The Oscar Quest: The Weakest Best Actress Nominees
Again I’ll stress that I’m talking about all-time.
I’ll also stress that half this list could easily have been swapped out for other nominees that aren’t on here. Mostly I’m just talking about really weak nominees that you just look at now and go, “Really?” Most people haven’t even heard of half of these movies. Or you just look at the films and the performances and go, “Wow, that hasn’t held up at all,” or, “That was really a popularity nomination.” Or some of them — some of them nobody can figure out. There’s one on this list that you look at and go, “Where the fuck did that come from?”
So that’s mostly what this is. People always talk about what the weakest winners were, but no one ever really talks about the weak nominees. Because there’s some weak ass shit populating a lot of these Oscar categories. We tend to forget about them, because in a given Oscar year there are at least 30 (this year there are 34) new nominees in the six major categories, but there’s a lot of shit out there that nobody mentions.
So, today, I’m gonna talk about what I think (some of) the weakest Best Actress nominees are.
Oh, and before I get started, another thing I like to do for these categories is list which winners I think also qualify as weak nominees as well. I can’t in good conscience rank the winners among the ones that didn’t win, because it’s just different once they have that distinction of having won. So I looked at just the winners on their own and picked which ones I thought were ten really weak nominees. Which ones, had they not won, would probably fit my list of weak nominees. (Also, this is only in relation to the winners. Some of these are only here because I consider most of the winners as decently strong nominees. Also, give me a leeway of like, two, for personal dislikes and such.)
Here’s my list of weak winners:
- Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (2009)
- Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line (2005)
- Nicole Kidman, The Hours (2002)
- Jessica Lange, Blue Sky (1994)
- Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
- Glenda Jackson, A Touch of Class (1973)
- Glenda Jackson, Women in Love (1970)
- Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia (1956)
- Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)
- Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Okay, now here is my list of the weakest Best Actor nominees of all time:
1. Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
- The role is right, and the performance is okay, but the material is really flat. She needed a better film for this not to be considered weak. We all knew she was getting on, but it just isn’t a very interesting nominee (and that’s without even mentioning the people who weren’t nominated this year).
2. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
- Maybe this wouldn’t necessarily be here if I didn’t dislike the film as much as I did, but even so — what about this screams “Oscar nominee”? The fact that it’s Annette Bening and she got fucked over in 1999, that’s all. I may be biased, but even so — this won’t hold up. People will forget about this in five years. Remember Being Julia? I rest my case. At least there I could see the performance.
3. Helen Mirren, The Last Station
- She’s supporting. Plus it’s one of those Helen Mirren nominations that she gets (and thankfully didn’t get this year).
4. Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
- She’s good and all, but nobody saw this movie, she was already nominated once for it, people have already forgotten this nomination (as opposed to her supporting turn as Bob Dylan, which she was also nominated for), and it detracts from the category. Weak.
5. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
- She does nothing of dramatic substance in this movie. She just acts like a cold bitch for most of the movie. Meryl nomination. At least the Julie & Julia one has her doing a spot-on Julia Child impression. Here she’s just Meryl. I love her, but a bunch of her nominations are jokes.
6. Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give
- Fuck no. This is a Nancy Meyers movie. This is the equivalent of if Meryl got nominated for It’s Complicated. Why were people okay with this when it happened? The movie wasn’t even very good, either.
7. Diane Lane, Unfaithful
- It’s an erotic thriller. I think that’s the official designation. She fucks a guy, her husband finds out, he kills the guy. I like Diane Lane, but she didn’t do anything here. This is a joke nomination. People support this because it’s her and all, but watch the performance — she doesn’t do anything special there.
8. Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary
- Fucking really?
9. Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
- It’s not horrible, but it’s still weak given that there’s not really a story to this movie and she has no real scenes that require her to act. I’m exaggerating, but it’s not exactly a Sophie’s Choice kind of film, is it? It’s a weak nomination.
10. Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
- Meryl nomination. This movie — actually, this one’s okay, but it’s still weak as shit. The 90s were when they started going, “We have no one, let’s just vote Meryl again.” This shouldn’t be here. But not as much as…
11. Meryl Streep, One True Thing
- Holy shit. This role is more baity than the one above it, but my god — this is a Lifetime movie! (Basically.) What the fuck is this? On of the top ten or fifteen weakest of all time.
12. Julie Christie, Afterglow
- Show of hands — who knows what this movie is? Who’s seen it? Anyone? It’s ridiculous to me that this is even here. This is basically them being like, “Hey, Julie Christie did something relevant again, let’s nominate her!” That works and all, only, ten years out, this looks weak as shit, especially when she drops an Away from Her performance on us and makes this look like the joke that it is.
13. Diane Keaton, Marvin’s Room
- Meryl is the lead of this movie. Why did they nominate Diane?
14. Susan Sarandon, The Client
- No. This is a John Grisham movie and Susan Sarandon was not required to do anything in this movie. I have no idea why this nomination is even here. They must have been itching to give her one (which they did the year after this).
15. Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation
- I like her, but this makes no sense to me. She’s not even really in the movie all that much. And all she does is act like a highbrow snob and tell stories. Weak nomination. If this isn’t nominated, nobody knows the difference.
16. Catherine Deneuve, Indochine
- There are long stretches of this movie that she’s not in. But I say that as though I’m not the only person here who has actually seen it. No one knows what this movie is. This is one of those nominations that happens sometimes that nobody cares about that we all forget that looks weak as shit twenty years later because the movie barely exists twenty years later.
17. Bette Midler, For the Boys
- No acting required here. She sings and is charming and stuff. Not a performance that should be here. This shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same chapter as her other nomination (for The Rose), but they’ll be mentioned in the same sentence, since these are the only films she was nominated for. Nuh uh. Shouldn’t be here.
18. Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
- Merchant-Ivory. Boring. Boring. Boring.
19. Melanie Griffith, Working Girl
- Look, I’m gonna list this film across the board. Go back and watch this movie and tell me what about it screams “Best Picture/Actress/Supporting Actress/Director nominee.” It’s staying here.
20. Meryl Streep, Ironweed
- This one’s not so bad, but I also don’t remember her actually doing all that much in the movie. Plus I didn’t like the movie. So I put it here. I might go back and see the performance again and think, “Yeah, it’s okay,” and want to take it off. But for now, I’m not even gonna pretend like enough of you have seen it to make that call.
21. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married
- Love the movie, but there’s no performance here. They’re just nominating Kathleen Turner.
22. Jane Fonda, The Morning After
- It’s a thriller. Not even a psychological thriller. A regular Hollywood thriller. You don’t have to act in these. They’re all the same. This is a joke nomination, and it looks even worse since it was her last nomination. (At the present, at least.)
23. Sissy Spacek, The River
- There are two movies nominated in this category that are the exact same movie — this and Country. Men trying to save their farms from foreclosure. This one might be the better movie, but the other one has Jessica Lange doing her thing. Here, I don’t see what makes Sissy Spacek a lead (a couple of her nominations are like that), and I don’t get what makes it worth being nominated. Though this is probably the weakest Best Actress category of all time, so that might have something to do with it. Either way — weak nomination, she has nothing to do in the movie.
24. Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians
- One of the worst films I saw on this Quest. I wanted to slit my wrists twenty minutes in. One of the ten weakest nominations in this category of all time.
25. Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman
- Love the movie — she’s not a lead in it. Not only that, what does she do in the movie? She has no major scenes that we remember (except maybe that ridiculously long sex scene, and the shot at the end with her being carried out of the factory. Other than that, name me a moment where she wows you with her performance in this. Can’t do it, can you?), she’s barely in the movie, and the movie isn’t even ABOUT her! This nomination reeks of “up and comer, we love you, we want to get you an Oscar sooner rather than later.” And if it weren’t for Shirley MacLaine being horribly overdue, she might have won the year after this for Terms of Endearment. This nomination is weak as shit, even though the movie is awesome.
26. Gena Rowlands, Gloria
- She was nominated for this and not Opening Night. I want you to watch the two movies, and there you will have your reasons why this is here.
27. Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin
- It’s just Goldie doing Goldie. What makes this Best Actress nomination worthy? She could have been nominated for a dozen of these and it wouldn’t make a difference which they chose. Like her, like the movie, but it’s a weak nomination.
28. Ellen Burstyn, Resurrection
- No one’s seen this movie, no one remembers this movie, it looks like it was shot for TV in 1985, and she doesn’t even do all that much acting in the movie. One of the 25 weakest nominees in this category of all time.
29. Jill Clayburgh, Starting Over
- She’s kind of a supporting part in the movie. We get Burt Reynolds, his wife leaves him, he’s sad. His parents go to set him up with Clayburgh, who we meet in act two. They date, and she’s awkward and stuff and it’s funny, but she’s not in every scene. She’s very much a supporting character. Then his wife comes back, and she takes up screen time too. I feel like, were she in more scenes, this nomination could have merit. But she’s not. So I have to consider this a weak nominee (even if she was horribly fucked over for the Oscar the year before this).
30. Geraldine Page, Interiors
- This movie was so boring. Nobody did anything. It was Woody Allen doing an Ingmar Bergman chamber drama. They just doubled down on the shit I hate, didn’t they?
31. Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin, cousine
- Less than 1% of people who have seen Oscar movies have seen this one. This should not be here at all, no matter how good the performance is. Nobody knows the actress, nobody knows the movie — this probably didn’t hold up by 1977. At least when you nominate Liv Ullmann, we know who Liv Ullmann is.
32. Glenda Jackson, Hedda
- This looks like it was shot for television, and I don’t understand how Glenda Jackson got half the nominations she got. (And I’m still bitter over that 1970 win. That’s the single worst Oscar decision of all time, that one.)
33. Joanne Woodward, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
- Watch this movie. Then watch paint dry. You’ll understand.
34. Maggie Smith, Travels with My Aunt
- What the fuck is this about? I thought the movie and Maggie’s performance were gonna be better. This shouldn’t be here at all. Why would you make Maggie look worse than she does now for the entire film? Just cast somebody older! The makeup in this movie looks like the makeup from J. Edgar for christ’s sake.
35. Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!
- Top five or ten worst nominees in this category. See the movie, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The 60s sure were a weird time.
36. Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools
- I’ve said what I had to say about this film in the Best Picture and Best Actor categories already. The same stuff applies. There are no leads here. If you only nominate it for Best Picture and maybe one Supporting Oscar, then I can be okay. But this — fuck no. It just makes it look worse. What if Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were nominated for Best Actress, Supporting Actor (twice) and Supporting Actress on top of Best Picture? I can sort of accept the way it is now, but all the stuff this film got is beyond the pale.
37. Sophia Loren, Marriage Italian Style
- I don’t get this. She somehow became one of those people who they just nominated for anything she did in her native language because people figured everything she did was great. It’s like Marion Cotillard this year in Rust and Bone. They almost nominated her for Best Actress for that, even though she’s not a lead, and the film wasn’t very good. (And the performance was just pretty good.) This is basically the same deal. They just nominated her. I love Sophia Loren, but I don’t get this nomination at all.
38. Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke
- Geraldine Page is another one — what’s with all the nominations? Most of the films suck and the performances you couldn’t pick out of a lineup.
39. Doris Day, Pillow Talk
- This is the same as Gene Kelly in Best Actor — what differentiates this from all her other performances? It’s weak because there’s really no reason for them to suddenly be doing it.
40. Bette Davis, The Star
- I’ve never really been a fan of any of Bette Davis’s performances, mostly because they feel so manufactured. Like Jezebel. You look at that, and it reeks of something that was written to make her look good and make it seem like she’s acting her ass off and to make people like her and the performance. This one — it’s about an aging Hollywood star who refuses to believe it’s over, and she keeps thinking she can get the sexy ingenue part even though they want her only for the part of the older sister. And finally she has to accept that it’s over. It’s fucking ridiculous. What if Arnold Schwarzenegger played an aging acting star who was a serial womanizer and had to come to terms with the fact that he just couldn’t do it anymore and now has to accept the fact that he’s gonna be playing nothing but grandpas and old people from now on? And he got nominated for it? Wouldn’t you then say, “He’s just playing himself!”? This is no different. A performance is a performance. Just because she’s Bette Davis doesn’t make her sacred.
41. Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear
- It’s a thriller. She gets to look frightened and scream — there’s nothing here, really.
42. Loretta Young, Come to the Stable
- One of the worst movies I saw on this Quest. A bunch of nuns show up at a town, saying God told them to build a church there. They have no money to build it, so they use their faith and somehow get other people to believe in their cause. This was nominated for seven Oscars. You know what the climax of this movie is? A TENNIS MATCH! This is one of the worst Oscar-nominated films of all time. I can’t stand this religion shit. At least Going My Way had songs.
43. Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart
- Melodrama. No one remembers this movie at all. And they certainly can’t differentiate if from…
44. Susan Hayward, Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman
- Without looking, have you seen both these Hayward nominations, do you remember what they’re about, can you differentiate the performances, and do you remember whether she was good in either of them or not? No. The answer is no. Nobody remembers these movies and the nominations stick out like leprosy. Weak as hell. Two of the weakest of all time.
45. Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary’s
- Love her, but there’s nothing here to warrant a nomination. This film being nominated is complete overkill and it hurts the categories because you know it would have never won.
46. Greer Garson, Mrs. Parkington
- Greer’s weakest nominated performance. It was a toss-up between this and The Valley of Decision, but at least there, it makes sense. This one is just one of those Oscar bait roles that is too much.
47. Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph
- This film stunk. No one remembers it, and it’s one of the weakest of all time in the category.
48. Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year
- It was either this or The Philadelphia Story. You can’t have both. Neither is a nomination-worthy performance. (Especially if Bringing Up Baby isn’t.) They’re light romantic comedies, nothing more. I love them both, but that’s what they are. And on top of that, this role is about her learning how to be a housewife? That’s basically what it is. She’s a free woman who doesn’t want to be tied down, gets married, sees she’s losing her husband because he wants a happy home life, and then goes to be a housewife. Of course, the end result is that she’s gonna be both, but still — what kind of message is that?
49. Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire
- It’s just a weak nomination because the performance isn’t all that great. It’s an actor nomination over a performance nomination, and those almost never hold up.
50. Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild
- I just picked one from the 30s. This is really just a light romantic comedy too. She writes racy books under a pen name even though she’s a good Christian girl from a small town. And then she goes to the big city as this famous author and meets a guy and all that bullshit. It’s a romantic comedy, and this is nowhere near her other nominated performances.