The 10 Greatest Over-the-Top 'Best Supporting Actress' Performances of All-Time

Oscar season means one thing here at Movieline: I get to revisit my favorite moments in Academy history and cackle at the craycray performances that earn trophies. Case in point, here are our ten favorite, uninhibited, screechy, and freaky-deeky Best Supporting Actress performances. You know it's the best category, right? The only one where madness is consistently exulted? Good. My only regret: Lesley Ann Warren didn't win for her performance in Victor/Victoria, and for that our list suffers. Sigh. At least Renee Zellweger didn't make the cut. Rejoice!

10. Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny

It wasn't my intention to begin with the most maligned Best Supporting Actress win ever -- in fact, I was going to start with Helen Hayes in Airport, but there's just not enough of her screechy septuagenarian shenanigans to justify it. Oh, well. Squawky Marisa will do, especially since she's got a biological clock that's ticking into delirium, a floral catsuit that is a FLORAL CATSUIT, and a brazenly phony accent that will give you chills, thrills, and an ear infection.

9. Josephine Hull in Harvey

Doctor! She's seen the bunny rabbit too! If James Stewart's bittersweet performance as Elwood P. Dowd leaves you feeling a little melancholy, Josephine Hull's role as his sister Veta will have you hooting. Even after she's taken to the sanatorium!

8. Cate Blanchett in The Aviator

I don't even like this performance, but it can't be denied that Cate Blanchett's gestures, quips, and jaw-juts as Katharine Hepburn define the word "histrionic." If Kate subsisted on a diet of caffeine pills and Muppet souls, she'd act like this. Hah-wahd!

7. Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire

It's hard to believe this might be one of Tennessee Williams' less hysterical plays, partly with Vivien Leigh practically spewing frailty and Kim Hunter weeping and tangling with brute ole' Stanley. But overripe pangs of agony are Tennessee's gift, and Kim pulls through with electric passion -- and in the following clip, some regrettable relent.

6. Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker

Now, portraying Helen Keller requires histrionics, but Patty Duke's turn as Anne Sullivan's deaf, dumb, and blind matriculant is a massive power-play. She is in charge. Girlfriend can fight. She's compulsively watchable and incredible. And grabby! Now, from here on in, the zaniness gets very intense on our list and I can't help but assign ALL CAPS nicknames to the remaining contenders. I get real excited. You've been warned.

5. Estelle Parsons in Bonnie and Clyde

ESTELLE "TABBY SCREECH" PARSONS. Blanche Barrow's got the asthmatic streak of Blanche Dubois, but she's mostly got a caterwaul to outclass most dying snow leopards. The screaming begins here and continues uninterrupted for a good portion of the movie. It is unbearably great.

4. Beatrice Straight in Network

BEATRICE "STORM TEARS" STRAIGHT. She showed up for one day of filming, five minutes of footage, and left a trail of histrionics leading right to Oscar's heart. "I am your wife, dammit!" is not just a glorious piece of dialogue. It's a fulgent sequin of camp and fury that also manages to be Network's most human moment.

3. Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue

SHELLEY "FIRE FACE" WINTERS. Not only is she livid with her blind daughter for running around with a black man, but she bellows like Zero Mostel caught in a tornado. I included the colorized version to scare you more. As Kim Hunter can tell you, whenever physical abuse enters an over-the-top performance, wonderful things happen. Bonus: Straightforward racism! NSFW, unfortunately.

2. Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway

DIANNE "HOLY HELL" WIEST. Cigarettes up and diaphragms out, girls! This performance is why Best Supporting Actresses exist -- because of zesty, cartoonish bravado. Dianne Wiest chainsaws through dialogue with the force of a bloodthirsty countess and leaves a puddle of destruction in her swishy wake. Woody Allen's other Best Supporting kooks, like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Mighty Aphrodite's Linda Ash, would disintegrate in this sorceress's presence. I disintegrated! Goodbye, everyone! Signed, my ghost.

1. Sandy Dennis in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

SANDY "G*D-DAMN GRAND CHAMP" DENNIS. All hail! Get on your ugly plebe knees! Sandy Dennis looks like a somehow-woozier Rachel Zoe, and she brings the loopy to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which is a feat. Where to begin with this unforgettable performance? Hmmm. Well, here: Sandy has been drinking, everyone. (Have I made it clear that I'm referencing the actresses like they're not playing a character? Well. I'm doing that.) She's been given the most dada, spontaneously weird role in an already dada, spontaneously weird movie, and she is seizing the day. The sputtered catchphrases are all classics: "Violence!"; "Oh, I love brandy. I really do"; and of course, "I dance like the wiii--iiii--nnddd." She is a bunny-toothed thunderbolt in this movie, and she sells a performance that should be shown at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Pass the brandy, mortals!


  • forever1267 says:

    Speak more of these! More, I say! More!!! /Dianne Wiest

  • dan says:

    That was the first time i've ever seen a clip of "The Aviator". Wow. Wooooooooow that movie really happened? The Accents, The Horror, The Horror!

  • Anonymous says:

    actually, "The Aviator" is pretty good. John C. Reilly, Adam Scott, and Alec Baldwin all give fine performances. And DiCaprio is surprisingly believable as HH. It's worth a rent if you've never seen it.

  • Smarmy Fierstein says:

    "But there’s just not enough of her screechy septuagenarian shenanigans to justify it?" No Ruth Gordon?

  • buzz says:

    Joel Grey, "Cabaret", 1972.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    Ruth Gordon is fab, but over-the-top? I'd call her just awesome.

  • Louis Virtel says:

    I will never forget that moviegoing experience. Blanchett appeared on-screen, started bellowing in that accent, and my three friends and I exchanged horrified glances for a minute straight.
    She gets more bearable as the film progresses, but God, not that bearable.

  • par3182 says:

    How the hell did Zellweger's Granny Mae Clampett not make the cut? That hambone performance deserves a top three placing, at the very least.

  • David says:

    I agree with PAR3182, I was going to say the same thing. Forget Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny (she more than made up for it), Zellweger should be # 1 on the list.

  • orrin says:

    I've never seen someone use the word "dada" as generously as you have.
    I'm working on my own article of best supporting actress winners, and yeah, I agree that Sandy Dennis is just bizarre as hell, but within the context of the other three characters, she's relatively normal. It's only been 3 years since i've seen the film but I completely forget how George Segal's character got so inappropriate so fast

  • casting couch says:

    "...a diet of caffeine pills and Muppet souls."
    Thanks, that made my morning!

  • Shemp says:

    What, no Agnes Moorehead as Queen of England in "The Story of Mankind"???

  • Jorge Santisi says:

    Where is Angela Lansbury in "The Manchurian Candidate"? She was totally unforgettable...

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