Smackdown 1985 – Originally completed 10/1/17

Hey! So, a thing that this website I’m very fond of called The Film Experience is that, once a month a few months out of the year, they get a small panel together and look back on a Supporting Actress lineup from any given year. Inherited from the Stinkylulu blog, it’s a pretty fun excuse to talk about actresses and contextualize a good variety of opinions surrounding five very different films. Everyone gives a 5/5 rating, whoever gets the most hearts wins. But we (you, me, us) the readers, throw in our final ballot, scaled from the average of all the votes sent it for so-and-so. Write ups are optional but recommended and, since it’s me, of course I did write ups!

Below are my ratings of the five nominees, plus six other women from 1985 films that I think should’ve gotten consideration. No accompanying photos as of now, though that may change. Once the actual Smackdown is posted, I’ll link that too. Since I’m extra, every write up is only 85 words long. Happy reading, and feel free to tell me what you think of these films, these women, and anyone I should look out for!

Margaret Avery, The Color Purple: Possibly Whoopi’s strongest scene partner, her rendition of “Miss Celie’s Blues” is only topped by her not-quite-seduction immediately after, and the camaraderie throughout. Avery also does her damndest to make the arc with her father work, unnecessary baggage that it is. Totally commendable, though something about it feels lightweight. Yes, she’s a strong friend, but I kept wishing she’d fill in the implications her kissing scene left open in later scenes. I get who Shug is, but both Averys are hampered from fullness by rewrites.

Anjelica Huston, Prizzi’s Honor: That she’s barely in the film once the events she sets in motion start happening makes Maerose feel extraneous. That Huston doesn’t do much to fill in the gaps of why Mae would rekindle her relationship with Charley, trick her father into offing Charley, go to the Don to request Irene’s death, makes an already elusive character inchoate. Huston feels confident enough in what she’s doing that I feel confident about not getting it. A weird win, and the least compelling pick of the litter.

Amy Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime: What impresses first is how well the whole cast works so well as a family. A wife and daughter trying to cheer and prod her folks into bettering themselves, her no-bullshit attitude already cuts to the heart before shit hits the fan. Her who-cares-who-hears rage is a standout, but what’s even better is how she delineates between eviscerating her father, pushing her mother to action, the different wounds she shows Audrey and Helen. Angry, but tender, and spry in her reactions to the whole family.

Meg Tilly, Agnes of God: Does her trajectory into lurid spectacle make the character challenging or outright unplayable? Her weird, gentle sweetness disarms but the schtick only makes Agnes more enigmatic at moments Margaret keeps insisting she isn’t, and I’m not sure it computes with what we learn later. At least she doesn’t make Agnes visibly unhinged, and I liked her presence, but I kept wishing for a performance that felt more like a plausible human being instead of this larval-stage cherub. It’s a fine interpretation, but not very creative.

Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple: From the start Sofia’s pre-jail scenes feel tempered by Spielberg painting them as lightly comedic. Winfrey’s somewhat mannered way of moving combined with unconvincing anger don’t help, but she has charismatic gusto that occasionally overcomes the tone the novel’s most stalwart character is forced through. She’s a dream waking to the world at Thanksgiving, but her work has the same issues I find in The Butler: serviceable in each scene, but the connecting threads aren’t quite there. You notice her arrivals more than her absences.

*And now, the five write-ups I’ve made from my expanded 1985 viewing regiment. Ranging from impossible options to head-scratching omissions, I really like the options I found and a very lucky I saw such a cool crop of alternatives, with hopes of someday seeing the supporting women of After Hours, The Official Story, and Witness at the very least.*

Sónia Braga, Kiss of the Spider Woman: You could forgive an actress for not finding a full character in the film’s thorny pastiche, or not clicking to the film-within-the-film’s style in portraying her tragic chanteuse. But Braga, with astonishing effect, commits to the camp and voluptuous emotion of Leni LaMaison. She realizes what might be the film’s most thematic and stylistically ambitious character with emotional fullness while additionally creating two distinct presences in separate roles. A triple threat; it’s fit this coulda-been segment starts with her, but it could end here too.

Desreta Jackson and Akosua Busia, The Color Purple: Yes, a joint citation for actresses who have as many scenes apart as they do together. But having dinged the film’s actual Supporting Actress nominees for not hitting every emotional beat, the time we spend with Jackson and Busia is astonishing for distilling Celie and Nettie’s relationship so fully, so powerfully, and in such a way that it resonates for the rest of the film. We get them as individuals and as a unit, played in bold strokes, making Celie’s arc all the more potent.

Julie Hagerty, Lost in America: Hagerty is such a gentle-voiced, open-faced, ultimately kind presence that her casting alone dodges a lazy, shrewish take on her character. More than that, her restlessness in the early scenes is as palpable as her genuine joy at hopping off the grid, her gambling addiction, her desire to make right, the realness of her marriage at all times. Hagerty’s comedic timing is impeccable, finding a full character and knowing exactly when this woman should be laughed with and laughed at, without ever turning on Linda.

Mieko Harada, Ran: A volcano pit of a war bride, Harada is the film’s most combustive component from the word go. The simmering rage is convincingly telegraphed without tipping off the warmongering menfolk around her to her schemes, and Kaede’s uncorking of all that anger at her dead husband’s brother is so potent it’s amazing the whole thing (the film, the character, Harada herself) doesn’t collapse from the outpouring of such concentrated vituperation. An indelible Shakespearean turn, restrained yet brimming with emotion, and impossible to look away from.

Tracey Ullman, Plenty: Playing the more overtly unreliable bestie next to Meryl Streep’s slowly disintegrating war courier, Ullman arrives with unflappable, good-natured energy. If Streep’s Susan can’t help but hurt everyone around her, Ullman’s Alice seems to have perfectly cultivated her life for bohemian luxury and unglamorous romantic failure. You feel she’s trying to do what’s best for herself, even if she’s not sure what that truly is. Sublime, gentle, and full of life, Ullman is the only performer in the film to match her subtly brilliant lead.

Of the actual line-up my vote for sure goes to Amy Madigan, though I think I’d have been happy with anyone save the actual winner (go figure). A personal ballot would probably feature Braga, Busia & Jackson, Hagerty, Harada, and Madigan. I still have no idea how Braga somehow missed out on a nomination, never mind the win, against all these ensconced contenders I can’t get jazzed about at all. But hey, that’s how it goes sometimes. Feel free to talk to me about Sonia Braga as much as you want, guys. I’m all ears.

Also! To any interested parties, next month will revolve around the Supporting Actresses of 1944. Which sounds daunting and difficult to find (I haven’t started searching yet, so who knows if it’s true). But hey, who doesn’t love a challenge?

Edit: The Smackdown is live! And guess who was the reader quote for Amy Madigan!!!!

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