Oscar History

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Entries in Supporting Actress (266)


In praise of Wiigs

Manuel here asking: when did Kristen Wiig become the reigning queen of indie cinema especializing in fascinatingly messed up women? 

Left to Right: A Deadly Adoption, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me, Nasty Baby (front), Skeleton Twins, Girl Most Likely

I just watched Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sundance review) and while the film is clearly a showcase for newcomer Bel Powley, I couldn't shake off the former SNL funny gal's Charlotte. And that got me thinking about Wiig's amazing recent roster of fascinating female characters, some of which deserved better vehicles (coughGirl Most Likelycough). She really was never going to rest on her comedic laurels, was she? 

In other Wiig news, her other Sundance flick, Nasty Baby (read Nathaniel's review) now has a trailer and a release date (Oct 23). I'd embed it on here except all trace of it has apparently disappeared from YouTube and thus from all other outlets which posted it (guess they want to keep the film a secret?). But you can still watch it here.

BYOYNMS in the comments and tell me: Which indie drama Wiig is your favorite?


Best Actress Updates, Or: Get Right With God. Stop Category Fraud!

News, or shall we say "scuttlebutt," recently broke in regards to Todd Haynes long-awaited Carol that Cate Blanchett would campaign for Supporting Actress and Rooney Mara for Lead. Speaking at length to someone who has seen the picture they say, and I quote, "...either demotion absolutely insane. Even moreso than Notes on a Scandal." referring of course to the last time that Cate Blanchett pulled out the category fraud stops to get nominated for a lesbian drama. Only this time she's the title character, making it even more ridiculous.

Then Cate's agent denied it.

Which is all along way of saying... that discussions and are still forming. But why should they be when it comes to Supporting/Lead campaigns? why should they be?

If it were to go that way the reasoning is clear: to have Cate avoid competing with herself for Truth, the Rather-Gate movie in which she plays Mary Mapes to Robert Redford's Dan Rather, and defer to Rooney Mara since Rooney took Best Actress at Cannes. If you remove all concerns about ethics, this is just fine and makes sense... but really now. Shouldn't power players within Hollywood have some ethics and set good examples? Cate has two Oscars already. It's time for actors, particularly those of Cate's magnitude, to stop with the greed and start standing up for what's right: let actual character/supporting actors have a shot at Oscar nominations in the category designed to honor them rather than pretend you're not huge star in a leading role just so that you can be feted again. (See also: Julia Roberts in August Osage County recently who also had no excuse for the greed, and whose very stardom ruined the property's ending by insisting on a cutaway closeup that dampened the meaning)

And yes stars do approve their campaigns. They are not blameless though the strategies come from elsewhere.

On the other hand this particular Carol proposition would not likely be the type of Category Fraud that voters would go along peacefully with. Especially not with Cate having top billing, being the title character, and getting 3/5th of the movie poster for her face. Every once in a while they do balk at fraudulent campaigns as when they "promoted" Keisha Castle-Hughes to her true category (Lead for Whale Rider despite a supporting campaign) or when Kate Winslet greedily attempted a double nod by pretending she was supporting in The Reader to clear the way for her lead campaign in Revolutionary Road. Instead AMPAS voters just ignored the latter and "promoted" her for the Holocaust drama to the category she belonged in anyway. For now I'm demoting both Rooney & Cate on both charts until we see further evidence that anyone beyond SAG (who are required to vote by how the studio submits) is going to buy this 'Carol is the supporting player in Carol' business.

Finally, there is no reason to believe that both Rooney and Cate couldn't be nominated in Best Actress if they ran a truthful campaign as it's happened before, and not just once either. One could argue that the only reason it doesn't happen anymore is that its only very rarely attempted it. In supporting where it's frequently attempted it happens frequently. 

