Friday, May 17, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1992

The Contenders:

Emma Thompson: Howards End (winner)
Catherine Deneuve: Indochine
Susan Sarandon: Lorenzo’s Oil
Michelle Pfeiffer: Love Field
Mary McDonnell: Passion Fish

What’s Missing

There are some odd choices with the nominations for Best Actress 1992. Gun to head, I’d keep no more than two of the nominations we have. As is often the case the Academy has an issue with nominations in genre films. In this case, that would leave out Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Virginia Madsen in Candyman. You’d be hard pressed to find me apologizing for Demi Moore, but I like her in A Few Good Men, even if that’s probably a supporting role. I sometimes feel like I’m the only person who knows about Gas Food Lodging and the performance of Brooke Adams. Tara Morice would be a stretch in Strictly Ballroom, but I think it’s an argument I can make. The bit miss for me is Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. It’s also worth saying that Mary McDonnell had a good year. In addition to her nomination, she was also great in Sneakers.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Let’s start by questioning the presence of Catherine Deneuve in Indochine on this list at all. Deneuve is fine in the role, but is also absent from about half of the film. This feels like category fraud because of this, and it’s evidence of the sort of soft racism that the Academy practices. Linh Dan Pham is clearly playing the lead role here, but since she isn’t Catherine Deneuve, we’re not going to see a nomination for her. It doesn’t help that I didn’t like this movie at all and found it even vaguely offensive.

4. The fact that Catherine Deneuve is clearly here based on category fraud is the only reason that Susan Sarandon in Lorenzo’s Oil isn’t in last place. Virtually everything about this film is reprehensible. I get that this is based on a true story and that something important came from it, but the way this story is told is more or less the same sort of anti-science thinking that has people denying the validity of vaccines and claiming the Earth is flat. It pisses me off so much that I had to watch this smug bullshit for a nomination that didn’t deserve to be here.

3. We’re going to have a similar tirade against Love Field and Michelle Pfeiffer, although it’s going to be a little different. This movie bothers me for different reasons. It’s not offensive in the way it treats knowledge or puts forth the primacy of people who just know that they are right. It’s just a movie that has no idea of what it wants to be. It ends up, because of this, being about six different things, and not very good at any of them. Pfeiffer is fine in her role, but in the service of what? That, and Dennis Haysbert is more interesting than she is in every scene he’s in.

2. It’s difficult for me to dislike Emma Thompson too much, and she is very much the best part of Howards End. Sadly, that’s not saying a great deal, because I didn’t really like Howards End much at all. I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with the movie other than the fact that it’s not the sort of movie I tend to like that much. Thompson is the reason to watch it, and while she wouldn’t get my vote, I can’t complain too much at her win here. She is, after all, one of the best to grace the screen.

My Choice

1. I didn’t have a huge opinion of Mary McDonnell before watching Passion Fish and am now a believer. It’s that good of a performance, noteworthy not just because any prim exterior that McDonnell might have is quickly done away with from her foul-mouthed character her, but because she is so believably sat in a wheelchair that it’s hard at times to remember that she doesn’t actually use one in her real life. It’s a good performance on every level. Had Geena Davis been nominated, we’d have a much tighter race, close to neck-and-neck, but McDonnell edges her out.

Final Analysis


  1. I have a feeling I've written this comment elsewhere on your blog, but I will love Mary McDonnell forever for her portrayal of a woman being ravaged by cancer on "Battlestar Galactica," where she played President Roslin. Her performance is very hard for me to watch, but if I ever had the chance to meet McDonnell, I'd be tempted to give her an uncomfortably long, awkward, and possibly creepy hug to thank her for her portrayal.

    I don't know whether you're so inclined, but if you watch the extended version of "Dances with Wolves," McDonnell's character Stands With a Fist has a lot more to do in the extra scenes.

    1. I think you have, and I have seen the extended version of Dances with Wolves.

    2. Kevin, I agree. She's GREAT in BSG.

  2. I'm right there with you on the bottom three. I love Catherine Deneuve and thought she did well in the movie but she is more or less supporting and she's given many other performances I would have rather seen her get a nomination for.

    My top two would be the reverse of yours. I went into Passion Fish expecting little of Mary McDonnell based on the only thing I'd seen her in previously, Dances With Wolves. I selected the film because Alfre Woodard was in it and I love her but I was mightily impressed by both and liked the film much more than I expected. So if McDonnell had won I wouldn't have squawked.

    However I think this time the proper winner was awarded. Perhaps because I love Howards End, it's my favorite of the Merchant/Ivory's, I'm more predisposed to Emma Thompson than you. I think she's thoroughly expert in finding all the layers in Margaret and bringing them to light.

    But considering some of the work that was left out this shouldn't have boiled down to a two woman race. I completely agree about Geena Davis in League of Their Own, the film was such a big hit both commercially and critically I'm left wondering how both she and Tom Hanks were left out. To the ones you mentioned I'd add Josie Lawrence in Enchanted April as well as Goldie Hawn & Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her. I'm the last to say that Meryl needs more nominations but her comic work in this film is much better than several of her nominated performances. Also the always ignored Mia Farrow in Husbands and Wives was worthier than some that got in.

    1. I wouldn't say that you're more prone to Emma Thompson than I am--I'm a huge fan of hers. You are, however, more a fan of Merchant/Ivory than I am. That she managed to end up in second place from me for a film I didn't love that much is a good indication of just how much I love her and her work.