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Entries in Oscars (70s) (73)

Monday
Oct132014

75th: Absence of Melinda

Two time Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon turns 75 today. Since we don't like any major actresses to totally fade from public consciousness when they stop working, let's look back. Though her last working year was 2007 her most recent high profile gig goes back much further to a SAG nomination as part of the ensemble of Magnolia (1999, pictured left) in which she played wife and mother to Phillip Baker Hall and Melora Walters. 

Though she'd been working for a decade before it in small parts (TV guest gigs and improvisational comedy) her first real claim-to-fame came as "Memphis Sue" Woody Guthrie's wife in the Best Picture nominated bio Bound for Glory (1976). She received a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Acting Debut" (a now long defunct category) even though it wasn't her debut. Dillon's breakout led to bigger parts and two well-regarded Oscar nominations though curiously the Globes, who had first honored her, skipped her both times when her major hits rolled around. Her first Oscar nod made actually history: as the wide-eyed young mother in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1976) she was and will forever remain the first actor to ever receive a nomination for a Steven Spielberg film (it wasn't until The Color Purple when anyone else followed). Later she was nominated as a particularly fragile soul and key character at the heart of a war in Absence of Malice (1981) between journalist Sally Field and businessman Paul Newman (also Oscar-nominated).

Melinda Dillon as "Teresa" in Absence of Malice (1981)

Though Dillon's heyday preceded the birth of my own film/actress obessions I remember getting the sense that she was a critical darling, the kind of actress with a devout if not populist following. By the time I was watching movies regularly and passionately though the roles were all mom roles sometimes with lots of screentime as in A Christmas Story (1983) and Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and sometimes on the peripheries as in those very blonde family flashbacks in Prince of Tides (1991) or "Merna" in To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar (1995).

If you're familiar with her work what's your favorite of her performances? If she could be coaxed out of her retirement what would you have her do?

Friday
Oct102014

135 Days 'til Oscar: Remember the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion?

Occasionally while typing about the Oscars I accidentally type in the Shrine or the Kodak and especially "The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion" when I mean The Dolby Theater. It's an honest mistake since the Oscars are a bonafide institution and one tends to associate locations with events. The Dolby Theater, the "permanent" home now for Oscar (whatever permanent means considering things such as contracts, name changes, and rights battles for broadcast and whatnot) was once the Kodak Theater and for the last dozen years that's where the Oscars have been held. But until the new millenium, I associated the event with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That music hall hosted the Oscars the longest from Oliver! (1968) through Shakespeare in Love (1998) though it should be noted that the Shrine auditorium stepped in as substitute for six years during that three decade stretch. 

I've never actually been to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion but for a young movie mad boy in the suburbs of Detroit in the Eighties, 135 North Grand Avenue was the most important address in the world, way cooler than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I still think of it as way more glamorous than the Dolby... but maybe that's because I've been to the Dolby and though it looks great on TV it's inside a shopping mall. Perhaps that's appropriate for a golden idol that's really only gold-plated

Previously on our countdown that's really just begun...
138 Days - Average Best Picture Length
170 Days - Best Actor Trivia 
182 Days - What did Pickford & Fairbanks start?! 

 

Tuesday
Sep232014

Retro Quickie: Cinderella Liberty (1973)

File Under: I have had this Netflix disc out for so long and it really has to be returned to unclog my queue. -Nathaniel

You got a terrific knack for being nice and a prick all at the same time.

Have any of you ever seen Cinderella Liberty? Back when we were doing our 1973 celebration, I rented it since it was the sole Best Actress nomination I hadn't seen from that year. Marsha Mason plays a prostitute with a heart of... well, not gold exactly. But she's got one. She's raising Doug, her biracial teenager (Kirk Calloway nominated for Best Newcomer at the Golden Globes) on her own but she's doing a pretty shit job of it. Enter: James Caan, fresh off the double whammy star-making years of Brian's Song (1971) and The Godfather (1972), as a sailor named John Baggs Jr. who hooks up with her. In actuality it's Baggs' story and Maggie is missing for good stretches of the movie. Seemingly on a whim, this goodhearted sailor decides to stick around and decides to fall in love with her. That's the one thing that's most clear and most enigmatic about the movie. 

I found it a fascinating watch primarily because, though Mason is just fine as a moody blowsy hooker who can't manage her life towards something better, it was Caan's masculine reserve and softly shaded performance that drew me in...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Sep222014

Fiddler on the Roof is 50

Fifty years ago today, Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway and was an instant success with audiences and also won 9 Tony Awards including the big kahuna Best Musical. It would become the longest running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed by that crop of 80s mega-musicals from Britain. The musical has been performed countless times since in stage productions all over the world and four revivals on Broadway (76, 81, 90, 04). 

