Friday, June 28, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1995

The Contenders:

Meryl Streep: The Bridges of Madison County
Sharon Stone: Casino
Susan Sarandon: Dead Man Walking (winner)
Elisabeth Shue: Leaving Las Vegas
Emma Thompson: Sense and Sensibility

What’s Missing

There are some great performances from this year. I don’t cover Supporting Actress (or Actor) on this blog, but I’ve got a couple of performances I’d love and want to mention here even if they don’t belong as lead performances. These include the always-lovely Glenne Headly, who was the class of Mr. Holland’s Opus. It also includes the badass Angela Bassett performance in Strange Days. I don’t really think that Marina Zudina in Mute Witness belongs here, but I just wanted to mention her, because it’s a better movie than most would think. Oscar’s particular proclivities kept both Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver in Copycat out of the running. Oscar snobbery also left out any serious consideration for Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Julia Ormond holds her own against Greg Kinnear and Harrison Ford in Sabrina, and while the movie is a bit fluffy, she’s great in it. I love Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise as well. The biggest miss for me is Julianne Moore in Safe.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I like Meryl Streep. I feel like I have to say that when I’m going to put her last. The problem with The Bridges of Madison County is, as I said in the review, that there’s not much for her to do aside from put on another accent and look wistful. It’s a fine performance—it is Meryl Streep, after all, but it’s also not that special. There’s not much for her to do here. There are times when it seems like she takes up a nomination spot because everyone feels like she’s supposed to. This is one of those times.

4. The rest of these positions are difficult for me to place, because Oscar did at least a creditable job with the nominations for this year. I don’t have a huge objection to Susan Sarandon’s win for Dead Man Walking, but I simply like the other three performances more. There’s also the reality that she’s up against Sean Penn doing some of his best work, and while she is compelling, she’s not always the most compelling person on the screen. That I don’t hate her win and still put her in fourth is saying something.

3. I genuinely feel guilty every time I put someone below a top spot for this year, and now it’s Emma Thompson’s turn. Of these five actresses, Thompson is almost certainly my favorite, and I love this performance from her. Sense and Sensibility comes with a lot of good performances, though, and while Thompson’s might be the best, it isn’t by much. Thompson did win an Oscar for this movie—for the screenplay. That’s exactly the Oscar she should have won, so I have no real complaints here.

2. No one would ever mistake me for a Sharon Stone apologist, but I can’t really think of anything I would change about her performance in Casino. She’s a surprise in this role, and good enough that I’m not sure I can seriously think of someone else I’d want to see in it. In a lesser year, I wouldn’t think twice about giving her the Oscar, and she wouldn’t be a terrible choice for this year. She doesn’t quite get to the top of the nominations for me, but the fact that I didn’t immediately recoil from her performance is notable.

1. This gives me Elisabeth Shue at the top of the nominations, and I think I’m okay with that. The only thing I don’t love about this role and performance is that it always feels like a cliché when someone gets nominated for a role that is any sort of cognate with the “hooker with a heart of gold” trope. Shue makes it work, though, and stands up to one of the best performances in Nicolas Cage’s career. In an open field, Shue doesn’t quite get the win from me, but limited to the actual nominations, I’m giving her the statue.

My Choice

I’m probably alone in thinking that Julianne Moore should have won an Oscar in 1995, but Safe is such a brutal movie and it depends entirely on how believable she is in the role. This is a horror movie without a monster, and Moore needs to be the focus of everything, has to be vulnerable and make us feel vulnerable at the same time. It’s demanding in every frame, and Moore gives it everything. I’ll die on this hill, and I’ll do it proudly.

Final Analysis


  1. Is it me or you and I have the same idea about who should've won on that year? Safe was unlike anything I had seen as I am so happy to own the film on DVD as it fucked me up for all of the right reasons. Julianne Moore should've won that year as that performance was scary. My runner-up would've been Nicole Kidman for To Die For as I just love that film and Kidman's performance as I think it's her break-out moment as well as one of Gus Van Sant's finest and more accessible films.

    Leaving Moore and Kidman from the list, here is how I would've ranked the Best Actress list for the year:

    3. Emma Thompson-Sense & Sensibility
    4. Julie Delpy-Before Sunrise
    5. Angela Bassett-Strange Days
    6. Alicia Silverstone-Clueless
    7. Sharon Stone-Casino
    8. Susan Sarandon-Dead Man Walking
    9. Marisa Paredes-The Flower of My Secret
    10. Jennifer Jason Leigh-Georgia

    Honorable Mentions to: Elisabeth Shue-Leaving Las Vegas, Meryl Streep-The Bridges of Madison County, Heather Matazzaro-Welcome to the Dollhouse, Michelle Pfeiffer-Dangerous Minds, Rose McGowan-The Doom Generation, and Willke van Ammelrooy for Antonia's Line.

    1. It does seem like we're of a mind for winners a lot recently. I honestly found this year really difficult to sort out--Streep's fine-but-not-special performance in The Bridges of Madison County was a clear fifth for me, but the others moved up and down multiple times.

      I really like Shue's performance and Stone's as well. I didn't think either of them had that in them.

      I'd call Angela Bassett's turn in Strange Days more supporting, and I'd be 100% behind her winning in that category. She should have won Best Actress two years earlier for What's Love Got to Do with It?

      Safe, though...such a brutal movie. I convinced a librarian friend to buy a copy for her library. It is, as far as I know, the only copy in that particular library system in the state. It's such a great idea for a film--it's a horror film with no monster, and it plays so much like a horror film. There's dread in every frame, and I can't get enough of it.

  2. Out of these five I would go with Elisabeth Shue as well. I did not enjoy Leaving Las Vegas in the slightest but the performances were not at fault. Both leads do beautiful work.

    As for the rest Emma Thompson would be my runner-up (I really loved her performance the most but then I loved the film and Shue really dug into herself in a film I had a hard time getting through) and I'd cut the rest. Though their work is decent there were other performances I admired much more.

    Safe is still a blind spot for me so I can't comment on Julianne Moore's performance but I've heard other good word on it. Since she is usually excellent I'm sure she's very fine here.

    I like the mention of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless she's wonderful. The other names I'd add to the mix are Kathy Bates's tough Dolores Claiborne, Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends and the actress who would be my winner, Piper Laurie in The Grass Harp.

    If you've never seen it Grass Harp is a small film based on a Truman Capote story. It was Charlie Matthau's first film as a director and he managed to corral a truly awesome cast-Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Charles Durning, Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowell, Nell Carter and several others-but Piper leads the film with the most lovely, delicate performance. It stayed with me for days after I saw the film. I might feel differently once I finally track down Safe but I'm doubtful.

    1. I haven't seen The Grass Harp, so I'll add that to the list. I'll echo your statement, though. I might feel differently about Julianne Moore for this year when I track it down, but I'm doubtful.

  3. I've seen 3 of the 5 noms and only really recommend Sharon Stone in Casino. Of others, I would also be looking to give Angela Bassett a nod, but for Waiting to Exhale, not Strange Days, though I do like her a lot in both. Two others that would make my ballot are Nicole Kidman in To Die For and Chloe Sevigny in Kids.

    1. I haven't seen Waiting to Exhale. For me, Bassett was robbed of win two years previous, and robbed of a Supporting nom for Strange Days.