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the great big academy awards project: BEST LEAD ACTRESS in the 1970s

70sFinalLogo

Hey, remember me? Yes, I’ve been gone a good long while but I’m still here devouring as many Oscar-nominated performances as I can. And at long last I’ve completed the much-anticipated (at least in my own head) Best Lead Actress of the 1970s breakdown. I’ve watched all 50 of the nominated performances and am prepared to grade them and award my own personal victors. I’ve learned a lot this decade – that romantic comedies were a staple in this category (and at times an exhausting one), that it turns out I’m a fan of Glenda Jackson’s and that the jury is still out on whether I can get on board with Ingmar Bergman or not. (Fear not, Bergmaniacs… this is just my first exposure of probably many more to come.) But enough introduction (I’m merely grandstanding because of the infrequency of these posts, really) – let’s dive in, shall we?

1970

1970BestActress

The Winner: Glenda Jackson (Women in Love)

State of the Category: Kicking off the decade with some uncharacteristic (considering the tendencies of these 10 years) choices, we’ve got one of the weaker lineups. After being a major Testament apologist thanks to a stellar central performance from Jane Alexander in 1983’s lineup, I was disappointed to find I couldn’t truly get on board with her turn in The Great White Hope. Playing the part of the scandal-prone Caucasian girlfriend to James Earl Jones’ African-American boxer, the role was underwritten enough that character motivation was a bit foggy. She was mostly relegated to sobbing in the background in what was a showcase for Jones. Glenda Jackson’s first nod of the decade in Women in Love, however was devilish and delightful – one half of a pair of sisters pursuing two local gentlemen, it seemed on its face a standard, basic setup. But the quartet of actors are phenomenal, and Jackson has the notable feat of being best in show – she’s charming and witty and I could listen to her accent for days. Next up is the classic tearjerker Love Story – Ali McGraw’s portrayal of a plucky college student dealing with the ins and outs of love and loss is amiable at times, but clunky dialogue and tonal shifts can’t be rescued by a lovely score. Speaking of tonal shifts… Ryan’s Daughter was a bit lengthy for its thin plot. Thankfully Sarah Miles’ portrayal transcended a bit of the overwrought filmmaking. Her portrayal of a small-town Irish woman dealing with the backlash of neighborly gossip is at times lovely and lamentable but always watchable, unlike those of her co-stars. And finally, truly the most aggravating film of the 49 recognized this decade, Diary of a Mad Housewife was excruciating from start to finish. Carrie Snodgress, playing an eternally belittled and tormented “wifey” type, does what she can with the miserable material, but her arc is nonexistent and she plays it too aloof to truly feel very much for her plight, despite the masculine posturing from her co-stars being shockingly disgusting.

Report Card
Jane Alexander (The Great White Hope) – B
Glenda Jackson (Women in Love) – A
Ali McGraw (Love Story) – B-
Sarah Miles (Ryan’s Daughter) – B+
Carrie Snodgress (Diary of a Mad Housewife) – C

My Choice: Glenda Jackson


1971

1971BestActressThe Winner: Jane Fonda (Klute)

 State of the Category: Graced with a virtual who’s who of the 1970s in terms of actressing, I had high hopes for this year’s lineup that only partially delivered. Julie Christie’s daring portrayal of an opium-addicted old-west madam in McCabe and Mrs. Miller is highly watchable (big surprise there) and totally holds her own against co-star Warren Beatty. She portrays her outward confidence and internal vulnerability stunningly and with subtlety. My recollection of my first viewing of Klute was not a positive one, so I assumed that feeling would stick on review. And although it wasn’t a total redemption moment for Jane Fonda’s performance as a call girl caught up in a dangerous criminal investigation, her hard-edged terseness and manipulative sexuality played better in reality than in memory. Taking on the role of a woman involved in a love triangle with a young bisexual man and his gay doctor boyfriend, Glenda Jackson’s performance in Sunday Bloody Sunday has a great deal of depth – she expertly plays her character as secure enough to deal with her lover’s extracurriculars all while her growing fondness for him makes her question her own needs and desires. Speaking of a great Glenda Jackson performance, Mary Queen of Scots delivers a commanding, icy turn as Queen Elizabeth… too bad Vanessa Redgrave was nominated for the film instead. For really expecting to connect with Vanessa Redgrave throughout this undertaking, I’ve found myself primarily disappointed in the performances nominated for Best Actress. Her Queen Mary is disjointed in her selective boldness – she’s written and played sympathetically and as our heroine, yet you have no desire to root for her. That seems like a problem. Finally we sneak in one more historical drama – in Nicholas and Alexandra Janet Suzman takes on the role of the Russian empress and mother of Princess Anastasia. Though the lengthy film drags a bit in the middle, Suzman is easily the standout. And bringing an interesting dynamic to her relationship with Rasputin, Suzman is sometimes great, but mostly good in a stoic if unique performance.

