The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1982

What can I say about 1982 that hasn’t already been said about 1996?

I haven’t actually said anything about 1996, but this year is analogous to that. The big, sweeping, historical epic that beat the great comedy and the really great drama. It’s hard to argue with it, because it’s an Academy-type film — you just have to shrug and say, “It’s what they like.”

As for the acting categories, I’d say, they got one really right, one was the safe choice, one was a bad choice and the final one was a good choice and also a safe choice. I’ll leave you to decide which is which out of this group. Best Actor was Ben Kingsley for Gandhi, which also won Best Picture and Best Director for Richard Attenborough (whom you may remember from such films as The Great Escape, and most notably Jurassic Park, in which he played the old man running the park. He also directed two of my favorite movies — Magic, featuring a jaw-droppingly brilliant performance by Anthony Hopkins and solid supporting work by Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith, and Chaplin, featuring a jaw-droppingly good performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin. You may also know his brother, David, who narrates all the BBC nature documentaries, specifically Planet Earth. Who hasn’t gotten high and watched Planet Earth? David Attenborough’s voice is the soothing alternative to Robert Osborne. Those men can narrate anything. Fuck Morgan Freeman. I’ll take those two any day). Best Supporting Actor went to Lou Gossett Jr., for An Officer and a Gentleman, and Best Supporting Actor went to Jessica Lange for Tootsie. And now this category. I’ll ruin part of the suspense by saying this is the one they got really right.


And the nominees were…

Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria

Jessica Lange, Frances

Sissy Spacek, Missing

Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice

Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman

Andrews — Everybody loves Julie Andrews. How can you not? I’m gonna save you all the space by saying up front, I won’t be voting for her. But, I’m glad she was nominated. She’s awesome.

In the movie, Andrews plays a poor, down-on-her-luck soprano. The singer, not the mobster from New Jersey. And she’s trying to get a job in a club as a singer. But she gets turned down and can’t pay her rent. She walks around so hungry and so delirious that when her landlord comes to throw her out she sees he’s just come from dinner and offers to sleep with him for a single meatball (love the subtext there). And eventually, the singer at the last place who turned her down — who has since been fired — meets up with her at a fancy restaurant. And they get to know one another, as they order everything on the menu with no ability or intention of paying the eventual check. Oh, he’s gay by the way. Which is great, since he’s played by the dude who was Harold Hill in The Music Man. He has her spend the night at his place, and in the morning, his former lover comes to get his clothes, which she’s wearing, because they were caught in the rain and hers got ruined, and she chases him away because he thinks she’s a man. Click.

The guy then realizes — let’s have her pretend she’s a man. But not just any man. She pretends to be a man playing a woman at a female impersonator club. So, essentially, she plays a woman playing a man playing a woman. But it’s all very comic. There’s the gangster love interest, his ditzy girlfriend who talks like a moll, slapstick brawls, screwball situations, musical numbers, the works. It’s a nice comic performance, and she sings well, too. But, I can’t vote for her. She has an Oscar, and if she didn’t win for The Sound of Music (which, she shouldn’t have, but, still), she shouldn’t win for this. It’s a fun movie, though. Watch it if you like musicals, screwball comedies, or films of the modern era that emulate films of the 40s. No vote, though.

Lange — Jessica Lange is one of those actresses whose beauty sometimes can get in the way of the fact that she’s actually a pretty good actress. I mean, she’s no Meryl Streep, but she knows how to use her best qualities to her advantage (just, let’s not talk about that film she won for — oh boy). But, this isn’t that film. So we can talk about it.

The film is about Frances Farmer — who was in a few films from the late 30s and early 40s. None of them are well known today except for Come and Get It, which is the film that Walter Brennan won his first (and the first) Best Supporting Actor Oscar. She’s mostly known, however, for having a very high profile mental breakdown. This is the film about her life. One of those, you know, movie biopics. They present the story first, and it just happens to be about a famous person. The inspire you and — oh hey — this person was real too. These movies are the spanish fly of Oscar bait.

