The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1977

Ah, 1977. Star Wars loses to Annie Hall. Or rather, Star Wars had no shot at winning Best Picture and Annie Hall upsets the presumed favorite, The Turning Point, a melodrama about aging ballerinas. Yeah, everybody makes mistakes.

What’s most interesting about this category in particular, is that the winner won for the wrong film. It’s not that Annie Hall was a bad film, it’s just, Diane Keaton wasn’t really acting in it. The other film she did this year, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, is, however, a fucking phenomenal performance and one that would have won this category hands down. But, in typical Academy fashion, they went with the “lighter” of the two performances because, well, I guess they can’t take depressing films.

The other winners this year were Richard Dreyfuss as Best Actor for The Goodbye Girl, Jason Robards and Vanessa Redgrave as Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor for Julia (Robards won this category two years running on this one), and Woody Allen winning Best Director for Annie Hall. I know. But we’ll try not to talk about it.


And the nominees are…

Anne Bancroft, The Turning Point

Jane Fonda, Julia

Diane Keaton, Annie Hall

Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point

Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl

Bancroft — Hey, another category with multiple nominees from the same film. This will save me some time. Funnily enough, this is the first of two times where Shirley MacLaine was nominated for Best Actress in the same category as her costar from the same film. The other time she won for. This one — yeah. This is kind of like The Hours of the 70s. That film that sweeps a bunch of precursors, is the heavy favorite to win the big one, yet is boring as shit and is clear Academy bait. Thank god it didn’t win. It would have been so bad if that won instead of Annie Hall over Star Wars. At least there you can say, “Well, they went with clever writing over special effects.” And I can understand that. There’s an inherent bias against special effects blockbusters and an even bigger one against sci-fi films, so I get they didn’t want it to win, no matter how deserving. But don’t let it lose to something like this. Listen to what it’s about.

Shirley MacLaine is a ballerina in her 40s who at one time was the star of her company but gave it up to get married and start a family. She’s deeply resentful of her best friend, Anne Bancroft, who stayed with the company and took the top spot after she left. Now, her daughter, around 20, is joining her former company. Bancroft decides to become her mentor. Because Bancroft is now 40 herself and her time at the head of the company is coming to an end. She’s just gotten notice that the new director has decided to go in a younger direction and that she’s now down to a supporting role in the new ballet. And she’s become jealous of Shirley because she wanted to have a family and now is probably too old to have one. Get it? One got out too early and is disillusioned and the other got out too late and now can’t start. Drama!

Yeah, there’s a lot of that. Repressed feelings and shit. And then the daughter starts getting stressed at all the hard work. She drinks before a performance, starts sleeping with a dude recklessly, all that shit. This is a movie that would have been perfect for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in 1950. The movie itself isn’t unbearable. You can get through it. It’s just — too much melodrama. Fortunately, though, it does end in a cat fight at the end. Out of nowhere, the two start fighting one another in a public square on the way to the bus stop. And they tear at each other, scarves flying in the wind and shit, handbags hitting the ground like hockey players dropping gloves. And they go at it, then start laughing and hug and walk away, friends again. I have no idea. A man fight would have seen some fists.

As for the performances now. Who we got first? Anne? Yeah. She’s — she’s probably got the bigger role of the two. She’s got more screen time, anyway. That’s how this worked. More screen time, nomination. MacLaine is overdue, nomination and less screen time. But, Anne gets to be sad about getting old, help Shirley’s daughter, who is a constant reminder to each of what they gave up, and she gets to fight with Shirley. It’s — a performance. Not bad, just not, interesting. Neither was winning for this, since, how do you vote between two average (in terms of nominated, not average in general) performances? So, whatever, neither was gonna win.

Fonda — Jane, Jane, Jane. Jane Fonda was like the Kate Winslet of the 70s. She was nominated for fucking everything she did. And she won twice! Once, I get. Klute was great. The second time, meh, not so much. But you know, whatever. She didn’t win here, and that’s the important thing. However, she was very solid here and this movie is actually a really good movie. I was surprised by what I got here.

