The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1984
I hate 1984. It’s just so boring. And so weak. Not that they didn’t make a good decision. Amadeus was clearly the best film of the year and should have won Best Picture. Milos Forman also winning Best Director (talked about here) was the only good choice they could have made, and F. Murray Abraham totally deserved Best Actor for the film (as did Tom Hulce. Too bad they didn’t tie. That would have been awesome).
But outside of those awards, Best Supporting Actor going to Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields I don’t like (explained why here), and Best Supporting Actress going to Peggy Ashcroft for A Passage to India makes a little sense, but it’s just boring. The film and the decision. And then there’s this category. I don’t know what it is about this year, but they really liked “strong woman helps keep farm afloat” stories. Three of them got nominated in this category. Three. And the one that won had the woman doing it without a husband. She had a black man and a blind man instead. Technically I guess that does make it a “stronger” performance.
But, wow, do I disagree with three nominees here. At least three. Possibly even all five. But I can accept two. I can accept the Sally Field and Judy Davis nominations. The others just felt like filler. Stature noms. “Who are we going to nominate?” “Well, we like Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange. Let’s go with them.” (Don’t even get me started on the Redgrave nomination.) So, let’s see if we can find any alternatives.
I’d say the actress who played Mozart’s wife in Amadeus, but that’s supporting at best. Would the Academy nominate Frances McDormand for Blood Simple? I doubt it. I liked Micki + Maude a lot, but that’s a comedy. Most people would say The Terminator, but I know the Academy. That would never happen. Uhh — Apollonia in Purple Rain? Wow, what the fuck, 1984? You sucked for good female performances.
BEST ACTRESS – 1984
And the nominees were…
Judy Davis, A Passage to India
Sally Field, Places in the Heart
Jessica Lange, Country
Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians
Sissy Spacek, The River
Davis — A Passage to India is a three hour David Lean movie. Normally, that’s a good thing. Here — not so much. This film was fucking tedious to watch. At least Alec Guinness got to play an Indian man. That was nice to see. He got to add another race to his CV.
So, the film is about Judy Davis and Peggy Ashcroft traveling to India, where Davis’s fiancé works. And they meet some people, go places, and become friends with an Indian doctor. And they want to go off and see India (not the tour-guided version). And they go visit these caves. And while they’re there, basically, at one point, Ashcroft goes outside for some air, and the doctor goes out for a cigarette, and out of nowhere, Davis comes running out of the caves, covered in blood and screaming. And the doctor is arrested and charged with rape, and, this being the 20s during that whole Indian independence thing, it’s a big deal. Tensions arise between the British and the Indians. And Ashcroft refuses to testify against the Indian, and is sent home (because the English want to nail his ass). And she dies along the way. And then, Davis, who was charging the doctor with the rape, decides she can’t do it and says he isn’t guilty. And then the British look like assholes, and she leaves India (without her fiancé) and he moves into the mountains. That’s the film. Almost three hours.
It’s a pretty boring film. However, I did note that Davis did a good job with it. And, in this category, that’s something. But, the question is, do I really want A Passage to India to be a film I vote for? Just imagine it won. And someone like me is doing this Quest, but is only watching the winners. Do you really want to force this film upon someone?
Field — Yeah, Places in the Heart is definitely the most entertaining film on this list. I’ll give them that. The problem is, I don’t really see why Sally Field won outside of the fact that there was no one else to vote for. And she gets up there, like, “You really like me.” Bitch, there was no one else!
The film is about Field, living on a farm with her husband. And he gets shot one day by a thirteen year old black kid who was drunk and carrying a gun. It was an accident, but, he’s dead. Now Field has the farm to herself. And without her husband, she’ll lose it, because she can’t keep it up. And one day, Danny Glover comes by, basically looking for shit to steal from the lonely woman. And the cops pick him up, and when he comes back, she vouches for him and keeps him from going to jail and being hanged. And he starts working for her. And he suggests they plant cotton in the farm to keep it going (he knows how to do it). Because she owes money, and they’re gonna take the house. So they decide to plant cotton.
They go to buy cotton, but get shitty seed. And then Glover goes and yells at the guy who owns the cotton gin, which is a no-no for a black man in the 20s. So he becomes a target of the Klan. And then along comes Malkovich, a blind brother of the banker, who had planned on dumping him there on the grounds that he’ll help her with the farm. And Malkovich, who clearly doesn’t want to be there, is pretty bitter.
And then there’s a whole subplot about Ed Harris and Amy Madigan and him having an affair — but we don’t care about that because it has nothing to do with Sally Field’s storyline and really doesn’t even belong in the movie. It’s just filler to make the movie longer. But, anyway, Field, Malkovich and Glover work on the cotton, and basically end up with a desperate, all-or-nothing plan. Cotton prices are low, and they can only afford to keep the house if they finish first and get the first bale of cotton in to start the season, which brings a prize that will cover the rest of the money. And they hire extra workers, who can only be paid if they succeed, which, is crazy, because they’d have to do twice the work in half the time just to even think about succeeding. And then there’s scenes with men coming for Glover, and Malkovich scares them off with a gun (in a great scene), and then the time comes, and they do it, and all is well again. you know how it is.
Field is good in the role. It’s a strong role, but, I’m not sure I really saw enough to vote for this. Then again, if it comes down to this and Davis, I might have to take Field simply because her film is the easiest to watch (despite having many problems). Wow, this category sucks.
Lange — Country is our second “woman fights to save farm” film. Though this one is the most husband-centered film.
