Monday, June 15, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1988

The Contenders:

Jodie Foster: The Accused (winner)
Meryl Streep: A Cry in the Dark
Glenn Close: Dangerous Liaisons
Sigourney Weaver: Gorillas in the Mist
Melanie Griffith: Working Girl

What’s Missing

We have a very good collection of nominations for Best Actress 1988, but as usual, there’s some room for improvement here. A number of noteworthy performances are probably closer to supporting roles, but I do want to mention them. These include Glenne Headly in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (and in Paperhouse), Valeria Golino in Rain Man, and Genevieve Bujold in Dead Ringers. It’s probably also true of Lena Olin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Leslie Ann Powers in Hairspray. Both of those movies have clear lead actresses, though, in Juliette Binoche and Ricki Lake respectively. Horror and comedy are not Oscar’s favorite genres, so Geena Davis had little hope of a nomination in Beetlejuice. Foreign language films always have a hard time earning nominations, which is going to leave out Carmen Maura in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Jamie Lee Curtis is the closest thing to a female lead for A Fish Called Wanda, and she’s rarely been better. Teen movies never get respect, which is why we’re not talking about Winona Ryder as a nominee for Heathers. I think a strong case can be made for Isabelle Adjani, always at her best when playing on the borders of insanity, in Camille Claudel. Say what you will about Susan Sarandon, she’s magnificent in Bull Durham. Finally, Isabelle Huppert has made a career of playing unpleasant women, rarely so effectively as in Story of Women.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s amazing to me that Sigourney Weaver doesn’t have an Oscar. In 1988 she was nominated in this category as well as in Best Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She’s the best part of Working Girl by a country mile and is the best part of every scene she’s in. Melanie Griffith might be the nomination from the film and the putative star of the film, but in truth, aside from a line or two, I don’t really remember her that much. If I can get rid of one nomination, hers is absolutely the one that goes.

4. It seems that I disrespect Meryl Streep in these roundups fairly regularly, and the truth is that it’s not her fault. Streep is arguably the greatest actor in the history of film, and unquestionably the greatest of her time. Because of that, it seems like she earns a lot of nominations because of who she is more than the performance she’s given. A Cry in the Dark feels like that. Sure, her accent is impeccable as always, and her performance is good, as always, but given the snubs from 1988, she didn’t need to be here for an Oscar she had no real hope of winning.

3. Jodie Foster is really, really good in The Accused, and the fact that she absolutely deserved this nomination, could be argued for the win, and is still sitting in third for me says a great deal. It says that, despite the ones above, this is a strong year. It says that I can’t really object too hard to anyone who picks her. The truth is that The Accused is entirely Foster’s movie. Kelly McGillis could be replaced here by any actress who could look outraged and looked good in a suit, but Foster’s performance is nuanced and difficult, and worth seeing.

<{> 2. I praised Sigourney Weaver above and I’ll praise her here as well. Gorillas in the Mist is a difficult film to watch, and Weaver attacks it with a passion that rivals that of the woman she depicts. This is again a case where I think if someone wanted to argue that Weaver should win this Oscar, I would not agree with that stance, but I also wouldn’t really object to it. Weaver is monumentally good in this role and she hits every note and nuance perfectly. It was a shame that even in a re-do, she had this performance in a career year for one of the greatest of all time.

My Choice

1. I can be incensed that Sigourney Weaver doesn’t have an Oscar, but how in the hell is it possible that Glenn Close has gone 0-fer? Close has been good to great in just about everything she has ever touched, but in Dangerous Liaisons, she is magnetic, dominant, and electric. Don’t get me wrong—this is a great cast in a great screenplay, but Close is the only person on the screen when she’s on the screen. As much as Foster’s work was great and Weaver’s was transcendent, Glenn Close gives the best performance of a storied career, and Oscar should have bowed down and given her the statue the way she deserved.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm going to disagree with this as I think the Oscars got it right with Jodie Foster though I think the Oscar race would've been more interesting if they had Carmen Maura, Susan Sarandon, and Glenne Headly in that list. I know Melanie Griffith is hit/miss but she was great in Working Girl which is a film I always enjoy watching whenever it's on TV.

    1. I don't think that Foster is a terrible choice. She's not my choice, but I don't know that I can argue against her too hard. It's a great performance, and I don't know that it's one that could be easily handled or handled as well by anyone else.

  2. Out of these five women there should have been no other winner than Glenn Close despite the fact that I admire the work of the other women.

    I'd put Meryl last and Melanie fourth but otherwise my lineup would be the same as yours. It is downright incredible that two of the best actresses working in the last several decades haven't been awarded with the highest prize. I'm sure an honorary is somewhere in their futures but it's not quite the same thing.

    Sad but if Glenn couldn't win here and for this I don't think it's in the cards for her to every end up in the winner's circle as her nomination for The Wife showed.

    Outside of the performances you mentioned that were shut out I'd add Amanda Donohue in Lair of the White Worm (a great performance in a terrible weird movie), Shirley MacLaine in Madame Sousatzka and the only actress and performance that in my opinion was anywhere close to Glenn Close's work-Christine Lahti in Running on Empty. She is also the only one I'd consider handing the win to instead. Had she been nominated she'd be my choice for the prize.

    1. The fact that Glenn Close and Sigourney Weaver don't have Oscars is staggering to me, especially when Hillary Swank has two. Sadly, I think you're right about Close--like Peter O'Toole, she'll have a hatful of nominations and no competitive wins despite having earned several.

      Amanda Donohue is an interesting thought--Lair of the White Worm is a weird little film, but fun.

  3. Ah, zee loovli Zhodie Fostair! She speaks zee nearly pairfect Fraintch!

    1. Does she? I'm actually not surprised at that.

  4. I'm lacking here as I've only seen Working Girl and The Accused. With that in mind, Foster would be my choice.

    I would love to have seen a nom for Ryder in Heathers and Sarandon in Bull Durham. Both are great, but I know, genre. Sigh.

    1. Dangerous Liaisons is 100% worth your time. Close, Malkovich, a very young Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfieffer, and even Peter Capaldi and Keanu Reeves.

      It's sexy and dirty and fun in all the best ways.