Best Actor nominee Topol in "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971)

By 1971 there was a movie adaptation that was nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture and I don't believe we've ever discussed it. That ain't right. I've been thinking about 60s and 70s musicals a lot recently due to that book "Roadshow!" and while the movie studios were definitely overinvested in the genre after the gargantuan back-to-back mega hits that were Mary Poppins and Sound of Music occassionally a hit would crop up within the string of flops that killed the genre thereafter. It helped that Norman Jewison was helming. As "Roadshow!" recounts:

I've never seen a distributor, an exhibitor... or the head of a studio ever improve on a film," said Jewison, "Only creative people can improve on a film." Cinematographer Oswald Morris said, "Norman was under hideous pressure from United Artists to keep costs down. To give him his due, he withstood all this; he had a vision for Fiddler, which he wasn't prepared to compromise, no matter what the front office said, and I greatly admire him for this." Jewison immersed himself in classic Jewish culture. I think he knows more about Judaism today than I do," said Topol. Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick noted that Jewison, "isn't Jewish, but he did so much research in preparation for the film that he became quite knowledgeable about things Jewish. As a result, either Topol, or someone else suggested that he should be made an honorary Jew and renamed Norman Christianson!"

When signed, Jewison was hot off the double Oscar success of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and In the Heat of the Night (1967) with his best work still far in the future; That's Moonstruck (1987) -- you know this to be true!

Critical reactions to Fiddler varied and some people objected to its relentless downplaying (within the marketing) of the Judaism of the story, but it raked in big bucks. Or as "Roadshow!" puts it: 

Roughly half of "The Sound of Music"'s earnings, but half of "Music" still qualifies as a blockbuster.

My last visit with this property was not the movie but the stage show's gorgeous 2004 revival starring Alfred Molina (the set design and lighting were just exquisite stage triumphs but it weirdly won no Tonys despite plentiful nominations) and I was stunned to realize or, rather, remember that virtually every song is a classic. It's one of those musicals.

What's your favorite number in that show and do you like its film version?

Saturday
Aug022014

Posterized: Famous Singer Biopics of the Past 50 Years

Oscar loves a lot of movie-things with predictable regularity though it should be noted that those things go in and out of style (when was the last time you saw a hooker with a heart of gold?). But one thing that never seems to go out of style with filmmakers: Biopics of musicians. Whether or not Amy Adams ever gets around to her Janis Joplin picture, or Hathaway goes through with the Judy Garland picture (I'd so prefer her to do Liza Minnelli who hasn't been done!) or Jane Krakowski ever gets the greenlight for Jackie Jormp-Jormp, there's plenty to choose from in the library already. And awards bodies, not just Oscar, often choose them. It's as good a way as any to be noticed.

How do you think Get On Up, from the director of The Help will fair with AMPAS? Reviews may be mixed but they don't seem to be for Chadwick Boseman's playful performance in the energetic title role. Hollywood is always searching for "the next Denzel Washington" and he's one of the candidates even though 'the next...' is always so problematic since true stars are always their own unrepeatable thing. Remember that uncomfortably weird forcing of so many actresses into 'the next Julia Roberts' tag? Even Julianne Moore (lol) was once in that lineup in a major magazine.

Let's look back at the past 50 years within this particular subgenre and see how many films we've gotten and how many of them won awards traction. I came up with about 27 pictures (excluding biopics of musicians who weren't singers or snapshots of the industry more than individual singers because you have to narrow it down somehow) though it's possible I missed a few.

27 FAMOUS SINGER BIOPICS (1964-2014)
How many have you seen?

Click to read more ...

Friday
Aug012014

Podcast: A Smackdown Companion w/ Dana Delany

Dana Delany loves talking movies! You can see her next in "Hand of God" on Amazon PrimeYou've read the Supporting Actress Smackdown of 1973. Now hear its companion Podcast 

On this special episode of the podcast -- meant to enhance and extend the current Supporting Actress Smackdown conversation to include the films themselves -- Nathaniel welcomes two time Emmy winner Dana Delany (China Beach, Desperate Housewives, Body of Proof), as well as EW editor at large and "Five Came Back" author Mark Harris, "You Must Remember This" podcast goddess Karina Longworth, Bill Chambers from Film Freak Central, and Kyle Turner from The Movie Scene.

You'll want to listen to this one. Trust me on this: your week will not be complete until you hear Dana's Sylvia Sidney impression and Mark's childhood Exorcist story. 