Lange an Sam Shepard live on a farm. Wilford Brimley is her father. Whenever Wilford Brimley is in a film, it must be mentioned. And then there’s a chance the bank will foreclose on them, and then things go wrong. There’s a tornado, and things like that. And they have to sell their equipment at an auction, but it’s all being sold for pennies, and then Shepard starts drinking, and the film really becomes about that by the end. He starts drinking, she throws him out of the house, and they make up. It’s definitely the darkest of the three farming films, since, this one doesn’t really have things turn out okay. It just has them stick together through it as a family. It’s not a bad film, but, against the other two, I’m just farmed out. This one just felt like it had a few decent scenes and the rest was just whatever.
Lange is okay. Nothing special. It feels like a filler nomination. I’ll give her fourth on the rankings and third for a vote. But, it’s pretty clear that Sally Field and Judy Davis are the only two worth voting for in this category.
Redgrave — There are a handful of films from this Quest I didn’t care for. It comes with the territory. You watch 900 films, there are gonna be a few you just don’t like. And, I’ll tell you, it’s not many. I am an unabashed lover of cinema, so I’m alway thinking glass half full. I’ll try to find something worth liking in a film, and at least come out of it thinking, “Okay, I didn’t really like it, but I was at least able to watch it. Maybe someone else will like it better than I did.” And at worst, I’ll think, “Wow, I really didn’t like that.” Which tends to happen with a lot of the foreign films, the Woody Allen movies, the Merchant-Ivory films (this is one). Things like that. I just don’t like them. But there are very few films from this Quest (less than twenty) where I was just like, “I’d rather go through root canal than watch this movie.” They’re that boring and that tedious to watch that you really just don’t want to have to continue. This was one of those movies.
I fucking hated this movie. So much so that, even though I watched it, even going so far as to rewind multiple times because I just lost interest in the movie and began daydreaming while watching it. I still don’t really know what it’s about. All I know is that it has Christopher Reeve in it, and Vanessa Redgrave. And she’s some kind of feminist who goes to meetings. And some shit happens that people talk about. I don’t think you truly understand how boring this film was. It’s about two hours long. And, I must have watched this film over the course of four hours. And I still don’t know what happened. That’s how fucking boring this was. Avoid this film at all costs. Merchant-Ivory films are already boring. This is the worst of all. This is the one where, if Hell exists, this film comes on a loop, over and over.
Vanessa Redgrave getting nominated for this movie is a joke. This film being nominated for any award is a joke. I hate this movie. And even when I checked to see if it was good from a “adhering to the book” perspective, I read a bunch of reviews that said they completely diverted from the book. So then what the fuck was the point of this movie? Just do yourself a favor and forget that this movie exists as quickly as possible.
Spacek — Okay, my second favorite of the “family saves farm” films. This one has Mel Gibson.
Mel and Sissy are married. They have a farm. A huge flood fucks up their crops. They lose a lot. They can’t make ends meet. None of the farms can. The bank doesn’t care, and the local steel mill is looking to hire the men as well as buy up their land. It’s one of those industry vs. nature films. And they refuse to give up their farms, but have to work for the mills just to get money. So Gibson works for the farm and the mill at the same time, and that makes him overworked, tired, and irritant. And then Spacek also works on the farm, and there’s this whole thing with her and Scott Glenn, who works for the mill, who used to date her, and still holds a candle for her. And then, eventually, the people from the mill come to destroy the levee that keeps the river from flooding the land. And there’s this great scene where they make one of the farmers be the one that destroys it, as sort of a “fuck you, we win” gesture. And they break the wall, and then Gibson goes over with some sandbags and starts laying them in there to try and fix it. And then Spacek and their children help out, and then eventually all of the farmers come and help, as sort of a “fuck you” to the mill people. It’s a powerful scene.
The film itself is so-so, but that scene is really great. It’s also totally watchable, which I appreciated. Spacek’s performance is — she doesn’t really have much to do. But she’s Sissy Spacek, so she’s likable and good in the role. But, in terms of a vote, she didn’t really have much to do here, and she won already for a far superior performance. So, she really never had a shot. But I’m cool with the nomination. In a year like this, it’s definitely a #3 for me, just by nature of the fact that the film doesn’t make me want to cut myself.
My Thoughts: Wow. What a terrible year. Do I have to vote? Because none of these earned a vote for me. It’s pretty clear only Davis and Field are worth voting for. Painfully clear. However, based strictly on performance, I’d go with Davis. But, taking the film into account, it’s Field. That’s the problem. Davis definitely did the best job with the performance, but Field had a better movie, and was more likable. So, while I could vote for Davis strictly for the performance (and very well might have if this were 1984), I’m just gonna vote Sally Field. Because I know she won, and because I’d rather people who do try to watch all the winners watch her films instead of Davis’s, because that film is just so fucking boring. But, just know, even though I’m voting for Sally Field, Judy Davis gave the best performance in this category.
My Vote: Field
Should Have Won: None of them.
Is the result acceptable?: Actually, I think it is. This was one of the ones, at the beginning of the Quest, I was like, “This is clearly a bullshit win.” And yet, as we got closer and closer to me finishing the category, it seemed more and more like the win was legitimate. She definitely gave the most likable performance, and having A Passage to India win two acting awards (Ashcroft won Best Supporting Actress for it) would just be overkill. So I guess it’s okay. I mean, what the hell else were they gonna vote for?
Performances I suggest you see: Places in the Heart is an enjoyable film. If you had to see one “woman fights to save her farm” film, make it this one. Though, not essential by any means. But you get Danny Glover and Malkovich. And Ed Harris and Amy Madigan (even though their storyline sucked). So that’s a plus, should you choose to see it. And The River, you get Sissy and a young Mel. That’s something. Really, you don’t need to see any of these films. Places in the Heart is really the only one you’d remotely ever need to see, and even that’s because Sally Field won for it. If you don’t care that much, you can skip all of these and it wouldn’t matter. I’m saving you a lot of time with at least two of them.