Friday, March 27, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1977

The Contenders:

Diane Keaton: Annie Hall (winner)
Marsha Mason: The Goodbye Girl
Jane Fonda: Julia
Anne Bancroft: The Turning Point
Shirley MacLaine: The Turning Point

What’s Missing
There are a number of 1977 movies I haven’t seen yet and thus can’t comment on. For what it’s worth, this feels like a down year for actresses in general. The biggest miss that I can see is Melinda Dillon in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Academy saw fit to nominate her for Best Supporting Actress for that role. I’m never sure of what constitutes a lead role from a supporting role, and I’d make that case for her. I’m sure once I’ve seen a few more, I may have some suggestions, but she’s really it for now. I leave it to anyone reading this to suggest some new nominees in the comments below, because this is a year that could really use a few.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I’m dumping Jane Fonda’s performance in Julia right away. I’ll also admit right off that this is far more the fault of the film than it is of Jane Fonda, who gives a decent performance. The problem I have with Julia is that it flies off the rails in the second half just when it’s supposed to become filled with spy intrigue. Watching Jane Fonda ride on a train is even less exciting than it sounds, and while her performance is good in the first part of the film, the whole thing—plot, interest, and performances—fall off the cliff once we get to the second half.

4: I have a hard time thinking of a character I’m supposed to like who I like less than Marsha Mason’s Paula McFadden. Again, this is not Marsha Mason’s fault, but it’s difficult for me to get past the fact that Paula is intensely unlikable and liking her is what a great deal of the film turns on. Hey, I’m only human here, and I find her difficult to judge because I continually judge the character instead. That’s probably not fair, but this is my website and my feature, and I’m putting Marsha Mason fourth.

3: For a wonder, I liked The Turning Point pretty well. And also for a wonder, Shirley MacLaine pulled off the role of an e-ballerina-turned-housewife extremely well. This is a film that plays entirely on emotions outside of the dance performances, and MacLaine manages to hit a sweet spot that combines her own frustrated career manifesting as jealousy with equal parts of pride seeing her own daughter fulfill the dreams she once had. I like where she takes this not because it’s dramatic but because it comes across as very real.

2: Anne Bancroft not only matches MacLaine in this film, she beats her by a touch. Bancroft had a different blend of emotions to portray as a prima ballerina coming to the end of her career and discovering that after a life on stage dedicated to her art, there’s nothing much left for her on the other side. There’s a great deal going on under the surface in Bancroft’s Emma, but it’s all very much readable. In a different year, I might consider her a lot more for the top position.

My Choice

1: As it happens, complaints of not many great performances aside, 1977 was a no-brainer. Diane Keaton’s role in Annie Hall is iconic, the sort of role that defines a career without dominating it. It’s easy to see Diane Keaton playing a different role, but it’s virtually impossible to see anyone else playing Annie Hall. Keaton’s Annie is achingly desirable and simultaneously frustratingly filled with Woody Allen’s neuroses. Keaton was far and away the best choice for this, and the Academy did right by her this year.

Final Analysis


  1. My gut told me that there is not a thing to add to this discussion because Diane Keaton is really the only choice for this year.

    But I glanced through a list of movies from 1977 just to be sure that there isn't something we're forgetting and I came up with:

    Madeline Kahn or Cloris Leachman in High Anxiety.

    and Mink Stole, Edith Massey or Jean Hill in Desperate Living.

    My gut tells me my gut was right. (Although there is a part of me wishing that Edith Massey's acceptance speech was a lovingly remembered moment from 1970s Oscar lore.)

    1. (And for the record, I must admit that I've never seen Julia or The Turning Point.)

    2. Julia is a curiousity at best. I liked The Turning Point, but I understand people who don't.

      For the record, Edith Massey terrifies me.

    3. I can see that.

      I've been a John Waters fan for a long time and I find Edie to be quite endearing.

      Except in Desperate Living. She is truly terrifying in that.

  2. I've read opinions in multiple places that Keaton deserved the Oscar that year, not for Annie Hall, but for Looking for Mr. Goodbar. You already know of my feelings for the film Annie Hall. As for the character, you can copy your description of Marsha Mason's character word for word and that's my feeling on the title character Keaton played. It's not the fault of her performance that I hate her character so much.

    For what it's worth, I've seen Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It was a long time ago and I don't remember a lot of details, but it definitely had a lot more heft to it than the character she played in Annie Hall. It was certainly more "Oscar-like", if you will.

    I just looked through the 68 films (counting shorts and TV movies) I've seen from 1977 (according to what I've marked on Letterboxd.) Not one of them had a female performance that particularly stuck in my mind when I was reading through them. There may not have been five better nominees for lead Actress that year.

    However, among the nominees I don't have any I'd particularly say was the best. I guess I'd go with those others who said Keaton's performance in Goodbar was the best of the year.

    1. Fair enough. I'm happy to know that it's not just that I'm still missing a few 1977 films that I couldn't think of some possible snubs. It seems like a down year for women's roles all the way around.

      I still think Melinda Dillon deserved a Best Actress nod, though.

  3. Sally Field for Smokey and the Bandit? Carrie Fisher for Star Wars? Barbara Carrera for The Spy Who Loved Me?...probably not! ok, it was a really, really bad year for actresses! Keaton's Award, no doubt.

    1. I thought about Carrie Fisher for about 15 seconds before I remembered how inconsistent her accent is throughout. She tries to sound British and then just doesn't.

      She gets points for pulling off the cinnamon bun hairstyle, though.