Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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1970, Day Three: Supporting Actress

Of the five nominees for Best Supporting Actress, four came from Best Picture nominees. The one exception is Lee Grant, nominated for The Landlord, the film's only representative at the Academy Awards. 

The directorial debut from In the Heat of the Night's Oscar-winning editor Hal Ashby, The Landlord is a comedy about a wealthy white boy who buys an apartment building in the predominately black NYC neighborhood of Park Slope with the intention to gut and renovate it, but finds his efforts thwarted by the tenants. Perhaps a wee long, it's still a funny, thoughtful, impactful film. 

Grant was lucky, as any of the film's female ensemble could've been nominated: Pearl Bailey as the shotgun-toting ambassador of the building's residents, Diana Sands as the beautiful downstairs neighbor, Marki Bey as the mixed race dancer who starts to date the landlord, Susan Anspach as the landlord's vaguely liberal sister. Not entirely surprising that the film only garnered one nomination - due to the Academy's relative conservatism, not due to the quality of the film; after all, it took them another 13 years to honor the cinematographer Gordon willis, whose work on The Landlord is...so...good.

The rest, as I say, came from Best Picture-nominated films. Let's talk about all of them:

Karen Black as Rayette
Five Easy Pieces
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress, National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actress, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Supporting Actress; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actress

She's obnoxious, enough so that you find yourself getting frustrated alongside Bobby. She's kind, enough so that you find yourself getting defensive on her behalf. She's lovely: listen to her singing, you realize Bobby's selling her short about her talents. She's dim, but not vacant - she knows when people are mocking her. It's a sad, funny, human performance.

Lee Grant as Joyce Enders
The Landlord
second of four nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actress
You know who she is the moment she shows up: immaculate white; wide, raccoon-smudge eyes; big, clip-heavy hair. It's a hilarious portrayal of a horrible person, one who you can try to make excuses for because she is so funny, especially since her drunk sequence with Pearl Bailey is such a bear-it-all trip. Her final scene reminds you that that "hilarious" racism is rooted in a cruelty that there's no coming back from.

Helen Hayes as Ada Quonsett
second of two nominations, past winner

Nothing dates this movie more, especially post-9/11, than a charming stowaway dealt with good-humoredly, who gets to help try to save the day (she doesn't, ultimately). Hayes does she's asked to do for a sketch of a character, and honestly, it proves why she's the First Lady of the American Stage. She's warm, gently funny, canny. This is the kind of competent work you get from a pro.

Sally Kellerman as Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actress

Apparently, Altman so liked Kellerman, he expanded her part long past her character's scripted exit - thus the unscripted business where she becomes Duke's lover, then a cheerleader at the climactic football game. It doesn't make a lick of sense. Kellerman's Major Houlihan is so solidly realized, her embracing of the Hot Lips persona does not gel. I feel bad for her having to shoulder this, the blackest mark on the movie.

Maureen Stapleton as Inez Guerrero
second of four nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actress; BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Supporting Actress

The most human performance in the film. Her love for her husband is palpable, even as she realizes he's brought a bomb on board his plane. She's on the ground, she can't stop him or save him, and all throughout you see that conflict on her face, knowing the worst, holding on to the narrowest sliver of impossible hope. Her final collapse rends your soul: this is going to eat at her to the end of her life.


The winner was Helen Hayes, the first performer to win in both Lead and Supporting, and the record-holder for longest gap between wins - 38 years!:

My own vote...gosh, this was a toughie. Even in my personal ballot, I keep going back and forth in this category (so far, I've narrowed the choices down to seven). Black and Grant are both superb, and I've been switching between them in drafts all week. Maybe it's just my mood today, maybe it could go any other way at another time, but in the end, my vote goes to:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Original Score: Airport, Cromwell, Love Story, Patton and Sunflower.

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