Sissy Spacek: Coal Miner’s Daughter (winner)
Gena Rowlands: Gloria
Mary Tyler Moore: Ordinary People
Goldie Hawn: Private Benjamin
Ellen Burstyn: Resurrection
It’s rare, but it does happen that I have a year without a lot of suggestions for snubs. The list of nominations for Best Actress 1980 is honestly about as good as they come—there’s not a great deal of room for improvement. Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill would have been an interesting choice despite the movie’s thriller roots. The same could be said of Shelly Duvall in The Shining, and considering Oscar’s dislike of horror, her lack of nomination is not a surprise. I could make a case for Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City, but not a particularly strong one. I could make a stronger one for Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday. Given the option to swap out one, my choice is for Catherine Deneuve in The Last Metro.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I genuinely like all of the nominations, but Ellen Burstyn’s nomination for Resurrection is the one I would replace. I don’t dislike the performance—it’s a good one if not especially a great one, and while I appreciate what she did with the role, I think it’s the least of the five nominations. I’m genuinely pleased that she’s won an Oscar in her career—she should have a shelf full of them, but not for this performance and not for this film. Catherine Deneuve should have been here instead.
4. I didn’t love Gloria as a movie, but I did like what Gena Rowlands did with her character. It would be easy for Gloria to have been straight out of central casting, but Rowlands makes her a unique person in her own right, and that’s pretty spectacular for a film and a role that could have very easily been essentially paint-by-numbers. I like the nomination for Rowlands, but she was nominated in a year that is surprisingly strong and deep in this category. It’s a winning performance in a lot of ways, but never in 1980.
3. Much the same could be said of Goldie Hawn and her character in Private Benjamin. It would have been incredibly easy for Judy Benjamin to be the equivalent of a slapstick heroine, but Hawn gives her real character and real depth—not always easy to do for a comedy role, and especially in a case where that character is spoiled and rich. Hawn’s biggest issue is her costar, Eileen Brennan, who manages to steal every single scene the two are in. Hawn is great, but Brennan is the best thing in the film.
2. Sissy Spacek is a wonderful actor and Coal Miner’s Daughter might be the best thing on her impressive resume. In a lot of years, this performance would be uncontested as the winner, and I fully understand Oscar giving her the statue for what is ultimately a career-defining role of one of the cinema’s greatest leading women. In virtually any other year of this decade (almost), Spacek would be my choice and I won’t really disagree with anyone who picks her. That said, my choice is going in a different direction.
1. My choice is Mary Tyler Moore for Ordinary People, and while there might be some who disagree with that (see Sissy Spacek above), I think I can make the case. What sells this performance more than anything else is just how cold it is, how all of the emotional barriers are up, and how different that is from the Mary Tyler Moore that everyone knew. There was no way to predict that she had this performance in her. Some of its effectiveness might well be that it’s so out of character from how she was typecast. That being the case or no, it’s staggering, memorable, and flawless—and that’s what a Best Actress performance should be.