I have to say, I was very taken by this movie at first. I liked the fact that they presented her as someone who thought for herself. At the beginning, they show her, in high school, reading an essay she wrote that won a contest entitled “God is dead.” Problem is, she’s from a very religious town, and everyone started calling her a communist and all those names Catholics like calling people. And she doesn’t really care, because she knows that she does believe in God — it was just an essay. There’s something about a person like that that appeals to me. The kind who understand that just writing something doesn’t necessarily make it so. The kind who invariably end up having problems with the media.

She decides to become an actress. And she goes out to Hollywood, thinking it’ll be great, and by the second day, she’s having a screen test, which she thinks will go one way, and meanwhile the producer is like, “Nice tits.” She doesn’t realize she’s about to be used as a sex symbol and objectified. But she perseveres, does some films, then goes and does stage work after she becomes famous. They lure her in by saying she could be an artist rather than what the studios are using her for. And she does, but really all they’re doing is using her status to get more asses in the seats. And that doesn’t work, plus she makes offhand remarks that get blown up in the press, and all that.

There’s a great scene in the film, where, they have the premiere of one of her films in her hometown. And now that she’s coming back, the golden girl, they have a big affair, welcoming her, offering her a laurel as a token of appreciation and all of that. Meanwhile just three years prior, they were crucifying her as a communist because she wrote the essay and actually went to Russia on a trip (since, unlike the rest of the country, she didn’t care about the politics, she just wanted to see the world). So, when the woman — the same woman who told her she was gonna burn in hell after she read the essay in front of everyone — presents her with the token, she’s like, “Aren’t you the woman who said that back then?” And the woman’s like, “Uhh — I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is the first time we’ve ever met.” Trying to hush it under the rug. And then Frances just goes, “Bullshit.” It’s a beautiful scene. She gets to call out the entire town on their hypocrisy in front of them. It’s glorious.

Anyway,the whole time she’s got this mother who’s kind of a bitch. The kind of mother that supports her daughter when she does what she wants her to do. She doesn’t take to her daughter being an actress until she’s successful at it, at which point she’s over the moon for her. And then, once she comes home, starting to have the breakdown, the mother continues to sap all her confidence. And they commit her to an asylum — as they did in those days — and she tries to say she’s not sick. And the next bit of the film is her both having a breakdown and saying she’s not — I was actually confused as to whether the film was presenting that she did have a problem or didn’t have a problem. Because the whole time, they’re making it seem like she might not be really sick and that they’re treating her like she was, so that’s why she started acting like she was. Hell, she says this herself in the movie. So, that part was weird. But still, she gets to act all institutionalized and everything. And then she gets to get better and live her life redeemed and all that.

It’s a good performance. I thought Lange was really good in it. But I didn’t really see enough to vote for her here. Though, I will say, probably in a lesser year, or without any real competition, I’d probably vote for her because I like her the best. But, as luck has it, there’s definitely someone else to vote for, so we’ll all just have to be satisfied with the nomination — and the fact that she won Best Supporting Actress this year. That’s a pretty good consolation prize.

Spacek — This is an interesting film, Missing. It’s in the 80s, when all that shit happened in South America. And a dude is down there, he’s liberal, doing, whatever it is. And he’s down there with his wife, who is played by Sissy. And one day he goes missing. This happens pretty often down there. People are just rounded up and taken to be shot. And the way it works is, if an American is killed, they pretty much cover it up. I forget the specific politics as to why, but the film does a very good job of explaining everything. And the film is told mainly after the dude is missing, with flashbacks interspersed (I believe. It’s been some months since I’ve seen it). And it’s about Jack Lemmon, the guy’s conservative father, who doesn’t believe such a cover-up could ever take place. And slowly he realizes — yeah it did. And Sissy is basically there with him the whole time. I honestly don’t remember her ever really doing all that much in this movie. I remember her having one big dramatic scene, and the rest of the time, she’s just with Jack Lemmon and consoling him and grieving with him. The movie is really all about Jack Lemmon. That’s the performance to watch in this film. Plus the film itself is very engaging. I normally hate these kinds of political films that have to do with the politics of an area (at least when they aren’t in black and white and don’t star Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten). There are quite a few of these in the 80s, Oscar-wise, and of them, this might be the one I enjoyed the most. Not that I’ll probably ever watch it again, but I did enjoy it.

