Marsha Mason: Cinderella Liberty
Ellen Burstyn: The Exorcist
Joanne Woodward: Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
Glenda Jackson: A Touch of Class (winner)
Barbra Streisand: The Way We Were
There are almost certainly a number of performances from actresses in 1973 of which I am not aware that deserve to be here. However, because the 1001 Movies list and Oscar in general doesn’t really focus that much on women, I don’t have a lot of suggestions here. Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now is an easy choice, though. We could bring in Sissy Spacek for Badlands without a lot of disagreement, too, I think. I’m not generally a proponent of putting children against adults in this categories, but I wouldn’t hate seen Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive and Lesley Taplin in Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. In truth, I don’t have a ton of objections to these nominations in general, although I don’t love a lot of these movies. I’m going to drop Joanne Woodward first for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, a movie I didn’t think a lot of in general. I didn’t actually hate her performance, but it’s hard to recommend her for an Oscar when Sylvia Sydney is the best part of the movie. It’s one of those things where I find it difficult to suggest someone should win an Oscar when they don’t even rise to demanding the audience’s attention in many of the scenes in the film.
4. I’m going to eliminate Barbra Streisand for The Way We Were next. This is not a slam on Streisand. I’m happy to freely admit her prodigious talent despite the fact that I don’t really consider myself a fan. The problem here might be more with the screenplay than the acting, but the romance that is central to this movie absolutely does not work. Sure we can blame a lot of things for that, but some of it has to fall on Streisand and co-star Robert Redford. If they can’t make me believe they’re desperately in love at any point, an Oscar win is a non-starter.
3. Long-time readers of this site will know that I rarely have anything nice to say about Marsha Mason, who always comes across to me as someone acting on stage and trying to reach the back row of the balcony. She’s more restrained in Cinderella Liberty, which is why she’s reached third place. I hate this character, and I don’t like the movie at all, but Mason plays an awful and selfish character really well, better, in fact, than she does in other movies. I don’t like this performance as much as I respect it.
2. I know that Glenda Jackson has her fans, but I’m not really one of them. There’s something about her that is like biting on tin foil for me. But the truth is that she is literally the only thing I liked in the miserable A Touch of Class. This is a comedy without laughs and a love story without passion, but Glenda Jackson makes her character a real person who is actually worth caring about. In this movie and with this (nominated! Jesus, how?) screenplay, that’s an amazing thing. I understand her win, but she’s not my winner.
1. I think if this Oscar were replayed today, Ellen Burstyn walks away with the statue handily. It was kind of astonishing that a film like The Exorcist swung any nominations in 1973, let alone for Best Picture and Best Actress. For major awards, Best Adapted Screenplay (which it won) was probably its only hope. Burstyn is tremendous as a woman whose entire world falls apart around her, shockingly and terrifyingly and with extreme brutality. It’s wonderful work, and had Oscar not its hate of horror, I think she would have this Oscar.