Friday, April 5, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1990

The Contenders:

Anjelica Huston: The Grifters
Kathy Bates: Misery (winner)
Joanne Woodward: Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
Meryl Streep: Postcards from the Edge
Julia Roberts: Pretty Woman

What’s Missing

It may be the movies that I’ve seen from 1990, but I don’t have a ton of suggestions to make for Best Actress. There are two that are likely mentions from others—Demi Moore in Ghost and Melanie Griffith in Pacific Heights--who might be mentioned but whom I would not bring up here (although I’d listen to arguments). Patricia Tallman was never going to get nominated for the remake of Night of the Living Dead, but it’s a great role and she’s good in it. I’d seriously consider Glenn Close in Reversal of Fortune, but she may be more supporting. The same is true of Elizabeth Pena in Jacob’s Ladder. I’d love to suggest Annette Bening in The Grifters, but she literally was nominated in a supporting role.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I suppose in retrospect that it’s not a shock Julia Roberts was nominated for Pretty Woman. It’s perhaps the most meme-able movie from 1990, had that concept been around. I’m of the opinion that it presents a lot of really ugly ideas as truths, and I find it difficult to believe that Roberts was nominated for something beyond the wardrobe she was given to wear. In a lot of ways, that’s the message of the movie (my opinion, admittedly, but the link to my review is above). I get the nomination; I just don’t like it much.

4. Joanne Woodward is good in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, but there’s a part of me that wonders what her work was in service to. This is a timid role, one that doesn’t, at least on the surface, seem to ask a great deal of her. She manages some nuance here, which is mildly impressive, but I seriously have to wonder why she bothered. The movie is filled with boorish, vapid, and intensely arrogant people; Woodward’s character is more vapid than anything else. She’s probably better than I’m giving credit, but I hated the role intensely.

3. There’s a part of me that always feels guilty putting Meryl Streep below the top spots, but in 1990, this is as high as she’s getting. I wasn’t sure what I would think of Postcards from the Edge when I sat down with it, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. This comes from a time in the career of Shirley MacLaine where she specialized in being as annoying as possible and Streep managed to be more interesting than MacLaine was annoying. That in and of itself is an achievement, but she’s still not getting higher than third.

2. One of the truths I have discovered is that I like The Grifters more than just about everyone else I know who has seen it. I like all three of the main performances in the film, and while there’s a huge amount of me that sees it as the movie where John Cusack finally graduated to adult roles, a huge part of the appeal is Anjelica Huston. She is so good in this role, that in a lot of years, she would be my choice without question. Add the fact that she did The Witches in this year as well, and you could argue she had a better 1990 than anyone.

My Choice

1. There was no question that this belonged to Kathy Bates, though. Annie Wilkes is a character who has become iconic in so many ways. It’s also the role that made Bates’s career, and it should have, because I cannot think of a way should could have been better. Misery is one of the better Stephen King adaptations, and while James Caan is great in it, it’s Bates who makes the movie everything it is. Her combination of menace and concern is chilling, and for anyone who’s ever had a fan or a stalker, she is the stuff of nightmares. She was the right choice, and Oscar got this one right.

Final Analysis


  1. We are so close in our lineups.

    Even though it wouldn't make a great deal of difference I'd flip Joanne Woodward and Julia Roberts not because I don't love Joanne Woodward (honestly much more than Julia Roberts) but I hated Mr. & Mrs. Bridge fervently and am completely mystified by her, or any other, nomination for that awful slog of a movie.

    The other place we differ is at the top. I think Kathy Bates is amazing in Misery, a film I didn't enjoy but there is no denying her totally committed work however my vote goes to Anjelica Huston's fearless performance in The Grifters. She is at her absolute best as the morally flexible Lilly presenting someone who in less talented hands would seem simply a monster but she finds many conflicts within her. Her final scenes are both chilling and heartbreaking. Kathy Bates would be a very close second.

    I would never think of either Melanie Griffith nor Demi Moore (who is very appealing in Ghost, and as always she cries beautifully, but Molly just isn't a deep enough role for a nom) but I would say Tracy Ullman in I Love You to Death and Jessica Lange in Men Don't Leave would be better choices than either Roberts or Woodward. Its the great Juliet Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply though who really should have made the lineup before all the others excepting Kathy Bates and Anjelica Huston. But no matter who is in or out Anjelica would be my winner.

    1. Had Huston won this, I'd have my nominees in the same order, but this would be an "Oscar Did Okay" moment. I wouldn't yell too loudly had she won, even if my vote goes for Bates's brilliant turn. It's some of Huston's best work, and I say this as someone who likes pretty much everything she's done.

  2. I was going to the movies a lot in 1990, but somehow, the only one of these movies I saw at the time was Misery. And the only reason I watched Pretty Woman a few years ago is that it's on the List.

    So that means I haven't seen The Grifters, Postcards from the Edge or Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.

    My favorite films from 1990 are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which is rather low on potential performances for this category) and Wild at Heart, which has Laura Dern. She probably wouldn't beat Annie Wilkes, but I'd certainly try very hard for a nomination for Dern in a movie that I love to pieces and watched a bunch of times through the 1990s.

    1. I'll be blunt on this: track down The Grifters at your earliest opportunity, because it's magnificent. All three of the leads--Huston, Cusack, and Bening--have never been better. Postcards is fine, but not required viewing. Joel calledMr. and Mrs. Bridge a slog above, and he's being generous.

  3. Great picks all around. Our ranking of the nominees is exactly the same, and I enjoyed many of the What's Missing performances you listed. But yeah, nothing tops Annie Wilkes here.