Friday, January 11, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1982

The Contenders:

Jessica Lange: Frances
Sissy Spacek: Missing
Debra Winger: An Officer and a Gentleman
Meryl Streep: Sophie’s Choice (winner)
Julie Andrews: Victor/Victoria

What’s Missing

Best Actress for 1982 is a strange year and strange award for me. There are a number of movies from 1982 I like, but it’s not really an actress year. Many of my favorite movies from this year--The Thing springs to mind—have few or no women’s roles. Others, like Blade Runner have important roles for women, but in support. I think I could make a case for JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist were it not a genre that Oscar traditionally hates. This is also the year where Linda Hunt won an Oscar playing a male role in The Year of Living Dangerously, and I might be able (might) to make a case for Sigourney Weaver. A third interesting possibility would be Edda Barends from A Question of Silence.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m probably downgrading An Officer and a Gentleman more than it deserves, but when you look at these films, it’s the one that kind of doesn’t belong. I like Debra Winger as well, and her performance here is a good one, even if I might not ultimately nominate it. The best part of this film is Lou Gossett Jr., though, and it’s hard for Winger to overcome that, even with the fact that she doesn’t share a lot (or any?) scenes with him. It’s fair to suggest she should be higher, because this is a better than fifth place performance in a lot of years.

4. I’ve become a big fan of Jessica Lange over last ten years, but I’m still putting her work in Frances in fourth place. In what’s going to be a theme for this week, this is a performance that should rate better than fourth place aside from the fact that it’s in a year with performances I like better. Lange is the best thing in the movie, but it’s also a movie that feels like it gets there a little cheaply. Since Lange is playing crazy, it’s a good bet that this would have won had she been an actor.

3. I evidently like Victor/Victoria a lot more than everyone else. If memory serves, it’s the movie I like the best of these five for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which being a great performance from Julie Andrews. The problem with Victor/Victoria is that it simply can’t work; there’s not a person in the world who would take Julie Andrews for a man. But that doesn’t really harm her performance—it’s not her fault. Once again, I like this more than third place, but based on the competition, I can’t put it higher.

2. In a lot of years, I could make a very strong case for Sissy Spacek in Missing. One of the problems I would have with putting it first is that it’s not the best performance in the film. That belongs to Jack Lemmon. And yet it’s a hell of a performance in a career full of them, one that really demonstrates just how good Spacek can be with good material. Do this award on a different day, and I might have her lower—as low as fourth place perhaps—but she’s never getting higher than second, and neither is anyone else.

My Choice

1. This Oscar was given to and rightfully belongs to Meryl Streep for Sophie’s Choice. In a lot of ways, this is the movie that I have the biggest problem with, at least in terms of the plot and where it goes. However, Streep’s performance is one for the ages. I’d love to say that it’s the movie that made her, but it was her fourth nomination and her second win. It’s not even one that showed she was a powerhouse. It may well be the one that demonstrates that Streep was capable of doing whatever someone gave her to do, though, and so she has ever since. Oscar was right.

Final Analysis


  1. We have a year here where I think all five performances are excellent and I agree with your placement in all but that I'd switch Julie and Jessica. It's not because I don't think Julie is terrific but Jessica's role is more demanding, a challenge to which she is equal it's just too bad the movie is so ramshackle. Frances Farmer's story was harrowing and deserves better than this slipshod film but at least it was cast properly.

    I think in its way Sissy's performance is just as strong as Jack Lemmon's in the different emotions it demands from each of them and if Streep wasn't competing she's more than likely be my winner but while I've only been able to make it through Sophie's Choice once this is most assuredly the Oscar Meryl deserved to win.

    As much as I do like and admire all these pieces of work I'd have no problem throwing at least two of them out, Winger and Andrews, and seriously contemplating giving Lange the boot as well to replace them with Julie Christie & Glenda Jackson both for Return of the Soldier and Diane Keaton for Shoot the Moon. All three are extraordinary and while Streep would probably remain my winner it would be a more difficult decision to make.

    If you haven't seen either of those films I'd say do so post haste. Return of the Soldier in particular, fair warning it is a slowly paced inward looking costume drama, contains near career best performances by those two ladies as well as Alan Bates as the titular soldier and a nearly unrecognizable Ann-Margret as his cousin.

    Shoot the Moon is a searing drama about the disintegration of a marriage with brilliant intense work by both Keaton and Albert Finney that somehow was ignored at nomination time.

    1. By the way on a totally unrelated note I noticed that one of the Best Actor performances you seem to be missing is Paul Muni in The Valiant. I just ran across it the other day and thought you might be interested.

    2. I'm going to check out The Valiant when I can--tomorrow, possibly, and hopefully by the end of the month.

      I've put the movies you've mentioned in the list of things I should probably watch. I'm always happy to see a good Alan Bates performance.

      But yeah, this was absolutely Meryl's year and Oscar. No matter who was nominated, it was going to be Meryl and four also-rans.