The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1990

Oh boy, 1990. Just what I need. A year that lives in infamy. Dances with Wolves beats Goodfellas for Best Picture, and there, the Academy cemented their retarded selection process yet again. Kevin Costner beats Martin Scorsese for Best Director (which I talked about here), and that right there about tells you what the Academy thinks. Don’t dwell upon it too much, you might get brain damage.

Jeremy Irons wins Best Actor this year for Reversal of Fortune. This is mainly considered a makeup Oscar for a performance he wasn’t even nominated for. I’ll talk about that eventually. Best Supporting Actor goes to Joe Pesci for Goodfellas and Best Supporting Actress goes to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost, which I talked about here. So, of the six categories this year, I can say, pretty definitively, the Academy made about — two good decisions. They made one that’s okay, one bad one, and two really bad ones. Which basically makes this a bad year for me almost all around. I hate 1990. It upsets me every time I see it.


And the nominees were…

Kathy Bates, Misery

Anjelica Huston, The Grifters

Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman

Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge

Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

Bates — Here’s a performance everyone seems to know about before, if ever, they see the movie. I mean, how can you not hear about the sledgehammer?

The movie’s this — James Caan is a mystery author. He writes pulp mystery books with a female detective. He hates his work. He’s finishing up what he says is his last novel with this character. He wants to be a serious author. He drives out to his lodge, where he writes all his books, and on the way gets into a blizzard and an accident. He’s saved by Kathy Bates. She confesses she’s his biggest fan. She also confesses she was following him because she loves him so much. This isn’t a tip off top him at all. He’s in bed with broken bones, and she cares for him. Eventually he lets her read his book. Slowly, we start to see that she may not be the most sane of people. Eventually, when she gets to the end, where he kills off the character, she goes nuts. She’s not happy. She orders him to burn the book and write another one where she lives. Having no way to escape, in his condition plus her locking him in, he starts doing so. And the rest of the movie is him trying to escape with her trying to keep him there. It’s a fucking great movie.

Kathy Bates is perfect as Annie Wilkes. It’s the kind of performance where — most years, I’d say it would be a #2, or a #1 but not really worthy of a vote. But in a year like this, this is the clear cut winner. It’s not even close.

Huston — The Grifters, as I’ve talked about before, is a wonderful film. It’s a noir shot in the 80s, trying to be the 40s. And that makes the whole thing fascinating to watch.

It’s about John Cusack as a small time grifter, who pulls small scams like flashing a twenty to the bartender and ordering a dollar beer. And when the bartender comes back, he’s replaced the twenty with a single and has just made money back on a beer. He does it for the rush, not necessarily for the money. And one day a bartender catches him and beats the shit out of him. And, with internal bleeding, he goes to his mother, since he doesn’t know where else to go. His mother is Anjelica Huston, who makes her living putting down big bets at the racetrack just before post time in order to fix the odds for the race. She meets the girl he’s dating, Annette Bening, who spends her time playing the girl in big cons. Think The Sting sized cons. Real confidence games, where they end with a Mexican standoff and someone getting fake shot. And Huston doesn’t like her, because she thinks she’s got an angle. But, everyone has an angle. And Bening has an idea for a big con, and Huston and Cusack go along with it, and the rest of the film is basically what happens as a result of this. It’s a very, very well-done film. It works perfectly the way they shot it. It’s a really good film.

Huston is very good in her role, but, I don’t think I’d ever vote for it. I just think it’s one of those, nominated but not win, performances. I’m glad she’s nominated though, everyone in this movie was really great.

Roberts — And, Julia. You know, I’m gonna be honest — I don’t get how Julia Roberts became so famous. She’s like Jennifer Aniston, only she makes slightly better movies. She isn’t really that good of an actress, and she seems to be someone only middle America likes.

Look — here’s the list of films she made since she started acting. I’ll skip Mystic Pizza and start with the film that got her noticed, which is Steel Magnolias. She made that, then (I’ll just include the ones you’ll know about, probably): Pretty Woman, Flatliners, Sleeping with the Enemy, Dying Young, Hook, The Pelican Brief, I Love Trouble, Pret-a-Porter, Something to Talk About, Mary Reilly, Michael Collins, Everyone Says I Love You, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Conspiracy Theory, Stepmom, Notting Hill, Runaway Bride, Erin Brockovich, The Mexican, America’s Sweethearts, Ocean’s Eleven, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Mona Lisa Smile, Closer, Ocean’s Twelve, Charlie Wilson’s War, Duplicity, Valentine’s Day, and Eat Pray Love.

Now, on that list, if I make you take off the Ocean’s films, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Charlie Wilson’s War (which, I guarantee you she was only in them to be the token money-making female to drive up receipts), how many good movies can you name on there that she’s made? I mean, I personally love The Mexican, though I get why people think it’s shit. And Hook, I don’t count, because Spielberg has openly stated that she was such a bitch to work with he actually cut the role to keep her out of the film. Really though, is there anything good on there? No. She’s really just a more successful Jennifer Anison, and you know how I feel about Jennifer Aniston.

Also, if you’ll notice, all the movies she made are catered to get women to like them. Not just any women either. Middle-aged housewives. That’s who likes this shit. And stupid teenage girls, who really don’t have much taste in movies, by and large (and the ones who do, would certainly agree with that statement). I just needed to write that, because sometimes my brain tries to tell me, “Meh, she’s not so bad.” But you know what? She kind of is. She doesn’t make good movies, and comes off as — not fake, but — I don’t know. Natalie Portman comes off as fake in interviews and stuff (not that she is, it’s just, how she comes off). Julia comes off as more — trying too hard to be liked, maybe? Like she’s putting on a performance to appeal to more people. I don’t know, not my thing.

