Sunday, January 07, 2007

Best Supporting Actress (Kinda)

This is my contribution to the Supporting Actress Blogathon headquarted at StinkyLulu (click the pic to see all the posts).

Best Supporting Actress is an interesting category at the Oscars. Like most Oscar categories, the simple science behind it can be easily deciphered. Just at Best Cinematography seems to scream “prettiest sunsets,” often Best Supporting Actress seems to just mean “the one with the best lines who wasn’t pretty enough to be the lead.” Witness Renee Zelwegger’s baffling win for Cold Mountain, a movie she essentially coasted through while invoking a Grizzly Adams caricature. Or Angelina Jolie’s obvious turn as a cartoon version of a crazy lesbo in Girl, Interrupted. Judi Dench, easily one of the greatest actresses who ever lived, appeared in less than ten minutes of the overrated soap opera Shakespeare in Love, but handily rode the inexplicable tide of love for every aspect of that movie, while Cate Blanchett’s good-but-inessential turn mimicking Katharine Hepburn won her the award for The Aviator. All four of those women are or have been great actresses; all four of them won for performances that were one-offs, films where they were holding back a little because, let’s face it, they weren’t the leads.

What’s worse is when someone is nominated for and wins Best Supporting Actress despite actually being the lead actress in a movie. The most recent example of this is Jennifer Connelly’s win for A Beautiful Mind, a film that, in some senses, she carried. She was the character you could relate to and the character that kept the film grounded while Russell Crowe’s character was cracking up. Juliette Binoche won for The English Patient, even though her story was the more interesting one and she was in just as much (if not more) of the film as Ralph Fiennes was.

Will that happen again this year? Well, that’s hard for me to say. My circumstances this year mean that I’ve seen merely a handful of films from 2006. And not that you asked, but it was hard on me, because I used to go see a movie every week, and I think I saw maybe nine of them in the theater this year, starting with a double-bill of V for Vendetta and She’s the Man (an odd pairing, to be sure) and ending with the cold and remote The Nativity Story, which doesn’t feature acting so much as place-holding. Nathaniel R notices and is rightly pissed off by the fact that Anne Hathaway was nominated by the BAFTAs for Best Supporting Actress for one of my favorite films I saw at the movies this year, The Devil Wears Prada, even though she’s actually the lead in that film. I didn’t even think about writing about her here for a moment; she’s obviously the lead. And if she’s nominated as a Supporting Actress for her lead role, that unfairly outshines Emily Blunt, who was simply wonderful in Prada. I’m also hearing wondrous things about Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, but I’m hearing the same problem: the studio is pushing her for Best Supporting Actress, but she’s essentially the lead and steals the whole movie, anyway. I have yet to see it (damn it all), but I’ve listened to the soundtrack and noticed that, of the six songs that belong to a single singer, J-Hud has four. The audience aren’t the only ones who knew she has the best voice in the movie. And if you haven’t heard her sing yet, you are truly missing something, my friends. Because Beyonce sings prettily and all, but Jennifer Hudson sounds like God put his very own singing voice inside of her. And I don’t even believe in God, so I like to think that’s a pretty big compliment.

No, most of the movies I’ve seen this year have been already released on DVD, which means it was the dregs dumped on us from earlier this year. And even if she can sing almost as well as Jennifer Hudson, I don’t plan on supporting Joanna “JoJo” Levesque for either of her kiddie movies, even though my love for her is nothing short of illicit. Besides, she didn’t sing in those movies, anyway. I think I’m in love with Amy Adams, and I love when women are really good in comedy, but her underwritten role in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby could have been played by anyone, frankly. TV movies aren’t eligible for this award, but if they were I’d totally have to call forth JoAnna Garcia’s histrionic wonderfulness in the cheesy remake of The Initiation of Sarah or Charisma Carpenter’s elegant-even-in-garbage effortlessness in Relative Chaos. So you see what I’m up against here in making a choice.

