Friday, February 22, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1986

The Contenders:

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

What’s Missing

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.

My Choice

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.

Final Analysis


  1. I was as mystified by Marlee Matlin's win as you and there is no way that Sigourney Weaver should have walked away empty handed (or for that matter remain so to this day!). My list of nominees would be quite different than what it was but even then Sigourney would always have come out on top. Ripley in Aliens is not just totally badass but a complete person and that is almost entirely thanks to Weaver.

    I think both Kathleen and Jane are very good but there are other stronger options than them.

    I share you're incredulity that Mia Farrow gained no traction for Hannah and Her Sisters especially considering the universal praise the movie received and the fact that both Michael Caine and Dianne Weist were nominated and (deservedly) won in support. Such a strange case she is-a child of Hollywood, often critically praised and for most of a decade the muse of a lionized filmmaker.....and still bupkis.

    Sissy Spacek would actually make my list but for her other film this year 'night, Mother as would Anne Bancroft in the same film. I can't say I'm surprised that neither received a nomination, they're both brilliant but the picture is a pitch black drama (if you haven't seen it the elevator pitch is-Daughter (Sissy) tells her mother (Anne) that because of her many problems she is going to commit suicide that night and for the entirety of the movie the two discuss and argue over that decision until the inevitable conclusion.

    Someone else worthy of consideration is Melanie Griffith in Something Wild. I'm not a fan of hers in the main nor did I like the film all that much but she gives a go for broke performance in the movie and provides whatever value it has.

    Geena Davis is terrific in The Fly but as you said she didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being nominated even if she was one of the hottest It girls of the moment when it came out.

    I really must get around to Manon of the Spring.

    1. Yeah, this is a case where the rightful winner was nominated, but then snubbed for the actual award. This was so clearly Weaver's Oscar that it's amazing to me that she didn't win.

      'night Mother and Something Wild are two I haven't seen.

      Given the ability to make my own set of nominations, Geena Davis, Emmanuelle Beart, Mia Farrow, and probably Isabella Rossellini are my four, but they're all coming after Sigourney Weaver.

      Oh, and Manon of the Spring is very much worth seeing, but Jean de Florette needs to be seen first.

  2. What Joel said.

    And I'm just confounded that "Peggy Sue Got Married" got nominated for anything. Maybe the movie is better than I remember it (and I remember it only vaguely), but I remember it as being awful.

    1. It's not great. I liked it more than I liked The Morning After, Children of a Lesser God, and especially Crimes of the Heart, but that's not saying much. The only thing I really liked was the presence of Marshall Crenshaw.