The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide – Best Actress

Here is my subset of The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide, specifically for Best Actress.

A reminder about the color code:

Films in RED are films that are essential. These are films you need to see, whether you like them or not. Though you’ll probably like most of them. A few of these may be part of a personal bias, but this is my list. Just think of the films in red as films you need to see if you want to be film literate (in the most basic sense). At least 70% of these are films that, if you haven’t seen them, you should be ashamed of yourself. These are the prerequisites you need to get into the class. (5-star films.)

Films in ORANGE are films that are my personal favorites (that aren’t already marked red). While not “essential” per say, these are films that I love dearly. They’re essential to me. They’re films that I will tell you that you need to see. I’d say that 80% of the time, these are going to be films that most people would enjoy. A few of them might be subjective to me, but on the whole, these are all very good films. I tried to limit the orange ones to only the best of the best, my absolute favorites. But either way, I love them, and you should definitely see at least 80% of them. (My 5-star films. At worst, most people’s 3-star films. Generally 4’s for everybody.)

Films in YELLOW are films I rate as “very good” films. Not too many people can deny that these films are good films, and whether or not they like them will come down to personal preference. The yellows are the most expansive category. They are by far the biggest bunch. Some of them are 5 stars, but just aren’t ones I love enough to make them orange. Most are solid 4s and come highly recommended. Some are weak 4s and high 3s and come recommended. The strength of the recommendation can be gauged by checking the articles. I’d say at least 60% of them are ones that most people would definitely enjoy, sight unseen. You may want to check a synopsis to be sure, but the rule of thumb is, you see yellow, it’s a good film. You should definitely check out a good portion of these. (4-star films. Maybe a 5 or a 3 here or there.)

Films in GREEN are films that are good films, but ones that probably won’t be for everybody. These probably cover the most ground in terms of my ratings. These will be anywhere from films I feel are solidly 4 stars, to films I don’t even like so much but understand and appreciate that they’re good films. I think the major commonality among the films is that they’re very divisive. They’re all good, but, some people might really like them, some people might not. You almost definitely want to check the synopses on these. Because some of these I love, and some of these I really don’t like, but I mark them green because I know they are good films on some level and don’t want to discount them entirely. These will be the hardest to gauge in terms of my opinion on them based solely on the color. I recommend you get more information on these. But generally most people would rate these at least a 3. (These are generally 3-4 star movies. Many 3s, many 4s, it depends.)

Films in BLUE are — well — the other films. These are films that I enjoyed, but didn’t really love all that much. They’re ones that are one step above the next level below this. Think of these as films that I enjoyed, but not more than a “meh, that was pretty good” kind of way. You’ll get a feel for it when you see which ones are marked blue. They’re ones that, while not totally for me, have their high points, and are not “bad” enough to be put in the final category. Do your homework on these. You may find ones you like here that I don’t like (it’s entirely possible), or you may find something that you like a lot more than I did. This is all based on my personal opinion. The first thing you should know before doing this is how my opinions match yours. NOTE: ALL WINNERS ARE AT LEAST BLUE. Having won, they carry at least that much of a coding. I may not feel so strongly about them, but they do earn that much. So, if you see a WINNER in blue, chances are I don’t like the film too much. (3 star films. Almost exclusively. <5% 4 stars and 2 stars combined here.)

Films NOT in any color (or, whatever the default color of this page is) are films that I don’t like. I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, since they are Oscar nominees, and that at least merits a certain amount of respect, but we’ll put it like this: these are ones I DO NOT recommend. Or, they’re films that just really weren’t for me. By elimination, there have to be a few of these on this list. So, the ones that are blank are ones that either I don’t like or are completely indifferent towards. And complete indifference means, they may be good, but I don’t care. I just didn’t care for it, whether because I think it’s a bad film, a boring film, or because it just really wasn’t for me. Read the articles if you want specifics. (3 stars or 2 star here. Nothing nominated for an Oscar gets a 1. They’re not completely inept. Mostly 2s, some 3s.)

(Note: Winners appear first and bolded. If a performance/directorial effort is italicized, I consider it to be one of the best. If an asterisk (*) appears after a film, it means it hasn’t been nominated before and is appearing for the first time (in the order of Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director). Also, the colors are uniform throughout. I’ve rated the films, not the performances.)