Smackdown 1973
00:01 Introductions
02:45 American Graffiti: nostalgia, sexism, George Lucas, actors vs screenplay
13:15 Summer Wishes Winter Dreams: New Yorkers and Joanne Woodward's psyche
20:30 Paper Moon: Tatum O'Neal and the matter of child actors
23:15 The Exorcist: assembled performances, stand-ins, horror subjectivity
29:45 "Collaborative Performances" Andy Serkis & Linda Blair
34:00 We share childhood stories about seeing scary/adult movies
40:00 Behind the Scenes history & Dana talks Emmys & the awards circus
45:35 Paper Moon: Madeline Kahn, great screenplays, category fraud, and films about The Great Depression 
55:00 Final Questions / Goodbyes 

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

NEXT ON THE SMACKDOWN: 1989 on August 31st

Smackdown Companion 1973

Thursday
Jul312014

Smackdown 1973: Candy, Madeline, Linda, Sylvia, and Tatum O'Neal

Behold the five Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses of 1973: a "bitchin' babe" (Candy Clark), a pint-sized con-artist (Tatum O'Neal), a possessed teenager (Linda Blair), a selfish carnival dancer (Madeline Kahn), and a vinegary New York institution (Sylvia Sidney). 

THE NOMINEES

 

Last month's featured year, 1964, gave us an extremely senior acting shortlist of Oscar regulars but the corresponding shortlist of 1973, apart from Sylvia Sidney who had been a respected working actress for nearly a half-century, skewed very new and very young and not just because it gave us the youngest Oscar winner of all time in Tatum O'Neal; she was 10 years and 148 days old. The four actresses nominated with Sidney were in their first flush of stardom and only acting in their first (O'Neal) second (Kahn & Clark) or third films (Blair). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences obviously approved of their career choice.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

from left to right: Chambers, Delany, Harris, Longworth, Rogers, Turner

You've already heard 'what 1973 means to them' and now here to talk about these five performances are authors Mark Harris ("Five Came Back") and Karina Longworth ("Anatomy of  an Actor: Meryl Streep"), film critics Bill Chambers (Film Freak Central) and Kyle Turner (Movie Scene), your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and our special guest: two-time Emmy winning actress Dana Delany ("China Beach", "Body of Proof", and the forthcoming "Hand of God").

And, as ever, we must thank StinkyLulu for the original Smackdown inspiration in which we revisit Oscar shortlists of the past without all the campaigning and heat-of-the-moment politics that infect each awards race. Without further ado, part one of the main event.... (here's part two which is a podcast conversation)

1973
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

LINDA BLAIR as "Regan" in The Exorcist
Synopsis: The daughter of a famous actress begins acting strangely. Can two priests save her from the demon inside?
Stats: 15 yrs old. First and only nomination. 41 minutes of screen time (or 34% of running time). 

Dana Delany: William Friedkin clearly created a set where Blair felt free to perform. She is naturally real as a pre-teen and then fully committed  in the physicality when she is possessed. I know it's McCambridge's voice, but Blair deserved this nomination just for what they put her through; the crucifix in the crotch, alone! ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: This isn't one performance but three--four if you count the makeup unto itself. Blair provides the base coat, of course, and the guilessness she brings to her early scenes is perhaps easy to underrate; she's not just natural, she's impossibly ordinary. (Her squirms and grunts in the hospital scenes are also viscerally authentic.) But Regan is a puppet in both concept and execution, manifesting fewer reactions than she provokes. In the end, this isn't unlike nominating Yoda or something. ♥♥

Karina Longworth: In a movie full of terrible performances, at least Blair's gives you something to think about, in that it takes some work to separate out what she's actually doing on her own, and what is being accomplished via makeup, effects, and voice dubbing. The things that are wrong (dated, laughable) with the movie are not Blair's fault, exactly, but she also doesn't exactly give a sense of the agency or invention that she brings to the role that another actress wouldn't.  ♥♥

Kyle Turner: Though part of what’s memorable about Blair’s performance has to do with Mercedes McCambridge’s voice work, she adds an absolutely crucial element of that innocence and naiveté suddenly taken over by evil. The film is not only horrifying on a visceral level, but on a human level because we sympathise for Regan. She’s going through Hell. Literally. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Mark Harris: Revisiting this, I found myself surprised by how little Blair is in the movie—unlike the adults, she’s not a character but an object, and William Friedkin uses her shrewdly but sparingly, in short, carefully chosen takes, sort of the way Spielberg deployed the shark in Jaws. It’s far from great acting, but her ordinariness works well for the part, and even though it’s a largely lip-synced performance (all hail Mercedes “Pazuzu” McCambridge!), she’s impressively game in every scene. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Those doctors and priests are such fools. Little Regan definitely has an unholy spirit inside her and its name is "McCambridge". Though the sound design, dubbing, and makeup are doing major heavy-lifting, Blair does just fine with her half portions, believably slipping towards catatonic trouble. Plus: watch her demon scenes with the sound off (I tried it!) and there’s still solid physical acting. In short I believed this young actress scratched “Help Me” into her own stomach from the inside. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Even with all the help this performance gets (makeup, sound, voice actors, etc) I still think Blair was ahead of her age and completely believable. Even after all the spoofs and rip offs I still find her creepy and during the "normal" scenes she's very natural." - Mauro. (Reader average: ♥½)

Actress earns 19½ ❤s 

4 more actresses after the jump


Click to read more ...