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Entries in Supporting Actress (133)

Wednesday
Sep252013

Introducing... Five Nominees From 1980

I've always been interested in the way characters / stars are introduced within their films. Sometimes you can feel the filmmaking underlining the moment: look here, you will love this character! Other times intros are nonchalant and the character sneaks up on you.

The Supporting Actress Nominees of 1980 ~ The Introductions

Last month I ranked the 1952 nominees by the quality of their entrances in preparation for their month-end "Smackdown". This month for the 1980 theme, to mix it up, let's just view them in order of when they show up in their movies. When moviegoers were first seeing these movies back in 1980, what did these characters promise them when they walked into the plot, already in progress?

Cathy Moriarty as "Vicki" in Raging Bull
[17 minutes until 'who's that girl'?]

Jake: Who's that girl you were just talking to.
Joey: The friend of mine I was just talking to? The blonde? Vicki.
Jake: Where's she from?
Joey: She's from the neighborhood. She's a neighbor.
Jake: What's her last name?
Joey: Vicki that's all I know. 

 We see a series of fetching closeup glimpses of Cathy Moriarty from Jake's point of view but she gets no dialogue of her own in this debut scene within her film debut. She's just an object of desire for now. She looks pleased with herself in the series of closeups Scorsese lavishes on her face and body by the pool as the dialogue from two sets of men is all about her or taking out the other men who want her. She's only 15 (Moriarty was 20) but Jake asks what her last name is, a fitting detail since he'll soon her give his own and since he's already married.

The promise here is trouble and Raging Bull has plenty of that.

Mary Steenburgen as "Lynda Dummar" in Melvin & Howard
[20 minutes in...]

Our first images of Linda are blocked by her husband Melvin who is arriving to bed late (or early since it's morning) after the film's lengthy prologue in which he meets Howard Hughes (Jason Robards in an Oscar nominated cameo) but soon he's asleep and she's waking up (on the opposite side of the bed... some nookie offscreen obviously). Noises outside have woken her and serve as another reminder of their poverty.

Oh no. Repossessed again."

She packs her bags in a rush to leave her bad luck husband. This character intro promises a sensual woman with an unlikely combination of flighty and sensible impulses and that's just the kind of memorable character we get. Of course she doesn't stay away too long since she is the film's Supporting Actress Nominee. 

Eileen Brennan as "Capt. Doreen Lewis " in Private Benjamin
[23 minutes... on the dot] 

Private Benjamin knows what it's got in Eileen Brennan's deliciously bitchy and funny Army captain and makes sure you know it too, introducing her in military style. Her entrance is shouted, saluted, and she's even blocked from view theatrically until the introducing officer steps aside to reveal her, the frown on her face mysteriously reading as a self satisfied smirk before she's even started mocking her new recruits. Which she does the first chance she gets two beats later when she sees one of them crying. 

What's the madduhr? Are yoo a widdle cwybaby?"

This entrance promises combative comedy to come and Brennan delivers. 

Eva Le Gallienne as "Grandma Pearl" in Resurrection
[23 ½ minutes]

Let me have a look at you, child!"

The legendary stage actress first appears in longshot racing out of her home to greet her granddaughter Edna (Best Actress nominee Ellen Burstyn), now disabled, who is returning to the family home to heal... in more ways than one. This first scene is as modest as the home, and tells you little about "Grams" other than that she's glad to see Edna. They then look at an old scrapbook together. Eva's voice is a marvel though, instantly betraying her stage origins, full of warmth, feeling and memory. (That's all I know for now. I'm still in the process of watching this which I have to say has been painful. Not, I hasten to add, because the movie is bad but because it's so very hard to find a good copy of it. The versions on YouTube are blurry and blown out and no other downloads seem to function well. Such a pity how Hollywood ignores its own history and lets it go unrestored, even when it's in the history books as an Oscar nominated film.)

Diana Scarwid as "Louise" in Inside Moves
[38 minutes late to the party]

Where are my four beers?"

Diana's waitress "Louise" is introduced so casually, in medium shot and profile before quickly whisking by the camera and vanishing again, that if you didn't know who Diana Scarwid is, you'd think nothing of it. The film's lasting claim to fame just wandered into frame and the movie didn't notice. Inside Moves, a strangely executed film about disabled men who form tight bonds at a local bar until one of them leaves to become a professional athlete (don't ask), doesn't even bother to introduce us. We only infer she's the new waitress from the casual concern in the bosses voice "you doin' ok?" Slowly she becomes more prominent in the narrative and eventually begins to slip out of longshots and into her own closeups. It mirrors the way that loved ones start out as strangers, sure, but it's also kind of anti-dramatic and it's a long wait to get to the Scarwid Goods.