Spotlight's ensemble features Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in the largest roles. But technically they could go any which way with campaigning, even trying "all supporting" like The Departed did

In other strange categorization news I forgot to add Jason Segel (in another two-hander same-gender film) to the Supporting Actor chart last time round for End of the Tour so there he goes. All Acting Category Charts are now updated:

LEAD ACTRESS - lots of strong contenders
LEAD ACTOR - lots of strong contenders
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, - very vague at this point. much will still happen 
SUPPORTING ACTOR - starting to take shape


Smackdown 1954: Wife, Sister, Secretary, and Passengers

Presenting the Supporting Actresses of '54. Two lonely airplane passengers, a cooly competent executive assistant, a Native American cattle rancher's wife, and a sister seeking justice in her brother's death.

1954's supporting actress shortlist is, as you'll surely discover while reading or watching, a mystifying batch, particularly considering several films released that year that stood the test of time more emphatically. What's more, ALL five nominees sprung from well-populated ensemble films, the likeliest type of film to spur divisive conversations about who really deserved a nomination. Aside from Oscar favorite Claire Trevor (The High and the Mighty) -- rather generously included but when they love you they love you --  all were Academy newbies though Katy Jurado (Broken Lance), Nina Foch (Executive Suite) and Jan Sterling (The High and the Mighty) had each co-starred in recent Best Picture contenders (High Noon, An American in Paris, and Johnny Belinda respectively)... which surely helped their momentum towards placement. But what a bizarre shortlist nonetheless. Eva Marie Saint, newly arrived to the cinema, had the biggest role, one might say a leading role, in the year's Best Picture On the Waterfront, which went on to win 8 Oscars on the big night from 12 nominations.


Here to talk about these five turns are returning panelists Brian Herrera (aka Stinky Lulu, author of "Latin Numbers"), Mark Harris (author of "Five Came Back") Anne Marie Kelly (The Film Experience), Manuel Muñoz (author of "What You See in the Dark") Todd VanDerWerff (Vox), and your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience). After reading their thoughts right here, there's a podcast to listen to wherein we discuss the films themselves as opposed to only the performances.

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


NINA FOCH as "Erica Martin" in Executive Suite
Synopsis: A CEO's secretary, reeling from her boss's sudden death, keeps her cool as executives scramble to fill his empty chair
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, 25th film, first and only nomination. 21 minutes of screen time (or 20% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: Easily my favorite kind of Supporting Actress performance. One that evinces a complex emotional arc from a mere outline and then proceeds to act the Foch out of that character/arc, staying always at the edges of the screen’s central action. The way she clutches her stenographer’s pen as if it’s a crucifix? Yum. ♥♥♥♥♥