Report Card
Julie Christie (McCabe & Mrs. Miller) – B+
Jane Fonda (Klute) – B
Glenda Jackson (Sunday Bloody Sunday) – A-
Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Queen of Scots) – C+
Janet Suzman (Nicholas & Alexandra) – B

My Choice: Glenda Jackson


1972

1972BestActress

The Winner: Liza Minnelli (Cabaret)

State of the Category: All right, now things are starting to get good. Let’s kick things off with Oscar’s choice. In Cabaret, Liza Minnelli is charming, winning, heartbreaking and, well, that voice. All in all, she manages to brings us one of the all-time great musical performances. And she doesn’t rest on the pipes, either. Her deeply felt spoken scenes clue us in to Sally’s less-than-sunny times with sneaky effectiveness. This one legitimately lives up the hype. Next up is Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. And I’ve got to say – I wasn’t expecting this from her. Ross is darkly sexy in her singing scenes and doesn’t fall too hard into histrionics for the standard singer-biopic “mental breakdown” scenes. The film gets a bit indulgent with the extra padding on subplots, but the central performance stays impressive almost throughout. Maggie Smith is great at comedy – we’ve all come to realize that even more so in her career resurgence. In Travels with My Aunt she’s charming and witty in her Maggie Smith way as an eccentric aunt and criminal smuggler, but the film is too inconsequential to truly let her resonate beyond a flight of fancy. Cicely Tyson brings high drama in Sounder, as one half of a sharecropping couple in the 1930s south. Her strong-willed but broken-down mother is a tower of strength with vulnerability practically exploding from Tyson’s expressive eyes. A deeply felt turn. Finally, The Emigrants, the story of a family of Swedish farmers moving to America in the mid-1800s, brings us our first nomination for Liv Ullmann, who’s oddball tics and performance choices stay interesting but perplexing throughout the duration. Max von Sydow outshines her fairly overwhelmingly as her husband.

Report Card
Liza Minnelli (Cabaret) – A
Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues) – B+
Maggie Smith (Travels with My Aunt) – B
Cicely Tyson (Sounder) – A
Liv Ullmann (The Emigrants) – C+

My Choice: Liza Minnelli


1973

1973BestActress

The Winner: Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class)

State of the Category: I’m still unsure at this writing who my winner is, so I’m about to likely talk myself into it. Join me on this journey, won’t you? First off is Ellen Burstyn in arguably her most iconic role in The Exorcist. Her Chris MacNeil, mother of Satan and whatnot, is much more strong-willed than I’d remembered from previous viewings of this movie. I kind of fell in love with her salty personality playing a relatively well-known actress dealing with the supernatural, a trope and framing device I’ve never seen in other horror films. Next up is Glenda Jackson’s second Oscar-winning role, A Touch of Class, in which she tackles a divorcee engaging in a hasty fling with an accountant. The comedy at times is light on laughs – despite its loopy score telling you otherwise, but Jackson is totally game and her no-B.S. magazine editor is attractive and intimidating at once. After not getting on board with her role in Only When I Laugh, I hoped things would play out differently for Marsha Mason in the 70s. Not so with Cinderella Liberty, playing a “hooker with a heart of gold” whom a sailor falls for and becomes fill-in father for her son. The movie itself is okay, but what made me hesitant on Mason’s performance was that not once did I buy that she was a hard-edged, streetwise prostitute. She seems much more at home playing plucky, neurotic, Manhattan-based romantic leads than in this grittier role. The Way We Were is a stunning representative in the romantic comedy sub-genre, and Barbra Streisand is lovely in it. While her early-years take on Katie, relentless activist, can be a bit goofy, her interplay with Robert Redford is brilliant and highly watchable. She’s a born entertainer. Finally, Joanne Woodward does her best to elevate Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, a melodrama about a wife and mother coming to terms with her life choices, but a “meh” story and lack of development drag down her amiable, if ineffective, performance.

Report Card
Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist) – A-
Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class) – A-
Marsha Mason (Cinderella Liberty) – C
Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were) – A-
Joanne Woodward (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams) – C+

My Choice: Ellen Burstyn


1974

1974BestActress

The Winner: Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)

State of the Category: Now this is a lineup. In easily one of the stronger fivesomes of this decade, we’ll start off with the winner. Ellen Burstyn plays struggling lounge singer/waitress/single mom Alice with typical emotive heft, despite the sometimes flimsy nature of the script. She’s very watchable despite some lackluster co-stars (don’t worry – not you, you delightful spitfire Diane Ladd…), though I have to say I was ultimately underwhelmed considering the cachet this performance has historically. Diahann Carroll takes on the title role in Claudine, about a single mother struggling to get by who’s romanced by a smarmy garbage collector. The film is positioned as a comedy, but it’s Carroll’s more dramatic moments that are highlights for me. The central relationship is not one you’re predisposed to root for, necessarily, so its framing as a romantic comedy is a struggle occasionally, but Carroll is lovely. Everything about Chinatown is amazing, and Faye Dunaway is no exception. Her rich ice queen Evelyn is eerie, alluring and intensely felt. The iconic slap scene is one of the great dramatic physical performances ever for a reason. Hello there, Valerie Perrine – who knew you’d be such a highlight? As Lenny Bruce’s stripper-turned-wife Honey alongside Dustin Hoffman in Lenny Perrine is magnificent. The depth of her tumultuous Honey Bruce is a true treasure to watch, with nary a “stripper with a heart of gold” or “doting wife” trope in sight. Finally, let’s all get exhausted together watching Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence. While I’m not really on board with Peter Falk’s oddly aggressive co-starring performance, Rowlands’s central turn as a woman experiencing a psychotic break is harrowing, chock full of tics, mannerisms and oddities that would typically seem overacted but are totally on target in this classic indie.

