The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1961

What happened here? Not that I’m totally against it, since I like Sophia Loren, but, come on now.

Otherwise, though, 1961 is a pretty good year. West Side Story wins Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (first double Best Director winner in history. One of two, including the Coen brothers), Best Supporting Actor for George Chakiris and Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno (which I talked about here). Big film. Great film. The other award was Best Actor, which went to Maximilian Schell for Judgment at Nuremberg, which I don’t even hide as one I consider one of the worst decisions of all time.

But back to this category. It’s tough to say, since Sophia Loren is a legend, but I really don’t think she should have won this one. And it’s not even because of Audrey Hepburn. I don’t think she should have won this one either. But, because of the love I have for Sophia Loren, it makes it cloud the fact that I consider this win a terrible decision. And that’s what’s so difficult about this year.

BEST ACTRESS – 1961

And the nominees were…

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Piper Laurie, The Hustler

Sophia Loren, Two Women

Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke

Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass

Hepburn — How do you start with Breakfast at Tiffany’s? To even try to summarize it is to diminish its power. In a way, the film is not really about anything, despite having a pretty strong plot to it.

Basically — Audrey Hepburn is kind of a call girl. She dates lots of men and lives a rich lifestyle, paid for by them. She throws lots of parties, much to the annoyance of her Japanese landlord (a shockingly racist Mickey Rooney. Don’t believe me? Look), and lives pretty much a carefree lifestyle. Then, upstairs, George Peppard moves in. He’s a writer who is kind of a kept man. His benefactor — Patricia Neal — is sleeping with him and paying his rent and stuff. So both are living a life of convenience. And they strike up a friendship of sorts, and then a lot of other shit happens that — why ruin it? It’s a great movie.

This is probably Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic performance, which, is saying something, considering My Fair Lady and Roman Holiday and any number of other performances she’s given. She’s great in the role, albeit slightly miscast for the actual source material. But for the film, she’s perfect, and that’s what counts. It’s a great performance, and, based solely on Audrey herself, probably should have won here. Based on the competition, I honestly don’t know if I can vote for her. And by that I mean, I know I can’t. And that’s a shame. But did she really need it? I don’t think so. Well, she should have won in 1959, so, maybe that helps her cause. So maybe it’s closer than I think it is. We’ll see.

Laurie — Oh, man, first Tiffany’s now The Hustler? What a great start to a list.

The Hustler is a perfect movie, and if you’re even remotely interested in film, as broadly as “I like seeing good movies,” then you need to see this film. It’s not even a choice. You need to watch this movie. It’s fantastic.

Paul Newman is Fast Eddie Felson, and if you recognize the name it’s either because you saw The Color of Money, which is kind of an unofficial yet official sequel to this movie (directed by Martin Scorsese), or because the character is fucking iconic! He’s a small time pool hustler, who has been working his way up to face Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason, who is perfect in this movie). The beginning of the film is him getting Fats in a big money game, for all the money he has in the world. And very quickly, he loses. Right in the first ten minutes. That’s how you know this is gonna be a great movie. He loses, right then and there. And he’s now completely poor. And he tries going back to hustling again, but ends up getting his thumbs broken, and shortly after he meets Piper Laurie, who says she’s a college student, but is also an alcoholic and has her own set of problems, and the two end up having this really fascinating romance (this year is all about the romance, it seems. Except, you know, the winner was the one who ended up getting gang raped, so, you know, different strokes, I guess). And at the same time, George C. Scott, who saw the opening game between Newman and Fats, is a gambler who offers to stake Newman for a percentage of his winnings. And Newman starts doing that again and — some other shit happens, but, he starts working his way back to facing Fats again. But — well, it’s not exactly the most important — you’ll see.

The film is perfect. And Piper Laurie is really fucking good in this movie. I went through a time when I thought she should have won for this, hands down. But now, I think she contends really well, but, I can see why she didn’t win. She definitely deserved to based on her performance, but, if Newman didn’t win, I don’t think she should have. Plus, she had a tougher category than he did. So, I like her performance, and she’ll always come down to top three for me, but, I think I’m gonna go another way on a vote. But see this movie. It really is perfect.

Loren — Okay, Sophia. I will say that I tried with this movie. I really did. And there are parts of it I liked. But, why she won Best Actress for this is beyond me. Maybe it’s because the copy I saw on Netflix was of really shitty quality and that diminished it, but from what I saw, I didn’t see enough for her to actually win the category. I hope maybe somebody convinces me otherwise and gets me to see this movie again, but for now, I saw nothing to get me to say that this was even remotely a good decision.

Sophia Loren is a shopkeep and a widow. She has a teenage daughter. They run away to a small town to escape the bombings. This is World War II. They go to a place and talk to people. There are lots of scenes of people sitting around, talking. There’s a brief romantic interlude of sorts, but the dude dies. Then she and her daughter go back to Rome, where they are gang raped by a group of soldiers inside a church. They take it badly, and the daughter stops talking to her mother. Then they make up. That’s the end.