Mark Harris: This seems to be a case of winning a nomination for tasteful underplaying while surrounded by wild overemoting. As a loyal secretary holding her cards very close while mourning the sudden death of her boss, Foch doesn’t lose her cool even while trapped in a scenery-chomping contest. Executive Suite is an overwrought boardroom melodrama without much wit, and she has virtually nothing to play. But she’s appealingly watchful, and by the end, she’s the only character you want to know more about. ♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: In a movie where Barbara Stanwyck constantly threatens suicide, June Allyson actually yells, and Shelly Winters vamps until she cries, how is it that Nina Foch got the nomination? Whatever the reason, Foch actually gives a solid, restrained performance. If, during the never-ending speeches about manufacturing, American ingenuity, and the soul of Corporate America, you're unclear of who to root for, watch how Nina Foch reacts to them. She delivers emotional stakes quietly in a movie full of loud overacting, and puts Frederic March in his place.  ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: Her loyal secretary seems a cliché at first, but Foch’s reserve teases out a marvelous ambiguity about Erica’s proximity to power.  Is she privy to just as much insider information as any of the bigshots?  Just as the questions start to build, she breaks down, only to turn a seeming moment of weakness into the resolve she needs for her brave, small denial to the manipulative Fredric March (her best scene).  From overt (her staircase shadow) to near subliminal (that last, extinguished light in the building as the end credits run), the film admirably insists on her importance.  To my surprise, her nearly wordless presence in the finale kept drawing my attention—and reminding me that this is exactly the kind of peripheral but vital presence that the supporting award was meant to honor. ♥♥♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: While I enjoyed this movie, staginess and all, I can't quite fathom how Nina Foch ended up nominated from it. Yes, she's really good with what she's given, but in a movie with a number of at least interesting female performances, I'm a bit flummoxed with why she rose to the top. I think Oscar sometimes gets it in its head that "the women" or "the men" of a certain ensemble piece are really great in totale, but one has to be singled out. I'm guessing that's what happened with Foch here — she's standing in for the film's sometimes blinkered, always fascinating perspective on women in early 1950s America. ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Hypnotized by her pre-Joan Holloway pen necklace, I was. Everyone in this large ensemble is falling apart but Erica Martin is the only one that’s good at hiding it. Foch does so much with just her physicality, revealing utter competence, this office as an organic longtime part of her, and her feelings about each co-worker. And yet, she’s all business. That’s why it’s so riveting when her voice catches up to her expressive body in that amazing “those are the facts” face off. Chills. Sub-zero chills. ♥♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "She delivers the most lived-in performance of this slate; that might not be saying much, but Foch is as comfortable and competent in her role and Erica is at her job." - Bennett P. (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns  25 ❤s 


KATY JURADO as "Señora Devereaux" in Broken Lance
Synopsis: The Native American wife of an Irish rancher tries to keep the peace between her husband and his boys, the youngest of which is her biological child
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, 28th film, first and only nomination. 17 minutes (or 18% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: The role requires a mystical moral stolidity. An odd fit for Jurado, who’s best at serenely conveying roiling inner turmoil. But despite the performance’s discombobulating incongruities — that syrupy brownface makeup, that refined Mexico City accent, all that Navajo/Diné finery worn by a supposed Comanche “princess” — the palpable emotion of Jurado’s screen presence resonates memorably. ♥♥♥

Mark Harris: Sigh. This is not the first or the last time the Academy congratulated itself for taking a step forward, in this case with the first-ever acting nomination for a Latina performer. Jurado plays the Native American wife of Spencer Tracy, and has zip to do except urge her “hosebahnd” to reconcile with his sons. She has an interestingly somber, heavy-lidded, deep-voiced presence, but her delivery of the hamfisted dialogue is very flat, and the character is a sketchy archetype that gives her nothing to play but a really tired definition of “dignity” and “poise.” 

Anne Marie Kelly: Maybe because the characters in Broken Lance obsess over the idea of Senora Devearaux (or more accurately over her mixed-race marriage), the Academy mistook her for someone important. Broken Lance covers a lot of big themes about racism, family, and the hypocrisies of civil society, but unfortunately, the character best suited to speak about such themes is given little time to speak at all. Jurado could be a good screen presence - her work in High Noon shows just how good - but she's wasted here as the Silent Native American Princess archetype

Manuel Muñoz: Quoth Aretha Franklin on Taylor Swift, “Great gowns…beautiful gowns...”  Except for a brief gleam of parental anger when she interjects among the fighting brothers, Jurado has so little to do except fuss with Spencer Tracy’s tie.  On paper, her backstory promises a plethora of potentially dramatic situations, but she ends up being talked about rather than actually being allowed to participate in any meaningful way.  Given her snub for High Noon, this was the Smackdown performance I had hoped would emerge as a triumphant rediscovery.  A frustrating disappointment. 

Todd VanDerWerff: I love '50s Westerns, which pushed the established themes and character types of the format into downright Shakespearean territory. That's true of this film, with its King Lear echoes and its unusual (for the time) flashback structure. Jurado's work falls into the "supportive wife" type Oscar loves in this category. She's, again, fine, and it's great she was the first Latin-American woman nominated for an Oscar. But she's still playing a race (Native American) other than her own and playing a woman much older than her actual years — two unfortunate Hollywood trends that still haven't gone away.  ♥♥

Nathaniel R: Jurado cuts a striking figure even buried in shawls and holds the camera well. That’s good news for the film which hasn’t written her anything to do beyond calming her hot tempered men— all the drama surrounding her racial identity, for instance, is played out in scenes when she’s not onscreen. That she feels emotionally commanding at all in scenes wherein she often has her head down (a defense against years of social umbrage?) and constantly saying ‘my husband my husband’ is a improbable trick. ♥♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "There’s novelty here, but more in concept than execution.  This isn’t my genre, but including a mother figure in a western at all felt odd, let alone as the younger half of a mixed-race second marriage, all of which the film treats seriously and sympathetically.  A shame Jurado is largely asked to play peacemaker, wise council, and devotee" - Dave S. (Reader average: ♥♥)

Actress earns 13 ❤s 


EVA MARIE SAINT as "Edie Doyle" in On the Waterfront
Synopsis: A young woman, whose brother has just been murdered, wants justice and begins to date a man who knows all too much about what happened.
Stats: Then 30 yrs old, debut film, first and only nomination (and win). 43 minutes (or 40% of the running time). 

Brian Herrera: Saint’s luminous in this deservedly acclaimed, star-making role. Saint captures Edie’s guiding conflict, that collision of instinct and ideal. But it’s a lot of screentime, and not every scene offers as clarion a glimpse into Saint’s character as that legendary “glove scene” opposite Brando, where Saint never fails to take my breath away. ♥♥♥♥

Mark Harris: I remembered Saint as the weak link, but revisiting the movie, I was pleased to find that she absolutely holds her own. Her assignment may look easy—she’s “the girl”—but both keeping up with and staying out of the way of Brando as he was reinventing American screen acting must have been challenging. She makes smart choices—as the grieving sister of a murdered man, she holds onto her anger and sorrow throughout, where a lesser actress (or a lesser script) would have let love melt it away. The famous glove scene wouldn’t work without her sadness and tension. And when she finally smiles, it means something. ♥♥♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: In a year full of the worst that the dying Studio System had to offer, On The Waterfront was a revelation of things to come. Eva Marie Saint's performance, overshadowed by discussions of Brando and Kazan and Bernstein, is tender, violent, and spontaneous. This doesn't always feel like a supporting performance. Edie's drive to find her brother's killer motivates the first half of the film, though the second half of the film belongs to Brando's Terry. I don't know that Saint was ever better.  ♥♥♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: How different the lead actress race could have been had she been nominated in the proper category.  In the beginning, her Edie is headstrong, rash, and surprisingly physical as she works to convince the men around her to stand up to the abuses evident around them all.  Even at rest, her face in the early scenes is stern and resolved in her search for justice.  She matches up wonderfully with Brando in the famous glove scene, ably translating apprehension, consideration, and relief in a seduction scene that ends up working both ways.  The entire stage is ceded to Brando in the last third of the picture, but it’s still a lead performance.  Oscar made the expected choice in a lopsided race but, for the Smackdown, I’m not a supporter of category fraud (hence four, not five hearts). ♥♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff:  I always worry when revisiting a film classic that I won't be able to separate my feelings on an individual element from the film's established place in the pantheon. So while I really love Saint here and think she does a terrific job with a role that could have felt thankless, is that her actual work speaking, or the status the film holds in US cinematic history? I think it's the former, but it can be hard to tell.  ♥♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: Imagine trying to hold your own with Brando at the top of his game in your first picture? To Saint’s credit and, more importantly, in keeping with Edie Doyle’s inner steel and unshakeable sense of justice, she never reads intimidated. Kazan was so good with actors and that surely helped her on camera debut. Maybe she could have leaned harder into grief as a baseline, given the plot, but she’s wonderful with spontaneous mercurial feeling, especially when paired with Brando’s beastly mystique. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Dominates the crowd scenes...as she started looking directly at Brando, her performance took hold. She really is the strongest secondary character." -Rob S (Reader average: ♥♥♥)