Report Card
Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) – B+
Diahann Carroll (Claudine) – B
Faye Dunaway (Chinatown) – A
Valerie Perrine (Lenny) – A
Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence) – A-

My Choice: Valerie Perrine


1975

1975BestActress

The Winner: Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

State of the Category: Hmm, well this is an odd one. In probably the strangest lineups I can recall throughout the project, we start off with Isabelle Adjani in her first nod, playing Victor Hugo’s obsessive and schizophrenic daughter in The Story of Adele H. The subject matter is endlessly fascinating, which helps Adjani’s case, and her portrayal isn’t half-bad. She holds back when she should and doesn’t let “I’m craaAAaazYYY!!!” tropes get in the way of an actual performance. For such a young performer, she kind of killed it. Tommy is one head-scratcher of a movie, despite its at least entertaining musical numbers. And Ann-Margret definitely takes the cake for best in show. There are definitely some moments in which you find yourself asking “really?!” with some of the strange, over-the-top production decisions, but Ann-Margret is gutsy and the No. 1 reason to watch the film. Despite the short screen time, Louise Fletcher totally nails the brutality and icy intimidation of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And yes, she’s as good as you remember. She pulls off diabolical and subtle and infuriating all in one quiet shell. She’s an ultimate filmic villain. Glenda Jackson nails it once again in the Ibsen adaptation of Hedda, about a societal higher-up dealing with the dregs of a boring marriage and uninteresting friends. Her Hedda Gabler is witty and wildly entertaining while also calculating and manipulative to the core. Lastly we have Carol Kane in the quiet indie Hester Street, playing the tradition-prone wife of a westernized Jewish immigrant at the turn of the 20th Century. She’s a quiet force, really, as the soft-spoken Gitl, maintaining a poise and caution that realistically ebbs and flows as she acquaints herself with a foreign world. It’s not your typical Kane comedic performance, and I was pleasantly surprised with its relatable tone.

Report Card
Isabelle Adjani (The Story of Adele H) – B+
Ann-Margret (Tommy) – B
Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – A
Glenda Jackson (Hedda) – A
Carol Kane (Hester Street) – A-

My Choice: Louise Fletcher


1976

1976BestActress

The Winner: Faye Dunaway (Network)

State of the Category: Maybe I spoke too soon – this isn’t exactly your typical lineup either… Let’s start things off with Marie-Christine Barrault’s seriously low-key performance as an tragically ignored wife striking up an affair with a distant cousin in Cousin Cousine. The French film is played for laughs throughout, but it’s markedly unfunny, particularly when it comes to the sexist undertones and the kooky performances from the side characters. Barrault is best in show, but it’s really not saying much in the uneven flick. On the other end of the spectrum, Faye Dunaway’s calculating ratings-focused news producer in Network is striking and cool and, at times, frightening. Going toe to toe with the heavily invested performance of Peter Finch in the central role, Dunaway is fantastic in a contemporary to Rene Russo’s Nightcrawler role 40 years later. In Rocky, Talia Shire is… fine. Her role is super flimsy and the movie itself doesn’t seem to care much about her. It’s the epitome of the supportive girlfriend trope in sports movies, and unfortunately the actress who found great moments in The Godfather couldn’t make Adrian interesting enough to resonate. Sissy Spacek is heartbreakingly sweet and misunderstood in the classic Carrie. It’s hard to top this horror performance, from her child-like beginnings to her vengeful aftermath. You root for Carrie White all the way through her payback retribution. I’m still recovering from Face to Face. Liv Ullmann’s portrayal of a psychiatrist descending into madness is intensely exhausting. The performance is itself isn’t all bad, per se, but the screeching and sobbing are for the most part too difficult to stomach.

Report Card
Marie-Christine Barrault (Cousin Cousine) – C-
Faye Dunaway (Network) – A
Talia Shire (Rocky) – C-
Sissy Spacek (Carrie) – A-
Liv Ullmann (Face to Face) – C

My Choice: Faye Dunaway


1977

1977BestActress

The Winner: Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)

State of the Category: All in all, not too bad in the choices department in 1977. Starting off with Ann Bancroft in The Turning Point, playing a prima ballerina of a certain age, the performance is committed and scene-stealing. Her physical commitment to the role is a tad unnerving, but she fends off the occasional sentimental plot device with presence. Jane Fonda nails the role of Lillian Hellman in Julia, bringing marked wit and poise along with sense of humor and wanton desire. She navigates the real-life character’s tempestuous affairs with expertise you’ve come to expect from Fonda. What more can be said about the comic brilliance of Diane Keaton in Annie Hall? She’s funny, intelligent, occasionally flighty and always 100% believable. There has rarely been a comedic performance that can match this perfection. Shirley MacLaine unfortunately falls victim to being overshadowed by her co-star in The Turning Point. Her portrayal of a former ballerina forced to exit the company after a pregnancy has a couple of strong moments, but the bulk of the heft is given to Bancroft. Finally, Marsha Mason gives her easily best performance as a struggling actress and single mom in The Goodbye Girl. She holds her own against Oscar-winning Richard Dreyfus and plays her character’s gumption and persistence like the pro stage actress she is.