Confession time: I keep my own list of awards. I do. It’s the curse of being a listmaker, you make your own lists for everything. So I have an ever-changing list of all my own film awards, which I call the Edwin S. Porter Awards, for each year since 1915. And the rules of the Porter Awards are a lot different from the Oscars because, hey, it’s my awards. And TV movies are eligible, as are short series which I consider serials. And a lot of my awards and runners-up are taken up by HBO serials. And since I’m allowed to be creative with my choice, ladies and gentlemen, please give up your love for: Chloe Sevigny as Nicolette Grant in Big Love.

Big Love, if you haven’t seen it (and where were you?), is about a polygamist (Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson) who desperately wants to achieve success but has to do so while hiding the entirety of his illegal family from the outside world. To America, he has one wife (Jeanne Trippelhorn as Barb) and three children (including my delicious Amanda Seyfried). But the fact is he has three wives, including Nicki and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). All three women want lives of their own, and those lives include reconciling their roles in an extended polygamist family with their roles as essentially subject wives who will never be able to live publicly with their husband.

Chloe Sevigny has the most complex of these roles, because her loyalties are divided everywhere. Her father, Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton, one of my all time favorites), is trying to extort cash from Bill’s businesses, and Nicki loves her father. She was raised in Juniper Creek, a camp of polygamist Mormons that live outside the law, and she was forced on Bill to serve as both an unwitting spy and a constant reminder of Roman’s role in Bill’s life. She loves her father, but she also loves her husband and their children, whom she coddles and tries to spoil. Perhaps overcompensating for her own remote mother (the always welcome Mary Kay Place), Nicki tries to show her love for her children through materialism. This has led to a massive credit card debt that she attempts to hide from everyone; raised in a complex outside of normal society, she doesn’t seem to understand the concept of money. She wants to be a good wife, but she’s not able to publicly act like one. She wants to be a good mother, but she tries too hard. Added to all of this is her resentment of Barb (the first and public wife); Nicki wants to be first wife, and she takes out her anger on the third wife, young Margene, by attempting to dominate her for her own sense of self-importance. Nicki even goes so far as to run away from home and claim she spent the night at a shelter for abused women, even though we know she just wanted attention and stayed at a hotel. And she makes up a pregnancy just to get more time with Bill.

But Nicki can be a tigress, too, fiercely walking out into the street with just a robe on, threatening to kill her own brother for harassing and spying on her family. And this momentary magnificence is a fascinating piece of the puzzle. When it comes right down to it, Nicki will do anything she has to, to anyone she must, in order to protect her family. Her entire family. Her love for them all is genuine, there’s no denying it. But it sometimes gets overshadowed by her selfishness and desperation. Big Love is a show that’s not always successful, but is always compelling. And Chloe Sevigny is the most complex character on that complex series. And that she makes it all so effortless just speaks volumes about her under-recognized talent.

Not eligible for Oscar, but it’s the best performance by an actress in a supporting role that I saw all year.


Anonymous said...


Good stuff. Like your comments about J-Hud, of course.

I'll have to find a way to see this film even though I don't have HBO.

DVD perhaps?

Anonymous said...

The first season's on DVD, if I'm not mistaken, but I haven't seen more than 3 episodes... I did catch the Mother of the Year episode and got all giddy. And Grace Zabriskie was absolutely one of the first to inspire my obsession with actresses at the edges.

And where might one find your Edwin S. Porter Awards list?

SamuraiFrog said...

Cragi: It is on DVD, and it's surprisingly worth it. I wasn't sure what to make it at first, but I was very involved by the end.

StinkyLulu: Grace Zabriskie was very good on the show.

My Porter Awards aren't online. Do you think they should be? I figure since they sort of change all the time (every time I see something new...almost) that they would be maddening or boring to people. I don't know, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

What I think is: those who are bored by them won't read them.

Post them.

SamuraiFrog said...

Good point.

Tumuli said...

Definitely need to catch this show somehow...

Also: it will indeed be interesting to note the Oscar bait/switch, etc.

Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated (OR IS IT??), but a friend showed me a video today that, if you haven't, you MUST see.

SamuraiFrog said...

Tumuli: The Oscars are usually interesting up until the nominations are announced. After, I'm just not that into it.

Chance: Cute.