The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1973

1973 is one of those years I love so much it makes me want to say it real loud. But then I get worried that not everyone feels as strongly as I do, so I mostly keep it to myself. But, everyone loves The Sting, right? We’d all have voted for that over The Exorcist, right? Because those seem to be the only two. If you say American Graffiti, I’ll laugh at you. It’s a great film but — not over those two.

Anyway, the rest of this year was also pretty good. Or at least, above average. Jack Lemmon finally got his Oscar and won Best Actor for Save the Tiger. Tatum O’Neal wins Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon, which was a fantastic decision. Then John Houseman wins Best Supporting Actor for The Paper Chase, which I guess is okay, since he’s an acting legend, even though I’d have gone another way. Oh, and George Roy Hill finally wins his Best Director statue, which, was the best thing to come out of this year.

And now we have — the worst thing to come out of this year.


And the nominees were…

Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist

Glenda Jackson, A Touch of Class

Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty

Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were

Joanne Woodward, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Burstyn — The Exorcist. I think everyone knows this movie, even if they haven’t seen it (which why not?) Girl and her mother, girl starts behaving strangely, is possessed by the devil, priest comes in to confirm, he calls in Ma von Sydow, they perform an exorcism. Great movie.

Ellen Burstyn is really great in this movie because — it’s mostly her for the first, I’d say 2/3-3/4 of it. At the beginning it’s just her and Reagan, and Reagan starts acting strange, and she ends up being the witness to all of these occurrences, most specifically, the crawling down the stairs, fucking herself with the crucifix, and psychotic head turn around. And she calls in Father Karras, who tries to help her figure it out, and they call in Father Merrin, and then the big exorcism is the climax of the film.

Ellen Burstyn is really good in this movie, and probably should have won for it. I mean, the woman had to perform a scene where her “daughter” fucks herself with a crucifix and pushes her head down amongst all the blood and vaginal juices (Note: Title filed away for potential autobiography use). I can see why the Academy shied away from it, because it’s a horror movie and because most of the role is her reacting and screaming (Note: blood and vaginal juices). But at the core of it is a really great performance. After all, she’s a mother who wants to find out what happened to her daughter. You can tell they think she should have won for this, because they gave her one the year after this. To me this comes down to her and one other person. I’ll get to that in a second. First we need to deal with the big two-time Oscar winner in the room.

Jackson — I’m very much on record as saying that Glenda Jackson’s 1970 Best Actress win is, by far, the single worst acting decision the Academy has ever made — in any category. Of all time. Ever. The worst. In fact, you poll most people, I’d say that probably has a good chance at being the general consensus worst decision of all time, which, I kind of want to do. If only I knew how to create polls on this thing. I’d totally do that. (Note: Just figured it out. I’m looking right the fuck at it at the top of this page. Good looking out, Mike.) But, anyway, her having won before this in such a terrible way should have automatically disqualified her from winning here. But for some reason, the Academy voted her in again. I just don’t understand it. Her and Hilary Swank — what is it?

Anyway, this film is about a married woman and a married man. They meet and have lunch, and he brings her up to his hotel room, hoping to sleep with her, and she says she can’t do it like that, as much as she wants to. So she has him plan a trip for the weekend where they can do it. And they go, and the whole trip is a comedy of errors, and is kind of a screwball comedy of sorts (by not a particularly laugh out loud funny one), and then they come home and continue their affair. And it develops into a full blown romance, and they get an apartment where they meet, and the whole thing becomes difficult, because they’re finding ways to meet there together that are not the best ways — like, she’ll walk the dog, come up to the apartment, and he’ll be at an opera with his wife and feign sickness and go to the apartment. Shit like that. And eventually they break it off because, I believe, she leaves her husband and he won’t leave his wife, even though he’s the one who serially cheats and this is her first affair. And she leaves him and it’s sad because, well, she loves him.

It’s actually a pretty good film, and Glenda Jackson is really good in it. But having won already so recently, and so unfairly, I’m not even thinking once about voting for her. That’s just how it is. Otherwise, she’d actually be third on my list for a vote, possibly even second and in the running. Which is a shame. But, they fucked up, not me.

Mason — Cinderella Liberty is an interesting film. One, it’s a 70s picture. Two, it’s about a sailor who falls in love with a hooker. That’s interesting. Three, it stars James Caan as a sailor named John Baggs. Four, Eli Wallach is in it. Five, do you need another reason?

James Caan is a sailor who meets Marsha Mason in a bar. She’s a wise-cracking hooker, and he starts falling for her. Like, for real, not like, after he sleeps with her, kind of deal. And she doesn’t really want him, she’d rather keep doing what she does. And he befriends her son, who is a mixed-race boy (or a “mulatto,” as they call it — I really wish they had that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm up online that I could link to, but they don’t), and sort of takes it upon himself to start helping them out. And he works his way closer to her, but she still refuses to accept responsibility. She continues to go back to finding men whenever she gets in trouble, she continues to not be the best mother she could be for her son, and James Caan continues to try to get her to settle down with him. And it gets to the point where he gets her to agree to marry him because — well, the whole time, they lost his records, so he couldn’t get paid, and them marrying would make their financial situation more stable. And they get married, but then he gets called to go back out to sea, at which point she skips town. And the end of the film, which I actually thought was really great, has him calling in a favor to Eli Wallach, who at first was his nemesis, but then became his friend, who goes on the boat, pretending to be Caan, and then Caan and her son go off to find her. I thought that was great. It’s an unhappy ending with hope for the future. That’s the 70s, and that’s why they’re great. Shit isn’t tied up.