Report Card
Ann Bancroft (The Turning Point) – B+
Jane Fonda (Julia) – A-
Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) – A
Shirley MacLaine (The Turning Point) – B
Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl) – B+

My Choice: Diane Keaton


1978

1978BestActress

The Winner: Jane Fonda (Coming Home)

State of the Category: Finally an Ingmar picture I can get behind. Autumn Sonata follows the simple premise of a woman dealing with a visit from her larger-than-life concert pianist mother. Ingrid Bergman holds back and plays it small and subtle to her favor, using her eyes more often than a raised voice seen in other Ingmar efforts. The setup to Same Time, Next Year is at least interesting – a man and woman meet each other one weekend a year to carry on a decades-long affair, but the film is hampered by goofy scoring and ineffective aging and character development. Ellen Burstyn does her best with a flaky role, but the film plays more like a TV movie than a theatrical release. Jill Clayburgh has a fun, relatable, casual way about her in An Unmarried Woman, but unfortunately it falls victim to the sameness shared among many of the romantic comedies of the era. What sets her slightly apart is that the film asks you to root for her, and you actually do. It’s still a rather slight performance regardless. I was worried about Coming Home. The idea of Jane Fonda playing a supportive significant other to a wounded soldier seemed like it had the potential to pander. But in true Jane fashion she managed to bring a great deal of depth to a character that in other actresses’ hands may have played one-dimensional. Depicting grown children of divorce dealing with the aftermath, Interiors gives Geraldine Page something of a showcase. Unfortunately the role is borderline supporting, and her shrewish portrayal proves less memorable than those of the three women playing her daughters.

Report Card
Ingrid Bergman (Autumn Sonata) – A
Ellen Burstyn (Same Time, Next Year) – B-
Jill Clayburgh (An Unmarried Woman) – B
Jane Fonda (Coming Home) – A-
Geraldine Page (Interiors) – B-

My Choice: Ingrid Bergman


1979

1979BestActress

The Winner: Sally Field (Norma Rae)

State of the Category: Jill Clayburgh lands nomination No. 2, this time for a slightly superior performance. In Starting Over she has a bit more edge, and, though the films have remarkably similar themes, this one seems like a star-making turn. Unfortunately her co-star, Burt Reynolds, is completely flat and really brings down the romantic chemistry factor. Sally Field gets a stunner of a role in Norma Rae – and I must say it lived up to the hype for me. It’s a Silkwood-esque moment where our heroine is nowhere near perfect and she isn’t instantly driven to put herself out there – it’s the realism that truly sells this. She’s not an obvious leader for a cause. (And that iconic scene sure does resonate.) Jane Fonda has a lot of movie-star quality in The China Syndrome. The film itself actually drags a bit – strange for a political thriller – but she buoys the operation despite a slightly underwritten character (the fluff-piece reporter who wants to go hard-hitting). Chapter Two is… fine. And that’s about all there is to it. Perhaps it can be blamed on the non-believable chemistry between stars James Caan and Marsha Mason. Mason is likable in the role, but she can’t sell the romance – as an audience member I don’t buy that these two truly feel that way. Finally, Bette Midler totally pulls a winner out of the hat for me. I didn’t know she had this in her. As a Janis Joplin-esque figure in The Rose, she goes all out – except not hammy nonsense that musical biopics tend toward. Her performance scenes are phenomenal and I buy into what makes her Mary Rose so magnetic to fans and lovers.

Report Card
Jill Clayburgh (Starting Over) – B+
Sally Field (Norma Rae) – A
Jane Fonda (The China Syndrome) – B
Marsha Mason (Chapter Two) – C
Bette Midler (The Rose) – A

My Choice: Sally Field


Decade Honors/Dishonors
Best Performance: Faye Dunaway (Network)
Best Nominated Film: Chinatown
Worst Performance/Film: Marie-Christine Barrault (Cousin Cousine)
Closest Race: 1979
Best Year: 1974
Worst Year: 
1976

But what about you? What are your thoughts on the ladies of the 1970s?

the great big academy awards project: BEST LEAD ACTRESS of 2009, revisited

Once upon a time, The Great Big Academy Awards Project talk it out with the Best Actress nominees of the aughts. (NOTE: The 90s and 80s soon followed, and the 70s are just around the corner – that’s a promise!) And since 2009, at the time, offered up at least one performance I couldn’t track down – pesky release schedules and all that – let’s revisit 2009, with Helen Mirren added into the mix for portraying the emotional wife of Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station.
 
