Monday, May 11, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1978

The Contenders:

Ingrid Bergman: Autumn Sonata
Jane Fonda: Coming Home (winner)
Geraldine Page: Interiors
Ellen Burstyn: Same Time, Next Year
Jill Clayburgh: An Unmarried Woman

What’s Missing

As tends to be the case, a shake-up is needed here to give us the nominees that we really deserve. We can start with Brooke Adams, who was in Days of Heaven, and deserved to be nominated for the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well. Oscar wasn’t much for groundbreaking horror films, but a little love for Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween was warranted, much more so than Gaylen Ross in Dawn of the Dead. The same could be said of Margot Kidder and Superman--not a genre Oscar liked much in 1978. I could very much see Olivia Newton John here for Grease. The biggest miss, though, was Liv Ullman in Autumn Sonata.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Let’s start by dropping Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year right away. I like Burstyn as an actress, but this is not a role nor a film that should be brought up in the context of Oscar talk. Burstyn is asked to do very little here; her role is less an acting part than it is playing a series of tropes and clich├ęs. Every trend that became a thing across the decades in which this film takes place because grist for its mill. That she is mildly more likeable than the Alan Alda character says nothing to recommend her here.

4. I am a fan of Ingrid Bergman, but she had no business being in this line-up. In fact, the only reason I’m putting her ahead of Ellen Burstyn is that she’s Ingrid Bergman, which might be unfair. The real nomination for Autumn Sonata should have been for Liv Ullman, who is absolutely devastating in this role. Had Ullman been nominated instead, we’d be talking about a very different outcome in terms of order here, but I’m stuck with the nominations I’m given. Bergman is good, but this is Ullman’s nomination and her movie.

3. I found An Unmarried Woman to be an up-and-down film. Clayburgh was fine in it; it’s a good performance from her, but that’s just it—it’s a good performance from her in a film that probably isn’t quite worth the performance she gives. I don’t ultimately hate the fact that this performance was nominated, but I don’t love it either, and given the chance to make my own set of nominations, she likely wouldn’t be here. It feels like this was a “she needs to be nominated for something” nomination, sort of a career reward.

2. I can say roughly the same thing about Jane Fonda in Coming Home. It’s a good performance, and one that I actually am fine with being nominated. Fonda and Jon Voight are the best part of a film that relies entirely on the performances to be worth watching at all. I don’t even really mind that Fonda won. She’d more than earned an Oscar at this point (and had already won one for Klute), so this isn’t the worst result. But based on the competition, I wouldn’t have given it to her.

My Choice

1. I am very comfortable giving this to Geraldine Page, who gives a magnificent performance in Interiors, a film filled with magnificent performances. Given the chance to make my own list, Brooke Adams and Liv Ullman would be here, and Margot Kidder might as well, and we’d have a much tighter race, and I might be convinced to shift this Oscar to someone else. But today, looking at the nominations and snubs, Page is my winner

Final Analysis


  1. I love Geraldine Page and she gave a very fine performance in Interiors but God I hated that movie! Which of course shouldn't color my choice but I've blocked most of that nihilistic horror from my memory except for Maureen Stapleton's work for which she was justly nominated.

    Jill Clayburgh arrived at her brief pinnacle with An Unmarried Woman. She'd been on the ascendent for a few years before but nothing on the scale of this and at the time of the ceremony she was viewed as The New Woman and was a heavy favorite to win. I was never a big fan of the film and when I ran across it recently it was horrendously dated but her performance remains solid just not Oscar worthy.

    I also love Ellen Burstyn and I liked Same Time much more than you but I don't see it as worthy of a win either.

    I don't mind Jane Fonda winning, though if she was going to have two I'd rather the other be for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. The spotlight performance in Coming Home is from Jon Voight, much as it pains me to say it now that he has become the human equivalent of pond scum.

    But my winner would be Ingrid Bergman who is brilliant, matched by the un-nominated Liv Ullman in Autumn Sonata. I think if she hadn't won the sentimental Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express a few years before she would have come out on top here. It's a case similar to Kate Hepburn winning for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner where the Academy offered a tribute not thinking she would come roaring back with a worthy piece of work in Lion in Winter.

    I agree that Liv Ullman should have been here and perhaps Margot Kidder. I'd add Geraldine Chaplin in the very dark Remember My Name and maybe Genevieve Bujold in Coma but Ingrid would remain my winner.

    1. I have a deep love of Ingrid Bergman, but for me, Liv Ullman steals that movie at the end. If I want a winner from Autumn Sonata, she'd be it.

      I agree that Interiors is bleak, but Page is magnificent in that role.

      Also, as someone who has pushed They Shoot Horses on everyone I can, I absolutely agree that Fonda should have won for that role.

  2. I definitely agree with you on Liv Ullman on Autumn Sonata as I thought she should've been nominated and won though I would've preferred if she and Bergman shared a nomination. I have no problem with Jane Fonda winning as I do love her performance in Coming Home and the film itself as I love anything Hal Ashby did in the 1970s. It's a goddamn shame what Jon Voight has become now.

    I'm also with you on Brooke Adams for Invasion of the Body Snatchers as I consider her work in Days of Heaven a more ensemble-driven film. I'm also with you on Jamie Lee Curtis, Olivia Newton-John, and Geraldine Page.

    One performance that I feel should've gotten some recognition is Aurore Clement for L'Rendez-vous d'Anna by Chantal Akerman as I was raptured by that film. Other performances I felt that got overlooked are Amy Irving for The Fury and Brooke Shields for Pretty Baby (despite the uncomfortable nudity in that film).

    1. I came very close to mentioning Amy Irving above, but decided that ultimately I thought the film itself wasn't that interesting. The only thing I really liked about it was the scene in the indoor amusement park that I went to as a kid.

      I think I can make a case for Brooke Adams.

  3. '78 is a weird year for me. I haven't seen that many films from that year and other than Superman and Grease, both of which I've seen about a million times, I haven't revisited many since I was a kid. Well, there are some I saw recently that just didn't blow me away. Of what I did see. I said all that to say, I would nominate Olivia Newton-John and Margot Kidder.

    1. Honestly, I don't know that you'll get a lot of push-back from me. I think they're both legitimate mentions.