Either way, I still didn’t really see enough of a performance by Sissy in this movie to justify a win here. And since there’s a clear winner in this category, I won’t even get into that whole, “Should she have been nominated” thing. I generally only bother with that when I passionately disagree with 3 or more of the nominees. Here, it doesn’t really matter, because there was only ever gonna be one winner here. So, not vote.

Streep — It’s not even funny how easily Meryl Streep wins this race. I mean — first off, we all know Sophie’s Choice, don’t we? She’s a Polish immigrant, living in Brooklyn post-WWII. And she’s living with Kevin Kline, who is her lover, and is a loving, but very volatile man. The kind of man that will be devoted to her one day and beat the shit out of her the next. It’s that kind of relationship. He’s schizophrenic. And Peter MacNichol is kind of the main character of the movie. I’m not crazy how they structured the film, but, the performance is the performance. It’s not like the movie was up for Best Picture or anything. He’s a writer and becomes friends with them. And the whole thing is that stupid — voiceover thing, like, him telling the story because that’s the book he ended up writing after he got over the writer’s block. Yeah, I know, but, the movie is not the performance.

So, he finds out, over the course of the film, that she was in Auschwitz and her parents were killed there and that it traumatized her and all that. And Kevin Kline found her as she was near death and took her in. Anyway, while she was in the camp, one of the guards, deciding to be sadistic for no good reason, comes up to her and her two children and basically tells her, “Pick one of your children. One will live and one will die.” And she’s like, “I’m not gonna do that.” So the guy says, “Well then, we’ll take both of them.” So, on the spot, she needs to decide which of her children, the boy or the girl, will live and which one will die.

I’m not even going to describe the scene, just watch it:

The dude playing the guard does a real great job. It’s the perfect inflection to make everything that much more sinister.

That scene was shot in one take. She refused to do it again. Rightfully so. After a scene like that, I don’t eve need to say anything else about the performance. Done and done.

Winger — Here’s a performance that I don’t fully understand why it’s here, but, I like Debra Winger, so I’m not really upset that she’s here. This movie is essentially a romantic comedy, and even the drama aspects of it have nothing to do with her. It’s all about Richard Gere and Lou Gossett Jr. As I understand it, her part in this movie is just, she shows up, they meet cute, eventually start dating. There are a couple of scenes where they fuck. They seemed pretty explicit as far as sex scenes go. Especially in movies like this. But, they date, meet her family, that doesn’t go very well, then she goes away for a bit, then she shows up basically as “the girlfriend” as all the other shit happens regarding Richard Gere and a fellow trainee. Then there’s the finish where he carries her out of the factory (which, does that mean she’s not getting paid for that day’s work?). I really didn’t see anything to even warrant a nomination here. But, you know, whatever, you go Meryl, you need to fill four other spots. I like Debra Winger, so, good for her. Still, no one comes close to Meryl here.

My Thoughts: Not even a competition. Meryl all the way.

My Vote: Meryl Streep.

Should have won: No one else.

Is the result acceptable?: Fucking really?

Performances I suggest you see: Meryl’s, obviously. I guess Spacek’s, because by default I’m going to tell you to check out Lemmon’s whenever I talk about Best Actor from this year and hers comes with the package. And Winger’s, I guess, if you want to see one of the biggest chick flicks of all time. Andrews, I said up there, watch for those reasons.


5) Winger

4) Spacek

3) Andrews

2) Lange

1) Streep

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