Have you seen any of these films? There is still time to vote. We include reader votes in the Smackdown totals so send in your ballot, rating only the performances you've seen, with or without commentary, on a scale of 1 to 5 (best) hearts.  The Smackdown will take place on Monday, September 30th

Tuesday
Sep242013

Blonde Bombshells vs. Character Actresses?

I promise that I'm not changing the name of the blog to The Supporting Actress Experience but lately that category is just all I've been able to think about. For this I blame two women who are our soul locked propositions to date. Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) and Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler) are fighting it out for the actual statue... at least as of this writing.

I've noticed that many Oscar blogs like to "lock" everything up as early as September but I think that takes all the fun out of it AND I think it's genuinely up in the air this early on. So much can change with the vagaries of public opinion and box office and precursor prizes and red carpet action.

Let's assume that I'm right about L&O (a safe assumption given the reception to the films and the kind of roles they have as well as how well they manage them). That means we have three open slots and it's a free for all...

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep212013

Link Hunter

Variety mourns film criticism wondering if Roger Ebert was the last critic who really mattered
Cinema Blend talks "narrative" in Oscar campaigns and what they might mean for the futures of Gravity and 12 Years a Slave
Pop Matters Matt Mazur elaborates on his comments from the last Supporting Actress Smackdown
Antagony & Ecstasy another rave review for Short Term 12, beautifully written by one of the web's best film critics. (This is why I hired him, yknow)


i09 in today's stupid remake news Neil Marshall who once directed a movie as good as The Descent is going to remake the clever Norwegian film Troll Hunter. Despite the fact that Trolls are kind of, you know, Scandinavian in nature in their appeal/fictional dominance. 
Awards Daily Sasha thinks its crazy to doubt a nomination for Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Maybe I am crazy but I'm kind of doubting it. Not wholly mind you... she's definitely in the running. But Oscar's acting branch does not like scifi and have only gone there a couple of  times really in lead (Sigourney Weaver in Aliens and Jeff Bridges in Starman spring to mind). But it could be that my feelings about the averageness of her performance are getting in the way. All that said, I do think it's strange to suggest that Oscar WANTS to reward women over 40 for being successful. On what basis is this a thing since they're always going for 20somethings when they could reward older women?
/Film Michael B Jordan, Saorsie Ronan, and David Oyelowo all being talked up for the next Star Wars movie 
Empire the first official picture from the tank-centric war film Fury starring Brad Pitt. I used to think that one day I'd grow out of Brad Pitt but it hasn't happened. And shan't. I just love him. 
Playbill Kristin Chenoweth to play Jennifer Lopez' best friend in the thriller The Boy Next Door about a woman (Lopez) who falls for her teen son's friend. I love me some Cheno but that is bizarre casting + genre weirdness, right? 

Today's Must Listens
Here's Lee Daniels talking about being gay and black in Hollywood... and in life. When asked which is harder in Hollywood he replies:

 I don’t know what to say to that. I want to answer that question to you but I have to be very honest with you that I’m afraid to answer that question because, uh, and I have to stay like Cecil and stay silent because I want to work."

 

Finally can we talk about BEST ORIGINAL SONG for a minute? I've been remiss as per usual in thinking through this category. IndieWire is pushing this rap number from Short Term 12, which is one of the film's key moments narratively and also emotionally courtesy of a pretty great performance from Keith Stanfield who also co-wrote the song with the director.

Until they abolish the category as some have argued they should, it's worth trying to suss out. But which songs will be eligible? Let's make a list in the comments while I'm updating my Oscar charts.

Thursday
Sep192013

Movie Teachers: "Fame" (1980)

Back to School Month + 1980 Retrospective- StinkyLulu doubles up for Fame (1980). A partial version of this article first appeared at StinkyLulu in 2007

 

When I was a wee lil Stinky, I watched the original Fame over and over and over again. 'Twas my movie. And possibly because I watched the film so many dang times, the starkly human performances by the actresses playing teachers in the film burrowed deep into my consciousness. I’m not just talking about Debbie Allen’s legendary cameo. Mostly, I’m thinking especially of Anne Meara as Mrs. Sherwood and Joanna Merlin as Miss Berg. 