The movie is about Lillian Hellman, a playwright who lives with Dashiell Hammett. And she gets a message randomly from her best friend Julia, whom she hasn’t seen in years. And Julia is a resistance fighter in Europe (this is during the whole “Hitler” thing), and is in hiding, because, I guess, people want her dead. So she agrees to transport something valuable from America into Germany, and the movie is kind of a thriller, in the sense that, most of it has Fonda on a train, or going through borders, in fear of being caught, hiding something that she knows, if they find it, she’ll be killed, all because her best friend asked her to do it. And that’s pretty much the movie. It doesn’t sound like much, but, when you watch it, it’s actually pretty tense how they pull it off. I mean, the movie’s not perfect, but it is on the whole very well done.

As for Fonda’s performance, she’s good, but not win good. Worth the nomination though. It’s mostly a placeholder performance. The film isn’t really about her. We see her in high society with her play and stuff, then we see her on the train, and she gets to act tense and nervous, but she really doesn’t do all that much besides that. Plus there’s voiceover, and you know how much I hate voiceover. So, for me she’s like the third best performance and fourth on the voting chart because she has one already and Shirley Macclaine has one already.

Keaton — Okay, this is where things get tricky. I’m actually gonna spend less time talking about the film she won for in favor of the film she should have won for.

First, Annie Hall. Woody Allen movie, actually one of his better ones. The storytelling techniques in this movie are great. Basically, it’s about Woody Allen reminiscing about his relationship with Diane Keaton. And we see the relationship in a nonlinear format. Different pieces at different times. And as a whole, we get a picture of — a relationship. Of a real relationship. The reason I don’t like the performance here is because — it’s basically Diane Keaton being herself. Annie Hall is her name! Annie is what her nickname is and Hall is the last name she was born with. And they were dating at the time so Allen just wrote all her mannerisms into the character. There wasn’t any acting involved at all! The performance would never win an Oscar, ever. And I wondered why the hell it did — until I found Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a movie that — thank god Tuesday Weld was nominated in Supporting because, I’d never have known about it. The movie is about Diane Keaton — this is based on a real story, this actually was what some woman did — who is a demure schoolteacher. At first glance, she’s the perfect kindergarten teacher, loves her work, loves the kids, the kids love her — squeaky clean. However, at night, she has a habit of going out to seedy bards and picking up very questionable men and having the roughest, kinkiest sex with them. This woman actually lead a double life By day, a shy teacher. At night, having sex with men you wouldn’t tell your real name to. And drugs. So many drugs. It’s because she’s a nymphomaniac and is trying to satisfy her urges, and the only way she can do that is with men of that nature. And we see her shy away from a normal family life toward people like Richard Gere, who plays a lowlife lover of hers, who beats her but keeps coming back. And the film is set up very clearly from the beginning. You know this woman is gonna die or be killed from this lifestyle. And yet you watch it anyway. It’s fucking incredible. THAT’s the movie she should have won for. Not Annie Hall.

Taking into account both performances (it’s almost a shame they didn’t continue that old trend from the 20s of nominated people for two films at once), she really was the most deserving, based on the year she had. But, based on what she was nominated for — she’s barely a third choice. Fourth, even. So, the question becomes, do you vote her in for both films, knowing she’d win for one she shouldn’t win for, or do you focus solely on what the Academy nominated her for?

MacLaine — Okay, now Shirley. Basically, what Anne did in the film, Shirley did less of. She get to be sad at home, then show up and argue with Anne about how Anne had it good by dancing. Then Anne is like, “Yo bitch, I’m not happy, quit making me feel bad.” It’s Shirley, and she’s always good, but, like I said with Anne, neither were winning for this, and neither should have. Anne had her two great performances that were Oscar-worthy (winning for one) and Shirley should have won in 1960. And she got her Oscar in 1983 for a performance that was more worth it than this was. So, no vote.

