Friday, April 14, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1975

The Contenders:

Glenda Jackson: Hedda
Carol Kane: Hester Street
Louise Fletcher: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (winner)
Isabelle Adjani: The Story of Adele H.
Ann-Margaret: Tommy

What’s Missing

This is a weird, weird year, at least for Best Actress. A lot of the great films, like Jaws and Dog Day Afternoon, don’t have a huge female presence. Others, like Picnic at Hanging Rock, don’t have a specific main or central performance. I might consider Barbara Harris in Nashville, but every performance in that film feels like a supporting one. Someone will bring up Jeanne Dielmann…no. Just no. Katharine Ross in The Stepford Wives, maybe? Or Faye Dunaway in what is really more of a supporting role in Three Days of the Condor?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I hated all of the characters in Hedda, even if the story had some solid potential. I don’t really like Glenda Jackson that much anyway, so that’s going to count against the film as well. Additionally, while this shouldn’t count against the film, I had a terrible copy and an awful time watching it. It may feel like a cheat putting an actress I don’t love in a film I didn’t like in last place, but that is how these work. Hedda is a film I can’t imagine wanting to watch again. A lot of that is the characters and story, but at least some of that is Glenda Jackson herself, which is why I’m putting her last.

4. I don’t know that I can honestly judge Tommy beyond the music. This includes judging the performance of Ann-Margaret. She does have one of the most memorable scenes of the year, when her mental breakdown causes her to swim in fountains of baked beans and chocolate sauce, but memorable doesn’t necessarily equate to good. The movie is such a surreal mishmash of great scenes and terrible ones, that I honestly don’t know what to think about it, and I certainly don’t know what to think of Ann-Margaret. I’m putting her in fourth because I have nowhere else to put her.

3. Every movie I can think of that has Isabelle Adjani in it features her playing someone who is either insane or being driven insane. Talk about typecasting, right? I like Adjani’s performance in The Story of Adele H. more than I like anything else in the film and much more than I like the film itself. Her performance is a good one, even if where it’s going is a foregone conclusion from early on. Adjani could be magnetic on the screen, and while she’s good here, she’s not nearly as captivating as she should be or could be. Part of that is the material, but part of it is her, too.

2. I didn’t love the movie Hester Street, but I did love seeing Carol Kane in a completely new way. Kane is much better known for comic roles, often broadly comic ones, so seeing her in a straight dramatic piece was interesting. She is very good in the film, putting in one of the better performances of her career, and that’s saying something, since I consider myself a Carol Kane fan. It would have to be a pretty weak year for me to give her an Oscar for it, but I like the nomination quite a bit. This is a weaker year for the category, but Kane still isn’t the best choice.

My Choice

1. Louise Fletcher was the right winner, and she’d be my winner in a lot of other years as well. Nurse Mildred Ratched is one of those iconic film roles that becomes more than it was on the page and enters into public consciousness. There’s a little bit of Ratched in every dominating, evil woman with a little bit of power in just about every movie that has followed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When you have something that transcends the movie and transcends the character herself, going elsewhere with the award is difficult to justify. So I won’t, and I’ll give the Oscar to Louise Fletcher just as the Academy did.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen any of the nominated movies except Cuckoo's Nest, so I'd be perfectly fine with a nomination for Jeanne Dielmann etc. etc.

    I am really intrigued by the idea of Carol Kane in Hester Street. I want to see that, and also The Story of Adele H.!

    1. I've seen four movies with Delphine Seyrig in them, and I hated three of them utterly. I'd be pissed if she were nominated.

  2. This year I can’t agree with your winner. Louise Fletcher is very good, hateful as the role required, but there are a number of other performances I prefer, she’d be my number 4. I’m not very fond of Cuckoo’s Nest so that might play a role in it as well.

    I like Glenda Jackson far more than you but I would put her dead last as well for this film. Hedda was a mess squandering the story of a fascinating, odd life and Glenda suffers because of the unfocused construction and direction of the piece.

    Hester Street is tough going at times full of odd rhythms which makes sense because it tells of the disorienting experience of adapting to a new land but Carol Kane is marvelous revealing a different aspect of her gifts. I don’t see it as special enough to win but the nomination is a solid one.

    Ann-Margret’s fierce go for broke performance that uses so many of her too rarely used talents is a supporting one but going by the academy rules of where they placed her she’d be my runner up. I agree that Tommy itself is variable but her Nora is a fascinating showpiece of that whole.

    But for me no one comes anywhere near Isabelle Adjani. That edgy, just on the verge, or falling over the ledge, quality she often is called upon to utilize is somewhat her stock in trade but she does it better than just about anyone else. She’s rivetingly intense, her performance stayed with me for days afterwards.

    Moving on to who’s missing. I love Three Days of the Condor and Faye in it but I’d agree that the role isn’t a lead but a key supporting one. I’m not a fan of Nashville but that doesn’t keep me from thinking Barbara Harris, Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin are all estimable but all supporting as well.

    With those out of the running I’d propose Karen Black in The Day of the Locust, Rachel Roberts in Picnic at Hanging Rock and perhaps Diane Keaton in Love and Death. Even more than any of them I’d include two actresses who didn’t have a prayer of making it for their film because it was too small, Susannah York and Glenda Jackson in the adaptation of Jean Genet’s The Maids based on the murderous Papin sisters. They’re both fantastic in it, I said that Jackson would be dead last for Hedda but had she received the nod for this instead she would rate much higher. I’d be hard pressed to decide who would come in second and who third. Adjani would be my winner but it would be a much tighter race if it ran this way:

    Isabelle Adjani-The Story of Adele H.-Winner
    Karen Black-The Day of the Locust
    Glenda Jackson-The Maids
    Rachel Roberts-Picnic at Hanging Rock
    Susannah York-The Maids

    1. Your reason for moving Louise Fletcher down is the same reason I move Adjani down to third: I don't really like the movie that much, partly because it suffers from being heavily telegraphed. I knew where we were going long before we got there. I tend to like Adjani's performances pretty well and I'm not terribly upset with the nomination.

      I thought about Rachel Roberts in Picnic at Hanging Rock, but that seems like such an ensemble to me, much like Nashville.

      I know a lot of people love Love and Death, and while it has my favorite Woody Allen line ("We'll have three kids." "Yes, one of each."), it's not one I've ever thought to revisit.

    2. Diane Keaton is a great suggestion. I haven't seen Love and Death as many times as I've seen Sleeper or Annie Hall, but I watch it every once in a while because it is hilarious. And I especially want to see it again since I read War and Peace last year.

  3. I've only seen Fletcher's performance and I thought she was phenomenal so I'm more than okay with the win for her.

    1. While I think you can safely skip the others, I have a feeling that you'd enjoy quite a bit of Tommy. It's completely insane.

  4. Louise Fletcher had a recurring role as a villain on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s and she was fantastic in it. Her character was repellent and conniving, but also occasionally sympathetic and sadly trapped by her nature. She was great.

    1. Star Trek is one of those shows where I know most of the lore and most of the characters without having really ever watched it. Comes from hanging out around Trekkers for a long, long time.