The Winner: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
 
State of the Category: A disclaimer before we begin this one – that pesky Last Station was in about 1 or 2 theaters it seems, and the DVD is nowhere to be found anytime soon, so an additional supplemental post will have to be posted later to talk about Mirren’s performance. As for Helen Mirren, while her subsequent filmography has proven far more popcorn, this was more in the vein of her prestige work. It’s not perfect, to be sure – she tows that fine line between high drama and melodrama – but the lush music and set design around her elevate her performance from potentially histrionic to grandiose entertainment. Now, on to the other four. First, as any reader of this blog knows, I have nothing against Bullock. In fact, I think her Leigh Ann Touhy was better than average. It was very clearly not even close to being one of the five best performances of the year, but c’est la vie. Mulligan was well-suited to her role in An Education. Though I didn’t slobber over it as much as pretty much everyone else, she’s definitely a promising performer as shown by this flick. Sidibe was wonderful in Precious. I’ll just say it. Particularly after seeing her in interviews and realizing she’s bubbly and peppy – you truly learn how much of a stretch Claireece was for the actress. It’s probably one of the best debut performances ever put on the big-screen. And finally, Streep was nothing short of delightful as Julia Child. Much like Keaton in 2003, perhaps it doesn’t scream “Oscar” because of its light demeanor, but the performance is right-on, and for once it seems less like a good impression and more like an embodiment.
 
Report Card
Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) – B
Helen Mirren (The Last Station) – B+
Carey Mulligan (An Education) – B+
Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) – A
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) – A
(Still) My Choice: Gabourey Sidibe

 

coming soon…

At long last!  Thanks to the hoopla of the Oscars being all over, it’s time to return to the Great Big Academy Awards Project.  Picking up where I left off, I’m on track with the leading ladies of the 1970s.  I’m thrilled to get a better education on the birthplace of modern cinema, the decade that was.  (Though I may be overzealous in my “soon” assessment, as viewing 50 performances tends to take a while.) So to restart the fun, here’s one of the decade’s 10 winner.  Can you name her?

the great big academy awards project: BEST LEAD ACTRESS in the 1980s

Hurrah!  I’m just the teensiest bit excited that I’ve finally completed the decade we all know and love as the 1980s.  For those of you new to this project, it’s my humble attempt at watching every Academy Award-nominated film on the books, going decade by decade, category by category. After more than a year since completing the 1990s Best Actress nominees (and previously the Aughts Best Actress), I almost thought this one would never happen – but here it is for your perusal, discussion, disagreement, and general merriment (I hope).  So, if you will, take a gander at my take on the 1980s Best Lead Actress nominees…

1980
The Winner: Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter)

State of the Category: Starting the decade of synthesized scores and Midwestern farmer dramas off, 1980 was blessed with following five Lead Actress nominees.  The wonderful and unheralded ’70s great Ellen Burstyn starts things off, playing a spiritual healer in Resurrection, which unfortunately plays much like a Lifetime movie these days.  Burstyn brings a lot of great delicacy and flaws to what could be a saintly role, but it’s tough to transcend the somewhat mediocre material.   She has some great moments though.  Goldie Hawn delivers a quite funny nod to much of her future 1980s work as a spoiled brat who’s tricked into the army in Private Benjamin.  Sure, it’s very light fare, but Hawn is in her element, and she’s got terribly good timing.  Speaking of Lifetime movies, Ordinary People suffers that same fate, it seems.  Though Mary Tyler Moore does her best to deliver some Oscar scenes to the mix, she’s outshone by the young Timothy Hutton for the most part.  The trouble with Gloria is that it’s brought down by some truly bizarre supporting turns.  John Adames, who plays her young companion, gives what has to be one of the worst and most grating child performances I’ve ever seen.  Poor Gena Rowlands – who I greatly admire – can’t do much with what turns out to be a misfire in the end.  And then there’s winner Sissy Spacek, who plays Loretta Lynn with such glee, giving us the opposite of Carrie White, she ushered in a successful four-nod decade for herself.  The performance is charming, real, and totally Spacek.

Report Card
Ellen Burstyn (Resurrection) – B
Goldie Hawn (Private Benjamin) – B
Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People) – B
Gena Rowlands (Gloria) – B-
Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter) – A-
My Choice: Sissy Spacek

1981
The Winner: Katharine Hepburn (On Golden Pond)

State of the Category: Though 1980 proved a somewhat average year, at least 1981 gave us a variety-driven category.  Starting off with the sentimental favorite, Katharine Hepburn breathes true life into what could be a phoned-in performance in On Golden Pond.  Sure, she won primarily as an honorary award, but she already had three so maybe it was more than that.  I for one thought she had great chemistry with Henry Fonda and shed the years of big-shouldered strength for a vulnerable display.  Though I found Warren Beatty’s performance somewhat bothersome, Diane Keaton played strength and desperation so carefully in Reds.  She and Maureen Stapleton take the film for me, and Keaton is surprisingly anti-Annie Hall in her role.  The sorta-reviled Only When I Laugh has one key element that works relatively well – Marsha Mason.  Sure, the rest of the movie is kind of a wash, but Mason is given a front-and-center powerhouse role as an alcoholic has-been actress, and she excels despite strange performances from the rest of the cast.  I’m not sure I understood the allure of Atlantic City.  Susan Sarandon is demure and nice to look at (as per usual), but I’ve seen what she can do, and this film doesn’t seem to be stretching her.  Burt Lancaster is the stand-out, and she is relegated to sort of the pretty backdrop.  And in the department of transcending material, Meryl Streep takes the cake in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  The movie is drab and overlong, but Streep is a vision.  I can’t get behind the film, but Streep is period greatness.

