This is ladies night, and the feeling's right ... to look at the handful of performances that made the Academy's cut for Best Supporting Actress! Both 2014 and 1971 boast a strong lineup overall. Can you imagine if these gals paired up, commiserated, found common ground? Just imagine...
Joan Clarke (The Imitation Game) & Lois Farrow (The Last Picture Show)
For a moment, it looked like she would have to settle, something she wasn't too happy about. After all, she was as intelligent as she was beautiful, more aware of her surroundings than many of the men around her. A shrewd observer, she had to make some compromises -- that was just the reality of her situation -- but she was more in control than anyone knew. Well, almost anyone -- there was that one guy who appreciated her for who she was...
Olivia (Boyhood) & Alison Densmore (Who is Harry Kellerman...?)
Life hasn't dealt her an easy hand. She's struggling. But the fact that she is struggling means she's working, she hasn't given up. There's a goal in mind, though as time passes, she's starting to think that maybe it's unattainable -- maybe no one really reaches it at all. Through it all, she's more self-assured and in control than she thinks she is. She's a survivor, but she's not just surviving. And she's going to be just fine.
The Witch (Into the Woods) & Mrs. Maudsley (The Go-Between)
Momma has plans for her daughter -- those plans do not involve the earthy mess outside the walls of the place they call home. She will do whatever it takes to make sure her plans come to fruition, even down to manipulating innocents. The main thorn in her side: That Man her daughter is completely besotted with, but who is clearly No Good For Her. But you know, no matter what you say, children won't listen.
Bobbi (Wild) & Ruth Popper (The Last Picture Show)
A sweet woman, naturally open-hearted and warm, but one who's been ill-used by the men in her life. Continually sacrificing, trying to satisfy everyone but herself -- until, late in life, she finally gets the chance to pursue something that's challenging and freeing and personal. Though tears are shed in the kitchen, in the end, she rolls her shoulders back, reaching out to comfort those around her.
Sam (Birdman) & Bobbie (Carnal Knowledge)
Girl is in a bad place, but she's looking to get out of it. A good start would be to stop pursuing the egomaniac.
The ladies of 1971, plus mine and Oscar's winner, after the jump.
Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge
I am a longtime fan and defender of Ann-Margret's talents as an actress, and even I was impressed by what she brought to the table. You're not sure at the beginning how much of Bobbie is real, and how much is performance for the sake of this guy. Her slow unraveling as she tries to maintain her desirability, then starts to care less and less...it's gutting. She's killer in this one wordless close-up she has, weighing the words she's about to say in the afterglow. Quite wonderful.
Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show
A fascinating role, an empathetic performance. Burstyn doesn't play up her more shallow tendencies, her carnality, or even her big scene at the end! She's direct and matter-of-fact, and it's difficult to get mad at that. And I don't think it's a facade -- Burstyn lets us know that this is who she is, someone who sees the hand life dealt her and is playing any way she can to stay in. One of my favorite performances in the movie.
Barbara Harris in Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?
Allison is a wannabe actress who is pretty aware that she's not going to make it -- her audition is a disaster, as she spends much of the time talking about how she'd rather return to her youth, prefers older music, etc. But George Soloway (Dustin Hoffman) likes her, and stays to get to know her -- and so do we, as much of the next scene is an uninterrupted close-up of Harris, teary-eyed, self-deprecating, honest. She seems to be the most honest person in the film...but even though she clearly enjoys her night with George, there's no doubt in my mind that she's going to move on. Harris makes you believe that this woman lives outside the film -- and, like George, we want to see more of her.
Cloris Leachman in The Last Picture Show
The plainer alternative to Mrs. Farrow, though Leachman has never looked prettier. Does a neat trick finding the amateur seductress behind the lonely (possibly depressed?) housewife, and it's heartbreaking to see her hope and girlishness when you know she's getting ready for nothing. While it's the least compelling subplot (for me at least), there's no denying the overall strength of the performance -- though I'm not sure I'm 100 percent behind the pitch of her last scene.
Margaret Leighton in The Go-Between
Doesn't speak much until the last 15 minutes, but whenever she does, it is with purpose -- not that she'll ever directly state what that purpose is, of course. Leighton's readings are phenomenal, her voice never faltering, though her eyes are constantly working, whether throwing shade, registering panic, or putting things together. With this much control, her final outburst and desperate search for the Go-Between's note stand out -- all executed superbly. You feel for her.
It is thanks to the Academy class of 1971 that we can say Oscar Winner Cloris Leachman (and sometimes, like when watching trailers for The Wedding Ringer, we say it while choking back tears). Torn as I am between my top two from this lineup, I'm going to bite the bullet and give my vote to...
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
Next up -- the contenders for Best Adapted Screenplay!
From 1971: A Clockwork Orange, The Conformist, The French Connection, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Last Picture Show
From 2014: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash