Genevieve Bujold: Anne of the Thousand Days
Jean Simmons: The Happy Ending
Maggie Smith: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (winner)
Liza Minnelli: The Sterile Cuckoo
Jane Fonda: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
There are some very interesting choices for 1969 and some places I’d rather go. Big surprise, right? Ali McGraw in Goodbye, Columbus would have been a very interesting choice here. Just as potentially interesting are Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden in Women in Love. I’d love to see Katherine Ross here in Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid here as well, but she’s almost certainly more supporting than lead. The sexual content of Venus in Furs probably disqualified Barbara McNair and Maria Rohm. Foreign language performances were still pretty rare in the late ‘60s, which leaves out Francoise Fabian in My Night at Maud’s. The biggest shock for me is a miss on Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly!, but her co-win the previous year might explain that.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I hated The Happy Ending about as much as I hated anything from 1969. This is a depressing film about a woman who claims to want to find herself out of her life of dull sameness but instead seems to want nothing more than to lose herself in vodka, pills, and shopping sprees. Everyone in this film is stupid, angry, bitter, and venal. This is cynicism put on film, where the only pleasure is a brief surcease of pain. This was a hateful experience, and while Jean Simmons might well have been fine in the role, she’s either the source or the target of all the film’s problems.
4. There’s a lot to say about Anne of the Thousand Days and about Genevieve Bujold in the title role. One thing that could be said is that her accent has to be explained away in the film as her having lived in Paris. Another thing that could be said is that Anthony Quayle is the best part of the film. I like Bujold’s performance here and I like the film well enough, but in a year that had much more interesting and intense performances in many places, I’m not entirely convinced that she should have been nominated in the first place.
3. Liza Minnelli is hard to cast and harder to cast well. The Sterile Cuckoo is one of the better jobs of casting her. Much like with Cabaret a couple of years later, Minnelli plays a character who is both infuriating and pitiable, someone who you desperately want to shake to get her to shut up while simultaneously hoping that nothing in her life hurts her too badly. It’s a wonderful performance in a film that doesn’t quite have everything else about it working on all cylinders. She’s the best thing here; sadly, that doesn’t say a great deal.
2. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is such an odd film in so many ways. It’s not a film that I’m desperate to see again any time soon. It’s also a film that is slow for the first two acts and then drops the hammer in the third. The fact that it works at all is in large part to the brilliant work of Maggie Smith, who is better than the rest of the film and bigger than the rest of the film. I understand her win for this even if I don’t particularly agree with it. In a year without another, more towering performance, Smith would be an easy choice for me.
1. I don’t want this to be a thing, especially because I love Maggie Smith, but to not give this to Jane Fonda is nearly criminal. Fonda has always been capable of being compelling given good material, and there is no better example than They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. On its own, this is a staggering achievement for an actor. That it came the year after the puffy sex romp of Barbarella shows just how great Fonda’s range could be. Side by side, they don’t look like the same actress in any way. It’s brutal and powerful, and it’s just as strong now as it was when it was made. This should have been hers.