Entries in Oscars (90s) (124)
For better or worse, you can often feel a larger thesis statement, be it about race and/or American culture at large, running through much of Spike Lee’s work. His films also feel incredibly male in their perspective. Even his few films that foreground women (She’s Gotta Have It and Girl 6) feel enveloped by the male gaze, despite their many other virtues. These are just a couple of reasons why Lee’s semi-autobiographical slice-of-life dramedy Crooklyn feels like a bit of a curio.
Crooklyn is set in the summer of 1973 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Lee himself grew up. Nine-year-old Troy Carmichael (Zelda Harris) is the only girl in a brood that includes four rowdy brothers. Though often put-upon and teased, Troy is tough, clever, funny and every bit the daughter of her equally strong-willed mother, Carolyn (a radiant Alfre Woodard). More so than any other film Lee has directed, Crooklyn is wholly interested in the inner-life, motivations and perspective of its female characters. Even Woody (Delroy Lindo), the family patriarch and easily the most fleshed out male character in the joint still feels like an afterthought compared to how focused the narrative is on Troy and Carolyn. How Alfre Woodard's anchoring performance failed to garner any Oscar traction, especially when one looks at the outlet mall fire sale irregulars that were the Best Actress nominees of 1994 is confounding.
Kyle here. We’re rapidly barreling into the holiday movie season—aka, the time when we plebeians can catch up with all the fare deemed Award Worthy. I’m sure you’re aware, just how amazing our lineup of actress contenders is this year, as Murtada recently talked about. How difficult it’s going to be to be a fan this winter! Which is to say is there anything more painful than those moments when we’re torn between competing loyalties? Or between loyalty and taste?
My most painful instance of this came in 2000, when Hilary Swank and Annette Bening duked it out for Best Actress. I loved Boys Don't Cry. It was such an important film—even its nomination was important, given its low-budget indie status—and Swank was utterly heartbreaking. But then there was Bening in American Beauty, tap dancing on that high wire. Her Carolyn Burnham is broad and deep, tenderly tragic and yowlingly funny at the same time. Bening not only achieves this difficult balance, but shows us that it’s indispensable to this character’s, this type of person’s, reality.
So, what was your most painful Sophie’s Choice Oscar moment?
For various reasons, I’ve never cared for the use of “asshole” as an epithet. However, calling Carrie Fisher a “jerk” or “irreverent” plainly misses the point. She can be an asshole, and that’s why I love her.
My favorite evidence of this fact comes from her DVD commentary for Postcards from the Edge, the film adapted from her memoir-cum-novel of the same name. I’ve written elsewhere about the brilliance of this film, how Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep use Fisher’s story (and her personal narrative as daughter of Debbie Reynolds) to dramatize the shift from the old Hollywood star system, in which audiences liked to think that they really knew the star (and to see them play similar roles again and again), to a contemporary kind of stardom, where stars are celebrated for being convincing in a range of different kinds of roles. That’s what I appreciate about the film. But there is much to love about the film that is all Fisher, like the tragically plausible names of Suzanne’s past, vacuous movies (for example, “The Night of a Thousand Shoes”).
Early on in Postcards, Suzanne’s mother Doris throws her a very unwelcome welcome home party. Suzanne is complaining about the fact that she doesn’t even know anyone at the party to her friend Aretha (played with a voice like dark corn syrup by the wonderful Robin Bartlett), when the two are interrupted by a member of Doris’s staff, a maid, who informs Suzanne: "Your mother wants you inside to cut the cake."
Fisher cast her personal cook, Gloria Crayton, as the maid, and the level of apathy with which Crayton delivers her line is astonishing. It is presumably the culmination of the evening’s festivities, and she could not care less. Crayton’s delivery is devoid of all feeling, seemingly evidence that the actress struggled simply to disgorge the line.
But this is where Fisher’s Wildean assholery comes into play.
We had a whole campaign about Gloria. We ran it in Variety nominating her for Best Supporting Actress. We got quotes from [Richard] Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss’s quote was “It’s the finest one line walk-on since Richard Dreyfuss in The Graduate…[There were] quotes from Meryl, Gene Hackman…”
On one hand, Fisher and crew are thumbing their noses at the Academy Awards, and the whole system of campaigning for Oscars. On the other, this gag makes us wonder about what makes a performance compelling or convincing. Why would a servant care about the party? Who wouldn’t be dead tired after working for Doris and her persnickety guests? While it might ultimately be impossible to tell whether Crayton is playing nonchalant or is talentless, it might just be the case that she has given us one of the most convincing and accurate portrayals in the history of cinema. It’s this sort of clever foolishness that makes Fisher the kind of asshole I can get behind.
You've read the Smackdown proper and heard Part One of the companion podcast. Now we're wrapping things up with Part Two in which Nathaniel and guests discuss a movie they all loved (Georgia) and the most divisive movie of the batch (Nixon). Big thanks again to this month's panelists: Nick Davis (Nicks Flick Picks), Guy Lodge (Variety), Kevin O'Keeffe (Arts.Mic), Conrado Falco (Coco Hits NY) and Lynn Lee (The Film Experience)
Part 2: 39 Minutes
00:01 Mare Winningham and Georgia’s Screenplay
08:45 Oliver Stone’s excesses -- extremely split opinions on Nixon
19:15 Off-Oscar: Other performances we loved from 1995 and another round of Emma Thompson and Sense & Sensibility
30:00 Best Original Song ???
33:40 Final Thoughts, recommendations and takeaways
You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes tomorrow.
You've read the Smackdown proper. Now, it's time for its podcast companion piece in which Nathaniel and his guests discuss the movies in greater detail.
Part 1: 40 Minutes
00:01 Introductions & who were we rooting for back in '95
05:45 Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite and broad comic caricatures in this particular category
14:30 Mira Sorvino’s career
17:26 Apollo 13
23:30 Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility, editing and ensemble work
34:00 Sister movies (Supporting or Lead for Kate & Mare?)
You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes.
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...