The Penultimate Mile: Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation

(one installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)

STOCKARD CHANNING IN SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (1993)

picture-of-stockard-channing-in-six-degrees-of-separation-large-picture

The competition (me – 5 for 5!):

Holly Hunter in The Piano

Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do with It

Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day

Debra Winger in Shadowlands

This was a case where my admiration for the movie probably lifted my admiration for the performance to some extent, but by any measure Stockard’s champagne-tinted performance is a splendid addition to the 1993 slate of nominees.  Given that neither this film nor its director, Nicholas Hytner, are much remembered today, I was startled by the elegance of the duet between the staccato editing and dialogue throughout the film, a brilliant strategy for bringing the postmodern play onto the screen.  I was also impressed by a truly eclectic cast that includes Ian McKellen and Will Smith (in the earliest role of theirs I’ve seen), Heather Graham, Anthony Michael Hall, and even J.J. Abrams.  However, as the single cast member retained from the original Broadway cast, she truly is the soul of the production, and the single element most worthy of a nomination.

Stockard begins the film as one half of a two-headed socialite formed with her Manhattan art-dealer husband (Donald Sutherland), executing every gesture and line of dialogue of their anecdotes with the polished precision of a dancer.  This alone is a feat worthy of Russell or Davis, but what creeps up on you is how she begins to change, to break away from the pure superficiality represented by her husband to embody his complete opposite by the end of the film, a defiant sincerity molded by events and characters that he completely shucks off.  Painfully, she does lose out in my book to Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do with It for one of maybe a half-dozen performances that I would genuinely describe as a tour-de-force.  Instead, Stockard earns a special commendation for rounding out a nearly flawless field that also includes the Academy’s choices for that year, Holly Hunter, and the previous year, Emma Thompson (only Debra Winger rings false for me out of the pack).  A beautiful finale to one of my favorite years for Best Actress!

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