Seriously, I don’t know why she won for this. I mean, it’s a good performance, and she does a really great job after the whole gang rape thing, but that literally comes 2/3 of the way through the film. Everything before that is just — I don’t see why she won for this. At all. And I will continue to say so until I do.

Page — Oh boy, this film. I did not particularly enjoy this film at all. It hold some marginal interest, in that it looks pretty good, and its kind of subversive. The whole thing is about fucking, but, it’s never actually addressed very overtly. Other than that, I didn’t care about this movie at all.

It’s about Geraldine Page as a very prim woman. The kind that wouldn’t let a man come within a 39 1/2 foot pole of her, who decides — hey, maybe I should loosen up. And she tries to get close to a doctor, who is kind of a womanizer, but, he’s game. He goes for it a bit, but then her nature kicks in and she’s like, “I don’t know,” so he runs off with a woman who will let him fuck her before the first date, as an icebreaker. And then time passes, and she’s now an old maid of sorts, and then gets in with a traveling salesman, trying to overcome her frigidity, and then the end is her going off into the woods to fuck the dude. That’s what I remember from this film. Nothing really happens, it’s very boring.

The performance is — whatever. Nothing special, from what I saw. I don’t care that it’s on here, because, hey, every category needs a #5. And this is clearly that #5.

Wood — See, now here is your natural winner. I don’t see how she didn’t win. Before we even get into how great Splendor in the Grass is, and how great Natalie Wood’s performance in it is — she also did West Side Story this year! Two amazing fucking films and two great performances! How the fuck doesn’t she win based on that alone? But let’s get into the film.

Natalie and Warren Beatty are high schoolers in love. She comes from a regular family and Warren comes from a rich one. Her mother tells her not to give in to the temptation of sex. But she really, really wants to. Beatty, on the other hand, is told by his father, that he needs a girl who will give him sex. He tells him he should dump Natalie and find a girl who puts out. Seriously, that’s what this film is about. It’s amazing how it’s so plainly about fucking but also not entirely about fucking. Another added bonus to this tremendous film. And what happens is, Beatty goes to college and finds a girl willing to sleep with him. And Natalie finds out. And when she finds out, the combination of her love for him and her guilt over listening to the shitty advice her mother gave her (because she and Beatty knew they were gonna get married, but by listening to their parents, who thought it was just a fling, they got broken up), she has a nervous breakdown. Like, she actually goes crazy. She has to be institutionalized, and her parents lost almost all their money caring for her. And then, at the same time, Beatty’s family loses all their money in the Depression, and his father kills himself. And the end of the film is them meeting after she comes home from the asylum, and he’s married with a kid (to the girl he slept with that first time) and she’s gonna marry a dude she met at the asylum. And it’s fucking heartbreaking. This movie really puts you through the emotional ringer. It’s a fantastic movie that I recommend about as high as any movie I’d ever recommend.

Natali’es performance is fucking astounding. I really loved it. Maybe some people will find it too hysterical, but I thought it was perfect. Plus, any faults you might find in it, add the West Side Story performance to it (because as we know, the Academy is all about awarding people for good years). Tell me she didn’t deserve this Oscar.

My Thoughts: Going strictly by enjoyment of performance, Audrey would win this. But that’s nothing new. Audrey would almost always win these things with me. But, based solely on strength of performance, Natalie Wood wins this. Easily. And even if you think Sophia Loren was slightly better — Natalie Wood was also in West Side Story as well. Those two performances alone add up to an Academy Award. I really don’t know how she doesn’t win this. Piper Laurie also gets consideration here, but Natalie Wood is the only person that should have won here. And the definitiveness with which she should have won, is what makes Sophia Loren a bad choice here.

My Vote: Wood

Should Have Won: Wood.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes and no. Much more no than yes. Sophia Loren is a great actress, and I like that she has an Oscar. However, I just didn’t see enough in this performance to vote her any higher than third. Natalie Wood really did deserve this one. So, on most fronts, no this is not even close to acceptable.

Performances I suggest you see: Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a must see. This isn’t even a choice. Everyone needs to see this movie. Not everyone will like it, but, this is how romantic comedies are made. Splendor in the Grass is one of the best romances ever made. NOT a romantic comedy though. But still, this movie is fucking incredible, and, for anyone seriously interested in film, this is one you need to see at some point. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now, The Hustler is a film you should have seen yesterday. I mean, it’s essential, and while it’s not a film everyone comes across automatically, you should seek it out and see it. It is beyond a perfect movie. You NEED to see this one. Trust me on that. And if you do foreign films, Two Women isn’t that bad, but, I bet it’s not most people’s cup of tea.

Rankings: 

5) Page

4) Loren

3) Laurie

2) Wood

1) Hepburn

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