…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
Of all 82 years of Oscar, I have seen all the nominees and winners for exactly ten (10) of those years. As I embark upon my quest to “see them all”, I offer this blog in which I will elaborate upon whether the winning actresses in these 10 years deserved their Oscar – or whether it was flat-out robbery. This will be part 1, covering 6 of the 10 years (1942, 1950, 1956, 1996, 2001, and 2004). Look for Part 2 in an upcoming blog soon.
Bear in mind, this is just the humble opinion of yours truly. Post your arguments in comments if you so wish! Here we go…
While it could be argued that as an avid fan of Kate Hepburn’s, I would award her for all of the performances for which she is nominated, it would not necessarily be true… and Hepburn did go on to be the reigning Oscar champ so far with 4 trophies to her credit. However, this is by far one of her best performances of all time (after Alice Adams in 1935, for which she was also nominated and unjustly lost). It is the first time Hepburn shares the scene with her longtime love, Spencer Tracy – the script is bright and crackling and their chemistry is magic. One might almost say Tracy contributed greatly to the success of Hepburn’s portrayal of a savvy, up and coming and much-lauded female dynamo. Greer Garson was beautiful and perfect in the titular role of the wartime soapie drama (and Best Picture winner) Mrs. Miniver, but it’s a film that rests a lot of its credibility more on the strength of its ensemble cast performance than Garson’s alone. She would win the Academy Award for her portrayal and deliver what would be the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history, clocking in at 5 and a 1/2 minutes.
Regardless of what some film historians might claim, I actually think 1950 was a pretty strong year for actresses. And while I enjoyed Judy Holliday’s hilarious, goofy blonde portrayal in Born Yesterday, I find it a shame that an iconic performance such as Bette Davis’s in All About Eve was trumped by it. Nevermind that Gloria Swanson also pulled out all the stops and delivered the performance of her life as the campy, creepy Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. I’m not sure why the votes went as they did by awarding Holliday over Swanson, but you can bet the votes were split between All About Eve‘s stars Anne Baxter and Bette Davis. Unfortunately, both were lumped into the same category – and rumor has it that a stubborn Anne Baxter would have it no other way – and it cost them. Most specifically, it cost Davis the Oscar for a role she thoroughly made her own and completely made memorable. “Fasten your seat belts… it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Fortunately, All About Eve won Best Picture and Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for his brilliant screenplay…but honestly, can you imagine the movie without Davis? Didn’t think so.
WHO SHOULD HAVE WON: Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia
No arguments here. Bergman turned in a solid performance in this lovely period piece. There were several other notable performances this year which were nominated (Carroll Baker in Baby Doll, Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker, and Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed, in particular), but if you will excuse the pun, Bergman’s performance shines probably the brightest as the jewel in the crown. Her scenes with the legendary Helen Hayes are perhaps the most memorable. Interesting enough, Bergman’s win may have hit a slightly personal note, as it almost signified that America had ‘accepted’ her back again after her somewhat scandalous marriage to Italian director Roberto Rossellini.
Simply put, Frances McDormand was pitch perfect in Fargo as the pregnant cop Marge Gunderson. In a film thick with dark humor, she steals every scene she is in (“ohhhh yah!”). Far be it for me, then, to steal this well-deserved award from McDormand – but my preference sways to the breakout performance of Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves. Watson stole my heart as Bess, a simple, naive young woman whose husband, an oil rig worker, encourages her to sleep with other men (and share the details with him) after he is paralyzed in work-related accident. She speaks to God on a daily basis and becomes convinced that what she is doing is the will of God. Her performance is breathtaking… we come to care so deeply about Bess that we feel sympathetic and saddened at the downward spiral of her plight as her husband recovers and she gradually declines, believing she is doing the right thing for her husband and herself. See it. It’s an amazing performance. Watson would go on to garner another nomination for her work in the film Hilary and Jackie, but she has yet to win. I’m hoping that one day she will snag that elusive Oscar, but it may not be for as incredible performance as Breaking the Waves. “You betcha…”
WHO SHOULD HAVE WON: Judi Dench in Iris (perhaps?)
2001 is a difficult one to call. I remember at the time feeling that Halle Berry’s win was justified and that she was indeed the strongest in this category, but now, looking back on it – I’m not so sure. The plot of Monster’s Ball is just too twisted to explain – so I will refrain from even trying. I suppose I could give Berry credit for being more than just a pretty face and showing some tremendous acting chops in this movie… and for pulling off a pretty intense sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton – of all people! She was the first African American lead actress to win an Oscar. And call me a sap, but I loved her acceptance speech… and she wore probably one of the most memorable Best Actress dresses ever. As crazy as it sounds, a big part of me wants to root for Renee Zellweger – a native of TEXAS! – for nailing the crazy singleton Brit Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary. I was thrilled she was nominated, but I don’t feel it merited a Best Actress win. I still don’t feel that it did. I’m a big fan of Moulin Rouge, but Nicole Kidman wasn’t extremely strong in it… it’s largely an ensemble piece. Critics were raving that In the Bedroom would bring Sissy Spacek her second Oscar – but I felt her performance was underwhelming and the film truly belonged to her co-star Tom Wilkinson. By process of elimination in a rather conflicting year for actresses, I want to show my appreciation for Judi Dench and toss the final kudos her way for her riveting portrait of Iris Murdoch in Iris. I remember appreciating her performance, but frankly not enough to elaborate – please forgive my ignorance on this one (and if I can’t remember it that much, maybe it wasn’t all THAT remarkable after all). In the end, while I would frankly like to award Dench a full Best Actress Oscar (at least for a performance longer than her 15 minutes for which she won Supporting in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love) I have no problems letting Halle Berry keep her Oscar, I suppose!
In a year full of controversial-topic films and performances, maybe it was considered too controversial to vote for British actress (and pretty much unknown) Imelda Staunton for her brilliant portrayal of Vera Drake, a woman who conducted illegal abortions in her home in 1950s London. Regardless of which side you stand on regarding this heated issue, Staunton gives an undeniably subtle and understated, yet powerful performance. You almost come to feel for this simple woman who honestly thinks she is doing the best she can for the poor women who come to her for aid. The winner in 2004 ended up being (prior Actress winner in 1999) Hilary Swank in another fabulous role as a female boxer coached (and directed) by Clint Eastwood. While I loved the movie and felt Swank’s win was somewhat deserved, I still have to root for 2004’s underdog and swing my vote to Staunton for giving the strongest performance in this category – proving that it isn’t always the big Hollywood name that should gather the heartiest applause. I hope we will see her in the game once more somewhere down the road.
Thoughts? Arguments? Comments? Post away… and look for Part 2 (including 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) soon!