Monday, April 27, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1973

The Contenders:

Marsha Mason: Cinderella Liberty
Ellen Burstyn: The Exorcist
Joanne Woodward: Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
Glenda Jackson: A Touch of Class (winner)
Barbra Streisand: The Way We Were

What’s Missing

There are almost certainly a number of performances from actresses in 1973 of which I am not aware that deserve to be here. However, because the 1001 Movies list and Oscar in general doesn’t really focus that much on women, I don’t have a lot of suggestions here. Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now is an easy choice, though. We could bring in Sissy Spacek for Badlands without a lot of disagreement, too, I think. I’m not generally a proponent of putting children against adults in this categories, but I wouldn’t hate seen Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive and Lesley Taplin in Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. In truth, I don’t have a ton of objections to these nominations in general, although I don’t love a lot of these movies. I’m going to drop Joanne Woodward first for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, a movie I didn’t think a lot of in general. I didn’t actually hate her performance, but it’s hard to recommend her for an Oscar when Sylvia Sydney is the best part of the movie. It’s one of those things where I find it difficult to suggest someone should win an Oscar when they don’t even rise to demanding the audience’s attention in many of the scenes in the film.

4. I’m going to eliminate Barbra Streisand for The Way We Were next. This is not a slam on Streisand. I’m happy to freely admit her prodigious talent despite the fact that I don’t really consider myself a fan. The problem here might be more with the screenplay than the acting, but the romance that is central to this movie absolutely does not work. Sure we can blame a lot of things for that, but some of it has to fall on Streisand and co-star Robert Redford. If they can’t make me believe they’re desperately in love at any point, an Oscar win is a non-starter.

3. Long-time readers of this site will know that I rarely have anything nice to say about Marsha Mason, who always comes across to me as someone acting on stage and trying to reach the back row of the balcony. She’s more restrained in Cinderella Liberty, which is why she’s reached third place. I hate this character, and I don’t like the movie at all, but Mason plays an awful and selfish character really well, better, in fact, than she does in other movies. I don’t like this performance as much as I respect it.

2. I know that Glenda Jackson has her fans, but I’m not really one of them. There’s something about her that is like biting on tin foil for me. But the truth is that she is literally the only thing I liked in the miserable A Touch of Class. This is a comedy without laughs and a love story without passion, but Glenda Jackson makes her character a real person who is actually worth caring about. In this movie and with this (nominated! Jesus, how?) screenplay, that’s an amazing thing. I understand her win, but she’s not my winner.

My Choice

1. I think if this Oscar were replayed today, Ellen Burstyn walks away with the statue handily. It was kind of astonishing that a film like The Exorcist swung any nominations in 1973, let alone for Best Picture and Best Actress. For major awards, Best Adapted Screenplay (which it won) was probably its only hope. Burstyn is tremendous as a woman whose entire world falls apart around her, shockingly and terrifyingly and with extreme brutality. It’s wonderful work, and had Oscar not its hate of horror, I think she would have this Oscar.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree with you on Ellen Burstyn who should've won Best Actress that year as well as mentioning Sissy Spacek, Julie Christie, and Ana Torrent for their performances in their respective films. I would've added Diane Keaton for Sleeper and Meiko Kaji for Lady Snowblood.

    1. Diane Keaton is a good catch--she'd have little chance with the Academy's normal stance against comedy. But nominate whomever, and while the final battle might be closer, I'm still giving this to Burstyn.

  2. I'm not quite sure how Glenda Jackson emerged victorious this year with a trifle like A Touch of Class and I'm an enormous fan of hers. I enjoyed her performance but an Oscar (or even a nomination) for it is just crazy.

    Likewise I love Joanne Woodward but the only two things I liked about Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams were Sylvia Sidney and the title.

    I like Marsha Mason more than you and I thought she was fine in Cinderella Liberty but she wouldn't come any closer than sixth or seventh for me.

    My appreciation for Ellen Burstyn's performance has grown over the years, partly because when The Exorcist came out I was working my first job as an usher at a third run movie theatre and it played foreverrrrr and despite that fact I never saw the whole thing from start to finish until it was re-released much later. So it was hard for me to get a handle on what she was doing but once I did give it a proper watch her work is very powerful.

    However as good as Ellen is I've always felt this was the Oscar Streisand should have won. In Funny Girl she's electric but her work is more of the star building kind. She's not Fanny Brice, she's takes the audience on the journey of discovery of who Barbra Streisand is and all she has to offer. But in The Way We Were she digs into the character of Katie in all her various faults and colors and gives a complex performance. We discussed in depth our differing views on the film when you reviewed it and I see your points but I still find her very vivid. Even in an open field she'd come out on top for me.

    I agree with your suggestions of Julie Christie and Sissy Spacek (I think their films might have been a bit too outre for the Academy) and both would make my lineup along with Ellen Burstyn and Babs and I'd add Tatum O'Neal whose nomination and win in Supporting Actress is probably the biggest case of category fraud ever! Ya she's a kid but she's in about 98% of the film and she's dynamite.

    1. I really considered Tatum O'Neal here, but decided that category fraud or no, I really like her winning that Oscar, but I didn't want to take it from Burstyn.

      I actually like Streisand's character in The Way We Were, but I hate the romance so much that it colors my opinion of everything else in that movie. Sure, much of that is Redford's character, who is a narcissistic prig, but when the romance doesn't work, a huge chunk of a romance movie doesn't work either. I see your point, but I just can't get there myself.

  3. As usual it is hard to find big female roles among the best movies in 73. The only three actresses I can point to are Burstyn, ONeal and Torrent. For me it is a toss up between the first two.

    1. I'm okay with that. I'd go with Burstyn, but O'Neal isn't a bad choice.