Friday, June 5, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1980

The Contenders:

Sissy Spacek: Coal Miner’s Daughter (winner)
Gena Rowlands: Gloria
Mary Tyler Moore: Ordinary People
Goldie Hawn: Private Benjamin
Ellen Burstyn: Resurrection

What’s Missing

It’s rare, but it does happen that I have a year without a lot of suggestions for snubs. The list of nominations for Best Actress 1980 is honestly about as good as they come—there’s not a great deal of room for improvement. Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill would have been an interesting choice despite the movie’s thriller roots. The same could be said of Shelly Duvall in The Shining, and considering Oscar’s dislike of horror, her lack of nomination is not a surprise. I could make a case for Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City, but not a particularly strong one. I could make a stronger one for Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday. Given the option to swap out one, my choice is for Catherine Deneuve in The Last Metro.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely like all of the nominations, but Ellen Burstyn’s nomination for Resurrection is the one I would replace. I don’t dislike the performance—it’s a good one if not especially a great one, and while I appreciate what she did with the role, I think it’s the least of the five nominations. I’m genuinely pleased that she’s won an Oscar in her career—she should have a shelf full of them, but not for this performance and not for this film. Catherine Deneuve should have been here instead.

4. I didn’t love Gloria as a movie, but I did like what Gena Rowlands did with her character. It would be easy for Gloria to have been straight out of central casting, but Rowlands makes her a unique person in her own right, and that’s pretty spectacular for a film and a role that could have very easily been essentially paint-by-numbers. I like the nomination for Rowlands, but she was nominated in a year that is surprisingly strong and deep in this category. It’s a winning performance in a lot of ways, but never in 1980.

3. Much the same could be said of Goldie Hawn and her character in Private Benjamin. It would have been incredibly easy for Judy Benjamin to be the equivalent of a slapstick heroine, but Hawn gives her real character and real depth—not always easy to do for a comedy role, and especially in a case where that character is spoiled and rich. Hawn’s biggest issue is her costar, Eileen Brennan, who manages to steal every single scene the two are in. Hawn is great, but Brennan is the best thing in the film.

My Choices

2. Sissy Spacek is a wonderful actor and Coal Miner’s Daughter might be the best thing on her impressive resume. In a lot of years, this performance would be uncontested as the winner, and I fully understand Oscar giving her the statue for what is ultimately a career-defining role of one of the cinema’s greatest leading women. In virtually any other year of this decade (almost), Spacek would be my choice and I won’t really disagree with anyone who picks her. That said, my choice is going in a different direction.

1. My choice is Mary Tyler Moore for Ordinary People, and while there might be some who disagree with that (see Sissy Spacek above), I think I can make the case. What sells this performance more than anything else is just how cold it is, how all of the emotional barriers are up, and how different that is from the Mary Tyler Moore that everyone knew. There was no way to predict that she had this performance in her. Some of its effectiveness might well be that it’s so out of character from how she was typecast. That being the case or no, it’s staggering, memorable, and flawless—and that’s what a Best Actress performance should be.

Final Analysis


  1. Wow, I so agree with you on Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People. Yeah, I know the film gets shit on because it beat Raging Bull for Best Picture but that was a damn good movie. I'm also with you on Nancy Allen (though she's more supporting than lead), Catherine Deneuve, Helen Mirren, and Susan Sarandon while I would've vouched for Christine Buchegger from From the Life of the Marionettes by Ingmar Bergman (which is one of his underrated films).

    1. I'm one of the rare people who fully supports Ordinary People for the win for Best Pidture. Raging Bull. got DeNiro an Oscar (as it should have) and should've gotten Scorsese one, but Ordinary People is as good today as it was 40 years ago. And Mary Tyler Moore kills it in every scene.

  2. This is a really strong field and I can't say any didn't deserve their nods, though I would have rather seen Goldie here for Seems Like Old Times than Pvt. Benjamin. She's good in Benjamin but as you said Eileen Brennan steals every single scene she's in.

    Our lineups would defer in a few key places. Goldie would be last and Ellen would be first. For me both she and Eva Le Gallienne were just so powerful in Resurrection. But then it gets tricky with ranking the other three women because all of them are so damn great in their roles.

    Mary Tyler Moore is extraordinary in Ordinary People and part of that is how far out of her comfort zone she ventures but if that was all she wouldn't be here. She exposes the deep damage that has made Beth the enameled ice maiden that she has become.

    I liked Gloria more than you but without question it would be nothing with Gena Rowlands in the lead. She's a tremendous broad, fearless, tough as nails and inimitable. I know she has an Honorary Oscar but it's incredible that she never won a competitive one.

    Maybe because I'm not much of a country fan I wasn't that big a fan of Coal Miner's Daughter. Sissy (as well as Tommy Lee Jones and Beverly D'Angelo) is wonderful in the film, though she's given other performances I've like better, but I struggled through the film.

    With a lineup this good it would be hard to find a place for others but I agree about Catherine Denueve and I would love to have seen Lily Tomlin and her fantastic character work in 9 to 5 acknowledged.

    1. The way you feel about Coal Miner's Daughter is the way I feel about Resurrection. Good performances or no, I didn't like the movie at all. I couldn't wait for it to be over.

      It really is a damn good set of nominations. I'd love to see Deneuve here, but I really don't have a lot of complaints.

  3. Spacek and Moore were both terrific - I have no argument with either of them winning.

    Jodie Foster in Carny is also worth mentioning from the class of 1980, although her performance maybe leans more towards supporting.

    1. It's a very strong year.

      I have to admit, I'm not always sure what counts as lead and what counts as supporting, and I think there's evidence that Oscar doesn't really know, either.