Mason — The Goodbye Girl is a near flawless movie. Written by Neil Simon, it’s about a single mother whose boyfriend leaves, thereby eliminating her main source of income. So now, in order to take care of her daughter, she rents out the extra bedroom of the apartment and tries to get a job. First, the job. She was a former dancer (another ballet dancer. That’s three this year!) and is now trying to get back into dancing shape after years of motherhood. Now the other half. That part wasn’t her choice. One night, Richard Dreyfuss shows up unexpectedly, expecting to get into the apartment. He rented it from the woman’s boyfriend, since he’s the one who paid for it. So they immediately get off on the wrong foot, arguing over who has the rights to the apartment, and eventually settle on, he’ll stay and he splits the rent. That helps with half her problem. And the rest of the film is them coexisting, at first shakily — arguing a lot and such, and then eventually becoming friendly, and then intimate, and all that. It’s a great, great movie. The dialogue is excellent and it’s just a funny, warm and touching film. It’s really great.

As for Mason’s performance — she is top notch here. Really. Just A+. She gets to go through every emotion imaginable during this movie and she nails it perfectly. It’s a performance that would definitely have won this award if the film were perhaps less “comedy” or perhaps if Annie Hall weren’t also a comedy. I don’t know. But, for me, she is the winner based solely on the five performances nominated. She really knocked this movie out of the park. All three of the leads did (and yet only one of them won an award).

My Thoughts: Okay, the best performance here is Marsha Mason. By far. Going strictly by actress and film she was nominated for. However, taking into account Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Diane Keaton based on complete body of work for the year deserves to win. It’s like DiCaprio in 2006. Blood Diamond wasn’t a good enough performance to earn my vote, but he also did The Departed, and that was, especially in a year as weak as that. So, what it comes down to is whether I stick straight to the list, or include the fact that Diane Keaton had that other performance. Because if it weren’t for the fact that it was nominated for Supporting Actress and it was part of the Quest, I might not have known it existed and would have just voted for Mason. But now I saw it, and have more context as to why she won. So what do I do?

It’s a tough decision either way since, both deserved Oscars. Marsha Mason turned in a few Oscar-worthy performances and always came away empty-handed, and Diane Keaton is Diane Keaton. So, since I now know that Goodbar factored into the race, I have to take it into account, and I’m gonna vote Diane Keaton because — if she were nominated for Goodbar, this category isn’t even a challenge. Seriously — that performance was fucking STELLAR. I’m treating it like a hall-of-famer, where they only let them wear one cap in the hall, and the hall chooses which cap the player wears. You have to take into account the entire career, especially if it’s a deal where, the player played the most years on one team, but had their most successful and formidable years on the team not featured.

My Vote: Keaton

Should Have Won: Keaton, Mason

Is the result acceptable?: Yes, though I wish it was for the right film.

Performances I suggest you see: If you want to see a good Woody Allen film, Annie Hall is it. The man’s made about 40 or more films now, and I think, based on what I’ve seen, I can only stomach like, six of them. The rest I either don’t like, hate, or am completely indifferent towards. So, the fact that I enjoyed this one is a glowing review of it. Also, The Goodbye Girl is a fucking amazing movie and a brilliantly-written script. The reason it’s brilliant is because it manages to be both timeless and yet firmly rooted in the 70s. Which means everyone can enjoy it and people like me can watch the movie and know — that’s what it was like in the 70s. Julia is a good film and works on the whole, though I’m not sure how many people will like it. It can be tough if you don’t pay attention. It can be rough if you do. I just thought the train sequence was very riveting. It’s always fascinating when you know a character is one reveal away from being killed and waiting to see if they’re gonna make it or not (even if you know they will. It’s about how). The real film I’m going to tell you to watch here is Looking for Mr. Goodbar, because it’s really the best performance (not) on this list.


5) Bancroft

4) MacLaine

3) Fonda

2) Keaton

1) Mason

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