Saturday, March 11, 2006

Oscar Files: Best Actress

I grabbed a few hours over the past busy, busy week to see two performances that scored Oscar nominations in their years, both of them the sole nods for their films. Rosalind Russell is not necessarily sensational in Sister Kenny (1946), playing the Australian nurse who revolutionized therapies for juvenile polio against much medical opposition, but she does a very good job of aging, she avoids sanctifying her part, and best of all, it's a much less strenuous perf than her usual. Glenda Jackson, though an utterly different kind of actress, is comparably good but comparably not great in Trevor Nunn's Hedda (1975). Her best moments are when she lightens the character with savvy brushes of morbid humor, or a droll fascination with the moral weakness of her intimates and acquaintances—but as ever with Jackson, she has default modes of arch knowingness and dark neurosis, and whenever she reverts to them, you feel that she hasn't connected sufficiently with the part. (Tragically, I had to pass up an offered ticket to see Cate Blanchett this Tuesday night, wowing audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in their limited-run production of Hedda Gabler—very apt casting, I should think, and her notices have been dreamy. )

And here we get to the best part: yes, I count, and having notched these two, I have exactly 100 performances left to see from the 388 Oscar has ever nominated in my favorite category and yours, Best Actress. That means I've seen about 74% of the nominees, though after the next three, I'll be at exactly 75%, another deliciously round number. (This is a good time to remember that I love numbers, especially fractions, especially when they correlate to finite lists, especially when the lists are movie-related.)

So, while the esteemed and lovable Goatdog keeps cranking his way toward seeing all the 450 Best Picture nominees (453 according to Mike, since he counts the "Artistic Quality of Production" nominees from Oscar's first year—and why not, when they're as good as Sunrise, Chang, and The Crowd), I've got my own quarry to chase with the leading ladies. It's a project doomed to failure: Jeanne Eagels' legendary performance in The Letter (1929) is only extant in a single, unfinished version, the one surviving print of Ann Harding in Holiday (1931) is sealed off in the Library of Congress, and if Betty Compson's work in The Barker (1929) or Elisabeth Bergner's in Escape Me Never (1935) is anywhere accessible, I've never heard of it.

Still, a fella can give it the ol' college try. And heck, of the 100 perfs I have left to see, ranging from Compson, Eagels, and Corinne Griffith in 1929 through Jane Alexander and Julie Walters in 1983, I own 73 of the relevant films on tape. (72, really, but The Turning Point double-counts for Bancroft and Maclaine.)

Look for countdowns and short reviews of these last 100 as I get to them, but for now, here are a few more stray statistics and impressions of what I've seen and what's still coming:

Winners I Have Left to See: 7 — Luise Rainer (1936), Ginger Rogers (1940), Greer Garson (1942), Olivia de Havilland (1946), Grace Kelly (1954), Ingrid Bergman (1956), and Susan Hayward (1958)

My Five Six Favorite Winners So Far: (that's for you, par3182)
1) Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951
2) Holly Hunter in The Piano, 1993
3) Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, 1934
4) Marie Dressler in Min and Bill, 1931
5) Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, 1939
6) Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, 1968

My Six Favorite Losing Nominees:
1) Jessica Lange in Frances, 1982
2) Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, 1974
3) Katharine Hepburn in Long Day's Journey into Night, 1962
4) Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven, 2002
5) Bette Davis in The Letter, 1940
6) Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams, 1935

My Least Favorite Winners:
1) Mary Pickford in Coquette, 1929
2) Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter, 1947
3) Sally Field in Places in the Heart, 1984
4) Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, 1960
5) Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953
6) Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, 1967

Years in Which I've Seen Every Nominee: 29 — 1928, 1950, 1951, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, and every year from 1984 through the present

From Among These Years, the Best Overall Fields...:
1) 1950 – Baxter and Davis (my pick) in All About Eve, Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, *Holliday in Born Yesterday, and Parker in Caged
2) 1996 – Blethyn in Secrets & Lies, Keaton in Marvin's Room, *McDormand in Fargo (my pick), Scott Thomas in The English Patient, and Watson in Breaking the Waves
3) 1987*Cher in Moonstruck, Close in Fatal Attraction (my pick?), Hunter in Broadcast News (my pick?), Kirkland in Anna, and Streep in Ironweed (my pick?)

Hon. Mention to 1974, where I'm still missing Perrine in Lenny, but am left breathless by *Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Carroll in Claudine, Dunaway in Chinatown, and Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (my pick)

...and the Worst:
1) 1984 – Davis in A Passage to India, *Field in Places in the Heart, Lange in Country (my pick), Redgrave in The Bostonians, and Spacek in The River
2) 1994 – Foster in Nell, *Lange in Blue Sky, Richardson in Tom & Viv, Ryder in Little Women (my pick), and Sarandon in The Client
3) 2005 – Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Huffman in Transamerica (my pick), Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, Theron in North Country, and *Witherspoon in Walk the Line

Six Remaining Nominees I'm Most Psyched To See...:
1) Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, 1954
2) Jean Arthur in The More the Merrier, 1943
3) Kim Stanley in Séance on a Wet Afternoon, 1964
4) Greta Garbo in Anna Christie, 1930
5) Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point, 1977
6) Shirley Maclaine in The Turning Point, 1977

...and Six I'm Putting Off:
1) Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc, 1948
4) Sophia Loren in Marriage, Italian Style, 1964
3) Audrey Hebpurn in The Nun's Story, 1959
4) Maggie Smith in Travels with My Aunt, 1972
5) Deborah Kerr in The Sundowners, 1960
6) Norma Shearer in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, 1934

Now y'all know you wanna comment.