Anyway, Pretty Woman. Actually a good movie, but, you know — rom commy. Julia is the hooker with a heart of gold, and Richard Gere happens upon her as he’s going through a crisis, and she charms her way into his heart. And they fall in love over a weak and he Pygmalion’s her. (Note: Not a euphemism.) You know how it is.

Julia is actually really good in the role. She makes herself really likable. But come the fuck on — this is a Best Actress award here. Ain’t nobody winning for a performance like this, and if I were voting, she’d be my fourth choice, at best.

Streep — Oh, Meryl, why is it impossible for you to do wrong? Seriously, this woman can do no wrong.

This film has a very interesting backstory to it. It was written by, and is based on, Carrie Fisher, and is about her experiences being a drugged out actress. But don’t worry, it’s funny. It’s about her years, mostly in the 80s, when she did so much cocaine, John Belushi actually took her aside and said, “I think you may have a problem.”

The movie is about an actress — not totally based on Carrie, it’s semi-autobiographical. Naturally you need to invent shit to make it more interesting and such — who recovers from an overdose, and is trying to be clean. The studio only agrees to insure her if she lives with a responsible adult, which in this case is her mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, who was a big musical star in the 50s (clearly based on Debbie Reynolds, Fisher’s mother). Streep hates having to do it, because she hates having to live in the shadow of her mother, who, despite being a good mother, is also very manipulative and competitive, to the point where she steals her daughter’s thunder and takes all the press for herself. Shit like that. And the movie is about Streep trying to stay sober, and she tries to start a relationship — the whole deal. That’s basically the movie. It’s kind of a comedy, kind of a drama, wholly interesting.

Streep, as you can imagine, is incredible in the film. I recognized how good she was as I watched it, though I will say — this is the film that got me to realize just how much a good friend of mine is almost exactly like Meryl Streep. They share similar manners and expressions, and even their gestures are creepily similar. And it’s one of those things — once you see it, you can’t unsee it. So I was kind of freaked out while watching the film, because I was seeing my friend the whole time. (Julie and Julia was so much worse. She’s been doing the Julia Child voice for years. I squirmed my way through that half of that movie.) But, Meryl was incredible, and, honestly, if she didn’t have two, I’d probably really consider voting for her. But, she didn’t need this one. She’s gonna give a lights out performance over the next decade and that will win her the third Oscar. This isn’t that movie. She’s definitely a #2 for me though.

Woodward — And, this film. I had very low expectations going into this one. It’s a Merchant-Ivory film. That means bad things, 95% of the time. Plus it was about a southern housewife. Two strikes. The only hope I had that I’d get through it okay was the fact that Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman were starring in it. I like when married couples star in films together. It wasn’t enough.

This film is fucking boring. It’s Merchant-Ivory, so I expected as much. Joanne Woodward is a bored housewife. Her conservative husband is disliking the changing ways of the world and hates that his children are rebelling against him. She tries to remain positive despite all the shit going on. That’s it. There are lots of boring scenes of people talking and doing shit. It’s Merchant-Ivory. I don’t have to say anything else.

The performance was fine. It wasn’t terrible or anything, it’s just — I’m never going to vote for this, and I view this as a veteran nomination. Classy actor making a “classy” film. Guaranteed nomination, usually. Fine. still a #5. It’s Merchant-fucking-Ivory (oh, wouldn’t that be something?). You know it’s boring. When have you found more than one good one?

My Thoughts: Kathy Bates wins this one easily. She had no competition here at all. Woodward had an Oscar and this was a veteran nom. Streep had two and wasn’t going to win for this, even though she was really good as she always is. Huston had one, and it also wasn’t the type of role a person wins for. The only real competition here was Julia Roberts, being the darling of the Academy just coming up. Starmaking turn business. But come on. Have you seen Pretty Woman? She didn’t deserve to win for it. Kathy Bates is really the only person worth voting for here. (Meryl is also, but not if you take into account history.)

My Vote: Bates

Should Have Won: Bates

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Kathy Bates was fucking great in this movie. In a different year she’d just be a strong nominee, but here she was definitely good enough to have won. This was the only worthwhile decision here, which makes it a good one.

Performances I suggest you see: Misery is a fucking awesome movie. It’s not really a horror movie as much as it’s a thriller. And the thriller part is what makes it good. It’s a very great movie with two really great lead performances. Highly recommended. Postcards from the Edge is also a very good movie, though not for everyone. I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a great early 90s movie, with great Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine performances, and is about Carrie Fisher’s experiences as an actress. Also very recommended. The Grifters is a highly recommended movie as well. It’s a great neo-noir, and is just great all around. If you don’t like confidence game movies (the dramas and the comedies) or prefer your noir black and white (for whatever reason), then maybe you won’t like it, but this is a great film and I think a lot of people will enjoy it. And — sigh — Pretty Woman is actually an entertaining film. Moderate recommendation. Chick flick, naturally. But it has its moments. Hector Elizondo is a boss.


5) Woodward

4) Roberts

3) Huston

2) Streep

1) Bates

One response

  1. Ty

    Houston was my vote.Bates is wonderful(if occasionally broad) and Misery is my favorite film of the nominees, but Anjelica gives such a searing performance. When she goes into hysterics at the end grabbing all the cash, then she calmly collects herself for the elevator. That scene alone was worth the Oscar.

    July 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

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