Isabelle Adjani: Camille Claudel
Jessica Tandy: Driving Miss Daisy (winner)
Michelle Pfeiffer: The Fabulous Baker Boys
Jessica Lange: Music Box
Pauline Collins: Shirley Valentine
I have to say that 1989 feels like one of those years where there just aren’t a lot of nominations to choose from—admittedly, that’s based on my viewing history for the year. In fact, one of the five nominations was actually from a 1988 film. Anyway, we can talk about Andie McDowell and Laura San Giacomo in sex, lies, and videotape. We can also talk about Kelly Lynch in Drugstore Cowboy, even if she was more supporting. Gun to head, the biggest miss for me is the always-undervalued Adrienne Shelly in The Unbelievable Truth.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It’s easy and tempting to bag on Oscar’s choices, of course, so there’s always a feeling of wondering about my own motivations when I put the winner in last place. I have nothing against Jessica Tandy, but Driving Miss Daisy was the safe and easy choice for 1989 if you wanted to pick a movie about racism. Her performance is fine, good even, and one of the reasons to see the film…once. But this feels like an Oscar handed out to someone who everyone thought should have had one already—career Oscar in competitive clothing.
4. I feel a little sad putting Jessica Lange in fourth place because I like Jessica Lange quite a bit as an actress, and she is absolutely the first, last, and only reason to watch Music Box. She’s taking some of the brunt of this because I genuinely don’t like the movie itself. It’s an ugly story that trades entirely on a shock moment, and while Lange does everything she can with the role, it’s not enough to get me to want to watch the film a second time. She’s been better and Oscar can do better.
3. I will never be mistaken for a Michelle Pfeiffer apologist, but I have to give her a lot of credit in The Fabulous Baker Boys. The fact that the two Bridges brothers don’t actually play the piano is completely masked by the fact that Pfeiffer does her own singing and completely steals every scene because of it. It’s probably the best she’s ever been on screen, and while I say that as someone who doesn’t generally like her a great deal, I also say that as someone who was genuinely impressed with the performance, and thinks the nomination was warranted.
2. Isabelle Adjani is at home playing people with severe mental issues, and Camille Claudel is no exception to that. The film itself is probably a good 20-30 minutes longer than it needs to be to tell the story it wants to, but Adjani is never boring, and makes sure that those moments are never boring as well. My favorite of her performances is probably Possession, but she’s channeling the same muse for this one, and she’s magnetic when she is on the screen. I could be argued into giving her the win, more than likely.
1. But my winner, hands-down, is Pauline Collins for the lovely Shirley Valentine. The reason for this is simple—there’s nothing in this film that should be appealing to me: a middle-aged woman goes on vacation by herself and discovers that she’d rather ditch her husband and life in England and instead stay in Greece. But Collins is so immediately likeable and makes Shirley such a real and genuine person that I completely bought into the entire premise and every part of the movie. That’s rare, but there’s no one who could have made this film work the way Pauline Collins did. That, to me, is the sign of a deserved Oscar.