But first...my new rankings. After the jump.
***Notes: First and only nomination; BAFTA Nominee for British Actress
Clocking in at just under three minutes, is hers the shortest performance ever nominated for an Academy Award? Well, be that as it may, she does make an impression, telegraphing years of close friendship with Simone Signoret's Alice economically, convincingly. She may not even be the best supporting actress of her own movie, but it's a fully-realized characterization.
Susan Kohner in Imitation of Life
She really goes for it, attacking her role with the unchecked fury of a young woman smashing her way to independence. There's no denying she and Moore are operating on a whole other level than everyone else, though certainly they're aided by some real stakes in their storylines. Kohner doesn't seem intimidated - she dominates the screen, nailing the cruel humor, heartbreaking self-hatred, and agonizing desperation to be white. The movie just isn't the same when she's off camera.
Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life
From the moment she appears on-screen, Moore lets us in on Annie's selflessness and smarts. Having found a lost child, she reports to a cop while taking the girl under her protective wing without panicking her; once momma Lana Turner shows up, she sweetly, calculatedly sells herself as a live-in housekeeper. Moore's Annie is always 100 percent sincere but knows which part to play - and around whom. The simplicity with which she counters Lora's "It never occurred to me you have many friends," with a straightforward, "You never asked" - the tone is still kind, her face is smiling, but her eyes and gestures are of a woman used to being taken for granted. The only person that seems to affect her is her daughter; the wounds she receives from that direction aren't shocking, and Moore plays up the tragedy of inevitability. "How do you tell a child that she was born to be hurt?"
Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk
Fun to watch as an alcoholic maid who's always a wee plotzed. Nails her lines in that knowing, Ritter-y way, keeping the character both firmly grounded in reality and the tone of the film. Not much else for her to do, though.
Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank
The role that changed Winters' career, taking her from brassy bombshell to loud character actress. It's the perfect transition, as Mrs. Van Daan often reflects on her past popularity with boys - but hey, she's still got great legs! With Anne, she toggles back and forth between conspiratorial friend and irritated momma, especially when it comes to Anne's relationship with her son, Peter. Winters can be annoying, frustrating, comical; she lifts the room's spirits as often as she brings it down. Through it all, there's confusion: how did she get here, what's to become of her family? Such a beautifully human performance.
Other performances honored by other awards bodies:
- Peggy Ashcroft, The Nun's Story (BAFTA Nominee for British Actress) - Too brief, but beautifully sketches out a woman dedicated to her vow who hasn't lost her humor. ****
- Dame Edith Evans, The Nun's Story (Golden Globe Nominee for Supporting Actress, National Board of Review Winner for Supporting Actress) - Peaceful, confident, a calming presence even when giving instruction that frustrates...and she knows it. ****
- Estelle Hemsley, Take a Giant Step (Golden Globe Nominee for Supporting Actress) - A proto-Madea, energetically dispensing equal amounts wisdom and insults. ***
- Yvonne Mitchell, Sapphire (BAFTA Nominee for British Actress) - Various shades of fear, hatred, loyalty, hauntingly played. ****
Shelley Winters won her first Oscar.
And years ago, I agreed with that decision. But let me tell you, those Imitation of Life ladies are in a class of their own. I do not even hesitate to give my vote to:
IMITATION OF LIFE
Tomorrow - the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay! I'm talking Anatomy of a Murder, Ben-Hur, The Nun's Story, Room at the Top, and Some Like It Hot.