Sunday, August 31, 2014

Best Supporting Actress 1989 Smackdown: My Ballot

Over at The Film Experience there's a monthly feature called The Best Supporting Actress Smackdown. It was originally started by Stinkylulu at their website and I strongly encourage you to visit past years there. But be prepared to be sucked in as you will literally spend hours of your life consumed with the Supporting Actress performances from various years. (Yes, Barbara Hershey shoulda won in 1996! Sorry, Juliette Binoche...)

The concept is simple: a year is chosen and a selected panel re-examinzes all 5 nominees with a grade of 1 to 5 hearts depending on how effective/good the performance is. Also for that month, there are even articles based on other films that year to give the nominated films context. August was 1989. I personally contributed two posts looking at that year: The 10 Hottest Hotties of 1989 and the final films of two Hollywood legends that happened to both be released that year. There's also a reader's write-in ballot for the Smackdown that is taken into consideration for the eventual outcome. This was the first month I was finally able to watch all 5 performances in time to contribute. Below is my ballot of the 5 women nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1989:

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Brenda Fricker My Left Foot
The Role: Mrs. Brown the real-life harried mother of Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis). A man with cerebal palsy that learned to use his left appendage to write and paint.

Playing one of those classic movie mom staples - no-nonsense, tough-loving - she's the rock that Christy stands on, steadfastly supporting him to "make his mark". Fricker is all steely eyes and determination with motherly affection buried beneath her strong demeanor. Her simplicity and worn-in realism are effective, but they get overshadowed by Day Lewis' astonishing physical commitment.  And she willingly hands scenes over to him instead of allowing her character to make her own mark. ♥♥

Anjelica Huston Enemies: A Love Story
The Role: Tamara Broder, the first wife of the film's hero (he already has a new wife and mistress) that seemingly comes back from the dead after having been believed to have died in the Holocaust.

Appearing like a ghost (and giving the film some much needed new energy), Huston limps her way into the story with an air of mystery. But the film doesn't really seem all that interested in letting us find out who she is. Relying heavily on Huston's own charisma and charm to do much of the work (there's always been something enigmatic about the star - as if she's holding a secret), she brings shades of color to fill in this outline of a character that's more writer's plot device than a fully formed creation. ♥♥

Lena Olin Enemies: A Love Story
The Role: Masha, The mistress of the main character. A surviver of the concentration camps, she now lives in New York with her mother and has some issues...

Masquerading as an actressexual showcase, the film seems to have based all the female roles on ideas or types of women instead of anything based in reality. While Huston must make something out of nothing, Olin is challenged with taking a tired male fantasy of what a constitues an interesting female character and making it seem plausible. Her Masha is damaged (so that the man can save her, naturally), sexual (she seems to be constantly horny), unpredictable (to make her wild in the sack), and, of course, drop-dead gorgeous. Olin delivers on all accounts, while somehow making this cliché seem fresh and interesting. Her commitment and strive for authenticity elevate the material she's given. But this nomination feels like a make-up nomination for her far superior work as a similar character in the previous year's The Unbearable Lightness of Being♥♥♥ 

Julia Roberts Steel Magnolias
The Role: Shelby Eatonton (married name Latcherie) a young Southern newlywed with diabetes that risks her health when she becomes pregnant.

How the Academy was able to single out Roberts among the stellar ensemble of great actressing (Sally Field is best in show, but I would've put Shirley MacLaine here in supporting) really comes down to two important factors: 1) she was a hot, young thing and the Academy never misses an opportunity to reward beauty and youth and 2) more importantly, her character dies, thus giving her the upper hand. It's fascinating watching early Julia Roberts performances while she's still finding her footing as a star. Her unsteady but watchable work as Shelby is like a diamond in the rough. ♥♥

Dianne Wiest Parenthood
The Role: Helen Buckman, a single mother of two trying to raise her troubled children.

Wiest makes it all seem so deceptively simple. She effortlessly drifts from tearjerking emotion to laugh out loud humor - often within the same scene - while grounding it in an identifiable and relatable reality. Unlike Fricker's saintly stoic of a mother, Wiest is messy, frazzled, and, like the rest of us, doesn't have all the answers. She's just trying to make do the best she can. Her reaction when she finds out about her daughter's pregnancy goes from shock, to confusion, to incredulous resentment at being too young to be a grandmother ("I was at Woodstock, for christ sake!"), exploring different levels of emotion within minutes while still being absolutely hilarious. How does she make it look so easy? ♥♥♥♥

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The Oscar that year went to Brenda Fricker, but I would've given it to another mother: Dianne Wiest. And my personal ranking of the performances (since 3 ladies received the same score) would be Wiest, Olin, Fricker, Huston, then Roberts. Make sure you head on over to The Film Experience to read who topped the panel's list!

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