Sigourney Weaver: Aliens
Marlee Matlin: Children of a Lesser God (winner)
Sissy Spacek: Crimes of the Heart
Jane Fonda: The Morning After
Kathleen Turner: Peggy Sue Got Married
I’ve said a couple of times that I began this project of Oscar categories because of a single award and that we’d get to it eventually. Well, here we are—it was Best Actress 1986 that made me decide that I needed to call Oscar to accounts. It’s probably because it was the decade in which I more or less came of age, but the Oscars from the 1980s are routinely disappointing. Of these five nominees, I like only one of the movies and I genuinely dislike two of them a great deal. There’s vast room for improvement here, even if there are some suggestions that wouldn’t earn a nomination in a hundred years. These start with Ellen Green in the delightful Little Shop of Horrors and is quickly followed by Geena Davis in The Fly, which won the only Oscar it would have in 1986—for makeup. Crocodile Dundee earned a nomination for its screenplay, but I think I can argue for Linda Kozlowski. With a year that has this many dull films and performances nominated, leaving off Mia Farrow for Hannah and Her Sisters is almost criminal, especially considering she has never been nominated. I could say the same about Isabella Rossellini and Blue Velvet. The last snub I’d like to correct is for Emmanuelle Beart for Manon of the Spring.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Children of a Lesser God isn’t the film I like the least of these nominations, but it’s the performance I like the least. I have nothing inherently against Marlee Matlin, but I don’t know that she did a great deal for this film, which is little more than a big budget movie of the week. In real life, Matlin is what I can only describe as aggressively deaf. In Children of a Lesser God, she plays a woman whose defining characteristic is being aggressively deaf. I think she got rewarded for a “brave” role where she played only herself. Few Oscar wins have pissed me off more.
4. Crimes of the Heart is my least favorite of these five nominated films, and if I didn’t have such a huge set against Children of a Lesser God, it would absolutely be my last-place finisher regardless of any respect I have for Sissy Spacek. I like Sissy Spacek, and have loved a number of her performances, but I genuinely hated this one. There’s nothing about this character that I like. She’s a miserable harpy who would be singularly unappealing if her two sisters were not equally awful.
3. The most difficult decision I had here was choosing who to put in third and who to put in second. In a normal year, neither of these would get close enough to sniff being this high. I’m going to put Kathleen Turner in third for what is ultimately a decent performance in a film that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. Turner has simply been better elsewhere. In a down year, she wouldn’t be the worst choice for a nomination for Peggy Sue Got Married, but this was far from a weak year, and she doesn’t really belong here.
2. There’s only a single reason I decided to put Jane Fonda in second over Kathleen Turner. That comes at one point in the middle of The Morning After when Fonda’s character, deperate for a flight, fakes a story about a deathly ill child and cries her eyes out, only to become cold and clinical the moment the realizes that she can’t get to San Francisco. Otherwise, there’s not a great deal here that recommends the film or the performance. Fonda has been a hell of a lot better in a lot of other places.
1. And here we are—who should have one the Oscar that made me want to kick Oscar’s ass through 90+ years of awards. That Sigourney Weaver was nominated for a film like Aliens is staggering, since science fiction rarely gets its due come award season. Ellen Ripley is one of the key roles for women in general, a true action role that was as relevant and important for men as it is for women. Filmmakers are still loathe to attempt to figure that out. The conventional wisdom is that men and women see movies about men and only women see movies about women. Weaver, Ripley, and Aliens started to change that. For that reason alone, Sigourney Weaver deserved to win.