Friday, December 26, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1996

The Contenders:
Emily Watson: Breaking the Waves
Kristin Scott Thomas: The English Patient
Frances McDormand: Fargo (winner)
Diane Keaton: Marvin’s Room
Brenda Blethyn: Secrets & Lies

What’s Missing

A lot of my initial thoughts with great actress performances in 1996 would end up being Supporting Actress performances. Dianne Weist in The Birdcage comes to mind as a prime example of this; I love her performance, but there’s not enough of her for Best Actress. The ones I like that aren’t mentioned tend to be ones that aren’t likely to get a nomination. I’m a fan of Elizabeth Pena and love her in Lone Star, which is probably the biggest miss here in my opinion. Both Dee Wallace Stone and Neve Campbell (The Frighteners and Scream respectively) were in movies typically ignored. I also really like Renee Russo in Tin Cup, but that film doesn’t have the gravitas that Oscar wants. The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis was ultimately probably just too silly.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I like Diane Keaton, but I really didn’t care much for Marvin’s Room. In fact, the most noteworthy thing about this nomination is that it went to Keaton and not Meryl Streep. The movie itself is predictable and maudlin, though, and I didn’t care for it much at all. Elizabeth Pena should have gotten this nomination, which seems more or less like a placeholder, like either Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep needed to be here, so one of them got picked.

4: I like The English Patient far more than I expected to. (Shut up, Chip.) Certainly part of that was the performance of Kristin Scott Thomas. But this is much more a movie for Ralph Fiennes. Further, I like Juliette Binoche in the film more than I like Kristin Scott Thomas, and I would have been happier with her getting a nomination. This isn’t a terrible nomination overall, but it’s not one that should have won, and I’m satisfied that it didn’t.

3: Breaking the Waves is not a film I would plan on watching again. It might well be the best work of Lars von Trier. I could probably make a case for Emily Watson winning this Oscar, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. It’s a hell of a tough performance, though, one that has to walk a very fine line between heartbreak and complete camp, and Watson manages it about as well as I can imagine it. I like the nomination a lot, even if this is a movie I never plan on watching a second time.

2: Secrets & Lies was a complete shock to me in the sense that I expected nothing from it and came away completely impressed. Brenda Blethyn manages something incredibly difficult to pull off. I find the character of Cynthia Rose Purley annoying in the extreme, and yet I also find her heartbreaking and completely sympathetic. In any other year almost, Blethyn would get my vote. Her performance is really that good and that worth seeing. Unfortunately for her, she had the bad luck to do this film in the year that contains my favorite single performance of the 1990s.

My Choice

1: But let’s get real for a second here. There really was no other choice beyond Frances McDormand’s performance as Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Marge Gunderson is one of my favorite movie characters ever. Part of that comes from the script, but almost all of that comes from McDormand, who is perfect in this role. Marge could have easily become a caricature or completely farcical. Instead, she is fun, funny, real, comic, and competent. There’s no way to not love her just a little, and I love her a lot. When Oscar gets it right, it’s a wonderful thing, and any other choice would be almost unthinkable.

Final Analysis

10 comments:

  1. Elizabeth Pena is such an inspired choice for a nomination. Lone Star is one of my favorite John Sayles movies, and that's saying a lot.

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    1. For whatever reason, I had trouble starting Lone Star. I had it for weeks before I finally decided to watch it...and then I wondered what the trouble had been. I consider myself an Elizabeth Pena fan, and I think it's her best role.

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    2. Was shocked to discover she died in her 50s.

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    3. Just a couple months ago, in fact. She was an underused actress who deserved more respect. The woman had talent.

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  2. Absolutely agree that McDormand's performance in Fargo is one of the best, ever. Of the overlooked performances from 1996 (and both may straddle the line between "leading" and "supporting"), I think Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire and Natalie Portman in Beautiful Girls deserve a shout.

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    1. As it happens, I haven't seen either. I can imagine that Zellweger, who I typically dislike, would be worthy of the nod based on what I've heard, though.

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  3. I agree on Pena and Geena Davis being ones that could have deserved nominations. I have not seen Marvin's Room, so I can't comment on Keaton's performance. Your 1-4 is pretty much how I would have lined them up, too. I agree that Binoche's character is more interesting in The English Patient.

    I can't remember the exact wording, but when McDormand was giving her acceptance speech she said something like "Twelve years of sleeping with the director and I finally get a good part." It got a good laugh.

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    1. You're missing nothing for having not seen Marvin's Room except, perhaps, a very young Leonardo di Caprio role that's less impressive than What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

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  4. Hard to argue against this win. McDormand’s performance is so commanding and unique, I absolutely adore it. I'm quite taken with the pain Watson injected into her performance (and the fact that it was her first role is bonkers). But it still must be McDormand.

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    1. I like Watson's nomination, but yes, it absolutely has to be Frances McDormand. That is a performance for the ages.

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