The roles of Sherwood and Miss Berg are quintessential “actressing at the edges” sorts of parts. Each is relevant to the film’s dramatic arc only insofar as she amplifies the narrative of one of Fame’s principal characters. As the language arts teacher, Meara’s Sherwood is Leroy’s obstacle, while Merlin’s Miss Berg is the ballet teacher who makes Lisa’s life hell. In the student-centric emotional swirl of Fame, Meara’s Sherwood and Merlin’s Miss Berg are indeed the hard-ass battle-axes who appear to have nothing better to do than to torment their students. Merlin’s Miss Berg permits the languid Lisa no slack, and Meara’s Sherwood refuses to buckle, even when Leroy explodes in a kinetic blaze of profanity and violence. 

But Fame, to its credit, gives both Meara and Merlin just enough room to be human. For Merlin, the kicker comes when she calls Lisa to her office to cut the young dancer from the program. With measured, unflinching firmness (you can almost tell that Merlin paid the bills by being Harold Prince’s casting director for much of the 1970s), Merlin’s Miss Berg conveys in no uncertain terms that there has no future as a dancer in the department or, in all likelihood, beyond. Merlin’s Miss Berg is brutal in her honesty, deflecting Lisa’s promises and pleas as if she’s waving away flies. Yet, when she opens the door to dismiss Lisa, her eyes brim with a glint of emotion, until she wilts — just that little bit — against the door upon Lisa’s exit.

Merlin in "Fame"

Meara’s moment comes when Leroy (suddenly terrified that his grade in English might actually be important now that his invitation to join a major dance company is contingent on his successful graduation from high school) seeks Sherwood out at the hospital where her husband is undergoing some unnamed "serious" procedure. Meara's Sherwood is at first firm but dismissive when faced with this self-involved student come, to the hospital, for a little bit of friendly grade grubbing. Then when Leroy pushes, accusing her of having it in for him, Meara's Sherwood explodes with sheer, agonizing fury. Her rebuttal ("Don't you kids ever think of anyone but yourself!?) stops Leroy cold, allowing him to grow up a little and to show Sherwood a quiet gesture of empathy and consideration.

In most ways, Meara's Sherwood and Merlin’s Miss Berg are thanklessly supporting performances. Everything each does is in support of Leroy’s/Lisa’s character arc. But Meara and Merlin mine every moment for its depth, humanity and humor. (The looks Merlin gives Debbie Allen during Leroy’s audition. The flash of fear that ripples Meara’s stern facade when Leroy physically erupts. Merlin’s way of whispering her true feelings, both snarky and vulnerable, under her breath. Meara’s heart buckling devastation when Leroy tears into Sherwood with the oblique epithet "You people...”) Each line, gesture and sideways glance conveys the simple fact that this woman is really good at her job and that Leroy/Lisa is but one of her more difficult pupils. Neither is a saintly superteacher. Neither is an inhuman gorgon. They are both simply educators working in the NYC public school system, trying to get through another day.

Meara in FAME

Indeed, I will be ever grateful to Anne Meara and Joanna Merlin for crafting these teacher characters so intelligently, so generously, so humanely -- and, in so doing, for also teaching little StinkyLulu how much was to be learned from all the actresses not only at the edges of Fame but also all those other actresses at the edges of fame itself.

 

previously on back to school...
History Lessons from Half Nelson, The Breakfast Club when you're too young for it

Wednesday
Sep182013

Coming Soon... Supporting Actress 1980

It's just 12 days until the next Supporting Actress Smackdown! For the rest of the month we'll be nibbling on 1980 (Year of the Month) each day at noon as buildup to Monday September 30th's big event. In the meantime, get to screening those movies!

September 30th SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN (1980 EDITION)

This time we're talking 1980. So rent Melvin & Howard (winner of 2 Oscars: Screenplay & Supporting Actress), Raging Bull (winner of 2 Oscars: Editing & Actor)  Inside Moves and Private Benjamin for maximum engagement. Resurrection (which was nominated for two acting Oscars) doesn't seem to be available anywhere but for a bootleg on YouTube -- oh the humanity that an Oscar nomination doesn't grant a film preservation and studio-funded accessibility from then on! We now include reader voting in the outcome, as you saw last month, so send in your ballots by September 28th with 1980 as subject line ranking only those performances you've seen.

As per your earlier voting we'll also revisit a few other non-supporting actress titles for context

NEXT MONTH: On October 30th, StinkyLulu's Smackdown will head to 1968 for a discussion of the supporting actresses from Funny Girl, Rosemary's Baby, Faces, Rachel Rachel and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter which is a really exciting quintet of movies, as diverse as the 1952 smackdown. Since you have a headstart you have no excuse not to watch them all, you Actress/Oscar obsessives! 

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