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50 Comments:

Blogger D said...

Its good to see that there are other nuts out there besides me.

Although I own very few films I have seen approximately 340 of the nominees and here are a couple of my lists.

Favorite Winners:
1. Olivia De Havilland - The Heiress, 1949
2. Ellen Burstyn - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, 1974
3. Diane Keaton - Annie Hall, 1977

Favorite Nominees:
1. Irene Dunne - The Awful Truth, 1937
2. Joan Fontaine - Rebecca, 1940
3. Greta Garbo - Ninotchka, 1939

Least Favorite Winners:
1. Halle Berry - Monstar's Ball, 2001
2. Helen Hunt - As Good As It Gets, 1997
3. Glenda Jackson - A Touch of Class, 1973

9:53 PM, March 11, 2006  
Anonymous goatdog said...

Esteemed and lovable? You're far too kind. I'm conceding this category to you, sir: let's just say that in the past 30 years of Best Actress noms, I've yet to see 41 of the performances, and that's where I stopped counting. I'm particularly Streep-deficient: of her 13 nominations, I've missed eight of the films.

Some observations: you should have put Pickford on your six worst list twice, once for Coquette and a second time for Coquette. It was that bad. And I don't envy you having to watch my dear Norma in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Keep close watch: if you ever notice her opening her eyes all the way, call me immediately. I didn't see it happen, but I might have blinked.

11:46 PM, March 11, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@D: Lovely! As you say, nutcases like us should know each other.

Keaton is the invisible #7 on my list of favorite winners, and I like Burstyn quite a lot. I like de Havilland, too, although I'm not positive how well the performance fits the part. Dunne and Fontaine are also fantastic picks for nominated perf's that didn't win... though it is with embarrassment that I admit, I still haven't seen Ninotchka. As for your hall of shame, I was okay with Berry (though hardly bowled over), I can't at all understand Jackson winning for A Touch of Class, and as for Helen Hunt—I actually like her a lot in the film, and I probably would have voted for her in that field, with only Bonham Carter as competition. But it's still not one for the books, exactly.

@Goatdog: I have a pretty high tolerance for 30s biopics, and I like Norma (especially in Marie Antoinette), but Barretts is still giving off an odor that I'm not easy to track to the source.

And yes, esteemed and lovable.

12:23 AM, March 12, 2006  
Anonymous ryan (aka the boyfriend) said...

I just got home from seeing Ms. Blanchett in Hedda. sorry you missed it. It was just as amazing as you might imagine. Can't remember the last time I saw that much force or energy on the stage. But all completely controlled. And her voice... wow. I'm a sucker for Ibsen (for any depressed Scandanavian, really) and have seen many productions of this play, but this felt totally new (which I guess it should as it's a new translation/adaption).

12:50 AM, March 12, 2006  
Anonymous goatdog said...

I actually really like Norma, even though I don't always like her performances. I loved her in The Divorcee, a film I'm sort of afraid to watch again, and she was at her best in Private Lives. I'm about to see her first crack at Juliet—I have Hollywood Revue of 1929 out from Classicflix. She was great and criminally underused as a comedienne, but she sometimes seemed a tad lost in her dramatic roles (although I haven't seen Marie Antoinette yet)—I think she was always too quick to fall back on that half-lidded, beatific smile. I wish she had done fewer literate, tasteful films. I tend to blame Thalberg for her stodgy filmography, but I think I might be imagining Hearst/Davies parallels.

1:30 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

This is just the most incredibly Nick project. I love it. Can't say I've ever been anywhere near as systematic chasing up winners and nominees, partly as the DVDs for less-well-known classic Hollywood stuff are a lot harder to come by in the UK, but I've decided I really need to see Frances, The Letter, The Heiress and Alice Adams.

I was surprised by how much I liked Streisand in Funny Girl. There was me, valiantly struggling not to conform to cliché, but it's just such a ferocious declaration of intent, that performance. You've got to admire it.

1974 is my single favourite year in Oscar history, not least for this category. You only need Jane Fonda and you'd have the four most important American actresses of the 70s in there.

Kim Stanley is remarkable in the otherwise pretty mangy Seance on a Wet Afternoon. You'll love Garland in A Star is Born, though she's not a patch on the astonishing Mason, in what's probably my favourite losing Best Actor-nominated perf this side of Brando.

Another list I want from you: six best leading ladies they failed to even nominate. Here are mine:

1. Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, 2001)
2. Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, 1942)
3. Sigourney Weaver (Death and the Maiden, 1994)
4. Bibi Andersson (Persona, 1966)
5. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr, 2001)
6. Liv Ullmann (Persona, 1966)

But this is an off-the-top-of-my-head list and not very well thought out. What are the real snubs? Hepburn in My Fair Lady I guess, though to me it's always seemed fair comeuppance for depriving Julie Andrews of the role. Garbo in Grand Hotel? Linda Fiorentino certainly deserved a nod in 94 for The Last Seduction, though in an ideal world she'd have lost to Weaver. Julianne Moore in Safe I suppose.

