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Joan Allen Nixon
The Role: In her first of two back-to-back Supporting Actress nominations, the Tony winner took on Pat Nixon, the wife of one of the most controversial American presidents that ever served office.
My Take: Trying to infuse some life and humanity into a woman that was known in real life as "Plastic Pat" is a daunting task for even the most skilled actress. Luckily with Joan Allen at the helm, an actress whose gravitas and intelligence make even the most underwritten part feel fully-formed and bursting with interior life, there's already an assurance of meticulous care and craft. Because without Allen's natural abilities to draw in the audience, Pat Nixon, as written in Oliver Stone's meandering mess of an opus, remains just as impenetrable and artificial as she was perceived. Asked to play only one of two actions throughout the film: steadfast supporter or privacy-seeking reluctant (sometimes inexplicably within the same scene), Allen's Pat seems like an afterthought in Nixon's hazy structure. That Allen remains unscathed by Anthony Hopkins' histrionic devouring of not just the scenery but everything in his wake is a testament to her strength and fortitude as an actress to command attention even when the film is content to keep her as an unknown. ♥♥
Kathleen Quinlan Apollo 13
The Role: Quinlan received her sole Oscar nomination for playing Marilyn Lovell, the wife of stranded astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), in Ron Howard's Best Picture nominated take on this true-life story.
My Take: With misty eyes fixed on her television, Quinlan's Marilyn is intended to be our emotional connection to the loved ones patiently waiting back home while the "brave" men drift in space. But every time the film unnecessarily cuts away from the action of the men's survival it feels more like a chore or a narrative necessity without bringing any substantial catharsis to justify it. (It's telling that we aren't even granted a reunion scene at the end, the film having no use for Marilyn once the men are safe.) And Quinlan is given not so much scenes to play but brief flashes in which the camera focuses on her silently observing, fearful yet hopeful. Even when she's given a little more to play, like telling her son or mother-in-law about what has happened to Jim, it's reduced to a single sentence and Quinlan, ever the dutiful wife and not wanting to draw too much attention to herself, seems to think that less is more in those moments. However when given nothing to begin with, her modestly played character disappears from the screen entirely, swallowed up by the major events surrounding her. ♥
Mira Sorvino Mighty Aphrodite
The Role: For her Oscar-winning performance, Sorvino (the daughter of actor Paul Sorvino) played a ditzy prostitute named Linda Ash, the biological mother of Lenny (Woody Allen)'s adopted son.
My Take: Aiming for Judy Holliday levels of brilliance, but feeling more like Victoria Jackson in an SNL sketch that airs right before the host says good-night, Sorvino's whiny-voiced dimwit is a one-joke creation that hasn't been fleshed out enough (by the actress or Allen's screenplay) to sustain an entire film. And Sorvino seems to think that having made the choice to give her Linda a nasally monotone is enough to build a whole character, playing every scene with a sameness that starts to grate depending on how funny you found her initially. (Apparently even Woody started to get irritated with her asking Sorvino to change her voice after they had been filming for a couple of days already.) But there's still something endearing about the sweet dopiness Sorvino bring's to her simple sex worker, especially when she reveals her dreams (to be a hairdresser) and shares stories of regret about the son that she gave up for adoption. Giving us glimpses of genuine substance behind the dumb blonde jokes. ♥♥
Mare Winningham Georgia
The Role: Winningham (who won the Independent Spirit Award for this performance) plays the title character, a musician whose life is constantly uprooted by her troubled younger sister (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in a role written for her by her mother).
My Take: Anyone with siblings knows that it's always a fight to compete for attention and with Jennifer Jason Leigh's manic Sadie demanding we notice her, it's amazing that the Academy chose to ignore her cry for attention and instead focus their efforts on the less showy sister, Georgia, played with subtlety and deceptive effortlessness by Winningham. As the sister that has it all together, (successful music career, stable relationship with a loving husband) the normalcy of Georgia and her life could very easily become dull, her character in danger of being nothing but the caring, support system for her troubled younger sibling. But Winningham's Georgia isn't some saintly bore, but a woman capable of anger and resentment. She sees her sister as a burden, tied to her through familial obligation. And instead of reluctantly bearing it, she calls Sadie out for her destructive ways in confrontations that Winningham wins with calm and composure. It's a performance reminiscent of the folk music Georgia sings, unassuming and simplistic, but embedded within its framework, complexity and soulfulness. ♥♥♥♥
Kate Winslet Sense & Sensibility
The Role: The impulsive romantic to her older sister Elinor (Emma Thompson)'s heady reason. Winslet, in the first of her six Oscar nominations, is Marianne Dashwood in the film adaptation of Jane Austen's first published novel.
My Take: In a society where women are meant to be seen and not heard, Winslet uses these imposed silences to covey all of Marianne's emotions through her expressive face and body. She doesn't even speak a word in her first scene in the film, but we learn so much about her already (her strained relationship to her sister, her indulgence in melancholy, and her cheeky sense of self-interest). But hardly one to strictly follow the rules of propriety, Winslet's Marianne is certainly not afraid of being heard as well as seen if the moment demands it. Like when she shouts Willoughby's name across a crowded dance floor (scandal!) or schools Edward in the proper way to "feel despair" in a poetry reading. Winslet indulges every passionate impulse that defines Marianne's romanticism, which is all the more heart-breaking when that openness forces her to gain newfound maturity. But it's in those later scenes that Winslet brings a greater depth and understanding to the character, allowing the change to not crush our heroine's spirits but make her cautiously optimistic when it comes to matters of the heart. ♥♥♥♥♥
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In a surprise to absolutely no one, Kate Winslet still remains my winner with Mare Winningham giving an impressive showing. I'm most surprised about how much Mira Sorvino just doesn't work for me seeing the film 20 years later. I remember at the time thinking that she was very funny in the role and even if I didn't want her to win, I could see how she did. Now I'm just confused as to how she had such an easy road to victory. Maybe because she hasn't really done anything of note since. Or maybe I'm just bitter that I had to buy a DVD copy of Mighty Aphrodite just to re-watch it. Certainly not a good sign for an Oscar-winning role only 20 years old...Be sure to head on over to The Film Experience to read everyone else's take on this year and tell me all about how much you love Kate Winslet in this role in the comments!