Susan Sarandon: Atlantic City
Meryl Streep: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Katharine Hepburn: On Golden Pond (winner)
Marsha Mason: Only When I Laugh
Diane Keaton: Reds
I have to say that when I look at the nominees for Best Actress in 1981, I don’t see any that excite me that much. When I look at other movies I know from 1981, I don’t see a lot more, although there are a couple of people who I think belong here more. First of these is Kathleen Turner’s work in Body Heat, which is a movie that is sadly forgotten and should get a hell of a lot more love. There was a time when Kathleen Turner was sex on two legs, and Body Heat falls right in the middle of that time. Also snubbed in my opinion was Sally Field for Absence of Malice. In my own little world I might bring up Dee Wallace from The Howling…but probably not. My absolute favorite female character from 1981 is Frances Sternhagen's portrayal of Dr. Lazarus in Outland, but even in a perfect world, that's a supporting role.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: The real problem I have with this award is that when I look at the five nominees, it feels like all of them belong in the third position. Someone has to come last, though, and so I’m putting Marsha Mason there. It’s probably not entirely her fault that she comes in last because a great deal of the reason for that is the overly-snappy dialogue that is clearly not based on the way people actually talk. Another part of it is that no matter how much I struggle with this, I just can’t find a way to like Marsha Mason.
4. When I first looked at this award, it felt like one of those situations where an older actor at the end of his or her career gets an Oscar as a sort of career award. Of course, Hepburn already had a few Oscars so she didn’t really need this one, and I can’t really make a case for her winning. Sure, it’s a good performance. When did Hepburn not give a good performance? This is a case, though, where it seems like she won based on nostalgia rather than based on the strength of what she did on screen. The nomination should’ve been enough. There’s no way she should have won.
3. I love me some Susan Sarandon, but there’s a lot about Atlantic City that bothered me. I think she’s the most compelling thing in the movie, but when it’s a movie that I don’t love, I’m not sure how much that says. I find Sarandon compelling on screen in most cases, but what we have here is a film I think has some real problems and a role that, while interesting, is far less interesting than it should be. That’s not entirely her fault, since she can only work with what she is given. Still, there are two who did better work this year.
2. Diane Keaton is my favorite part of Reds. With a movie that runs as long as this one does, having that person who is worth seeing in the screenplay is always a good thing, and it’s Keaton who, to me at least, ties the entire film together and is worth watching every time she is on screen. Had the film focused on her portrayal of Louise Bryant rather than Warren Beatty’s portrayal of Jack Reed I would have liked the film a lot more and might well argue for Keaton in the top position. I wouldn’t complain too hard had she won, but she’s only the second best performance in this list.
1: In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Meryl Streep plays two roles. In the first, real-world role, she basically plays herself and she’s good. In the film within the film, she is absolutely magnificent. For me, the entire film is about these moments of Streep playing a character playing a role and everything else in the film works as a backdrop to this performance. I know it’s strange to take an Oscar away from someone who has a bunch and give it to someone else who has a bunch, but of all her performances, this is one Meryl Streep should have won. In a perfect world, Sally Field and Kathleen Turner would be on the list, but I think I’d still give it to Streep, although Kathleen Turner would give her a good run for her money.