Report Card
Katharine Hepburn (On Golden Pond) – A-
Diane Keaton (Reds) – A-
Marsha Mason (Only When I Laugh) – B
Susan Sarandon (Atlantic City) – B-
Meryl Streep (The French Lieutenant’s Woman) – B+
My Choice: Diane Keaton

1982
The Winner: Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice)

State of the Category: Things are starting to pick up by 1982 in Lead Actress.  Julie Andrews is cheeky and delightful as a pretend cross-dresser (this stuff writes itself) in the underrated musical gem Victor/Victoria.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do.  It’s a roar, and Andrews is out of her cutesy element.  Some may call it severe overacting, I call it a tour de force – Jessica Lange plays an actress dipping into insanity in Frances.  It’s a disturbing flick, but Lange completely owns the screen throughout.  It dips into histrionics at times, but overall she’s stellar.  Sissy Spacek delivers a very subtle performance as the wife of a captive writer in a war-torn South American country in Missing.  Though Jack Lemmon tends to steal the scenes from her, she plays subdued with such grace.  How do I even start on Sophie’s Choice?  It really is all it’s cracked up to be.  Meryl Streep is phenomenal in every sense of the word, and this truly is one of the tip-top highlights of an incredible career.  And though An Officer and a Gentleman is such a popcorn flick for Oscar tastes, Debra Winger is a bygone great who unfortunately hardly works anymore.  The movie plays a little silly when it comes to Richard Gere, but Winger is a realistic, adorable addition to the hip romance.

Report Card
Julie Andrews (Victor/Victoria) – A-
Jessica Lange (Frances) – B+
Sissy Spacek (Missing) – B
Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice) – A
Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman) – B
My Choice: Meryl Streep

1983
The Winner: Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment)

State of the Category: This is very likely my favorite lineup of the decade.  What a wonderful variety of performances!  Starting off with Jane Alexander, who completely surprised me with the depth and strength playing a mom dealing with the end of the world in Testament.  Besides the fact that I love movies that play into disaster/supernatural without actually showing it on screen, Alexander is incredible, and the movie avoids too much sentimentality.  Then we have the Terms of Endearment ladies.  Shirley MacLaine is doing her best to eliminate any feeling that this is Lifetime Original Movie.  Aurora is at times hilarious and at others damaged, and it’s totally working for the gifted actress.  And Debra Winger, playing her somewhat rebellious daughter, plays the strength and flaws of Emma with an amount of care that only Winger can muster.  Not to be outdone, Meryl Streep plays the anti-hero title character of Silkwood with pure guts.  She nails the working-class gal, along with a script that doesn’t waste time canonizing her.  The weak spot here may be Julie Walters, who’s, like the usual, charming as ever in Educating Rita, but it’s such a poor man’s Pygmalion, it’s hard to see what kind of newness is being brought to the sub-genre other than ’80s big hair.

Report Card
Jane Alexander (Testament) – A
Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment) – A-
Meryl Streep (Silkwood) – A
Julie Walters (Educating Rita) – B-
Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) – A-
My Choice: Meryl Streep

1984
The Winner: Sally Field (Places in the Heart)

State of the Category: Ah, the year of the distraught farmer gals.  In such a strange turn of events, three of the five nominees here fit that very bill.  It’s assuredly one of the weaker lineups of the decade.  I do enjoy Judy Davis as a general rule, but she’s definitely hard to love in A Passage to India, in which she wrongfully accuses an Indian man of attempting to violate her.  She’s so sullen and severe throughout, it’s hard to see too much depth in the performance, despite her best efforts.  Sally Field’s pluckiness may bother some, but I find her performance in Places in the Heart, in which she plays a widowed farm wife who struggles to make ends meet, better than average.  If the film didn’t spend so much time on the strange side-story love triangles, Field would have more opportunity to shine.  Jessica Lange is very subtle (the opposite of Frances) in Country, in which she also plays a farm wife trying to make ends meet.  Lange is a quiet strength, but the remainder of the cast sort of brings down the prestige a bit.  The Bostonians is a drawn-out mess of a movie.  Vanessa Redgrave plays a pathetic spinster who obsesses over a young suffragette (no clue what was so great about Verena, played atrociously by Madeleine Potter).  Redgrave is one-note and can’t move past the sad, annoying role she’s saddled with.  Sissy Spacek is the quiet backbone of The River, playing a farm wife struggling to make ends meet (hmm…).  Mel Gibson (the husband) gets a little over-the-top, so the film is lucky to have Spacek to bring it back down to earth.  Still, not a whole lot here, as a general rule.

