Monday, August 6, 2012

A Closer Look: 1990 Supporting Actress

So, I decided to start a sort of series here at ‘A Fistful of Films’.  I’m taking acting lineups and breaking down the performances, the actors themselves and their careers and my personal picks.  I’m starting with the 1990 supporting actress category because I recently wrapped it up in my Fisti Awards, and since I’ve seen all five performances I figure it’s the perfect place to start.  I know that I only have 11 followers right now, but if you have a specific race you’d like me to break down next, feel free to comment about it.  I’m going to try and do this once a week, but that will all depend on the suggestions.  If I have to see some of the performances in that category, it may take a little longer to get to.

Anyways, let’s get this started.  So, the 1990 Supporting Actress lineup looked like this:

The Oscar winner was Whoopi Goldberg, and this is a win that most of the world knows of.  Whoopi is a celebrity that everyone has heard of, and the longevity of her career is quite astonishing considering who she is.  That isn’t to take away from her talent, because she is a VERY gifted comedian and I personally love her acting abilities, but her career is still rather baffling.  Her win was probably pretty predictable, considering that love for the film and her actual competition.  Also, her loss in 1985 may have been a factor.  She also won the BAFTA and the Globe that year, so I think it’s safe to say that she could have been confident in her win Oscar night.

Diane Ladd was obviously hoping for another outcome, as her legendary reaction shot could tell you, but I think they all knew what was coming.

Bening and Bracco only won 2 critics’ awards each while Ladd and McDonnell won nothing. 

So let’s talk performances.  I’ve seen all five of these, and I must say that I find this lineup rather strong despite the fact that I’d only personally nominate one of them.  I guess the strength I see is the diversity of character displayed here and the fact that it doesn’t seem like an empty category of one-note performances (you know, aside from McDonnell).  We can get that one out of the way first.  Mary McDonnell is easily the weakest nominee here (in my eyes).  She doesn’t really do much of anything in ‘Dances with Wolves’ and I’m wholly convinced that she was only nominated because the Academy was in love with the movie itself.  She was a filler nomination to reward the film in yet another category.  We’ll get to my assessment of her career (or what I’ve seen of it) in a minute, but this particular performance is bland.  I am all for subtlety, but you have to emote something, and ‘Dances with Wolves’ as a whole was too dry to really illicit any true feelings of admiration.  I just didn’t care.

Moving on.

The rest of the category is pretty decent.  I’d probably place Diane Ladd in fourth place.  I really admire the Academy for nominating such a bizarre turn, but I also found her performance to be too uneven.  I recently blogged here about my thoughts on the film itself (it didn’t garner many high marks from me) and I mentioned my feelings on her performance as well.  Her performance has grown on me a tad since first viewing the film (I initially called it ridiculous and baffling) but at the end of the day I felt like she was ultimately let down by the weakness of the film itself.  Lynch’s universes are usually bizarre and challenging, but ‘Wild at Heart’ was just too confused for its own good.  This resulted in a performance that felt shallow and like a mere collection of inane activity.  Sure, Ladd milked her character’s persona and dished out the crazy with a fearless tenacity, but the construction of the film left her looking more foolish than anything else.

Next in line is Bracco.  Some have called her out as being too ‘loud’ or a mere succession of overacted moments, but I don’t see it that way.  Bracco’s character is obviously not the star of the show, and so we aren’t given a lot of her.  The focus is always on the men in her life and in her husband’s life and so the moments we are shown are the important and or impactful ones; and Bracco handles them beautifully.  Sure, she has a lot of loud moments, but I felt like she gifted those scenes with an authenticity that made them heartfelt and wholly impactful.  Unlike McDonnell who stared her way to a nomination, Bracco obviously WORKED FOR IT, but for me this is a situation where more was actually a lot more than the ‘less’ that McDonnell was dishing out.

In this lineup though, there are two CLEAR standouts.

Both Whoopi Goldberg and Annette Bening are comedic gold in their respective films, but while I can’t begrudge Whoopi her Oscar (I just love that she has one), there is no contest for me who deserved to win.  Annette Bening is not an actress who I worship.  I find her theatricality to be distracting at times and I find her whole approach to acting to be less than my favorite.  She’s just not my cup-of-tea to put it frankly.  I’ll never begrudge her talent, and I would personally nominate her a few times (I’ll get to that shortly) but overall she isn’t my favorite.  That said, her turn in ‘The Grifters’ is one of my favorite supporting performances of the 90’s.  Where Whoopi was perfectly suited for delivering one-liners with zing and providing panicked comic relief, Bening created an entire focal point for her film with a mere smirk or lift of her brow.  She is never a prop, as Whoopi can be accused of being.  Much like her co-star, Anjelica Huston, Bening acts from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet.  I just love the way that Myra is lighthearted and carefree one minute, her voice at a shrill and her head bopping from side to side, and then she shifts her countenance and her voice deepens a tad and her eyes sharpen and you know that she is conning you but you can't help but fall for it every time.  Bening created a character within a character and sold both of them effortlessly.

That is why, even in my Fisti lineup, she is my OBVIOUS winner.

So, as a recap, I’d break it down like this:

1)      Bening

2)      Goldberg

3)      Bracco

4)      Ladd

5)      McDonnell

So now it comes to the career analysis of the nominated five. 