Actress earns 28 ❤s 


JAN STERLING as "Sally McKee" in The High and the Mighty
Synopsis: A former popularity contest winner who has lied about her age fears rejection while flying to meet her pen pal fiancé.
Stats: Then 33 yrs old, 17th film, first and only nomination.  17 minutes (or 12% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: A lovely, minor performance. Fully inhabited. Captivating, charismatic, and often quite adorable. Yet Sterling’s choice to play up the character’s neurotic fragilities overwhelms and obscures the scripted contradictions that seem ripe for the playing. Still, it seems one should never ever underestimate the formidable award-garnering power of taking off one’s makeup on camera. 

Mark Harris: Oh, brother. This movie. These performances. What the hell was going on at the Oscars this year?! This is a groaner of a film—the first all-star disaster movie and a basis for much of Airplane!—and Sterling is there to play a bruised, hardbitten, self-loathing blonde who thinks she’s destined for heartbreak. She clearly got this nomination for one big look-at-me-I’m-old-and-ugly scene in which she scrubs off all her makeup and the hideous truth is revealed (except that she looks fine). It’s so Oscars—a not-old, not-ugly woman rewarded for being “honest” enough to admit she’s old and ugly. Look how brave she is! See how vain she isn’t! 

Anne Marie Kelly: Of the two examples of typical supporting performances on display in this hammy disaster movie, Jan Sterling plays the showier type. The One Scene Wonder gets one large scene to show her chops. Sterling's scene arrives midway through. Despite the fact that she is blonde, gorgeous, and only thirty years old, her character spits out her bitter fear of aging while removing her makeup. She's pitiful in a kind of grotesque way. It's an Oscar bait cliche, but it mostly works.  ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: Her jello-on-springs intro, complete with leering sailors, goes a long way to helping set up a character who has suffered from the corrosive effects of both unwanted admiration and her vanity.     True, once explained, her dilemma is ridiculous, but Sterling has an easier time merging her character’s internal anxiety with the fact that the damn plane is going down.  When she finally drops the mask, it’s a genuinely startling moment in a movie that can barely hold any of its plotlines together.  An unspectacular but sturdy performance that briefly threatened to make me take the film seriously. ♥♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: Here's another film where the ensemble elements obviously resulted in certain players being elevated. But I liked Sterling's work quite a bit. It's obviously a bit hammy and campy, but it's definitely in keeping with the tone of the film, and I found her monologue about how she fears the man she loves will realize how deeply she lied to him quite affecting. There were other women I liked more in this very movie, but Sterling is just fine.  ♥♥♥

Nathaniel R: I'd like to think that Sterling’s weaponization of her self-pity is a conscious choice  - purposefully too much, a caged tiger hostility at the man beside her from a beautiful woman angry at her impending middle-age irrelevancy. But nothing in the movie runs that deep. Still… her aggressive makeup removal is a proto-deglam moment that she isn't treating as a gimmick but as a desperate character beat. It earns a bit of (cringey) sympathy at least and she plays fear better than most of her co-stars. ♥♥

Reader Write-Ins: "Does a lot with very little in her few scenes as an anxious catfishing pioneer, but it is undeniably very little.." - Nick T. (Reader average: ♥♥¾)

Actress earns 14¾  ❤s 


CLAIRE TREVOR as "May Holst" in The High and the Mighty
Synopsis: An aging good time girl on a flight to San Francisco suddenly worries about lonely old age.
Stats: Then 44 yrs old, 59th film, third and final nomination. 13½ minutes of screen time (or 9% of running time). 