Report Card
Judy Davis (A Passage to India) – B
Sally Field (Places in the Heart) – B
Jessica Lange (Country) – B
Vanessa Redgrave (The Bostonians) – C-
Sissy Spacek (The River) – B
My Choice: Sally Field

1985

The Winner: Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful)

State of the Category: What this lineup may lack in true powerhouse performances it more than makes up for in variety.  Let’s start with Anne Bancroft, who’s had her fair share of standout roles, playing a nun at the center of a church scandal in Agnes of God.  While I found the movie to play out like an entertaining little popcorn thriller, the performances were somewhat sidelined by the story itself.  And Jane Fonda wasn’t particularly inspiring as Bancroft’s co-lead.  Phoned-in all around.  But then there’s Whoopi Goldberg, who was the new kid on the block in The Color Purple.  Not only is she riveting in scene after scene, but she proves why she merits being such a big star – she’s actually a quite gifted actress as well. Jessica Lange does her best Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, continuing her steak of ’80s nominations, in a decent, if not great, take.  Though she doesn’t live up to Spacek’s Lynn (who sang all her own songs), her impression is rather spot-on without being too imitation.  We all know Lange can act her way out of a bag, and this is a pleasant example of that.  Geraldine Page gives her twilight performance in the virtual honorary Oscar-winning role in The Trip to Bountiful.  It’s a very quiet movie, to be sure, and what the film lacks in excitement it more than makes up for in showcasing Page’s talents.  The staging is a tad theatrical at times, but Page is a solid anchor for the mellow film about an old woman returning to her hometown one last time.  The epic Out of Africa may have its flaws in both story and accents (sorry Robert Redford), but Meryl Streep as usual improves the material.  The music and setting is pretty splendid, and Streep fits right in as Isak Denisen – and the Danish accent is incredible.

Report Card
Anne Bancroft (Agnes of God) – B
Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple) – A
Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams) – B+
Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful) – B
Meryl Streep (Out of Africa) – B+
My Choice: Whoopi Goldberg

1986
The Winner: Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God)

State of the Category: Sheesh, we’ll start this year off with a doozy.  Easily the worst choice by the Academy listed in this post, Jane Fonda, bless her, plays a boozy entertainer who wakes up with a hangover and a dead body in her bed.  Sounds like a fun concept for a thriller, but unfortunately it’s impossible tell what genre this movie is actually trying to embody.  Between the upbeat music, the ominous noir moments, the uncomfortable comedic moments and Fonda’s spastic performance, The Morning After is a mess.  Marlee Matlin, as the youngest winner this category’s seen, is amiable as the stubborn deaf girl at the center of Children of a Lesser God.  She plays excellently against William Hurt, but it’s clear she’s not an experienced actress.  Sissy Spacek rounds out her four-some of ’80s nods with Crimes of the Heart, in which a trio of sisters react to Spacek’s character’s decision to shoot her abusive husband.  The ladies (including Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton) play nicely off of each other, but to me there’s no clear stand-out among the three of them.  Spacek is endearing, at the very least.  Kathleen Turner gets her one stab at Oscar as the heroine in the whimsical fantasy film Peggy Sue Got Married.  It’s such a fun concept, and Turner is a talented actress who never got her due.  Though I don’t think this is the role of her career (sorry – I love me some Joan Wilder), Peggy Sue is a root-for-me character with a great backstory.  And Sigourney Weaver rounds out the crew in this anomaly of a nomination – the heroine of a sci-fi sequel.  Ripley is both badass and terrified aboard the E.T.-ridden shuttle in Aliens, and Weaver is so good at playing the imperfect hero.  The movie is a stunner, which certainly helps her case.

Report Card
Jane Fonda (The Morning After) – D-
Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) – B
Sissy Spacek (Crimes of the Heart) – B
Kathleen Turner (Peggy Sue Got Married) – B+
Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) – A-
My Choice: Sigourney Weaver

1987
The Winner: Cher (Moonstruck)

State of the Category: Surprisingly, this one ended up being a pretty strong year for the Best Actress category.  We’ll start off with Cher, who never ceases to surprise in a quite strong performance in Moonstruck.  I assumed that the win was a stunt, but her Loretta is well-studied and so intriguing.  Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction has certainly become a punch-line since ’87, but Close is creepy, eerie, and great in the movie.  Sure, her crazy antics are over-the-top and her co-stars are adding to the hamminess, but Close is devious and terribly fun.  Holly Hunter may be small and spunky, but she’s terrific as a TV news writer in Broadcast News.  The writing is spectacular, and Hunter’s delivery is gold.  She and William Hurt have great chemistry (hmm… a trend perhaps?), and she instills great depth into a character that already kind of wrote itself.  Though Sally Kirkland may’ve descended into madness since the ’80s, her Anna is at least interesting.  Though the film is a little rocky for me, Kirkland is quite good as the eastern European wannabe Western actress.  And Meryl Streep returns once again, this time as a disillusioned homeless woman who used to have pipes in Ironweed.  Though the film is kind of a drag, Streep brings some life to the character, which is such a tragic role across the board.

