Friday, June 7, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1994

The Contenders:

Jessica Lange: Blue Sky (winner)
Susan Sarandon: The Client
Winona Ryder: Little Women
Jodie Foster: Nell
Miranda Richardson: Tom & Viv

What’s Missing

There were a hell of a lot of good to great actress performances in 1994, and most of them weren’t nominated. In fact, I’d be willing to offer at least a full slate of nominees as good or better than the five that we have. As usual, I’ll start with the ones that the Academy would never consider. These include Heather Langenkamp in New nightmare, Kerry Fox in Shallow Grave, and Sandra Bullock in Speed. Natalie Portman could be argued for Leon aside from her age (not that that always stops Oscar) and the fact that the theatrical release of that film is substantially worse than the director’s cut. I’m not an Andie MacDowell fan, but I think a lot of people might consider her for Four Weddings and a Funeral. Once Were Warriors probably didn’t get the love it needed for Rena Owen to be considered. An inability to choose between Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet probably kept both of them out of the running for Heavenly Creatures. Since it’s still staggering that Mia Farrow has never been nominated, I’ll toss her performance in Widow’s Peak in the ring just for the hell of it. For me, though, there are two huge misses from 1994. The first is the perfect work of Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding. The second is the staggering performance of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I like Jodie Foster a lot, so I’m not happy being in the position of putting her work in Nell in fifth place. In all honesty, I’m punishing a pretty standard Jodie Foster performance for being in a cheap, melodramatic screenplay that goes for the quick and dirty in playing with the emotions of the audience. Foster is certainly capable of great performances, something she has demonstrated a dozen times over. She deserves to be in movies that aren’t this manipulative.

4. Susan Sarandon is fine in The Client, but is also nothing that special. This is another case where the movie itself is overwrought and cumbersome. It struggles to give us redemptive arcs for characters I’m not convinced need them. There’s a good story buried here, and while Sarandon gamely gives this her all, there’s simply too much to deal with and not enough room for her to maneuver around. She puts in a lot of effort here, but it’s not enough to make this role more than a head-scratcher in terms of being nominated.

3. The best thing going for Winona Ryder in Little Women is that she gives a far more measured performance than Katherine Hepburn did in the much earlier version of the same story. It’s a better version of the story all the way around, and Ryder is a big part of that. But it’s still not one I love. Admittedly, this is not a film that was made with me in mind, which makes my placement of it anywhere on this list relatively arbitrary. Third position seems fair enough for a good performance in a film I should probably appreciate more than I do.

2. Miranda Richardson’s performance in Tom & Viv gave me something of a poser in the sense that I think it’s a great performance, and it’s of a character that I absolutely can’t stand. In a weaker year, I could be persuaded that she gives a performance as good as anything—and in a lot of respects she does. In fact, it’s difficult to watch at times because of just how brutal her depiction of insanity is. It’s hard to watch, a fact that Richardson has both in her favor and against her.

1. What this means is that I’m in the odd position of more or less endorsing Oscar’s choice based on the five nominations, even when I disagree with the choice ultimately. Jessica Lange is about as good as can be expected in a role that is ugly in a lot of ways. She has to balance a great deal here—naivety, predation, insanity, sexuality—and she does this as well as it can be done. I don’t like the role and I don’t really like the movie that much, but I can’t take away from what she did. Still, since I’m not limited to the five nominations, I’m not going to limit myself, since there are better options.

My Choice

Given the chance to nominate my own slate of candidates, I can guarantee that both Toni Collette and Linda Fiorentino would be on that list. Ask me to choose between them ten times, and Collette will win no more than twice in that ten. Fiorentino is simply too good playing a terrible and heartless character. She’s clearly the biggest snub and the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. Personally, I would've gone with Irene Jacob for Trois Couleurs: Rouge for Best Actress with nominations also for Linda Fiorentino for The Last Seduction, Kathleen Turner for Serial Mom, Juliette Lewis for Natural Born Killers, and Toni Collette for Muriel's Wedding. What a weak list of nominees.

    1. I tend to use my Letterboxd page for determining what I want to put in for my alternates. I'm not sure why I missed that Red was this year, but Irene Jacob is a clear miss on my part.

      I skipped right past Juliette Lewis, who I generally dislike.

      I think my list of five would be Fiorentino winning, followed in some order by Toni Collette, Irene Jacob, Kate Winslet/Melanie Lynskey, and a player to be named later. I genuinely like New Nightmare, which seems to put me at odds with a lot of people, and Heather Langenkamp makes the whole movie work.

    2. Heather Langenkamp.... that's not a bad choice. Ballsy.

    3. Well, these are more or less just my opinion, so they exist just to please me. Weird, unpopular or goofy choices are all a part of the game.

  2. My ultimate choice out of these five would also be Jessica Lange though I'd shift the others around a bit. I enjoyed The Client, not quite as much as the book but it was still a fun adaptation, and thought Sarandon made something more of her character than was there on the page. So she'd be higher for me though I have to say in an open field I wouldn't nominate her (nor any of the others).

    I think Miranda Richardson is a fabulous actress and that she wasn't nominated for Dance with a Stranger is sinful but I hated Tom & Viv although not as much as Nell. So the only place we match is on Winona in Little Women.

    Linda Fiorentino would be my winner too. She was disqualified on some preposterous technicality, there was a big uproar about it at the time and it was generally acknowledged that had she been nominated it was more or less a given she would have won. A real pity since it was the only time she got close to being in the running.

    Throwing out the entire list of nominees my list would run like this:

    Isabelle Adjani-Queen Margot
    Linda Fiorentino-The Last Seduction-Winner
    Irene Jacob-Three Colors:Red
    Melanie Lynskey-Heavenly Creatures
    Kate Winslet-Heavenly Creatures

    Another who deserved consideration besides those mentioned I'd say Julia Ormond in Legends of the Fall and in the they never had a prayer to be nominated but she was brilliant category I'd add Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom.

    1. It's a weird year in terms of the nominations. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that a complete redo on these nominations would be in order.

      Evidently, Linda Fiorentino was not nominated because the film came out on television before its theatrical release. It's a bullshit reason for her to be snubbed in what should have been hers in a walk.

  3. Replies
    1. Honestly, I pretty much vote for Toni Collette just as a matter of habit.