Marsha Mason: Chapter Two
Jane Fonda: The China Syndrome
Sally Field: Norma Rae (winner)
Bette Midler: The Rose
Jill Clayburgh: Starting Over
The late ‘70s always feel so bland to me for some reason. I don’t think they really are, but I always feel like I’m just trying to get to the ‘80s when I’m in these years. There are some clear misses for 1979 that might make this race a lot more interesting to me. Mariel Hemingway would have been an interesting choice for Manhattan. Of a roughly similar age would be Diane Lane for A Little Romance. Oscar doesn’t do horror, or didn’t in 1979, which leaves out Samantha Eggar in The Brood and Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls. Nastassja Kinski might be worth a mention for Tess, but it got its nominations for 1980. I’m genuinely surprised that Meryl Streep wasn’t nominated for Kramer vs. Kramer…except that she was nominated and won in a supporting role. Bernadette Peters would have been a fascinating choice for The Jerk, but she had no real chance of a nomination. Time After Time was probably too horror-adjacent for a nomination for Mary Steenburgen. Judy Davis feels like a real miss for My Brilliant Career. But really, we should be questioning why Sigourney Weaver isn’t here for Alien, horror movie or not.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. For as much as I might complain about the nominations, I don’t actually hate any of them that much. Chapter Two is probably the most I’ve ever liked Marsha Mason, but there’s so much about this movie that I dislike. Mason, for all of the fact that I tend to dislike her, is the best part of the film, a shock when you realize that her costar is James Caan, and I’m a huge fan of him. I might be punishing her for the movie and I might be punishing her because she’s Marsha Mason, but regardless of reason, I’m putting her in fifth.
4. Of the five movies that were nominated, The China Syndrome is probably my favorite of them. Jane Fonda is fine in this role, but I’m not 100% sold on the fact that she deserved the nomination. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a fine performance from her, and I don’t know that I hate the nomination, but in a lot of ways, this movie belongs to Michael Douglas, who is the most memorable person in the film for me. It’s hard for me to think that she should be here when she can’t always dominate the scenes she’s in, good performance or no.
3. There’s a lot to like about Norma Rae. Just as The China Syndrome is probably my favorite of these movies, Norma is probably my favorite of these characters. I don’t genuinely hate that Sally Field won this Oscar. It’s a good performance, even a very good performance, but the movie has a lot of problems that do affect how I see the role. This feels Field won because of who she is rather than the role that she was in. She’s awfully good here, but there are two performances I think are better.
2. Jill Clayburgh’s work in Starting Over is probably the best work of her career. In a lot of ways, this is a companion piece to An Unmarried Woman from the year before, but this is much more serious and less comical. Clayburgh is damaged here, and there’s a sense that everything that she says and does is coming from that place where she was damaged and is affected by it. So why isn’t she in first? Because opposite her is Burt Reynolds in a role that no one knew he had in him, and while Clayburgh is better, Reynolds is an incredible surprise.
1. What this means is that I’m giving this to Bette Midler for The Rose. The truth is that I didn’t like The Rose at all and it’s a movie I will probably never rewatch, but Midler is absolutely amazing in this role. It feels like she is not specifically acting, but simply living in the persona that she’s being asked to play. There’s so much I don’t like about the role and the movie, but I can find no fault in Midler’s performance. I had no idea that she had this role in her, and while the nomination was probably all she could have expected, she really should have won.