Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Best of the Best: Supporting Women

The Supporting Actress. For some reason this seems to be most people’s favourite category. Not I. I don’t really have a favourite acting category. They all have their good ones, and bad ones. These are the performances that are embedded in my memory. As I’ve said before. There is no best...but for various reasons these performances are my favourites. We have a neurotic case, a passionate artist, a caring nurse, a dramatic actress, a serious actress, a passionate humanitarian, a tragic lady of the night, a loving girlfriend, and a political activist. There are my choices for Best Supporting Actress in descending order.

Juliette Binoche in The English Patient
There is nothing that can make me dislike this performance. There is just an incandescent nature about Juliette as Hana, the Nurse. The fluidity in her performance is striking. There’s a scene in the movie where she responds to a questions saying “I don’t know anything”. The line alone is unremarkable but it is her delivery that penetrates. There is no one Oscar scene in her role which makes me treasure the win that much more. It’s one of the more surprising decisions Oscar made…and also one of the most satisfying for me.
Sandy Dennis in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Her entire role is an Oscar scene and how well she does it. Honey’s transformation is startling, absurd, realistic, and horrific all at once and oh, how she sells it. There are so many layers to this performance and every time you watch you find another one. There is no best scene for her, it’s all about you and which of her emotions strikes you most. For me, it’s that moment in ‘Get the Guests’ where she realises her husband’s disloyalty. Her face begins to contort and her childish shrieks become so much more adult and so very heartbreaking and it’s the perfect set-up to the denouement of her character in the final act.
Cate Blanchett in The Aviator
There is once scene that stands out in The Aviator for me – always. Howard takes Kate Hepburn out out for dinner. The dinner is interrupted by Errol Flynn and Hughes’ press agent, Johnny Howard. I love the scene.What strike me about Cate’s performance here is the moments when she is not at the centre of the conversation. Mr. Flynn makes an offhand remark “You should use Lux on your hands, by the way. I do.”, it’s not really important…or is it? As he moves on to talk to Howard the camera lingers, almost by accident, on Cate as she self consciously looks at her hand. It’s a telling moment. Someone once referred to Kate as a self conscious beauty. She was beautiful, we’ve seen the pictures. And she was private. So how can Cate tackle this icon? Her effort is valiant and enticing, not because she’s playing Kate, but she’s playing a woman. Her big moments are loud and glorious – the first meeting, the airplane ride, the Hepburn lunch. But it’s the quieter moments when she really sells me, like that tentative look at her hands, and her expression as she leaves Hughes. Is this enough to be Kate? Certainly not. But could it have been better? No.
Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener
I happen to be one of the people who like The Constant Gardener. For some reason this performance has suffered extreme backlash. Whatever. I first saw Rachel Weisz in The Mummy and even playing camp I was intrigued by her. Tessa Quail came next. I don’t think this is a leading performance, but that’s moot. Tessa is a bit of a mystery to us…no one is that good. What is her reward for her philanthropy? But maybe she is. The moment that strikes me most when I remember Tessa is that scene in the hospital after she has lost her child. She sits cloaking a newborn African child who’s mother in a precarious position. “This one was born healthy though. Weren't you beautiful my darling. His name is Baraka. It means blessing.The emotion put into that one scene is remarkable.
Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock
Whenever I see Marcia Gay Harden I remember her unsettling performance in Mystic River. Celeste remains as one of the most disconcerting female characters this side of the century and Marcia’s performance is high on my list…so is her Lee Krashner. This woman is a phenomenal actress and you have to wonder why she doesn’t get more work. There really is not much you can say about this performance – if you’ve seen it, you just know it’s exceptional. What’s unfortunate is that as much slack as people give the Oscars they really do do some outstanding things. Not one major precursor recognised Ms. Harden with even a nomination. At least Oscar got it right.
Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway
What a gem Woody prepared for her. Dianne Wiest is another great actress that you rarely see getting work. She’s phenomenal in this and the question of any competitions more worthy always baffles me. And you can’t really say that its Allen’s words that sell the character. If there is no one capable of delivering the goods with such a role, then it becomes an epic failure. Luckily, she has all the talent necessary and then some. I spend my time waiting for her to appear on screen and counting the minutes till she returns and in a film that is so brilliant, the fact that I still highlight her as paramount is an achievement in itself.
Vanessa Redgrave in Julia
It’s not that her performance is the largest in the film. Jane Fonda carries most of the middle section on her talented shoulders. And it’s not that her role is big – she has an alarmingly short amount of screentime. Why then is the film named after her character? We have to believe that there is a woman more luminescent, more enchanting, more affable and yet more mysterious than any other. We have to believe that there is someone that the hard edged Lillian Hellmann would sacrifice so much for her and Julia is Vanessa. The film hinges on her small role. If we don’t believe in Julia, well we don’t really have a movie. But we do believe in Julia. We believe she would do what she does and moreover we believe that she is worthy of all Hellmann goes through for her. That’s why she deserved the Oscar.
Anne Baxter in The Razor’s Edge
I have my own love affair with Anne Baxter. It always pains that so few remember her only as the conniving Eve…and what’s worse is that they don’t even acknowledge that she was well deserving of her Oscar nomination. Her win for The Razor’s Edge occurred some few years earlier, playing a damned woman, a best friend of the protagonist. It’s the type of role that probably screamed Oscar on paper. But that doesn’t make it any less good. The performance and role are tragic, but in a good way. She’s not the first woman to win an Oscar playing a broken woman, and she probably won’t be the last. But she is one of the more memorable ones.

Mercedes Ruehl in The Fisher King
There are two reasons that I single out this performance. The first and obvious reason is that I love it, and the second is because it’s underrated. Mercedes represents for me brainwave the Academy experienced in the early nineties with Ghost, The Fisher King and My Cousin Vinny, awarding some left field performances. Ruehl. She is in complete control of her comedic timing and her sensuality. Every movement from her is well placed but not orchestrated. Her reactions to Bridge’s coldness, her tacky manner, her speech; it’s over the top and sincere as needed. And she sells it. Whereas with Goldberg and even Tomei there is that twinge wondering if someone else had triumphed I look only to Mercedes. I love the movie, and I love her in it.
These nine stand above the rest…runners up ARE, in order
Maggie Smith in California Suite
Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire
Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront
Maureen Stapleton in Reds
Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement


Twister gives his five favourites...We have one in common.

Sage ranks them all according to prefence...He'll be very upset with me.
Joe Burns gives his list 2 in common

Make a list of your own from the winners...three, five, ten...I'll link up.


Anonymous said...

Can you tell me why Vanessa Redgrave was so good? I've seen the performance numerous times and can never figure out what she did to warrant an Oscar.

Good picks though ;D

Ever seen Patty Duke or Linda Hunt?

MovieMania said...

Nice picks!

Can you do a post, on you LEAST favorite winners, because I would love to hear your picks.

Wayne B. said...

Great post Andrew, I definitely agree with you on five of your choices.

Alex in Movieland said...

I liked The Constant Gardener too. But Rachel agains Amy Adams AND Michelle Williams... mo no no :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Wayne...thank you

Twister...soon, perhaps.

Sage...Patty Duke is in the top twenty five ...Linda Hunt, not a big fan [see the link to her movie on the side]

Alex...I found Michelle to be incredibly shrill. Was not a fan.

joe burns said...

Thanks for mentioning my list! Great picks, although I haven't seen some of them