Friday, November 4, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1985

The Contenders:

Anne Bancroft: Agnes of God
Whoopie Goldberg: The Color Purple
Meryl Streep: Out of Africa
Jessica Lange: Sweet Dreams
Geraldine Page: The Trip to Bountiful (winner)

What’s Missing

I have to admit that when I initially picked 1985 as the year to look at, I was excited, since that’s right in the wheelhouse of movie years that are important to me. And then I saw nominees and I remember just how often Oscar screwed the pooch in the 1980s and in the mid-‘80s in particular. The biggest miss here, the person I’m still shocked wasn’t nominated, is Mia Farrow for The Purple Rose of Cairo. I’m perhaps a little more understanding of the miss on Sandrine Bonnaire in Vagabond, since it’s an unpleasant film and in a foreign language, but thos are both lame excuses. The miss on Norma Aleandro for The Official Story is perhaps a little more understandable, but it’s still a miss. Kathleen Turner in Prizzi’s Honor feels like a miss, too (and she did The Jewel of the Nile the same year). I’m not a Michelle Pfeiffer fan, but Ladyhawke is wonderful, aside from the soundtrack. How about Cher in Mask? And yes, I realize that Clue came out in 1985 and I love it and love the cast, but none of the women are really lead roles.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Meryl Streep has enough nominations that I don’t feel terribly guilty about putting her on the bottom now and then. I know there are a few fans of Out of Africa out there, but I do not consider myself one of them. I don’t like this film. I’m never going to like this film. Streep is Streep, of course, and she doesn’t give a lot of bad performances, but it feels like she was nominated here because of who she is, not because of the role she played. That, and she may have earned a nomination because the film was big and romantic and epic in scope. She’s earned a ton of the nominations she’s gotten. I don’t think she deserved this one.

4. Another 1985 film I didn’t love is The Color Purple. For what it’s worth, I can’t even lay the blame for putting Whoopi Goldberg in fourth place entirely at the feet of Whoopi Goldberg. A lot of my distaste comes from Spielberg’s direction and from the story itself. When Goldberg’s Celie finally stands up for herself, it’s a great moment, but it’s a moment that could have been better. I don’t entirely hate this nomination, but I do think there were better, both in the nominated category and those overlooked. I understand the nomination here; I just think those rare nominations would have been better placed somewhere else.

3. Agnes of God is a tough watch, but Anne Bancroft is one of the reasons to watch it. She has a difficult job here. She needs to be believable and she needs to be just trustworthy enough that we want to believe what she says. But she also has to have a little bit of an edge to her so that we’re not entirely sure that she’s being honest in everything. She does this well. In fact, the only reason I’m not moving her up from here is that I think it’s a legitimate question to ask if perhaps Meg Tilly didn’t deserve the nomination just as much for the same film.

2. Geraldine Page is the main reason to watch The Trip to Bountiful. Like many an actor in a good role, she has a lot to do and she does it well. When the film starts, we like her. She’s a spry, sassy old lady. By the time the film ends, we don’t merely like her; we understand her. We know the things that motivate her and we understand the pains that drive her and drive her actions. This is a film about a woman trying to claim or maintain a measure of dignity in a world where perhaps that dignity wasn’t easy to come by, especially when everyone around her treats her patronizingly. I get why she won.

My Choice

1. I’m going with Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams. I don’t really consider myself a huge Lange fan. I like her well enough, I suppose. That said, I think this is her best work on camera. The only fault I can find with her and with her performance is that it’s clear in many cases she’s lip-synching the work of the great Patsy Cline. In every other moment on screen, Lange is just about perfect. I could probably argue for Mia Farrow here, and in a perfect world, Farrow would be battling Lange for the top position. But of the nominations we have, I can’t go any other place.

Final Analysis


  1. Interesting choice and not the one I expected to come out on top.

    I thought it would Gerry Page who out of these nominees would be my choice just because of the depth of the performance which I know is usually a given with her work but as you mentioned she makes sure we understand Carrie Watts and she really creates a fully realized woman.

    However I love Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams. Like Page she doesn't make Patsy a plaster saint but a thorny, passionate interesting woman who happened to have an enormous gift. The lip-synch thing is noticable at times but the director should have been more cognizant of that during shooting, it's not like they could have used anyone else's voice in the film! A small side note-where were the nominations for the incredibly strong work for Lange's costars Ed Harris and especially Ann Wedgeworth as her mother.

    But outside of them I would say the line-up isn't filled with the best work that was out there this year. Aside from the total head-scratcher omission of Mia Farrow, which is just a staggering miss particularly for a Woody Allen film I'd second Norma Aleandro in The Official Story and Cher in Mask and add Helena Bonham Carter in A Room with a View and Coral Browne in Dreamchild.

    But the true miss and the woman who I expected to not only be nominated but to win when I walked out of the theatre after seeing the film was Miranda Richardson as Ruth Ellis in Dance with a Stranger. A brilliant astonishing piece of work.

    And ya there really are no leads in Clue, not even Tim Curry though he comes close, but it's Madeline Kahn for the win as who should have won best supporting actress!

    1. I can't say I'm terribly upset at Page's win. It's a hell of a good performance. I also agree that the biggest problems with Lange's performance don't actually come from her. Both actresses feel real in their roles, and that's why they work.

      Dance with a Stranger and Dreamchild are ones I don't know. I didn't mention Bonham Carter in part because I didn't love the film. Farrow's omission is an absolute mystery to me. She's magnificent in a very sympathetic role. It seems like everything Oscar wants.

      And yes, Madeline Kahn now and forever.

    2. I highly recommend Dance with a Stranger, both of her costars Rupert Everett and Ian Holm are very good in the film but Richardson is electric playing Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain. It was her screen debut and how it didn't make her a major star is still beyond me.

      Dreamchild is more diffuse but still worth checking out. Coral Browne plays Alice Liddell, who when she was a girl was Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. She's now an old woman thinking back on their relationship.

    3. I'll add 'em to the list. One of the benefits of doing these posts on Fridays is that I get told about movies that I've missed that aren't on any of my various lists.

  2. For me, the only Oscar nominee I truly loved was Goldberg. I thought her performance was about as perfect as they come. That being said, she wouldn't be my winner. That would be Grazyna Szapolowska for her tremendous work in No End. My ballot would probably look like this:


    I thought that Bancroft gave a great performance, but she's arguably Supporting (Tily was nominated there).

    1. I don't mind Whoopi Goldberg, but I have a genuine distaste for The Color Purple, a movie whose central message seems to be that men are either weak, bad, or both. She's good in an unpleasant role for me, and I don't always recognize the quality of the acting when I have such an intense dislike of the film.

      I agree on Bancroft, but I think it's one of her better performances.

  3. My Top 5:
    1. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
    2. Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
    3. Geraldine Page, Trip to Bountiful
    4. Cher, Mask
    5. Mia Farrow, Purple Rose of Cairo

    1. Watch Sweet Dreams if you get the chance. It's pretty great.