It strikes me that this is a great way to get an idiosyncratic overview of what Hollywood has been up to for the last 80 years, as the Best Actress nominees tally less often with the overall hidebound Oscar consensus than almost any other category, right? You must have made some real discoveries in here.

3:50 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Ryan: Even as I turn green with envy, I'm thrilled that you guys got to see this. If only Liv & Cate can get that planned Doll's House movie back up and running, it'd be some small consolation to me, though I must say, Cate seems especially appealing as a stage performer. Next time I see you, I'll expect punctilious reenactments. Monty can play Lovborg.

@Goatdog: I like Norma, too, but I agree with your reservations. Her best moments are the ones where you sense what a fun, relaxed actress she can be. Their Own Desire, for which she earned an obscure Best Actress nod in the same year she won for The Divorcée (and good instinct: enjoy that one once, but don't watch it again), is a great example of her light side—it isn't a comedy, but she is an accomplished polo player, and she gets stranded on a desert island in a monsoon, so stuffy it isn't. She still indulges that other weird tic of hers, gratuitous laughing with her head cocked back, but she's fun.

Nathaniel, I expect you'll be chiming in here at any moment.

@Tim: This does have my name all over it, doesn't it? ;) And if you think you lost the struggle against stereotype, note that Barbra and Judy both wound up shiny and high on these lists.

1974 was a great Oscar year, but I can't say it's my favorite—not when Best Supporting Actress was so patchy, and Albert Finney got nominated for being shellacked as Hercule Poirot over my single favorite male performance of the '70s, Gene Hackman's in The Conversation (which didn't even get a Sound nom??!). Still, an embarrassment of riches even at that. I take your point about Fonda, Rowlands, Burstyn, and Dunaway, though the easy nominee to lose track of is Diahann Carroll, and Claudine, as I posted here, is a corker, fully on the astonishing level of these others.

Mason is one of my tippy-top favorite actors, so A Star Is Born should be double the pleasure. I'm going to reserve for future posts my lists of major snubs and favorite non-nominees, as well as especially interesting curios from the Best Actress portfolio.

I would have gladly supplied more instant gratification, but since you failed to have your #5 posted as my wake-up treat, this is quid pro quo, Dr. Robey. ;)

8:54 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

grrrrrr.

you know that i simultaneously
a) love you (who else would do such a thing?)
b) loathe you (who else would do such a thing BEFORE me?)
c) envy you (i'm nowhere close to your numbers --and i don't have most of the remaining missing links on tape ;( )

great post.

my list would be so different. but then i haven't seen enough to make one
* tears hair, rends clothing, exits during fade out*

9:26 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

one more thing:

at the risk of being too predictable i will not post here to express my adoration / love / worship of Mrs. Thalberg. I just won't do it.

9:29 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger JavierAG said...

So that means you've seen Liv in "The Emigrants"? She was fabulous in that, and should have probably won that year.

10:02 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Nathaniel: Why you wanna loathe me? Make like Wrenwood: "Turn it into love..."

Advice to all Oscar fans: All you need to do is subscribe to Turner Classic Movies for one year, and learn how to use timer-record. You will seriously own about 75% of all the past Oscar nominees until about 1985. That's why I have so many movies on tape that I haven't watched yet, and why the nominees are all here at my finger tips. (And Nathaniel, you know you could just move in for a week or two and plow through 'em....)

10:03 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@JavierAG: Nope, I haven't seen The Emigrants yet, though it's sitting here staring me in the face. I'm actually pretty bum on 1972: I've only seen Liza Minnelli in Cabaret and Cicely Tyson in Sounder, both of them stunning.

10:04 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Cal said...

My favourite Oscar category!

Favourite Winners:
1. Vivien Leigh - Gone With the Wind
2. Vivien Leigh - A Streetcar Named Desire
3. Diane Keaton - Annie Hall
4. Meryl Streep - Sophie's Choice
5. Frances McDormand - Fargo

Worst Winners:
1. Helen Hunt - As Good As It Gets (ugh, mediocre performance)
2. Hilary Swank - Million Dollar Baby
3. Susan Sarandon - Dead Man Walking
4. Halle Berry - Monsters Ball

I almost put Bette Davis in there until I remembered that she lost. Perhaps the worst decision of all-time.

11:29 AM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger J.J. said...

You will love Jane Alexander in Testament. It's a, um, testament to her extreme good judgment and ability that she so succeeds in this tricky, made-for-TV role.

12:56 PM, March 12, 2006  
Anonymous goatdog said...

I'll chime in with my top six favorite winners:

1. Vivien Leigh, Streetcar
2. Liza Minelli, Cabaret
3. Emma Thompson, Howards End (she was my first Oscar love)
4. Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night
5. Holly Hunter, The Piano
6. Norma Shearer, The Divorcee

My favorite Best Actress winner who was nominated in the wrong category is Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld. She should have been nominated as Best Supporting Actress, which she would have deserved to win, but they put her in Actress, where she didn't belong. Ruth Chatterton, who wasn't even nominated, should have won Best Actress that year for Dodsworth. (This is my favorite obscure Oscar soapbox topic. What's yours, Nick?)

12:58 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

yay, another Dodsworth fan.

easily my favorite underseen film ever. (I haven't seen it in years myself and should rewatch)

I'm always surprised that even among cinephiles it's not widely viewed.