Brian Herrera: Trevor’s giddy garishness — delivering nearly every line as if it were a toast (“Coney Island with Coconuts!”) — is both delicious and deft. Trevor plays May as a gal who knows how to work a room, subtly serving the film at every step. And the way she makes that mink into her tragic scene partner… ♥♥

Mark Harris: The contempt for women in this movie is astonishing. Trevor is great in dramas, but this is essentially a comic-relief role, she’s a loud, vulgar women stuck on a plane in a big blue party dress. And at the end, for no particular reason, the movie has to dismantle her: “There oughta be a home for people like me,” she sighs, “a house with no mirrors in it…the May Holtz home for broken-down broads.” I’m giving her an extra star because she’s Claire Trevor, goddammit, and she nails her compulsories like the pro she was. But come on. ♥♥

Anne Marie Kelly: As the Colorful Side Character, Claire Trevor delivers the other typical supporting performance in The High and the Mighty with a lot of personality and virtually nothing underneath. Trevor's boozy broad is designed for comic relief with occasional melancholy, but nobody can balance the jumble of tones that the movie smashes together. One star for being Claire Trevor, and one star for the way she throws her mink out of the airplane. ♥♥

Manuel Muñoz: There’s no denying that her leg-raising, fur-coat-tossing “broken-down broad” is just the brass and fizz that the film needs to be bearable.  Her sly, predatory smirk as she considers a fellow passenger promises good, campy fun, but once the high drama starts, both the character and the performance are incomprehensible.  She gives her big monologue a good try, but it’s an airless, joyless delivery of a misstep in the script—she looks like she resents it.  Had Trevor been allowed to play only blasé and bemused, she would have been an odd passenger for sure, but far more credible, intriguing, and nomination-worthy. ♥♥

Todd VanDerWerff: I went back and forth on this performance. Her big, dramatic moments fell hollow to me, but when she's basically Auntie Mame bopping around on a doomed airliner, I'm much more into whatever it is she's doing. Still, I should mention that I was more into the work of Doe Avedon, as a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sweet flight attendant, and Laraine Day as an embittered wife who has a change of heart. The roles in this movie are all types, but those women elevate the types they're handed♥♥

Nathaniel R: You can always count on Trevor to pop in a movie but this role is so beneath her. It’s hard to imagine she wasn’t bored as hell while filming. Even scenes which involve her, like a silly fight between two men, barely make room for her. The visual of her fur coat tossing in blue party dress is fun but that’s literally it for impact. Her big clip scene (and “big” is a generous word for the scene and a too apt description of her choices in it) comes from nowhere; she doesn’t rescue it. 

Reader Write-Ins: "The lady gives good face. In her first scene on the plane, scrubbing the lipstick off her teeth, she delivers not a single line, and then gives the most perfectly composed, yet lascivious, look as she spots the silver fox airline executive across the aisle." - Travis K. (Reader average: ¾)

Actress earns 12¾ ❤s 


The Oscar Went To... Eva Marie Saint
And the Smackdown, while thankful that Nina Foch was in the room, seconds the motion.

Would you have chosen similarly?

Want more? The companion podcast is up!

For context of the year we also looked back at Broken Lance's racial drama, the B pleasures of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Life Magazine's view of the Best Actress race, Audrey's suitors in Sabrina, the very big year of Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman's Journey to Italy, the creation of Audrey Hepburn's Style, Federico Fellini's La Strada, looked at 3 animated oddities, heard what the year meant to the panelists and compiled a list of various vintage pleasures

Thank you for attending! 
Previous Smackdowns ICYMI: 1941, 1948195219641968, 1973, 19791980, 1989, 1995 and 2003. (Before that 30+ Smackdowns were hosted @ StinkyLulu's old site.)

NEXT UP: We're doing 1963 on September 27th as the season finale so get to watching Tom Jones, Lilies of the Field and The V.I.P.s. the fewest films ever nominated in the category. You know you have time to watch all three and join us in the Smackdowning. 