(Anything flush right on the page is a film I’ve yet to see.)


2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County *

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts, The Impossible *

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady *

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs *

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo *

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn *

2010 Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole *

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine *

2009 Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Helen Mirren, The Last Station *

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

Meryl Streep, Julia and Julia *

2008 Kate Winslet, The Reader

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married *

Angelina Jolie, Changeling *

Melissa Leo, Frozen River *

Meryl Streep, Doubt *

2007 Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose *

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age *

Julie Christie, Away from Her *

Laura Linney, The Savages *

Ellen Page, Juno

2006 Helen Mirren, The Queen

Penèlope Cruz, Volver *

Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal *

Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada *

Kate Winslet, Little Children *

2005Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents *

Felicity Huffman, Transamerica *

Keira Knightley, Pride & Prejudice *

Charlize Theron, North Country *

2004 Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

Annette Bening, Being Julia *

Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace *

Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake *

Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind *

2003Charlize Theron, Monster *

Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider *

Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give *

Samantha Morton, In America *

Naomi Watts, 21 Grams *

2002Nicole Kidman, The Hours

Salma Hayek, Frida *

Diane Lane, Unfaithful *

Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven *

Renée Zellweger, Chicago

2001 Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball *

Judi Dench, Iris *

Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!

Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom

Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary *

2000 Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

Joan Allen, The Contender *

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream *

Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me *

1999Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry *

Annette Bening, American Beauty

Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds *

Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair *

Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart *

1998Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth

Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station *

Meryl Streep, One True Thing *

Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie *

1997Helen Hunt, As Good as It Gets

Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings of the Dove *

Julie Christie, Afterglow *

Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown *

Kate Winslet, Titanic

1996Frances McDormand, Fargo

Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies

Diane Keaton, Marvin’s Room *

Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient

Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves *

1995 Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas

Sharon Stone, Casino *

Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County *

Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility

1994 Jessica Lange, Blue Sky *

Jodie Foster, Nell *

Miranda Richardson, Tom & Viv *

Winona Ryder, Little Women *

Susan Sarandon, The Client *

1993Holly Hunter, The Piano

Angela Bassett, What’s Love Got to Do with It

Stockhard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation *

Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day

Debra Winger, Shadowlands *

1992 Emma Thompson, Howards End

Catherine Deneuve, Indochine *

Mary McDonnell, Passion Fish *

Michelle Pfeiffer, Love Field *

Susan Sarandon, Lorenzo’s Oil *

1991 Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise *

Laura Dern, Rambling Rose *

Bette Midler, For the Boys *

Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise

1990Kathy Bates, Misery *

Anjelica Huston, The Grifters *

Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman *

Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge *

Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge *

1989Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy

Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel *

Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine *

Jessica Lange, Music Box *

Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys *

1988Jodie Foster, The Accused *

Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons

Melanie Griffith, Working Girl

Meryl Streep, A Cry in the Dark *

Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist *

1987Cher, Moonstruck

Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction

Holly Hunter, Broadcast News

Sally Kirkland, Anna *

Meryl Streep, Ironweed

1986Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God

Jane Fonda, The Morning After *

Sissy Spacek, Crimes of the Heart *

Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married *

Sigourney Weaver, Aliens *

1985Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful *

Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God *

Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple

Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams *

Meryl Streep, Out of Africa

1984Sally Field, Places in the Heart

Judy Davis, A Passage to India

Jessica Lange, Country *

Vanessa Redgrave, The Bostonians *

Sissy Spacek, The River *

1983Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment

Jane Alexander, Testament *

Meryl Streep, Silkwood *

Julie Walters, Educating Rita

Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment

1982 Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice *

Julie Andrews, Victor Victoria *

Jessica Lange, Frances *

Sissy Spacek, Missing

Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman *

1981Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond

Diane Keaton, Reds

Marsha Mason, Only When I Laugh *

Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City

Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant’s Woman *

1980Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter

Ellen Burstyn, Resurrection *

Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin *

Mary Tyler Moore, Ordinary People

Gena Rowlands, Gloria *

1979 Sally Field, Norma Rae

Jill Clayburgh, Starting Over *

Jane Fonda, The China Syndrome

Marsha Mason, Chapter Two *

Bette Midler, The Rose *

1978Jane Fonda, Coming Home

Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata *

Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year *

Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman

Geraldine Page, Interiors *

1977Diane Keaton, Annie Hall

Anne Bancroft, The Turning Point

Jane Fonda, Julia

Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point

Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl

1976Faye Dunaway, Network

Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin, cousine *

Talia Shire, Rocky

Sissy Spacek, Carrie *

Liv Ullmann, Face to Face *

1975Louise Fletcher, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ann-Margret, Tommy *

Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H. *

Glenda Jackson, Hedda *

Carol Kane, Hester Street *

1974Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Diahann Carroll, Claudine *

Faye Dunaway, Chinatown

Valerie Perrine, Lenny

Gena Rowlands, A Woman Under the Influence *

1973Glenda Jackson, A Touch of Class

Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist

Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty *

Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were *

Joanne Woodward, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams *

1972Liza Minnelli, Cabaret

Diana Ross, Lady Sings the Blues *

Maggie Smith, Travels with My Aunt *

Cicely Tyson, Sounder

Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants

1971Jane Fonda, Klute *

Julie Christie, McCabe & Mrs. Miller *

Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday

Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots *

Janet Suzman – Nicholas and Alexandra

1970Glenda Jackson, Women in Love *

Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope

Ali MacGraw, Love Story

Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter *

Carrie Snodgress, Diary of a Mad Housewife *

1969Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie *

Geneviève Bujold, Anne of the Thousand Days

Jane Fonda, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? *

Liza Minnelli, The Sterile Cuckoo *

Jean Simmons, The Happy Ending *

1968Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter

Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl

Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses *

Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora *

Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel

1967Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Anne Bancroft, The Graduate

Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde

Edith Evans, The Whisperers *

Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark *

1966Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman *

Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street *

Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl *

Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan! *

1965Julie Christie, Darling

Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music

Samantha Eggar, The Collector *

Elizabeth Hartman, A Patch of Blue *

Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools

1964 Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins

Anne Bancroft, The Pumpkin Eater *

Sophia Loren, Marriage Italian Style *

Debbie Reynolds, The Unsinkable Molly Brown *

Kim Stanley, Séance on a Wet Afternoon *

1963Patricia Neal, Hud

Leslie Caron, The L-Shaped Room *

Shirley MacLaine, Irma La Douce *

Rachel Roberts, This Sporting Life

Natalie Wood, Love with the Proper Stranger *

1962 Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker *

Bette Davis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? *

Katharine Hepburn, Long Day’s Journey Into Night *

Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth *

Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

1961Sophia Loren, Two Women *

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s *

Piper Laurie, The Hustler

Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke *

Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass *

1960Elizabeth Taylor, BUtterfield 8 *

Greer Garson, Sunrise at Campobello *

Deborah Kerr, The Sundowners

Shirley MacLaine, The Apartment

Melina Mercouri, Never on Sunday *

1959Simone Signoret, Room at the Top

Doris Day, Pillow Talk *

Audrey Hepburn, The Nun’s Story

Katharine Hepburn, Suddenly, Last Summer *

Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer

1958 Susan Hayward, I Want to Live! *

Deborah Kerr, Separate Tables

Shirley MacLaine, Some Came Running *

Rosalind Russell, Auntie Mame

Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

1957Joanne Woodward, The Three Faces of Eve *

Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison *

Anna Magnani, Wild is the Wind

Elizabeth Taylor, Raintree County *

Lana Turner, Peyton Place

1956 Ingrid Bergman, Anastasia *

Carroll Baker, Baby Doll *

Katharine Hepburn, The Rainmaker *

Nancy Kelly, The Bad Seed *

Deborah Kerr, The King and I

1955Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo

Susan Hayward, I’ll Cry Tomorrow *

Katharine Hepburn, Summertime *

Jennifer Jones, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Eleanor Parker, Interrupted Melody *

