Friday, June 29, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1963

The Contenders:

Patricia Neal: Hud (winner)
Shirley MacLaine: Irma la Douce
Natalie Wood: Love with a Proper Stranger
Leslie Caron: the L-Shaped Room
Rachel Roberts: This Sporting Life

What’s Missing

As is often the case, there are some interesting choices in terms of the nominations and a few others that I’m rather surprised didn’t make the cut. The biggest surprise is probably Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. It’s not a role I’m convinced deserved a nomination, but I am continually surprised that she didn’t get one. Far less likely would be Constance Towers in Shock Corridor, and she was much more supporting anyway. Non-English nominations were rare at this point, so Brigitte Bardot didn’t have much of a shot for Contempt. I think I could probably make a case for Lilia Skala in Lilies of the Field. The two big misses were misses because of genre. There’s no way if this was redone today that we’d be talking about Best Actress without including Julie Harris in The Haunting and Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Shirley MacLaine was an engaging actress in the 1960, and while she certainly proved to be crazier than a shithouse rat in later years, she was adorably attractive at this point in her career as well. And that’s kind of the problem with this nomination. It feels like MacLaine was nominated because she is frequently in a green bra and panties set in this film. MacLaine earned five acting nominations in her career. Of all of them, this is the one I find the least deserved. With the performances left unnominated, I wouldn’t put her here at all.

4. I’ve never been a huge fan of Leslie Caron, which may well be why she’s in fourth here. That said, I rather like her in The L-Shaped Room in large part because she doesn’t have to be something that she could never be for me. So many of Caron’s roles require her to be sort of the ultimate in feminine charm, and she’s just not that. Here she’s a bit more real, and I appreciated that in her. The problem that I have is that I simply like the other nominees better. While it’s a Caron role I like, she wouldn’t make my list of nominations at all.

3. We get into tougher waters as we climb up here, and deciding who should be in third place was not an easy decision for me. In truth, I might be penalizing Natalie Wood here more for the film than I am for the role and the performance. She’s absolutely the best thing in Love with a Proper Stranger and she improves the performance of Steve McQueen, who feels a bit miscast in his role. Truthfully, I’d probably keep Wood’s performance as a nomination, but she’d never get above third place for me.

My Choice

2. I genuinely try not to have too many posts where I have multiple possible winners but I can’t get away from it in this case. Patricia Neal, who ultimately won this Oscar, is simply too good to not consider her one of Oscar’s worthy choices. Neal stands up to Paul Newman in Hud, and when you consider that it’s one of Newman’s best and most powerful roles, that says a great deal. There’s a sense of tragedy about her, and while she ultimately wouldn’t be my choice, I won’t be the one to take away the Oscar that she clearly earned.

1. Ultimately, I’m handing this to Rachel Roberts for a truly masterful performance in This Sporting Life. Because she is forced to work against the bombast of Richard Harris’s fence-swinging turn, Roberts gives a performance that is much more internal by design. In a world where I can name my own slate of nominees, Julie Harris is vying for this award as well. I’d be happy with her and I’m okay with Patricia Neal, but if it came down to my vote, I’m giving this to the subtle and devastating work of Rachel Roberts.

Final Analysis


  1. I almost always like Shirley MacLaine on screen and she's okay in Irma La Douce, a movie I actively dislike, but there were so many other worthy performances this year that there's no question she's hogging someone's slot who was more deserving this year.

    I wouldn't nominate Leslie Caron either, at least not this year, though I think she the best I've ever seen her in the L-Shaped Room.

    I think Patricia Neal gave the best performance of any actress this year in Hud and I'm delighted she won. My problem is with placement. Alma my be the dominant female character in her film but she's without question a supporting one and that's where Pat Neal should have gotten her statue.

    That leaves a tough choice. Natalie Wood is wonderful in Proper Stranger, not quite up to Splendor in the Grass greatness but very very good, and since this was her final nomination it would have been super to see her win but of the choices available I lean ever so slightly towards Rachel Roberts but wouldn't have quibbled with either outcome.

    But then we get into who missed and the field is wide enough for a whole second ballot. I agree strongly with your suggestions of Bardot and Julie Harris but not Tippi Hendren. Most stylish yes but best actress no, now Suzanne Pleshette in supporting definitely.

    I'm not surprised that Elizabeth Taylor missed a nomination for Cleopatra. Aside from the unevenness of her performance (and it is madly inconsistent) that turkey nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox and Liz had a heavy hand in all the contretemps that make that happen. She wasn't blackballed but I think Hollywood thought enough was enough.

    As to who else should have had a shot at those slots there's Judy Garland in her final film "I Could Go On Singing" and Tuesday Weld in Soldier in the Rain. But the real miss and the woman who would be my winner in an open field is Jean Simmons in All the Way Home. She is simply staggering as a pregnant woman who finds herself suddenly widowed and has to confront what lies ahead. I think the film was too small for her to be recognized but its a clear miss.

    1. We'll disagree in a way on Tippi Hedren. I think, taking a longer view, there's a lot there in terms of influence, and while that's impossible to take into consideration in the moment, it's something that I can look at in this position. Liz Taylor's lack of nomination is, to me, surprising only because of the scope of the movie. Oscar loves things like that, and while I think Cleopatra is kind of a mess, it ticks a lot of "1963 Oscars" boxes.

      As is often the case, I don't know the films in your last paragraph.

      I could see Natalie Wood winning here. She is far and away the best part of Love with a Proper Stranger but, as you say, I think she earned her Oscar a couple of years earlier and was robbed by not being given the statue for 1961.

  2. as usual I have not watch many of the nominees. Patricia O'Neil did do a good job on Hud, so it takes a strong field to push her from the title.

    1. This Sporting Life is genuinely worth tracking down--I could make a good case for it being on The List. The other three nominations...not so much.