Friday, August 14, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1997

The Contenders:

Julie Christie: Afterglow
Helen Hunt: As Good as it Gets (winner)
Judi Dench: Mrs. Brown
Kate Winslet: Titanic
Helena Bonham Carter: The Wings of the Dove

What’s Missing

1997 is one of those years where, at least of the movies I’ve seen, the standout performances are actors rather than actresses. There are a few changes I’d make, though, because there are some performances I like more than at least a few of our nominees. Oscar was not a science fiction fan in 1997, and Uma Thurman was probably supporting in Gattaca, but I think she’s worth a mention here. The same could be said of Nicole de Boer in Cube, which wouldn’t get noticed even in the weakest of years. Oscar hates horror, too, which is going to leave out Neve Campbell in Scream 2. I would genuinely nominate Penelope Cruz in Abre los Ojos, but I’m partial to Penelope Cruz in general. I’d most like to see Jodie Foster here in Contact, although I’ve taken some heat for mentioning that movie before.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely like Julie Christie as an actress, but I hated every moment of Afterglow so much. Christie is a capable actor in anything she is in, but she is wasted in this film, where her role is to essentially be an older, female version of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. The film is nothing more than disaffected rich people wondering why no one else cares about their genitalia as much as they do. Christie may well be the best thing in the movie, but that say so little that it’s not worth talking about any further.

4. It is entirely personal for me to put Helen Hunt in fourth, because I really don’t like Helen Hunt as an actor. I’ve never looked at her in a role and not wondered why they didn’t get someone else for it. The fact that she isn’t in last place, in fact, is a good indication of just how much I hated Afterglow. In truth, I didn’t like As Good as It Gets a whole lot more. Hunt is at least partly responsible for that, simply because I don’t really like Hunt. I suppose she’s as good as she ever is, but I also suppose that doesn’t say much.

3. I’m on the fence as to whether I would nominate Helena Bonham Carter in Wings of the Dove. She might barely make the list for me, but very likely would not. It’s not anything against her beyond the fact that she isn’t always the most interesting person on the screen. Linus Roache, who went unnominated, is far more interesting in the film. As a general rule, I like Carter as an actor, and I didn’t dislike her here; I’m just not sure she did quite enough to really earn the nomination in question.

2. For me, Judi Dench is pretty much always in the running when she’s gotten a nomination. She’s one of those actors who I find immediately compelling no matter what she is doing, and she has demonstrated that she can do just about anything. Mrs. Brown is hardly a carnival thrill ride of a film, but Dench is very good at what she does here, and she is always compelling on the screen. This isn’t a film I would probably watch again, but if I did, it would be in no small part because of Dench’s performance.

My Choice

1. I’m actually a little surprised that Kate Winslet didn’t win for Titanic. It was very clearly Titanic’s year in so many ways, and Winslet’s performance is one that drives the movie in so many ways. Sure, Leo is very good in the movie, but it’s Kate’s story and she never disappoints in the role. Kate Winslet should have a shelf of Oscars, and it’s rather depressing that the one she has is for such a morally questionable train wreck as The Reader. I’d be much happier with her having one for this performance on her shelf.

Final Analysis


  1. I do love Julie Christie and I did like Afterglow but it really should've gone to Kate Winslet. Plus, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who isn't fond of Helen Hunt though she has her moments. I'm also not a fan of As Good as It Gets, in fact. The only movie of James L. Brooks that I like is Broadcast News as I don't like everything else he does at all.

    Where's Pam Grier for Jackie Brown? Honestly, that was the best performance that year.

    I would've vouched for Susanne Lothar for Funny Games, Patricia Arquette for Lost Highway, Penelope Cruz for Abre Los Ojos, and Francesca Neri for Live Flesh to make it more interesting. Uma would've gotten my supporting pick.

    1. So I guess this is where I admit that I've never seen Jackie Brown. I also desperately hated Broadcast News.

      Afterglow was a "Miserable people make each other miserable" movie, so I didn't care for anyone or anything in it.

  2. Pam Grier, and it's not even close. Guess I need to watch "Big Doll House" now as it is still on TCM on Demand.

    1. I suppose I should watch Jackie Brown, but I always leave a Tarantino film feeling oily.

  3. Well the insufferable Hunt would be dead last for me in that godawful movie. I weep that she has an Oscar and HBC doesn't although I wouldn't hand her one this year either.

    My adoration of Julie Christie is well known and she'd make my list of nominees but in fifth place. She's hands down the best part of Afterglow but the movie is ramshackle and I can name half a dozen other performances I'd rather see her win for.

    The romance in Titanic is so much hogwash, a first class passenger and a steerage passenger would NEVER have had that degree of contact in 1912!, but I can't fault Kate Winslet's performance for that. She wouldn't be my choice but between Gloria Stuart, Frances Fisher and she there was at least superior acting happening in the movie.

    My choice is between HBC And Judi Dench. I could have gone either way, Helena's duplicitous Kate is one of her best portrayals but so is Judi's Queen Victoria. I'd say HBC's portrait was strengthened by having Linus Roache as her partner whereas Judi's is more independently strong so I'd hand it to her.

    The two alternates I'd mention as being worthy of consideration are Vanessa Redgrave in Mrs. Dalloway and Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. I'm not the biggest Roberts fan but Wedding is crafted to every one of her strengths and she plays it expertly. I like her in this far more than her Oscar winning Erin Brockovich which just screams "Give Me An Award Dammit!!"

    1. I agree that the romance in Titanic is problematic, and the movie itself has a lot of issues overall, but it is a hell of a spectacle. I've tended to describe it as "Come for the fairy tale romance, stay for the sinking." Regardless of this, Winslet is pretty damn great in it, and her performance, for better or worse, really has endured.

      I don't hate Dame Judi winning this, but I'm of the opinion that she's pretty much always in the running if she's been nominated.

    2. Technically this version of Titanic is a marvel. It just pissed me off that with 2200 stories on the actual ship Cameron felt the need to concoct some piece of ridiculousness and waste the opportunities. But then his strength has never been characterization, thankfully Billy Zane's character didn't have a mustache or the director would have had him twirling it! But once the ship hits the berg it's masterful. The engagement with Kate's Rose is almost solely because of her skill (Gloria Stuart's old Rose adds an emotional resonance to help her along)

      But if I want something more factual I turn to either A Night to Remember or the Stanwyck/Webb Titanic. The first is as close to the real event as you can get and in the second their story is also fictitious but it is believably so. There would have been people on board like them perhaps dealing with those issues.

    3. I get it. I think there is sort of an interesting fantasy element to the narrative, and Jack's initial rescue of Rose does give him at least an element of entry into that world. But it is ridiculous in a lot of ways and it's complete fantasy regardless. It's wish fulfillment, and for that, it's not bad. But for me, it really is all about the ship sinking.

  4. Just for fun, I would throw in a vote for Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in The Fifth Element. Her straight-up delivery in Besson's wingnut science fiction comedy is the stuff of legend, and not many 1997 actress performances can match that legacy.

    1. I can't disagree with that. If I'm going to suggest that Lakeith Stanfield should have been in the running for committing completely to the bonkers script that is Sorry to Bother You, I have to admit that the same is true for Jovovich.

  5. I've only seen Titanic. Winslet was good, but not one I would reward. Pam Grier would be my winner for Jackie Brown.

    1. That's the common response, and honestly, Jackie Brown is probably the biggest whole in my viewing history, or at least one of the biggest.