1954 Grace Kelly, The Country Girl

Dorothy Dandridge, Carmen Jones *

Judy Garland, A Star is Born

Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina *

Jane Wyman, Magnificent Obsession *

1953Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday

Leslie Caron, Lili *

Ava Gardner, Mogambo *

Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity

Maggie McNamara, The Moon is Blue *

1952 Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba *

Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear *

Bette Davis, The Star *

Julie Harris, The Member of the Wedding *

Susan Hayward, With a Song in My Heart *

1951Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire

Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen

Eleanor Parker, Detective Story *

Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun

Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil *

1950 Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday

Anne Baxter, All About Eve

Betty Davis, All About Eve

Eleanor Parker, Caged *

Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard

1949Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress

Jeanne Crain, Pinky *

Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart *

Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son *

Loretta Young, Come to the Stable *

1948Jane Wyman, Johnny Belinda

Ingrid Bergman, Joan of Arc *

Olivia de Havilland, The Snake Pit

Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama *

Barbara Stanwyck, Sorry, Wrong Number *

1947Loretta Young, The Farmer’s Daughter *

Joan Crawford, Possessed *

Susan Hayward, Smash-up, the Story of a Woman *

Dorothy McGuire, Gentleman’s Agreement

Rosalind Russell, Mourning Becomes Electra

1946 Olivia de Havilland, To Each His Own *

Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter *

Jennifer Jones, Duel in the Sun *

Rosalind Russell, Sister Kenny *

Jane Wyman, The Yearling

1945 Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce

Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Greer Garson, The Valley of Decision *

Jennifer Jones, Love Letters *

Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven *

1944Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight

Claudette Colbert, Since You Went Away

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington *

Greer Garson, Mrs. Parkington *

Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity

1943Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette

Jean Arthur, The More the Merrier

Ingrid Bergman, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph *

Greer Garson, Madame Curie

1942 Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver

Bette Davis, Now, Voyager *

Katharine Hepburn, Woman of the Year *

Rosalind Russell, My Sister Eileen *

Teresa Wright, The Pride of the Yankees

1941Joan Fontaine, Suspicion

Bette Davis, The Little Foxes

Olivia de Havilland, Hold Back the Dawn

Greer Garson, Blossoms in the Dust

Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire *

1940Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle

Bette Davis, The Letter

Joan Fontaine, Rebecca

Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Martha Scott, Our Town

1939Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind

Bette Davis, Dark Victory

Irene Dunne, Love Affair

Greta Garbo, Ninotchka

Greer Garson, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

1938Bette Davis, Jezebel

Fay Bainter, White Banners *

Wendy Hiller, Pygmalion

Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette *

Margaret Sullivan, Three Comrades *

1937 Luise Rainer, The Good Earth

Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth

Greta Garbo, Camille *

Janet Gaynor, A Star is Born

Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas *

1936 Luise Rainer, The Great Ziegfeld

Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild *

Gladys George, Valiant is the Word for Carrie *

Carole Lombard, My Man Godfrey

Norma Shearer, Romeo and Juliet

1935Bette Davis, Dangerous *

Elisabeth Bergner, Escape Me Never *

Claudette Colbert, Private Worlds *

Katharine Hepburn, Alice Adams

Miriam Hopkins, Becky Sharp *

Merle Oberon, The Dark Angel *

1934 Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night

Grace Moore, One Night of Love

Norma Shearer, The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (write-in) *

1932-1933 Katharine Hepburn, Morning Glory *

May Robson, Lady for a Day

          Diana Wynyard, Cavalcade

1931-1932Helen Hayes, The Sin of Madelon Claudet *

Marie Dressler, Emma *

Lynn Fontaine, The Guardsman

1930-1931 Marie Dressler, Min and Bill *

Marlene Dietrich, Morocco *

Irene Dunne, Cimarron

Ann Harding, Holiday *

Norma Shearer, A Free Soul

1929-1930Norma Shearer, The Divorcée

Nancy Carroll, The Devil’s Holiday *

Ruth Chatterton, Sarah and Son *

Greta Garbo, Anna Christie * & Romance *

Norma Shearer, Their Own Desire *

Gloria Swanson, The Tresspasser *

1928-1929Mary Pickford, Coquette *

Ruth Chatterton, Madame X *

Betty Compson, The Barker *

Jeanne Eagels, The Letter *

Corrinne Griffith, The Divine Lady *

Bessie Love, The Broadway Melody

1927-1928Janet Gaynor, Seventh Heaven & Street Angel & Sunrise *

Louise Dresser, A Ship Comes In *

Gloria Swanson, Sadie Thompson *

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