. Never really getting that big dramatic scene where she breaks down over her loss. And then she spends most of the film tagging along behind Richard Dreyfuss with nothing to do. When she's finally reunited at the end with her child, Dillon plays the scene with such a curious mix of indifference and contentment that you wonder if it's revelatory to see it played in an atypical manner or just odd not to play basic human emotions. I'm going with the latter...♥♥

Vanessa Redgrave Julia
As the titular Julia, a wealthy American heiress living in occupied Germany right before the start of WWII, Redgrave's character is often the subject of discussion, her name on everyone lips and almost consuming the mind of Jane Fonda's Lillian Hellman throughout the course of the meandering film. The shadow of Julia looms large over the film. So in casting an actress like Redgrave in the role, whose singular presence on screen has always held a gravitas and earthy charisma, most of the work has already been done. But the film relies too heavily on our knowledge of Redgrave as a performer without utilizing her as fully as it should. It's essentially an entire performance that consists of one scene in the film. As the would-be saint, Redgrave draws us in by playing Julia not as an ideal, but a gritty, clear-eyed fighter. Doing what she does not because she is looking for canonization, but because it's the only logical choice she has. Redgrave makes the most of her limited screen time, but it just makes you long to see what she could have done with more. ♥♥♥

Tuesday Weld Looking for Mr. Goodbar
When Kubrick was casting his film adaption of Nabokov's Lolita, his first choice for the young nympho was Tuesday Weld, who started drinking at 10, tried to commit suicide a year later and as a pre-teen had already had affairs with much older men. Weld turned him down saying she didn't need to play Lolita because she already was her. So what better actress than Weld to cast in a film that explores the sexual awakening of a woman (played by Diane Keaton) as her guide to a new world of multiple lovers, swingers, and where watching pornographic movies with a group of friends is just a regular weeknight. Weld, as Keaton's world-weary older sister Katherine brings that Lolita backstory by virtue of her celebrity, bringing a twisted meta dynamic to her character. But apart from an early bedroom confession about contemplating an abortion and a wistful car conversation that allows her to shine in her effortlessness, Weld drifts in and out of the film without really bringing anything of substance to the film as a whole. The nomination more an honor for Tuesday Weld, the fascinating star and not anything she does as an actress. ♥♥

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

YAS VANESSA! So beautiful and radiant in Julia. The best winner ever also imo.
Those zionist hoodlums can suck on that lol
Not full 30 hearts tho huh?
Is stinkylulu not attending these smackdowns anymore?
It pains me knowing that Baryshnikov is an oscar nominated actor, while Donald Sutherland is not 😑

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Frank JP -- this is one of the only years where I thought "maybe Supporting Actor would be just as interesting" because it's such a mix of good stuff and complete headscratchers. I do not understand the nominations for EITHER of the Julia men at all and I mostly like that movie. And Barysnikov's nomination I only get in terms of "dear lord he is hot" which is not something that usually happens for male nominations though it does sometimes for female nods.

Abstew -- i love what you say about Dillon. That opacity is what i find most interesting about the performance because otherwise is there a character there at all?

PoliVamp - i dont think that's strange. 1995 was super exciting to do because it was so close (and people pretty much loved most of the performances).

Jono -- I mostly try to steer clear of the 00s because they're so recent and it's hard to do a retrospective without some hindsight. But IF we do one soon I might go with 2004 or 2001 just because I'm not sure what the outcome would be.

July 31, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

People are not mentioning Sissy Spacek in 3 Women and Lisa Kreuzer in The American Friend, 2 performances memorable for inhabiting roles that could be considered lead but are actually supporting, IMO.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDaph

I've only seen Cummings' and Dillon's films, and it's been years since I've seen either. I worried Cummings would be unbearable, but she wasn't. I was rooting for her more than anyone else in the film, so she must have been likable.

And Dillon's role I just remember being severely underwritten. Or maybe more of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor (but I kind of doubt it).

I'm excited for '84. So far I have only seen 3/5, but the leader is really far in front.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercash

i haven't seen The Turning Point but it looks like I wasn't missing much. Miss Browne got the same score as Renee Z a few years ago.

I didn't find this lineup very inspiring. I couldin't focus on Weld or Cummings, not when Keaton is giving her best performance and Mason and Dreyfuss work so well together. They were 2nd and 3rd wheels. I like what Redgrave and Dillon did with their underwritten roles. I honestly might have voted Dillon to win since I liked her movie best.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Sad I didn't find the time to revisit these and vote but as always loved loved loved reading the writeups.

Redgrave would be my winner, of course, and Nathaniel's write-up more or less captures everything I feel about this tour de force. In fact, ever since seeing this performance, I've demanded at least one "especially riveting mass of contradictions" in Every Single Film I see. And this is why every other performance by every other human being has been a faint disappointment ever since... (This is only partly a joke.)

Also count me in the team for Joan Blondell-in-Opening-Night as first-runner-up.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I'm with Sara in not loving Redgrave, and I think part of my indifference to the performance comes from having gone into the movie a few weeks ago with huge expectations about Redgrave and from having heard so many critics I respect call her, in Harris's words, a "gold standard" for a supporting performance. I expected to see a more traditionally flashy performance, and instead you barely see her throughout the movie, and when you do reach that climactic scene at the restaurant I was just seeing Julia direct Lilian, not much else. As Sara said, I wanted to see more of their relationship rather than just Julia's one-sided flashbacks before the restaurant scene; and the covertness that characterizes the restaurant scene doesn't help fill in much of the holes about their friendship. Yes, I do think both actresses do a good job of giving us subtext in that scene without much dialogue, and their respect/fondness/longing for one another is palpable in their eyes; but Redgrave still didn't give me enough to call her great, let alone the best this category has seen. I simply don't get how Redgrave is superior to other amazing supporting actress winners, like Swinton, Wiest 2x, Mo'Nique, Harden, or Moreno.

With that said, I love the write-ups, and all of you write so eloquently about this performances. Great job!

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

This was fun as always although it had very little suspense. It's one of the most unbalanced line-ups.

P.S. We're still doing 1963, right?

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I saw Julia in 2009, was still incredibly unfamiliar with Redgrave's career and distinctly remember thinking at the end of the film: wow, Vanessa Redgrave is not just a great actress but also one of the most enigmatic ones.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Peggy Sue -- 1984 in August. 1963 in September.

August 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel—your Vanessa blurb is incredible. Nailed it so hard.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Considering that Nathaniel did not post his usual weekend box office update, may I hijack this conversation to talk about this year's supporting actress race and how Kathryn Hahn in Bad Moms needs to be on everyone's short list?

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

<She’s cute and fresh the way movie kids often are that bares little relation to how children are in the real world>

Have you ever been or met a 10-year-old New Yorker from the 70s? Quinn nails that particular smart-alecky character without the irritating air most precocious children in films have. Also, many dismissing her performance forget that her shoulder is the one her mother cries on when another man says goodbye, hence parenting her parent. So, given that history and her having to grow up fast, it makes perfect sense that she would grasp and deliver with confidence the very adult vocabulary of Neil Simon.

I'd cut Melanie and Leslie (both uninspiring and forgettable) and add Joan and Sissy to the list.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

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