Murder on the Orient Express: Ingrid Bergman steals the show - or does she?

We're near the end of Ingrid Bergman's career so here's the penultimate episode in our retrospective. Happy 100th to the superstar on August 29th. Here's Lynn Lee...


By 1974, Ingrid Bergman was a grande dame of film in the twilight of her career, with two Best Actress Oscar wins under her belt, and nothing left to prove.  Perhaps that’s why she deliberately opted for such a small part in the star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, despite director Sidney Lumet’s attempts to coax her into taking a bigger one.  And yet, despite her own efforts to stay out of the spotlight, it found her anyway, with her tiny role as a mousy, middle-aged Swedish missionary netting her an unlikely third Oscar.

We don’t see too many movies like Orient Express these days – A-list extravaganzas where most of the stars end up with little more than glorified cameos but just seem to be in it for fun.  And to be fair, the movie is fun and directed with flair, even as it plays up the absurd theatricality of the whodunit setup – something that doesn’t register as strongly when you’re reading Agatha Christie’s plummy prose.  It’s a bit much at times...

Click to read more ...


Coming on August 30th: Supporting Actress Smackdown 1954

The Supporting Actress Smackdown (and companion podcast), 1954 Edition, arrives in exactly one week. So let's...


We'll be discussing the Supporting Actress Oscar race of 1954 as well as the films themselves: The High and the Mighty, On the Waterfront, Broken Lance and Executive Suite. And you know how these things go. Sometimes other films from the year sneak in. This time we don't have any newbies but an All Stars Edition if you will with all previous panelists. 



Mark Harris is an editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, a Grantland columnist (about the Oscars and other things), and a contributor to New York magazine. He is the author of Pictures at a Revolution (2008) and Five Came Back (2014). He lives in New York City. [Follow him on Twitter]  

(Mark previously participated in the 1973 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

I think of 1954 as a year with one foot planted in two different decades. It's just before Blackboard Jungle, just before rock 'n roll, just before Elvis, just before James Dean. In some ways it feels like the last year that you could describe as "post-WWII" before the country transitioned into being "pre-"something else. In terms of movies, I think of a kind of thick, glossy romanticism--Magnificent Obsession, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Sabrina.

I think of capitalism and camel-hair coats and cigarettes and immense cars--the American dream inscribed in retail objects. And I think of Brando's first Oscar and of what his performance in On The Waterfront meant to the future of screen acting..


Manuel Muñoz is the author of three books, including the Hitchcock-inspired novel, What You See in the Dark.  He teaches creative writing at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

(Manuel previously participated in the 1968 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

With the right drink and the right circle, 1954 means me arguing that "Rear Window" was Hitchcock's strongest Best Director nomination and, after that's settled, listening to anyone who can tell me why Jane Wyman was nominated for "Magnificent Obsession".



Todd VanDerWerff is the Culture Editor for Vox.com, where he writes a lot about TV and movies. Before that, he was the TV Editor at The A.V. Club. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Grantland, Salon, Hitfix, and The House Next Door. [Follow him on Twitter]  

(Todd previously participated in the 1989 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

I suppose I could say 1954 means nothing to me. Both my parents turned 5 that year, so that's something, I suppose. Wikipedia tells me that Lassie debuted in 1954, and Willie Mays made "The Catch" at the World Series. Those were both things!

When it comes to the films, however, 1954 is a year where I'm really familiar with the biggest hits (Rear Window! On the Waterfront!) and woefully underseen on some of the smaller treats. For example: I loved White Christmas (the year's top film) when I was 9. Would I still? Who knows. Godzilla hit US shores in 1954, something that's worth celebrating, even if it won't factor into our discussion. But I chose this year precisely because I know so little about the nominees. I look forward to getting to know them.


