Category Archives: Academy Award Winners for Best Supporting Actress

Shampoo (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hairdresser shags his clients.

George (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairstylist who makes a habit of sleeping with his lady clients. He wants to open up his own beauty salon, but lacks the funds and not enough collateral to qualify for a loan. He is currently sleeping with Felicia (Lee Grant) who tells him to ask her husband Lester (Jack Warden) for the money. Lester is having an affair with Jackie (Julie Christie) who used to be George’s girlfriend. George’s current girlfriend is Jill (Goldie Hawn) who is having the inklings to sleep with Johnny (Tony Bill) since she thinks George is not being faithful to her. Everything comes to head on the night of November 5, 1968 during the election returns when everyone finds out that everyone else has been cheating on them and things get hilariously awkward.

This could quite easily be the best satire on the mores of Southern California culture ever made. The fact that it gets juxtaposed with the election where the same people who voted for an administration that vows to crackdown on the ‘permissive culture’ are the same ones doing the immoral behavior makes a very loud statement on the foibles and hypocrisies of the establishment.

Richard Sylbert was nominated for the Academy Award for his set decoration and he should’ve won as the vibrant and colorful interiors of the plush homes that the characters reside in become almost like a third character and makes you feel like you are right there inside the places with the characters and immersed completely in their world. The spectacular skyline views seen from the window of Lester’s office are equally impressive and I also enjoyed the party sequence, which reflected a true party atmosphere particularly the one attended by members of the counter-culture and the stylized set lighting by a slowly opening refrigerator door that gradually exposes the identities of a couple making love in the dark to the shocked onlookers standing around is outstanding.

The talented female cast is terrific, but a bit misused. Jackie’s meltdown during the election party seemed way overdone. This was a smart woman who would’ve seen through Lester’s thin veneer from the start and therefore wouldn’t have been that ‘traumatized’ when it finally came out in the open.

I was also disappointed that we didn’t see more of Lee Grant’s character. She won the Academy Award for her work here, but there needed to be more of a wrap-up with her as well as a scene showing an ultimate confrontation with her daughter (Carrie Fisher in her film debut) who has a secret fling with George behind her back. However, the shot showing Fisher giving her mother the most hateful and disdainful glare you can imagine that literally burns through the screen is almost a gem in itself.

Despite his many transgressions I found Lester to be strangely likable. His quirky ‘bonding’ with George near the end is cute, but I really wanted to see him jump into the hot tub and smoking some weed with the hippies after they offer him a joint and was disappointed it never came to pass even though it does come close.

Beatty, who co-wrote the screenplay, has his moments too, but they don’t come until the final half-hour, but it’s worth the wait. His ‘confession’ to Jill about what motivates him to sleep with all of his female clients and what he gets out of it is not only funny, but quite revealing to any male with the same traits. His final desperate plea to Jackie at the very end is equally interesting and even a bit surprising.

My only real complaint is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a legitimate ‘60s atmosphere even though that’s when it supposed to take place. The adult characters are too brazen in their actions. The college crowd was the first to embrace the free love philosophy while the middle-agers, who were raised in a more repressed, guilt-ridden era, took longer to catch-up to it. It just reeks too much of the mid ‘70s where by that time ‘everybody was doing it’ particularly in swinging L.A., which is where the time period should’ve stayed. There is also never any explanation for why the fire department comes in to evacuate the guests from the building as they are watching the returns.

Still the message of how people who use other people will eventually end up getting owned by the very same folks that they think they are manipulating is very on-target and amusingly played-out.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: February 11, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Last Picture Show (1971)

last picture show 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

California Suite (1978)

california suite

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Visitors at a hotel.

Based on the hit Neil Simon play, who also wrote the screenplay, the film follows five couples all staying at the same posh Beverly Hills hotel. Hannah and Bill (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda) are a divorced couple fighting over the custody of their teenage daughter (Dana Plato). Diana (Maggie Smith) is a famous British actress set to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and being escorted by Sidney (Michael Caine) a man she wants all for herself, but can’t because he is bisexual. Marvin (Walter Matthau) is in town to attend his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and shocked to find that his brother (Herb Edelman) has sent a prostitute (Denise Galik) to his room to entertain him for the night only for her to promptly pass out drunk the next morning just as his wife (Elaine May) is about to arrive. The final segment deals with two bickering Dr’s (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) who can’t get along and seem to get themselves into one over-the-top calamity after another.

Many viewers have commented that they disliked the Fonda character as she came off as too cold and bitchy, but I’ve known many people who are like her who put up a very steely front in order to protect themselves emotionally, so for me her sarcasm worked and the way she delivered her acerbic lines is fun especially as she chews up the already transparent Alda character until it seems like he isn’t even there.

Smith and Caine’s segment seemed a bit trite and generic. The first part of it deals with her nervousness about attending the awards ceremony, which isn’t all that original. The second half examines her frustrations at the fact that Sidney can’t solely commit to her, but I couldn’t completely buy into this because she was playing a rich and famous, globe-trotting actress whom I’m sure could easily find another man if she wanted and didn’t have to cling to someone who didn’t fully want her like she were some lonely, small town housewife with no options.

The third segment dealing with Matthau and the unconscious prostitute is quite funny and had me laughing-out-loud while the scenes involving Cosby and Pryor’s constant arguing is incredibly dumb and even jarring as it features a lot of silly, slapstick humor that does not fit in with the more sophisticated tone of the rest of the film.

