The sublime, quirky indie “Youth” (☆☆☆) is out on Blu-ray/DVD this week. It’s an ensemble dramedy that mostly follows two longtime friends vacationing at a hotel in the Swiss Alps. Oscar winner Michael Caine stars as an acclaimed composer and conductor who refuses to work again, while Harvey Keitel stars as a renowned filmmaker at work on what he thinks will be his last important film.
“Youth” is surprisingly sweet and profound at times, as the many characters reflect on their past and how it has brought them to where they are in life. It’s beautifully acted and also stars Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and Jane Fonda in a scene-stealing role that is more memorable than the movie itself.
And that’s quite a feat, since her screen time barely exceeds five minutes. She plays a tough-talking fading movie star who speaks her mind to Keitel’s character. It’s a pivotal moment in the film and worth seeing just for her performance alone.
Fonda was a major contender for a best supporting actress Oscar nomination this year but failed to nab one (she’s already been nominated seven times and won best actress twice, for 1971’s “Klute” and 1978’s “Coming Home”). But her performance joins the ranks of memorable brief ones. Here are some others.
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▪ Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Screen time: 16 minutes
Some clock his screen time at more like 12 minutes, but, regardless, it’s still technically a supporting role to Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning turn as Clarice Starling, even though he won an Oscar for best lead actor. His performance as Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter is so remarkably memorable, so completely terrifying, that it seems “bigger” than it actually is.
▪ Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
Screen time: eight minutes
Dench won a best supporting actress Oscar, but it was mostly for her presence than any spoken words (though those were effective, too). Her performance as Queen Elizabeth I was indeed majestic, royal and indelible.
▪ Viola Davis in “Doubt” (2008)
Screen time: eight minutes
Now, this is some beautifully moving acting as Davis injects enough heartbreak and world weariness into her one scene to fill a lifetime. She plays a helpless mother who only wants what’s best for her child. Davis received her first Oscar nomination, for best supporting actress, and more than held her own against Meryl Streep.
▪ Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables” (2012)
Screen time: 15 minutes
Hathaway won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Fantine, and it was undoubtedly her rendition of the show-stopping “I Dreamed a Dream” that did it. It was heartbreaking and unforgettable.
▪ Ruby Dee in “American Gangster” (2007)
Screen time: 10 minutes
After a career that spanned nearly seven decades, Dee received her first Oscar nomination as best supporting actress, probably for her terse “don’t lie to your mother” scene with mob boss Denzel Washington. It was the kind of slap and lecture that was definitely going to leave a mark.
▪ Beatrice Straight in “Network” (1976)
Screen time: five minutes
Straight holds the record for shortest Oscar-winning screen time with her role as a wife who reacts to the news that her husband has been cheating on her. Her rage is inconsolable, her pain absolute.
▪ Ned Beatty in “Network” (1976)
Screen time: six minutes
A testament to how good Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script was is another strong scene that earned Beatty a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. His “the world is a business” scene is riotous, monumental and, yes, brief. But sometimes brevity is indeed better.