So, Marsha Mason is really good in this movie. She plays the prostitute, and does a really good job of staying true to her character. I’m not sure if, performance alone, I’d vote for this, but, it’s close. It’s good enough where I think it could win, and this really comes down to her and Ellen Burstyn for me.

Streisand — This film is widely considered one of the best romance films ever made. I’m pretty indifferent toward it. I liked it when I saw it, but I really felt no need to see it again. But, hey, this is a film a lot of people like that I just don’t, so, don’t go by me.

The film is about Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, who meet in college in the 30s. And she’s very liberal and very opinionated. She does a lot of activist stuff and is laughed at by a lot of the students. And he’s pretty apathetic about the whole thing. They get together because they’re both in a writing class. And she discovers he can write well, even though he doesn’t particularly try hard. Then they meet up again after the war, where she’s at a radio station and he’s just served. And they get together, he becomes a screenwriter, and she doesn’t like his choices because she’s all about the politics and shit, and she starts to polarize him, and they grow apart, and eventually divorce. And they end up meeting again years afterward, and both acknowledge that it’s a shame they couldn’t be together, because they were made for one another. And it’s sad.

The movie’s pretty good. Streisand does a good job. The character is such that she’s so outspoken it’s off-putting. And I’d agree with that. That’s what she does. There are tender moments during the romance, but on the whole, she does the character well. I’d say it’s good, but, wasn’t really a contender for the vote. Plus, she won already, so, she doesn’t need this. The performance is good, and that’s that.

Woodward — And, we have another contender for one of the worst films I saw on this Oscar Quest. This film was just — boring. This is a veteran nom, through and through. This and Best Supporting Actress. But, we’ll get through it.

Joanne Woodward is a mother who starts rethink her life, and her relationships with all her family. She has all these crazy dreams about what her life could have been like, and of all the shit that’s happened in her life. And there are scenes with her son being gay, and him yelling at her, and her mother is there, and then she dies, and — honestly, I don’t remember what the fuck happened in this movie. I was bored to tears. And then some. Seriously, this was not good. Thank god it was only 90 minutes long.

Yeah, clearly #5, I don’t think anyone would argue with this one.

My Thoughts: It would have been okay if Glenda Jackson won for just this year and not for 1970, but, with this year we already know she won in 1970 and that it was so not okay. Which means, no matter what happens, she is the last person that should win this year. Even after Joanne Woodward, whose film was like watching paint dry. This category should have been between Ellen Burstyn and Marsha Mason. Streisand should have contended, but, she got an Oscar, so, spread the wealth. Plus she wasn’t good enough to win anyway. So, Burstyn and Mason are the clear two. Now, Mason never won one, and that makes her the one I should be voting for, but, Ellen Burstyn was so fucking good in The Exorcist. I’m taking her. And I think history says the same thing. So, she’s my vote. Plus her winning here would have made the year after this a hell of a lot easier.

My Vote: Burstyn

Should Have Won: Not Jackson. The best two choices are Burstyn and Mason.

Is the result acceptable?: Hell fucking no. It might have been acceptable had Glenda Jackson not won in 1970, in the worst Best Actress decision of all time, but, giving her a second one three years later is really just rubbing it in. When you win a first award that badly, you better pull off one fucking amazing performance in order to win that second one. And this one, while definitely more worthy than the first one, is not that performance. She should not have won for that reason alone. Because you know what happens because of this decision? Ellen Burstyn doesn’t win and wins one a year later. It’s part makeup Oscar, mostly deserved. But, had she won this year, she could not have won in ’74, and then the winner could have been Faye Dunaway for Chinatown (or, my personal preference, Gena Rowlands for A Woman Under the Influence). Or, say Burstyn doesn’t win, since Dunaway won in ’76 anyway. Marsha Mason never won an Oscar. And she was in The Goodbye Girl. So, no matter how you slice it — no, this is so very, very unacceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Exorcist, man up and do it. It’s one of the best movies ever made. It’s essential to being a human. The rest — Cinderella Liberty is an enjoyable film, but, its very 70s, and, not for everyone. A Touch of Class, enjoyable for the most part. It starts off as a comedy, turns into a tragic romance. It’s good. Some might not like it, but, it is pretty good. And The Way We Were is considered one of the most romantic movies of all time. I don’t love it, but it is pretty good, and its Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, so that’s something.


5) Woodward

4) Streisand

3) Jackson

2) Mason

1) Burstyn

2 responses

  1. Calvin Philips

    Hello there. Long-time reader, first-time (I think) commenter. I’m not crazy about this performance from Woodward either, but does it change your stance at all that she had The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds this same year?

    January 16, 2014 at 9:52 am

  2. Calvin Philips

    Oops. Sorry. It was the year before this.

    January 16, 2014 at 9:53 am

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