I was also not so crazy about the film’s pacing. The first hour deals almost exclusively with the dramatic segments while the second half focuses mainly on the comical ones, which came off as imbalanced. It would’ve worked better had the stories been evenly spread out in a rotating type fashion with a few minutes spent on each one before cutting to the next one. It would also have been cool had it taken a Slacker-like approach where the characters, who never once cross paths in this movie, would have instead passed by each other at certain points and the scene would then shift to the new characters that the other ones just passed.

I was also disappointed that we never get to see much of exterior of the hotel. We do see a bird’s eye view of it during the closing credits, but I thought shots of it should’ve been shown during the beginning. I have nothing against David Hockney’s artwork that does get used, but the hotel is a part of the film’s title and therefore should have taken precedence.

Overall though I felt it was a decent dramedy worth the price of admission. It also features a terrific and distinctive jazz score by Claude Bolling that I wish had been used even more throughout.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The V.I.P.s (1963)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drama at the airport.

Several diverse characters come together at London’s Heathrow Airport. All have urgent needs that require them to board a certain flight that they hope will take off as soon as possible. Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) is the wife of rich tycoon Paul (Richard Burton) and is secretly having an affair with gambler/playboy Marc (Louis Jourdan). She has left him a ‘dear John’ letter at home and hopes to be well on her way to New York before he reads it. Les (Rod Taylor) is a businessman who also hopes to get to the Big Apple quickly to avoid the hostile takeover of his company. Max (Orson Welles) is a famous movie director traveling with his vapid starlet Gloria (Elsa Martinelli) and hoping to leave England before he is forced to pay an enormous tax penalty. Unfortunately for them a fog rolls in, which delays the flight and sends everyone’s plans into disarray.

The drama has some potential at the beginning, but the 2-hour runtime is much too long for this type of material. Whatever compelling elements the threads may have had when it started become lodged in endless talk and boredom. The scene where Burton smashes Liz’s hand against a mirror is the only time there is any action and Terence Rattigan’s soap opera script is too clichéd. Director Anthony Asquith’s direction shows no visual flair and fails to capture the airport in any type of interesting way. The background sets look like they were built on a soundstage and the fog effects are quite tacky.

Margaret Rutherford won the supporting Oscar for her portrayal of an aging Duchess. She adds some much needed humor particularly in the segment where she has difficulty getting her hat box into the plane’s luggage compartment. However, like with the story thread concerning the Orson Welles character she is seen to briefly and their scenes are spread so far apart that you almost forget all about them.

Spoiler Warning!

There is also another segment where a complete stranger played by actress Maggie Smith approaches the Burton character and asks him for a hundred and fifty three thousand pounds and he gives it to her in the form of a blank check, which had me floored. Men like him don’t become rich by handing out a lot of money to anyone who asks especially people they don’t know. Some may argue that because the character was considering suicide that he didn’t care anymore, but it still seemed too much of a stretch and for me sent this already stale drama into the realm of the absurd and ridiculous.

End of Spoiler Warning

Every story thread is gets a nice, convenient happy ending that gives the whole thing a TV-sitcom quality and barely worth the effort to sit through. The production has some glossy aspects and certainly big-name stars, but ends up being a big buildup to nothing.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Anthony Asquith

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

kramer vs kramer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after wife leaves.

This is a solid drama detailing the divorce and subsequent custody battle between two young, educated and upper middle class parents (Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep).

To say that this is simply an examination of divorce and its effects on both the child and parents do not do the film justice as this is a very richly textured story that brings out the many variables that come with being a modern day parent. One of the best is the examination of Hoffman’s character’s job and how ‘moving up the corporate ladder’ can have an adverse effect on a man’s home life and his family members. In fact this is a major factor to his break-up and emotional detachment with his wife.

The film also offers a nice glimpse between father and son and the scenes showing this relationship are quite touching especially as they learn to coexist with one another after the mother leaves. Justin Henry doesn’t get enough credit for his performance as the son. Yes, he is adorable in the typical child-like way, but he also manages to create a child character that is diverse and memorable.

Hoffman gives a superior performance and in many ways it is all about him and his adjustment at playing the dual roles of being both a father and mother. He has his aggressive New Yorker persona, but you understand it and really feel for what he is going through. Even watching him frantically running around from place-to-place is interesting.

Streep is also outstanding in what is kind of an unusual role for her. Typically she plays strong-willed women with a strong on-screen presence, but here her character is rather weak and suffers from problems that are elusive, but still intriguing.

Howard Duff is solid as Hoffman’s attorney and Jane Alexander offers good support as the next-door-neighbor although her character is a bit too ordinary and could have been supplied with a few interesting quirks.

The subject itself is still quite topical and everything is kept in a real perspective with nothing getting overblown or clichéd.  Robert Benton’s direction is flawless as it pays attention to the smallest of details and makes them special.  A good example of this is the poor way the father and son try to make French toast when they first find themselves alone together and then the very efficient way they learn to make them at the end. It is also not all serious as there is a really hilarious scene involving Jobeth Williams who plays Hoffman’s new girlfriend and the unusual circumstances onto which she first meets Henry.

There are a few issues to quibble about, but they are minor. One is that you hear Hoffman and Henry peeing in the toilet a lot, but they never seem able to flush it! There is also a scene where Hoffman who is in desperate need for a job applies for one during a holiday party and when he gets it he runs out, grabs a woman he does not know and kisses her right on the lips. If he tried something like that today he would not only be fired on the spot, but have a sexual harassment lawsuit as well.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video