Anne Marie is the author of TFE series A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures.
Her love of film began as childhood adulation of Katherine Hepburn & the Marx Brothers, and grew into a passion for Technicolor, Hays Code movies, and B-picture scifi. This led to a career in film preservation & history. Anne Marie is currently pursuing a Masters in Cinema Studies at USC. When not writing about movies, Anne Marie can be found working on movies, talking about movies, or watching movies. She also has several other hobbies and occasionally goes outside. [Follow her on Twitter.]

(Anne Marie previously participated in the 1941 Smackdown)

What does 1954 mean to you?

Even though I wasn't born yet, 1954 is the year that changed my life. In 1954, A Star Is Born was released, re-edited, and re-released in a shorter version. Thirty years later, a film historian named Ronald Haver rediscovered the lost scenes, and put together a nearly complete version of George Cukor's theatrical cut. And twenty years after that, my mom gave me the DVD of Ronald Haver's version for Christmas. My confusion at finding production stills in the middle of a WarnerColor Judy Garland musical sparked an interest in preservation that eventually blossomed into a vocation in film restoration. And I owe it all to Judy Garland.


BRIAN HERRERA (aka "StinkyLulu")
Brian convened the first Supporting Actress Smackdown and hostessed more than thirty. He is a writer, teacher and scholar presently based in New Jersey, but forever rooted in New Mexico. Follow him on Twitter. Or read his new book "Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in 20th Century US Popular Performance .

(Brian created the Smackdowns originally! He gave us his blessing and participated in the relaunch right here at TFE for the 1952 race)

What does 1954 mean to you?

1954 feels like the decade's pivot year -- the Salk polio vaccine trials begin, Brown v Board is decided, Joe McCarthy goes down in flames -- but it doesn't carry much personal resonance. Aside perhaps from the fact that it was the first year that the Miss America Pageant was televised. (Oscar went live-on-TV the year before.)


And your host...

Nathaniel is the founder of The Film Experience, a reknowned Oscar pundit, and the web's actressexual ringleader. He fell in love with the movies for always at The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) but mostly blames Oscar night (in general) and the 80s filmographies of Kathleen Turner & Michelle Pfeiffer (specifically). Though he holds a BFA in Illustration, he found his true calling when he started writing about the movies. He blames Boogie Nights for the career change. [Follow him on Twitter]

What does 1954 mean to you?

It's rather a horrible Oscar year for me as I am NOT fond of the Best Picture list and it was the monster birth of deglam (it may have started before that but Grace Kelly definitely popularized it as an Oscar tactic). But here are a few things I think of that give me great pleasure:


Marlon Brando saying "I coulda been a contenduh," Marilyn Monroe in general who kind of defines the 1950s (don't you think?) and had gone supernova the year before, and the following musical pleasures: Judy G singing "The Man That Got Away," the "Sisters" number from White Christmas which two of the most popular girls in my high school used to sing at our Concert Choir events, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse's  sexual chemistry while dancing to "The Heather on the Hill" in Brigadoon and that barn dance in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Did you know there were over 20 musicals released in 1954?! It didn't use to be a special event only genre.

What does 1954 mean to you dear readers?

Do tell in the comments.

And remember to get your votes in on these ladies who give the performances within the films that we'll be discussing. Your ballots are due by Thursday August 27th - only vote on the performances you've seen as we weigh the ballots so that underseen or everyone-has-seen-it doesn't hurt or help.

The Nominees

The 95 smackdown was an absolute squeaker so since YOU are the collective sixth panelist you never know when your vote might count. On the smackdown podcast we'll surely consider this odd factoid: Several Oscar-favored actresses had supporting roles this year but none were nominated: Ritter (Rear Window), Moorehead (Magnificent Obsession), Stanwyck (Executive Suite), McCambridge (Johnny Guitar). What was that about?


Podcast Smackdown (Pt 1) Sense & Sensibility & Mighty Aphrodite

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?)

continue to part two

You can listen to the podcast here at the bottom of the post or download from iTunes.  

Smackdown 1995. Part 1

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