The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1985
Bullshit alert. 1985 is one of the worst years ever for the Academy Awards. If you ever wanted to get a first hand look at just how racist the Academy was/is, just look at this year. (And also, this year. But that’s a story for another day.) The Color Purple is clearly the best film up for Best Picture. It’s not even a question. The film sweeps the Golden Globes and most other awards. Then, for the Oscars, Steven Spielberg isn’t even nominated for Best Director (despite winning the DGA award), and the film is shut out from 11 Oscars in favor of Out of Africa, a film that’s basically about Meryl Streep having an extra-marital affair with Robert Redford and also having a farm in Africa.
As for the rest of the year, Sydney Pollack wins Best Director for Africa, which is sort of okay since he’s a great director, but, Akira Kurosawa was nominated too. Out of those two, which would you pick? And then Best Actor was William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman, which was actually a great decision. Best Supporting Actor was Don Ameche for Cocoon, which was cool. Nice veteran Oscar. And Best Supporting Actress was Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor, which, all respect for her aside, was a terrible decision. There were two better choices there.
And then there’s this category, which is just so fucking terrible it’s beyond words. Whoopi Goldberg so clearly deserved this award it’s sickening. And they give the Oscar to Geraldine Page for a film that’s basically Baby’s Day Out, but if the baby were an old woman. I’m exaggerating, but I’m not that far off. What the fuck, Academy? Does your racism know no bounds? (Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.)
BEST ACTRESS – 1985
And the nominees were…
Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
Bancroft — Agnes of God is actually a pretty good movie. My only problem with it is, why did the nominate Anne Bancroft for it? I like her, and she’s a great actress, but Jane Fonda was really the lead of this movie. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The film is about a nun who gives birth to a child (which she strangles after giving birth to it), who insists that the child was conceived through immaculate conception. Naturally, this is a big deal. And they bring in Fonda, who is a psychiatrist, to talk to the nun. And basically, the film is about Fonda talking to the nun (played amazingly by Meg Tilly. Seriously. She was so good, I’m having a tough time deciding between whether I’d vote for her or Oprah in Best Supporting Actress), and works through all the problems she has. Because, she’s a simple girl, with a lot of issues, and basically Fonda works with her to uncover the truth. And, the film itself is pretty — okay. It’s not great and it’s not terrible. But what really makes this work is Meg Tilly’s performance. Holy shit was she good.
And Bancroft plays the mother superior of the nunnery, who is basically trying to protect Tilly the whole time, because she knows how Tilly is and doesn’t like her having to be questioned. She tries to protect her from the world, because she knows the world will not accept her. And, there’s no eventual discovery to her character. We never find out that she was the one that killed the baby or whatever (or do we? I forget. I’m pretty sure we don’t, and I was just hoping so hard for that to happen to make the performance more interesting that I convinced myself that it could have happened). She’s just kind of there, as a foil to Fonda. And, she’s fine, it’s just, she’s kind of a supporting character. She doesn’t do that much in the movie. This is really Tilly’s movie. So, for me, she’s a #5 in the category. Which is cool, since she had her well-deserved Oscar. She didn’t need this.
Goldberg — This is clearly your winner. Just watching the film, you can see why she should have won. So I’m not even going to defend this. This is your winner. Plain and simple.
The film is about Whoopi, as a young girl basically sold into marriage to Danny Glover, who is older, and abusive. And we see her coping with life. And eventually, a singer, played by Margaret Avery, who Glover is in love with, comes and lives with them, and they become friends. And then Oprah is there as her friend, and she’s got a great storyline herself. And basically, the film is about what it was like for blacks at the time, and is about Goldberg’s character learning to assert herself. And it’s a great movie. It’s Steven Spielberg. When has he made a truly bad movie (post-Raiders)? Him not being the director that should have brought this particular story to the screen in the first place aside, you can’t deny this isn’t a brilliant movie.
Seriously, though, this is your winner. I don’t think anyone can ever rightfully claim otherwise.
Lange — Honestly, this would be my second choice if Whoopi wasn’t clearly the winner. It’s the perfect chance to give Jessica Lange an Oscar. She’s playing Patsy Cline. Right there, it’s acceptable that she win.
The film is about Patsy and her life. We see her meet Ed Harris at the beginning and fall in love. And we see them through the early years of their marriage as she’s trying to make it as a singer. And then she gets famous, and Harris is ver supportive of her, and we basically see all the beats of her life until she dies tragically in a plane crash.
It’s a good film. It’s a standard musical biopic, so all the beats are there. Lange is good, but probably shouldn’t have won for this, just because she doesn’t do any of her own singing (they just play Cline’s songs over her performing them live), and because, the movie just doesn’t feel interesting. It feels like a book report. Even the end, with the plane crash, it’s literally, they’re up in a plane, and all of a sudden, boom. You know it’s coming, so it’s just like, “Okay.” Not that Lange isn’t charming in the movie, it’s just — I don’t know if I can vote for the performance. Against Geraldine Page — yeah, I can. But against Whoopi, no. So, she becomes #2, and we wonder why Whoopi didn’t win once again.
Page — I have never understood the Academy’s fascination with Geraldine Page. She was nominated for 8 Oscars, and won for this, her eighth and final nomination. Let me briefly run down all eight.
