Friday, March 15, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1987

The Contenders:

Sally Kirkland: Anna
Holly Hunter: Broadcast News
Glenn Close: Fatal Attraction
Meryl Streep: Ironweed
Cher: Moonstruck (winner)

What’s Missing

There were so many good possibilities for Best Actress 1987 that I find myself rather shocked at the fairly bland list that we’ve been provided. The Whales of August managed a nomination for Anne Sothern in a supporting role, but both Lillian Gish and Bette Davis could have merited some consideration as well. This is another year where Mia Farrow was ignored in a Woody Allen film, in this case Radio Days, although admittedly she was probably supporting like virtually everyone in that film; Julie Kavner was probably closer to a lead. Daryl Hannah was probably supporting for Wall Street, which is also probably true of Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart. No one gave The Princess Bride or Robin Wright any credit at the time (hindsight is always 20/20). The three that I think might have had better chances include Holly Hunter for Raising Arizona instead of the film she was nominated for, Anjelica Huston for the generally ignored The Dead, and finally Stephane Audran for the magical Babette’s Feast.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It would seem much like sacrilege to put Meryl Streep on the bottom of anything, but there are a couple of reasons I’m putting her performance in Ironweed on the bottom. The first is that this is Jack Nicholson’s film in pretty much every respect. The second is that it is so much Nicholson’s film that Streep’s nomination feels like category inflation and she should have been nominated (if at all) for a supporting Oscar. Streep, of course, always belongs somewhere in the mix, but for this year, she was in the wrong place.

4. I really dislike Broadcast News, and because of it, I disliked Holly Hunter for far longer than she deserved. Hunter never got the respect she deserved from me for at least a decade because of how put off I was by this film. Had she been nominated for the far-superior Raising Arizona, we’d be having a different conversation right now, but here we are, stuck with her nominated for an irritating film an in an irritating role. Hunter deserved a better first movie for me, and a better nomination for 1987.

3. I like Cher just fine as an actress. I think it’s easy to underestimate her or to equate her with her otherwise bizarre persona, but when she’s given a good role, she can do a lot with it. Moonstruck is a fine example of this. She is more than adequate for the role here, and in fact, she’s damn good in it. But, and this is perhaps unfair to Cher, it’s not a movie I ever think I want to watch a second time. There’s not enough there for me to really consider coming back to it, and that has to count against anything it might win, including Cher’s eventual Oscar.

2. Of these five movies, Anna is my least favorite by some distance. And yet, Sally Kirkland has made it all the way to second place for this award. Why? Because despite the fact that the movie is a dead bore and the screenplay isn’t worth anything like her best work, Kirkland swings for the fences the whole time and connects on just about everything thrown at her. She is so clearly the only thing in this film worth seeing that I have trouble remembering anyone or anything else about it, except for the fact that I didn’t like it.

My Choice

1. By rights, this was Glenn Close’s Oscar. Just as I am constantly staggered that Mia Farrow has never been nominated or that Donald Sutherland has similarly never been considered for an Oscar, the fact that Glenn Close has managed to have so great and noteworthy a career for so long without an Oscar is amazing to me. Close is the reason that anyone remembers Fatal Attraction (well, her and the rabbit), and Close is the reason that plenty of men thought twice about straying in their marriages after 1987. She is still a remarkable actress, and has been for at least three decades…and the Academy should have recognized that here.

Final Analysis


  1. I liked and admired all these performances, even in films I didn’t think much of, but I’d retain only one.

    I agree about Streep being supporting and good though she was not really a necessary nominee anywhere that year.

    Glenn Close like Kirkland (phenomenal) are far better than their films but both would only make a long list of 10 for me. However it is appalling that Glenn doesn’t have an Oscar after all this time! I think her moment was Dangerous Liaisons not here. Hopefully she’ll have another at bat even if she herself seems philosophical about her status as a perennial Oscar bridesmaid in interviews.

    I love Cher and I loved Moonstruck but the only award level performance in that film came from Olympia Dukakis.

    Which leaves Holly Hunter. We’ll have to agree to disagree about Broadcast News which I really liked as I did her performance. Jane is an exasperating, often unlikable woman but Hunter, an actress for whom I have a limited fondness, really digs into the character. She shows Jane's faults as well as her strengths making her a recognizable person. I prefer her work here vastly to her winning performance in The Piano-a film I hated. She is also wonderful in Raising Arizona.

    It really was a strong year for lead actresses and I concur with all your suggestions though I’m not sure about Bette Davis. It was estimable to see her so dedicated to her craft that she was still doing her best to remain active but she was so comprised physically that it inhibited her performance. What a great capper to Lillian Gish’s career had there been a nomination for her, especially since she was so deserving.

    Beside those you mentioned I would add Anne Bancroft in 84 Charing Cross Road, Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, Emily Lloyd in Wish You Were Here and Christine Lahti in Housekeeping. All smaller films, except Baby Boom, which uses every part of Diane Keaton’s quirkiness and star power in the most charming way possible but the comedy slot was already taken by Cher, so their chances for a slot were slim though I do remember Christine Lahti having some momentum at the time.

    My line-up would go this way:
    Anne Bancroft-84 Charing Cross Road
    Lillian Gish-The Whales of August
    Holly Hunter-Broadcast News-Winner
    Diane Keaton-Baby Boom
    Christine Lahti-Housekeeping

    1. I agree that Close's best nominated performance (that I've seen at this point) is Dangerous Liaisons, but I haven't gotten there yet, so my official opinion has to wait. Gish would have been my choice for The Whales of August as well.

      For me, I can't get past the fact that Broadcast News represents almost everything I hate about a certain type of movie. I have no interest in being invested in the lives and loves of completely self-absorbed, awful people. That almost certainly plays against Hunter's nomination in my mind. I like her a lot more in Raising Arizona.

      Of your other mentions, I have seen only one: Housekeeping. I hated Housekeeping intensely. I realize I am very much in the minority in this.

    2. I didn't like the film either but I thought Lahti was great at realizing her very, very odd character.