1:48 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger John T. said...

aWow, all I can say is wow-that's another kind of impressive. I've only seen little over a third of the Best Actress nominees (118 out of 388, if my math is on, but I'm going to have to double check that), and I still consider it impressive-this is just phenomenal. Good luck on the rest of the list (I have to agree that Leigh in Streetcar is easily the best)-I can't wait to see the countdown for this.

Why are you putting off Audrey in The Nun's Story, out of curiosity?

2:11 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Ginger said...

Hi, Nick. Thought you could use a quirky female piping in on this one. For reasons which will remain unstated but which clearly make me a sad sack with too much time on her hands, I have seen virtually every Oscar-nominated leading performance (and then some!). Here's my admittedly idiosyncratic two cents:

(all lists in no particular order)

FAVORITE WINNING PERFORMANCES

Judy Holliday - Born Yesterday
Susan Hayward - I Want to Live
Elizabeth Taylor - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Maggie Smith - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Glenda Jackson - Women in Love
Claudette Colbert - It Happened One Night

FAVORITE LOSING NOMINATED PERFORMANCES

Gloria Swanson - Sunset Boulevard
Anne Baxter - All About Eve
Carole Lombard - My Man Godfrey
Greta Garbo - Ninotchha
Shelley Winters - A Place in the Sun
Piper Laurie - The Hustler
Rachel Roberts - This Sporting Life
Anjelica Huston - The Grifters
Susan Sarandon - Atlantic City
Debra Winger - Terms of Endearment
Sissy Spacek - Carrie
JoAnne Woodward - Rachel, Rachel
Ellen Burstyn - The Exorcist/Requiem for a Dream
Carrie Snodgrass - Diary of a Mad Housewife
Valerie Perrine - Lenny
Gena Rowlands - A Woman Under the Influence/Gloria
Glenn Close - Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Michelle Pfeiffer - Love Field
Joan Allen - The Contender

WORST WINNING PERFORMANCES

Ginger Rogers - Kitty Foyle
Greer Garson - Mrs Miniver
Grace Kelly - The Country Girl
Hilary Swank - Million Dollar Baby
Charlize Theron - Monster
Sophia Loren - Two Women
Julie Christie - Darling
Kate Hepburn - On Golden Pond/Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Jane Fonda - Klute
Faye Dunaway - Network (my pick for overall worst)
Sally Field - Norma Rae/Places in the Heart
Susan Sarandon - Dead Man Walking
Gwyneth Paltrow - Shakespeare in Love

THEY WUZ ROBBED!!
(not even nominated)

Miranda Richardson - Dance With a Stranger
Isabelle Huppert - The Piano Teacher
Vanessa Redgrave - Wetherby
Nicole Kidman - Birth
Veronica Lake - Sullivan's Travels
Carole Lombard - To Be or Not to Be
Claudette Colbert - The Palm Beach Story
Isabelle Carre - Se Souvenir de Belles Choses
Annette Bening - Mrs Harris
Linda Fiorentino - The Last Seduction

The last two entries prompt me to ask a question of Oscar scholars: why was Jane Alexander eligible for Testament, since it aired on PBS and was not released theatrically? I don't understand the eligibility requirements. Alexander's performance was truly wonderful, but I wonder....

3:56 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

I'd place Kerr in 'The Sundowners' and Hepburn in 'Nun's Story' close to the top of your "to watch" list. I don't think Hepburn ever gave a better dramatic performance (with the possible exception of 'Two for the Road') while Kerr, venturing far from her "Proper English Lady" mode, is earthy and likable throughout 'Sundowners', and matches up great with Robert Mitchum.

Wonderful choice of Leigh at #1 for 'Streetcar.' I don't think another actress ever went so deep (emotionally speaking) into a part, totally becoming the character. As Brando commented in his autobiography, "In many ways she was Blanche."

3:58 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger J.J. said...

Ginger: Dunaway for Network is the worst ever?! What's your rationale? I, for one, believe it's more than deserving simply for her bravery in not pandering to emotion, not deigning to betray any inch of vulnerability that would endear her to the viewer. It's an unforgiving, heartless part, and the way she makes it palatable involves a perilous balancing act.

As for Testament, I believe it was intended for PBS, but Paramount thought it could hold its own as a feature. I don't think it ever aired on TV before it did at theaters.

4:52 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Ginger said...

JJ: I suppose the rationale for making any of these choices is a matter of subjective taste. So my least favorite and one of your favorite performances collide, which I think makes the whole thing far more interesting. But to be more specific, I see the opposite of what you see in Dunaway's performance. I see broad, non-specific "bitch" choices where you see an unfliching portrayal; I see sentimentality and a one-dimensionality whereas you see complexity; I see ham-fistedness and a strange desire to be liked even though she's playing a ruthless career maven.... I could go on, but I think you get my point.

Part of the problem with her performance for me is the film itself. I dislike the film in its entirety for many of the same reasons I dislike Dunaway's performance: a curiously humorless affair, yet it's a broad satire; a certain airlessness in both film and performance; a bludgeon-like quality to both film and performance.

Thanks for the information on Testament. I didn't know that.

5:42 PM, March 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must see Julie Walters in Educating Rita without further delay! One of my fave turns of the early 80s, though I must admit I have a sneaky regard for "GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!" that year too.

Rob

6:04 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

EVERYONE LOVES BEST ACTRESS. This is delicious.