Report Card
Cher (Moonstruck) – A-
Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction) – B+
Holly Hunter (Broadcast News) – A
Sally Kirkland (Anna) – B+
Meryl Streep (Ironweed) – B+
My Choice: Holly Hunter

1988

The Winner: Jodie Foster (The Accused)

State of the Category: To start off the year that was 1988, we’ve got another devilish performance from the illustrious Glenn Close.  In Dangerous Liaisons, Close is conniving and far superior to most of what else is going on here.  I get that the cast has decided to not even attempt European accents, but John Malkovich is hardly effortless and… Keanu Reeves?  Really?  Anyway, Close is easily the best part.  I’m a fan of Jodie Foster’s in general, but The Accused has not aged well.  Playing a rape victim fighting off accusations of making it all up, Foster is typically tough, but the material doesn’t serve itself to her talents.  Now, I get that Working Girl was riding a wave of goodwill, but Melanie Griffith is hardly the “best.”  Joan Cusack, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford are great fun in the workplace romantic comedy, but Griffith’s breathy, squeaky Tess is nothing beyond simply cute.  Some see that haircut and those eyebrows and think of a performance of Meryl Streep’s that edged on cartoony, but I happen to love A Cry in the Dark.  Playing Lindy Chamberlain, whose baby daughter was snatched up by a dingo, Streep nails the accent and portrays the slightly evil nature of the public’s persona of Lindy to a tee.  Finally, Sigourney Weaver is heartbreaking as the devoted Dian Fossey, whose love of the animals in Gorillas in the Mist led to a life dedicated to the jungle.  She’s so natural in the setting, and the movie is written wonderfully.

Report Card
Glenn Close (Dangerous Liaisons) – B+
Jodie Foster (The Accused) – B-
Melanie Griffith (Working Girl) – C-
Meryl Streep (A Cry in the Dark) – B+
Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist) – A-
My Choice: Sigourney Weaver

1989
The Winner: Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy)

State of the Category: Closing out the decade, 1989 brought us some head-scratchers and at least one breath of fresh air.  Though Camille Claudel was terribly overlong, it’s bright shining star Isabelle Adjani was a great centerpiece.  Embodying a woman at many different ages remarkably and seemingly identifying with the character a great deal, Adjani is definitely a nice piece of scenery.  Pauline Collins tries so hard to be adorable in Shirley Valentine, she forgets that she’s being filmed.  I’m heartily confused as to how this performance ended up in the final cut, since the movie is goofy, unsubstantial, and perplexing.  Collins is slightly fun, but her plethora of lines delivered to camera was a weird choice.  Jessica Lange rounds out her own four-some of nominees this decade with Music Box, a courtroom drama that lags throughout until the last half-hour.  Lange is traditionally the best part of the movie, but it’s such a knee-jerk choice to nominate her for just about everything.  Michelle Pfeiffer is all kinds of seductive in The Fabulous Baker Boys, a surprisingly insightful musical drama.  Pfeiffer’s Susie Diamond is complicated, beautiful, and has some awesome singing skills.  Finally, Jessica Tandy is added to the list of career Oscars in the 1980s for Driving Miss Daisy.  While Tandy owns the film quite well, it’s simplistic take on the south in a volatile time period borders on too easy.  The actress assuredly has her moments of Oscary scenes though.

Report Card
Isabelle Adjani (Camille Claudel) – B+
Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) – C-
Jessica Lange (Music Box) – B-
Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys) – A-
Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) – B
My Choice: Michelle Pfeiffer

Decade Honors/Dishonors
Best Performance: Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice)
Best Nominated Film: The Color Purple
Worst Performance/Film: The Morning After
Closest Race: 1981
Best Year: 1983
Worst Year: 1984

Your turn – what are your thoughts on Best Actress of the 1980s?

the GREAT BIG academy awards project, continuing VERY soon!

I know, you’ve heard it all before.  I’ve convinced you that I’d stick to my guns and continue my journey through all the Oscar-nominated films of all time (category by category, decade by decade).  And, considering it’s been over a year since my Best Actress of 1990s post, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d since given up on me.  But alas!  I only have two performances left two watch, they’re both resting thusly in Netflix envelopes in my bag, and I’m well on my way to posting the ’80s ladies as early as tonight!  So feel free to stay very tuned, because there will be much 1980s Oscar fodder to discuss in a very short while.  Now to go watch Reds and Missing ASAP!

bouncing back in august…

I sincerely will try to hold myself this one, but we shall see what comes!  I’ve been teasing the next installment of The Great Big Academy Awards Project for several months now, but I’m attempting to at last buckle down and really get going on the 80s ladies.  So look for the Best Actress nominees of the 1980s rundown to come in August.  I’ve only got a dozen or so entrants left to view!  Meanwhile, name the winner pictured above for that special prize of bragging rights!

coming soon…

Okay, I’m not kidding this time.  This was meant for February, but Oscar madness wrapped me up rather tightly for the month.  But I’m making serious progress on the leading ladies of the ’80s, so expect the next segment of The Great Big Academy Awards Project to surface by May.  In the meantime, chime in on the mystery lady in the photo above…