First, Hondo. She plays against John Wayne. I don’t really see what she did to get nominated, but it’s a John Wayne movie that’s 83 minutes long, was shot in 3D, and has an intermission. That alone makes me overlook whatever I didn’t see in her performance. So that’s fine. Plus, she was never going to win. Second nomination, Summer and Smoke. I really didn’t like this movie. It’s about a woman who is a spinster and a virgin and is afraid of sex. It’s boring as fuck. Don’t understand the nomination at all. Third nomination, Sweet Bird of Youth. She plays a drunken actress who Paul Newman basically keeps drunk so she stays with him. And she’s good, it’s just, she spends most of the movie passed out on a bed. I’m cool with the nomination, though. Then, fourth nomination, You’re a Big Boy Now. Supporting. She plays the overly doting mother of a dude who moves out of the house on his own. It’s a very strange movie (directed by Francis Ford Coppola, too), and I don’t think she would have ever won just because the movie is so strange. She’s okay in it, though. She’s pretty crazy. Then, fifth nomination, Pete ‘n’ Tillie. She’s barely in the movie. Though, she is funny in the one scene she’s really in. Then she has a cat fight with Carol Burnett. So, whatever. Then, Interiors. Sixth nomination. Woody Allen’s Ingmar Bergman movie. I hated this movie, and I didn’t think anyone should have been nominated for it. The end. Seventh nomination, The Pope of Greenwich Village. She’s in one scene. No joke. One scene. Three minutes. That’s it.
So, that’s seven nominations. None of which really seems to be a great performance. Maybe Sweet Bird of Youth. And maybe You’re a Big Boy Now. And based on categories, I can accept some of the others going in there, but — why? She must have been a really respected stage actress. That must be it. She did a lot of great work on the stage, had a reputation as being great, so they just nominated her for anything she did.
But, this film is about an old woman who is living with her son and his wife, who wants to travel back to her hometown once more before she dies. And her son won’t let her, mostly because his wife won’t let him. And she concocts a scheme where she escapes from the house and gets to the bus station. And she manages to get a ticket on a bus, and escapes from her son at the bus station. Then the rest of the film is a series of her going on one bus, transferring to another station, waiting at the station for another bus to come (because this is like rural Texas in the 50s. The towns are small, and the buses come like, once a day). And then, her son is traveling by car to meet up with her, and she manages to escape each time and get on a bus. And eventually she makes it to her hometown with her son, only to discover it’s been abandoned. And they get to her house, and she reminisces, and then goes back home. That’s the film.
The film isn’t bad. It’s watchable. I just don’t understand why they’d give her the Oscar for it. Well — yes I do. They’re racist and didn’t want to vote for Whoopi Goldberg and had an easy out by using the “but it’s Geraldine Page” excuse. 8 nominations is a great way to mask racism. Either way, while Page was likable as the cooky old woman — she should not have won. Not by a long shot. For shame, Academy.
Streep — And, Meryl. I might have been slightly okay with Meryl winning here. Because at least then, it’s a blanket, one film over another thing. Not that she should have won, but, I’d have understood it.
So, the film is about a Danish woman (another accent for Meryl to master) who gets married to an aristocratic dude (played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. Isn’t that clearly the name of a Japanese man?), who moves her to Africa. And, while she’s there, she has an affair with Robert Redford, who is a big game hunter or something like that. And also, I think they try to have a coffee farm in Africa or something. And basically, a lot of the film is about the doomed love affair, English Patient style, only, they didn’t know how to squeeze out the melodrama like the Weinsteins do, so it’s just kind of boring. And they don’t end up together, because he dies in a plane crash (sound familiar?), and then the farm burns down or something. I don’t know. The film is like three hours, and boring as fuck.
Meryl does a good job here, as she always does. But, honestly, I wouldn’t vote for this performance unless I had to. And since Whoopi is still clearly the only person worth voting for in this category, I don’t have to.
My Thoughts: I think my thoughts were pretty clear from the start. Whoopi Goldberg is the only person who should have won this category. It’s not even close. The Academy is just really racist.
My Vote: Goldberg
Should Have Won: Goldberg
Is the result acceptable?: No. I don’t care that Geraldine Page was nominated 8 times. So was Peter O’Toole. Whoopi eventually got her Oscar, but, here she played an empowered black woman, and there (Ghost) she was a (literal) magical negro. Which is really just a backhanded slap to the face by the Academy. But, since she was clearly the best in the category, anyone that wasn’t her winning would have been, and is, unacceptable. And this is very unacceptable. One of the worst decisions of all time in the category.
Performances I suggest you see: The Color Purple. You need to see it. And after you watch it, realize, that film didn’t win Best Picture. And, while you shouldn’t really see Out of Africa unless you really want to, you should check it out alongside The Color Purple, and then think, “Should it have won instead? Or is the Academy just really racist?” I think we’ll all end up on the same page for this one. I’m pretty confident in that fact.
After that — meh, you can skip the rest of them if you want to. I recommend Agnes of God for Meg Tilly’s brilliant performance, and Sweet Dreams if you like Patsy Cline or musical biopics. (I know my mother loves the musical biopic. She’ll watch the Jacksons TV movie whenever its on. La Bamba. She loves that stuff. So I know there are people out there who do go for this sort of thing.) So, really, The Color Purple is a must-see film. It’s essential. And Agnes of God I recommend because Meg Tilly is amazing in it. And Out of Africa — it’s a Best Picture winner, and I think you should see it just so you can realize the racism that goes on in the Academy. It’s a well-made film, but it’s nowhere near as good as The Color Purple is.