@Cal: I'm intrigued by your inclusion of Sarandon, whose performance I like (even though it's not up to her work in Bull Durham or Thelma & Louise, and I would have voted for Streep or Shue ahead of her)

@JJ: I just bought Testament on DVD for a song at Amazon zShops, so this one will be in the hopper, quick. Based on her supporting work in places like All the President's Men, I love Jane Alexander, but I've never seen her in a lead. I love the premise of the thing.

@Goatdog: I just bought Dodsworth, too, on DeepDiscountDVD's incredible 2-for-1 sale... and not only that, but the ones you pay for are only $9. Get thee hence, all of you, to this sale! Meanwhile... Minnelli and Thompson are faboo, in the absolute top tier of winners. As for my favorite obscure Oscar soapbox, nothing's coming to mind, but I do wish we still lived in the pre-1936 world, when the finishing order of the nominees was made public. (Hepburn almost nicked it from Davis in '35, which would have been proper by any estimation!)

@John: So glad you agree on Viv in Streetcar. Maybe my favorite Oscar-winning performance, period. As for The Nun's Story, I don't see a lot in Audrey as an actress anyway (an incredible genuine and admirable woman, but for me, not much as an actress), and she interests me least of all when filmmakers are falling all over her. Movies about nuns have a high risk factor here: see Ingrid Bergman actually becoming boring in The Bells of St. Mary's, or Loretta Young with little to nothing to do in Come to the Stable. Give me those crazy witches in Black Narcissus any day! (But, as ever, I could be wrong. I was sure I wouldn't go for Streisand or Minnelli, either.)

@Ginger: I love your lists, even though we don't agree all the time, because your picks are so distinctive. I totally agree with you on Rowlands twice over, and on Holliday, Jackson in Women in Love, Lombard, Laurie, Spacek in Carrie, Woodward in Rachel, Rachel, Snodgress... Sadly, a lot of the winners you cite as your least favorite are the ones I still have left to see! Is it all downhill from here?? I'm thrilled to see someone else who doesn't "get" Sally Field having even one Oscar, much less two—and yet, you and I seriously part ways re: Charlize in Monster, whom I think is utterly sensational. Thanks for sharing all of this!

@VP: I will happily take your endorsements on Hepburn and Kerr in their movies - like I said, my hunches don't pan out half the time. The reasons you give for liking these perfs speak to exactly what I've been worried about, so if Audrey really does dig, and Kerr really does change her tune, I'm in. (Glad to see you're also a Blanche fan, too!)

Re: Dunaway - On recently revisiting Network, I got grumpy about the screenplay and the writing of and around the Diana character, in many of the ways you describe, Ginger. The film so has it in for her, and her "fling" with the Holden character doesn't persuade for a second. But, I do feel as JJ does that Dunaway saves a lot of the part a lot of the time, dogged as she sometimes is. Her meeting with the black revolutionary Laureen Hobbs and her single line-reading of "That puts us in the shit-house, that's where that puts us" are peaks in the movie for me. But, just as you say, disagreement is more interesting in these conversations than unanimity.

@Everyone: The biggest surprise for me so far is the total lack of Jodie Foster mentions. I guess I have this impression that she's a world-favorite actress, especially as Clarice, but nary a mention in any of these comments. I guess I overestimate her. (If it wasn't for that clunker from Bette Midler, the 1991 lineup would be close to my list of best rosters.)

6:04 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Rob: See, I'm not a huge Walters or Caine fan, and there's only so much arch comic sass I can take... that's why I've been avoiding. But I do think Walters is good when she isn't pushed into a routine, and if she's really a character in Rita, I'll be all for it. (I thought she was the best thing in Calendar Girls, for one.)

6:06 PM, March 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is scary, but I agree with 90% of what you said.. I owuld include Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice as one of the great female performances and leave Barbra Streisand of the list.

6:25 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Person after my own heart, why dost thou remain Anonymous?

Streep is great in Sophie's, but I am in the camp who thinks the performance is a little too calculated in its effects. Stunning as she is, in 1982, I'm still all about Lange—who, admittedly, has her own mannerisms, the difference being that I love her mannerisms so much that I want to eat them with a chocolate spoon.

Of Streep's nominations, my favorites are the ones for Bridges, Ironweed, Deer Hunter, and Postcards. The only one I didn't enjoy was her work in Out of Africa (admittedly, a movie I like almost nothing about short of the score, Brandauer, and the pretty, collectible surface).

6:51 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

@Nick — Any supporting actress category with Ingrid Bergman, Diane Ladd and Madeline Kahn in it has me nodding away fairly happily, to be honest, even when we're hardly talking about their best work or in Bergman's case anywhere close. I also like Talia Shire, I must say. I'll accept that the Hackman omission was a serious blunder, as it's so obviously his greatest performance, and it's a toss-up with Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon as to which is my own fave of the decade. But for them to find room even for a Cassavetes best director nod (and Truffaut! Look at that line-up!) is what really clinches it as my favourite year, plus the fact that 3 out of 5 best pic nominees are outright masterpieces.