Bening, as I mentioned, is an actress who I really don’t always love.  I would nominate her three times (‘The Grifters’, ‘Bugsy’ and ‘Being Julia’), and I give her one win (for ‘The Grifters’) but I don’t love anything else really.  Yes, she was very good in ‘The Kids are All Right’ (although I much prefer Moore in the same film) and I understand the love for her in ‘American Beauty’, although my adoration of that film as a whole has waned over the years, her performance included.  Like I mentioned, I find her too theatrical; too self-aware of the emotions she is portraying.  The pullback she demonstrates in ‘The Grifters’ is astonishing and thus the reason I hail it as her career triumph (way to start a career; it’s just a shame I don’t think she built on it).  Her theatricality is used best in films like ‘Being Julia’, where her character is larger than life and thus thrives off of her persona and acting style.  I like her, I just don’t love her. 

Bracco is harder to judge because I really haven’t seen much of her films and so I’m kind of casting judgment on a career based on her role in ‘GoodFellas’, a handful of very small roles and her stint on ‘The Sopranos’.  In all honesty, her character was my least favorite (over time) in ‘The Sopranos’ and basically (outside of a few random memorable shakeups) she became a regurgitated plot point.  She didn’t spice it up enough for me and ultimately fell victim to lazy plodding. 

I can’t really give Diane Ladd a fair shake either, considering that I’ve really only seen about six of her films.  Granted, I’ve seen her heaviest hitters (all of her Oscar nominated roles) and I wasn’t impressed with ANY OF THEM.  I just find her mediocre.  I know that this is probably sacrilegious to many, but she bored me to tears in ‘Rambling Rose’ and delivered one of the most overwrought and heavy handed monologues in film that year.  We all know how I feel about what she did in ‘Wild at Heart’, and I honestly find her more than overrated in ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’.  Sure, she’s funny (and it’s certainly her best turn of the three she was nominated for) but I wouldn’t have shortlisted it for anything. 

Mary McDonnell is another actress better known for her television work, none of which I’ve seen.  I’ve seen her 90’s films and that’s it.  She was awful (embarrassingly so) in ‘Dances with Wolves’ and barely good in ‘Grand Canyon’.  That said, she should have won an Oscar for ‘Passion Fish’, which was pitch perfect. 

And then you have Whoopi Goldberg.  It’s funny, because looking at the list of nominees you’d automatically write off Goldberg as the one that lucked into the nomination and really didn’t have the career to back it up, but in all honesty she probably has the best career out of all the nominees and is in all honesty the most diverse and talented of them all (of what I’ve seen and can gage).  It may not be entirely fair since I’ve seen far more of Goldberg’s work than any of the others, but she’s proven that she can juggle all aspects of film; from drama to comedy, and effortlessly so. 

Not one of the nominated actresses has a performance under their belts that can match the pure brilliance that is Goldberg’s turn in ‘The Color Purple’.  Not one of them could handle the comedic timing needed to see ‘Sister Act’ and when you take a look at the work Goldberg put in, even in moderately mediocre works, she rarely fell flat. 

So oddly enough, I’d rank their careers and collective talent like so:

1)      Goldberg

2)      Bening

3)      McDonnell (on the strength of ‘Passion Fish’ alone)

4)      Ladd

5)      Bracco

So, this could be somewhat of a failed experiment, considering  that I’m shooting blind at the ‘career’ aspects of some of these actresses, and then again; this is a weird batch of nominees considering that Bracco and McDonnell really aren’t much of film stars to begin with.  Alas, I had fun throwing this together and so I look forward to working up another one next week.  Like I said, filter in your own suggestions and I’ll gladly do my homework.  This is basically a rough draft…a first attempt and I look forward to improving on the formula.

Oh yeah…

But, then you have my personal awards.  Like I mentioned, I only nominate one of these ladies (and that would obviously be Bening).  I understand that Oscar is never going to see eye to eye with a cinephile.  We see more movies and thus consider far more diverse films and performances.  With Oscar, you’re always going to get a general consensus because so many people are voting on a handful of films.  That is why I said that I admired what Oscar did here.  From what they had to pull from, I’m only truly offended at the inclusion of McDonnell (because it is so boring) and even though I really don’t like Ladd, I commend them for stretching the definition of their taste a little bit.  That said, here is my personal lineup (which is also not posted on the 90’s Fisti page).


  1. I love reading your Fisti Awards, so I'm glad you added your 1990 Supporting Actress lineup. Sadly, I haven't seen any of those films yet. But I will...eventually. :)

  2. YAY! I'm glad you're a fan! It took me a few years to finally see enough films to even HAVE an awards ;-) So, what lineup would you like to see me tackle next? I'm more than open to suggestions.

  3. Do you mean which year or which category of 1990 next? If the former, then you could finish your 2010 ones or start on your 2008 ones. If the latter, you could do Best Supporting Actor next, and so on.

  4. I am planning on trying to wrap up 2010 and 1990 soon. Sadly, I lost my files last night and have to start completely over! It is depressing, but nothing a deep breath and some time (not that I have much of that) won't fix. But honestly, I'm hoping to dig deeper too, so think of an Oscar acting lineup you really loved, whether it be from the 30's, 50's, 80's whatever and I'd love to expand this series likewise.

  5. Here's a list to consider: I'd love to see your lineups from 1939, 1940, 1950, 1954, 1959, 1960, 1967, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1986, 1994, 1995, 1997, or 1999. Any of those would be great.

  6. YAY! I'll put those in the pot. 1939 is like one of the best years ever, and I don't like up with Oscar like anywhere ;-)