My current Top 5

My current Top 5

8/03/2011

Number 11: Maggie Smith as Diana Barren in "California Suit" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

Maggie Smith joined an elite circle of performers who received Oscars in the leading and the supporting category. In 1979, she won her second Oscar for her hilarious performance as an Academy-Award nominated actress who battles with her husband before and after the ceremony. Considering that Neil Simon wrote the screenplay, it’s no surprise that all the character’s constantly throw around one wisecrack after another – and while most of the other actors in the cast fail completely to bring their storylines to live, Michael Caine and Maggie Smith take all the dialogue and turn it into gold. Of course, the writing for these two characters is simply much better than for all the others – all their jokes are funny, their insults are clever and all the observations about the Academy Awards make it even better. I think that Academy members probably found it impossible not to vote for a performance that has lines like ‘Oh damnit, my favorite category’ when talking about the Documentary Shorts or ‘“I’ve been trying to get ready for this horse-shit affair for three hours’.

But thankfully Maggie Smith not only threw around wisecracks – she also invested a lot of thoughts and details into her character. Right in her first scene on the plane when she watches herself in her nominated part she makes it clear that Diana is rather satisfied with her work, no matter how much she likes to criticize herself. Diana Barren is a woman who does not doubt her acting ability – it’s the publicity she can’t stand, especially now that her Oscar nomination has suddenly put her into the spotlight. When she tells her husband that ‘It’s no fun anymore’ she makes it clear that she is not only worrying about the Oscars but that her life has come to a point at which she needs a decision about how it will go on – especially because she is also constantly doubting her ability to keep her bisexual husband whom she needs so much. Maggie Smith portrays Diana as a woman who is questioning life and beginning to wonder if this is all it has to offer. The ultimate loss of the Oscar is only the final event in her life that makes her realize that her life is not going in a direction she likes (‘I’m tired of paying for everything and getting nothing in return.’) Maggie Smith is able to catch all these serious aspects of the character and still fills her performance with a lot of many funny moments.
Especially at the beginning, she uses the fear and uncertainty of her character about the whole Academy- thing to play some hilarious scenes – when she wonders ‘It looks like a have a hump on my left shoulder’ or complains about her hair (‘I look like Richard III’) and her awful dress, she is always making it with a line-delivery that never makes us laugh at her. We can understand her and feel for her.

And after the show, her uncertainty quickly turns into anger and frustration and her battle scenes with Michael Caine are priceless – ‘What won the award, you asshole?’, ‘Ten a.m. is the morning. That is redundant. You A.H.’, ‘Oh, Sidney, I saw your privates!’ or ‘I found the people at the Oscars singularly unattractive this year!’

And she is able to turn form funny too touching in one second when she and Sidney are making a reality-check about their relationship. It’s an overall simply wonderful performance and a more than deserved win!

4 comments:

dinasztie said...

My favorite winner, probably. Not the best but she's the one I love the most.

hey deanie said...

Not one of my favorites. I like Maggster but not her two winning performances. Streep so, totally should've won that year.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, she was of course better in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but she's one of the few actors who actually deserved both their Oscars.

Martin Pal said...

I guess I feel strongly about it as I'm taking time to post, but I don't think Maggie Smith deserved the award this year. First, the film is three (or is it four) one act plays strung together so she's not really supporting anyone. She's the lead in a one act story. Second, I think the voters just liked the gimmick of voting an oscar to the person playing an oscar loser. As we've seen in countless performances from Maggie Smith this role is not an acting stretch for her at all. I may sound like I don't like her, but I do immensely, but I try to keep it real.

I am all for awarding comedic performances as well, which oscar rarely does, but the true supporting and comedic performance in the category this year was Dyan Cannon's in Heaven Can Wait. I saw the film again recently in a theatre and found it an even slighter vehicle than when it first appeared, but Cannon's performance is still a true delight and should've been honored.

Complaints in supporting performances often are that lead performances get nominated or that film legends are rewarded, but in the spirit of the category of a supporting role, Dyan Cannon's is a textbook supporting performance.