Funnily enough I was toying with a favourite winners list earlier that included Foster in Silence, Thompson in Howards End and Theron in Monster (also Kathy Bates in Misery, undermentioned and breathtakingly good, I'd argue). But I scrapped it, mainly because my repertoire pre-1970 or so is so sketchy. My own view is that Dunaway tries her best with a truly wretched character in Network, but it's a losing battle, in the end, as Chayefsky's script so venomously refuses to layer Diana or allow her the right of reply. Can't be doing with Meryl in the almost unwatchable Sophie's Choice myself — I like her much more in Silkwood the following year. I will join Cal too in poo-pooing Sarandon for Dead Man Walking, as I think it's a sentimental performance in a movie that's only any good when it's not being sentimental, and someone appears to have been peeling onions in front of her face for the entire thing. Then again, I hardly ever like her.

You're keeping me up past my bedtime here. Curse you and your Oscar obsessions! ;)

6:52 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Literally a click away: Jessica Lange is the cover girl of the new Film Comment. Could you die?

@Tim: I like Meryl in Silkwood, too.

As for 1974, the Bergman nod/win is, to me, an outrage, and I haven't seen Blazing Saddles or Day for Night or Lenny or Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Failing these, omissions, though, you're clearly right about the three nominated masterpieces in Best Picture and the glory of the Director category. On the whole, though, leaving things just at Best Picture, I'm even more nailed to my seat by the Barry Lyndon/Dog Day Afternoon/Jaws/Nashville constellation in '75. (As ever, the worst nominee won. Though let us not digress from Best Actress!)

Bates is a peach, but still in the middle of the pack, I think.

6:59 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

I like Bates more than most. I thought she deserved a nod for Dolores Claiborne too.

And you're right that '75 is also hard to beat. Perhaps it's just that the Cuckoo's Nest sweep rather takes the shine off things, and the other lead acting nominations are so scattered and peculiar (admittedly, I haven't seen half of them).

Kahn is an absolute scream doing her Dietrich impression in Blazing Saddles, but she's only in it for about ten minutes. Suckitude all around her. And Jeff Bridges is totally adorable in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Now I really must go to bed.

7:15 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Ginger said...

Funny you should mention Foster, Nick. I almost put her turn in The Accused on my favorite winners list, because I do think it is extraordinary given that it flies far above the pedestrian nature of the rest of the picture. I also quite like her turn in The Silence of the Lambs, but I admit that my irritation with that film led me to exclude it from my deliberations.

I am in complete agreement with you on the Meryl Streep front- for me, her work in Bridges of... is her most exquisite and least showy.

Ah, but I can't wait until we tackle the embarrassment of riches-- hit and missed-- in the supporting actress/actor categories!

7:53 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Tim: I tried with Dolores Claiborne, and couldn't more than half-like it, or her in it. Mind you, when Misery came out, I saw it four times in the theater. I cried the first time, for who knows what reason: let's just say I empathized with Annie Wilkes, which is surely to Bates' credit, since the movie hardly demands this reaction!

@Ginger: Lovely to agree with you about Streep. Isn't it surprising how often one has to stick up for Bridges? (No surprise given the novel, but really, folks, the movie's of another order entirely.)

As for the Supporting Actress category, you are reading my mind. But hold that thought...

8:56 PM, March 12, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

I hear Sarandon dissenters and I'm not having it ;)

no, actually i agree that she didn't deserve the Oscar for Dead Man Walking what with the unnominated Julianne Moore (Safe) in the same year as well as the never-better-never-will-be-better-few-could-ever-be-better (whew) Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas in the running.

12:56 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:16 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Regarding Dunaway's win for 'Network', I think she's near the top of her game as a performer, and deserves credit for having fun with the role (she adds a touch of slyness to most her scenes)- she's certainly "out there" in her characterization of Diana, but Dunaway's performance maintains a sense of humor even when the character's at her most ruthless. I don't know if any other top actress of the 1970's could have pulled off portraying Diana Christensen with the vividness, conviction, and humor Dunaway brings to the part.

I admit I've been a Dunaway fanatic for some time, and would place her work as Joan Crawford in 'Mommie Dearest' near the top (oh, what the hell, at the top) of my list of Most Deserving Non-nominated Performances, along with those of the following ladies (and yeah, I know most of these great performances probably didn't stand a chance in hell of actually being nominated):

1) Faye Dunaway in 'Mommie Dearest'
2) Valerie Hobson in 'The Rocking Horse Winner' (a little-seen yet excellent British film based on a D.H. Lawrence story, with Hobson giving a close-to-perfect performance as the protagonist's beautiful, selfish mother)
3) Judy Garland in 'The Wizard of Oz' (the "special" juvenile award cancelled out any chance of a Best Actress nomination for Judy)
4) Barbra Streisand in 'The Owl and the Pussycat'
5) Jan Sterling in 'Ace in the Hole'
6) Deborah Kerr in 'The Innocents'
7) Elizabeth Taylor in 'National Velvet'
8) Giulietta Masina in 'Nights of Cabiria'
9) Arletty in 'Children of Paradise'
10) Tallulah Bankhead in 'Lifeboat'

Favorite winners:
1) Vivien Leigh in 'Streetcar'
2) Patricia Neal in 'Hud'
3) Vivien Leigh in "Gone With the Wind'
4) Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl'
5) Bette Davis in 'Jezebel'
6) Shirley Booth in 'Come Back, Little Sheba'
7) Olivia de Havilland in 'The Heiress'
8) Liza Minnelli in 'Cabaret'
9) Jessica Lange in 'Blue Sky'
10) Frances McDormand in 'Fargo'

Hey, this really is fun, never attempted to "itemize" a list of my favorites before.

Favorite also-rans:
1) Barbara Stanwyck in 'Double Indemnity'
2) Bette Davis in 'All About Eve'
3) Joan Fontaine in 'Rebecca'
4) Greta Garbo in 'Camille'
5) Katharine Hepburn in 'The African Queen' (although I think the Oscar justifiably went to Leigh that year)
6) Shirley MacLaine in 'The Apartment'
7) Jane Fonda in 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They'
8) Audrey Hepburn in 'The Nun's Story'*
9) Jessica Lange in 'Frances'
10) Julie Harris in 'The Member of the Wedding' (probably still go with Shirley Booth for the win, though)

As you can see, I'm incredibly biased when it comes to choosing classic roles over recent work. Please shoot me later for my lopsided approach to these lists, as I still have many contemporary and classic films I hope to see before my time is up.

* Note to Nick: Hepburn does indeed "dig" in this role, and director Fred Zinnemann (and Hepburn herself) resist any temptation to make concessions to the famous Hepburn charm (ala 'Sabrina', 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', etc.)- portraying a young girl struggling to meet the demands of her faith, Hepburn "keeps it real" in 'Story' and is riveting throughout the film. The movie offers what is probably the most honest portrayal of "Sisterhood" in film history- there's nothing cutesy or melodramatic about this intelligent, moving film. Don't cheat yourself by missing the movie when it comes out on DVD later this year.

9:52 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger Cal said...

Sarandon has done so much better than Dead Man Walking. It's comparatively a weak winner I think.

1995:

1. Elisabeth Shue - Leaving Las Vegas
2. Julianne Moore - Safe
3. Julie Delpy - Before Sunrise
4. Sharon Stone - Casino
5. Alicia Silverstone - Clueless

9:38 AM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

I love every single person who is posting to these entries.

@Nathaniel and @Cal: To the litany of great 1995 leading-lady performances, I have to add Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia. And I was impressed by Emma Thompson in Carrington, too.

@VP: I think you've perfectly captured the essence of Dunaway's success in Network. It's that sense of sly humor that's truly killer.

I've never heard of The Rocking Horse Winner, but I'll be sure to track it down. Of the other non-nominees you mentioned, I've sadly only seen Kerr in The Innocents and Garland in Oz (both supberb), Dunaway in Mommie Dearest (I go back and forth, but I'm still impressed), and Taylor in National Velvet (which didn't move me all that much). Thanks for your other suggestions, though, esp. re: The Nun's Story. This is exactly the sort of encouragement I need.

Of your other favorite perfs, the only place we diverge is about Booth. I'm in a very tiny minority, apparently, who thinks the perf is just too much and too obvious, mostly because I feel those things about the role itself, but in three tries, Booth hasn't persuaded me otherwise. (Inge is almost certainly my least favorite major American playwright.)

11:55 AM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

And pretty please: Shirley MacLaine in The Children's Hour. My word, she's good in it.

12:56 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Cal said...

Damn I forgot the Best Non-Nominated performances...

1. Bjork - Dancer in the Dark
2. Judy Garland - The Wizard of Oz
3. Reese Witherspoon - Election
4. Kate Winslet - Holy Smoke
=5. Meg Ryan - When Harry Net Sally
=5. Naomi Watts - Mulholland Drive

6:34 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger John T. said...

OK, I never actually posted my picks for best, worst, and most looking forward to before, so I'm going to do that even though I've commented (do you have the same sort of love for the male counterparts Nick?)

My six favorite:
1. Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire)-possibly my favorite performance in all of film
2. Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind)
3. Maggie Smith
4. Nicole Kidman (I loved it-Julianne was sensational, but I would have been one of those Kidman supporters)
5. Holly Hunter
6. Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)

Worst:
1. Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
2. Sally Field (Places in the Heart)
3. Ginger Rogers
4. Ingrid Bergman (Anastasia)
5. Olivia de Havilland (To Each His Own)

Hmm...four out of five won twice.

As for the ten I'm most looking forward to seeing:
1. Bette Davis (Now, Voyager)
2. Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice)-I know, I know, but it's in my Netflix queue
3. Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys)
4. Meryl Streep (The French Lieutenant's Woman)
5. Judy Garland (A Star is Born)
6. Janet Gaynor (Sunrise)
7. Barbara Stanwyck (Stella Dallas)
8. Ingrid Bergman (Autumn Sonata)
9. Catherine Deneuve (Indochine)
10. Janet Suzman (Nicholas and Alexandra)

8:59 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Tim: Have somehow never seen The Children's Hour; I think These Three was enough for me (and very good at that), but since Bainter got a nod, I'll catch up with it eventually.

@Cal: Huh? You think Björk in Dancer in the Dark was better than Juliette Binoche in Chocolat???! One hears such things these days! (Binoche=biggest waste of nod this decade.)

@John T.: Three of your worsts are among the seven I haven't seen. Prospects looking dim! Your prospects, however, are lovely. If nothing else, Bergman's brilliance in Autumn Sonata should wash that bad Anastasia aftertaste right from your Oscar-lovin' mind.

9:43 PM, March 14, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

She's not that bad in Anastasia, but it's a silly, stodgy movie.

Moving beyond Oscar (heresy I know) you must see The Children's Hour as it has what's got to be one of the best all-round female casts of the period. Bainter's good, Hepburn's luminous, the kids are terrific, but it's MacLaine you'll be wowed by.

2:43 AM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Cal said...

Haha. I honestly couldn't bear to watch all of Chocolat. I'm guessing she didn't turn it around in the second half.

I saw The Piano for the first time last night and wow, Hunter is 4th on my list now. It was around ten minutes after it had finished when I realised she hadn't spoke a word. She's beyond brilliant. Paquin also. Though I don't perhaps think of it as my favourite film ever (sorry Nick), it's in my top 50.

Also about Campion - she really seems to be an actors director. I hadn't quite noticed it but she does seem to get great performances out of her actors. Admittedly, Holly Hunter and Kate Winslet are hardly the most difficult people to work with, but Keitel, an 11 year-old Paquin, and even Ryan in 'In the Cut' got notices.

Can anyone recommend anymore of Campion? I'm rather intrigued now :P

12:36 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

My heart sings.

Campion is such an odd bird, and her sensibility is so distinctive and variable, that it's hard to know where to direct people after The Piano. A lot of people love An Angel at My Table, newly available from Criterion, though I must admit it's the one movie of hers that I didn't really respond to. Conversely, I'm positively gaga over her film of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, but that film has several detractors.

Really, though, if it's acting you want, I still say Kidman's renaissance is much more credibly traced to Portrait than to the amusing but slightly obvious To Die For, and Barbara Hershey and Martin Donovan are both exquisite (and won big critics' prizes). John Gielgud also has a quietly stunning death scene.

1:26 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Ginger said...

Yes, Tim! Shirley MacLaine really is the revelation of The Children's Hour. Heartily second that nod.

My favorite Campions are "Sweetie," some reservations about all those tree roots under concrete aside, and "Holy Smoke." Whoever said Kate Winslet should have been nominated for that- yes, yes. And nothing beats Harvey Keitel slogging around in the desert in that red dress.

3:29 PM, March 15, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

ginger, i'll raise you the Kate shoulda been nominated with the Kate shoulda won for Holy Smoke!. i am absolutely certain it's her best performance. which is you know, saying A LOT.

in other discussables: shirley actually apologized for the children's hour in The celluloid closet but bitch had nothing to apologize for there.

1:14 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Ginger said...

Nathaniel, i'm with you there. Kate's best performance. and it goes a long way towards erasing the stench of The Life of David Gale. (HOW could she have played a character named BITSY- or BOOTSY or whatever damned diminutive it was???!!!)

Tsk-tsk, that Shirley... she of the glorious past lives probably thought she was erroneously channeling the spirit of Gertrude Stein in The Children's Hour. Or she could have been apologizing for the significant change the film made to the source material. As I recall, doesn't Audrey Hepburn's character's spend a great deal of time making it clear that she has no, none, zip, zero, zilch interest in a sexual relationship with Shirley? The Hellman potboiler leaves it somewhat more ambiguous than that.

10:26 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

john t --in the 10 you haven't seen categoryu you actually have La PFEIFFER, Judy G, and Sunrise *swoon*

...oh to be you and seeing all three for the first time. your futures so bright, you oughta wear shades.

10:37 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

@Ginger: My memory of These Three, Wyler's first pass at The Children's Hour, is that Hellman's ambiguity is basically preserved. (Having only seen MacLaine's operatic "guilty confession" sequence in the part of The Celluloid Closet Nathaniel is mentioning, I certainly don't remember anything quite so abject in the earlier movie (though I am, admittedly, seeing MacLaine's sequence out of the full context of the performance and the film).

11:07 AM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous julien said...

It's comforting to realize that I'm not the only person on this planet with such obsessions.

I'm a bit late, but I'll give you my list anyway, for what it's worth:


Favorite Winners:
1. Vivien - Streetcar
2. Holly - Piano
3. Kate Hepburn - The Lion in Winter (I'm suprised no one even mentioned her?)
4. Maggie Smith - Jean Brodie
5. Dunaway - Network
6. Taylor - Virginia Woolf
7. Emma Thompson - Howards End

Favorite Losing Nominations:
1. Gloria Swanson - Sunset Boulevard
2. Bette Davis - The Little Foxes
3. Glenn Close - Dangerous Liaisons
4. Dunaway - Chinatown
5. Gena Rowlands - Gloria
6. Streep - Bridges
7. Bette Davis - All About Eve
8. Pfeiffer - Baker Boys
(I could go on for ages...)

Least Favorite Winners:
1. Paltrow - Shakespeare in Love (what happened?)
2. Kelly - The Country Girl (Garland+Greatest Role+Great Film+Comeback=Hello??)
3. Magnani - The Rose tatoo (She's one of my favorite actresses of all time, but the fact that they gave it to her for what is undoubtedly her worst performance-only bad performance of her career in my opinion- is beyond me)
4. Woodward - Three faces of Eve (so obvious it's painful)
5. Hilary Swank - Million Dollar Baby (Two oscars? Yeah right, why not five while we're at it? And what did Annette Bening ever do to upset them that much?)

Great, great, great site.

God, It's already morning, maybe I should go to work...

12:36 AM, April 24, 2006  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Never too late to join the party, Julien! Thanks for your two cents... Woodward and Magnani were both among the first winners I ever saw, and though I remember both of them fondly, I suspect I should have another look in both cases....

1:12 AM, April 24, 2006  

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