The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1994

Well, this is definitely one of the more contentious years in recent memory. I guess that’s standard when three of your Best Picture nominees are Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone’s gonna have an opinion on that. I won’t get into it here, past, Forrest Gump wins Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Zemeckis. Tom Hanks also wins Best Actor for the film. Whatever your opinions are about the film and Zemeckis winning, you can’t really deny that Hanks did a great job with the role.

Then, Best Supporting Actor was Martin Landau for Ed Wood, which was a good decision, but also a tough one, since his category was so tough (it also included Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan and Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield). Best Supporting Actress was Diane Wiest for Bullets over Broadway, which I don’t like (as I said here). That’s pretty much 1994. My attempts to not discuss my opinions on the major awards outside of the article I write for it is keeping this intro bit really short.

As for this category — it’s pretty weak. That’s not to say there aren’t good films or good performances on it. It’s just — the person who really should have won the category had just won two Oscars within six years of this. Were they really gonna give her a third? Plus, this was a good chance to award Jessica Lange, who was kind of overdue by this point. So that’s kind of where we are with this one. What were they gonna do?


And the nominees were…

Jodie Foster, Nell

Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

Miranda Richardson, Tom & iVv

Winona Ryder, Little Women

Susan Sarandon, The Client

Foster — Jodie Foster gave by far the best performance in this category. I won’t sugar coat it. It’s not even close. Problem is, she won two Oscars very recently. 1988 for The Accused. Brilliant performance, totally deserved. Then 1991, The Silence of the Lambs. Yeah. And then here, she’s again clearly the best in the category, but do they give her a third Oscar? That’s what this essentially comes down to.

The film is about an old woman that dies, and, the townspeople discover that she has a grown daughter in the house that no one knew about. She’d been a shut-in, and they discover that she had a daughter, and basically kept her in the house. And that’s Nell. And she is terrified of people and doesn’t speak a word of English. She speaks this weird, gibberish thing. And they bring in Liam Neeson, the town doctor, to try to communicate with her. And he figures out that she never learned proper English because her only contact was with the old woman, who had suffered a stroke many years earlier and had very slurred speech. So all of Nell’s language is based off of that. So Neeson starts getting closer to Nell, and he brings in Natasha Richardson (this is the movie where the two of them met), who is mostly analytical in her approach, and doesn’t really care about Nell. And they work together, begrudgingly, to help Nell. And they eventually learn to communicate with her, and they find out about her. And then eventually, the people Richardson works for get a court order to institutionalize Nell so they can study her, and Neeson and Richardson argue that Nell is perfectly acceptable and isn’t of any danger. And she has this great moment where she addresses the court, and it’s a great moment. The film is really, really great.

Foster is sublime in the movie. Because she had to literally create her own language, and then speak it. It’s just incredible what she accomplishes here. She was so clearly the best in this category, I don’t think it’s even a question.

Although, I will say — she did go full retard. Maybe that’s why she didn’t win.

Lange — Well, Lange is a second choice here, to Foster, and that’s why she won. Foster having won twice, going full retard, and Lange being overdue. It all converged into Lange winning. And that’s sort of okay. But, Foster was clearly better. But, let’s talk about this film.

Blue Sky is about Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones. He’s a military man, and she’s his extrovert wife. We first see them flying a helicopter over the ocean on a daily exercise, and see her down below, swimming naked in the water. She does things like that. She flirts with other men, though not very seriously. She’s just like that. She has a bit of a mood disorder. And mostly it’s taken in stride. Though it’s kind of clear she has some underlying mental issues. And basically, he works at a nuclear testing base, and they transfer him from Hawaii to Alabama, mostly because he disagrees with their policy of conducting tests outdoors. He thinks they should do it underground. And they go to Alabama, where there’s nothing to do, and her illness gets worse, and she starts behaving more strangely. And that causes problems. And then there’s a situation where they conduct a test, but two local cowboys, who don’t know about it because they live away from the world, wander into the area and get killed when the bomb goes off. And that’s a big issue. And then the film is about Lange acting more and more erratic, and her big moment comes when they’re about to test another nuke, and she rides into the area on a horse, and they have to abort the test. And this gets Jones transferred, and sort of fixes their problems. That’s basically the film. It’s not bad.

Lange is pretty good in the movie. She’s charming, and gets to play mental illness and mood swings. And she does a good job. Like I said, she’d be my second choice. But, she’s not as good as Foster is, so I don’t know if I want to vote for her. We’ll see.

Richardson — Yeah, not a good movie. At all, really.

The film is about T.S. Eliot falling in love with his wife (Vivienne Haigh-Wood. I can’t believe I remembered that without looking it up. Spelling might be off, though), and, after they get married, finding out — she’s got a bit of the old, fuckered in the head. She’s got some issues. And the film is about him dealing with her problems, and eventually leaving her, despite staying married to her for the rest of his life. That’s the film. They marry, she’s crazy, does crazy shit, he tries to be supportive, can’t, she goes into a nuthouse and he leaves, and then she comes out, and is upset but understanding about him having left. That’s pretty much it.

I don’t get why this was nominated. (Miramax movie. I think that explains everything you need to know.) Not a very good movie, and, the performance — meh. Some would consider it nomination worthy. I don’t. But still, it’s a #5, so I don’t care. There are clearly multiple performances worth voting for over this one, so I don’t really care about it being here one way or another.

Ryder — Ooh. This is a tough one. I love Winona Ryder, and I think she’s a great actress. I thought she probably should have won Best Supporting Actress the year before this. And I thought she did a great job in this movie. Problem is — it’s Little Women. This is the third major adaptation of this film. The first was the Katharine Hepburn one in 1933, and the second was the Elizabeth Taylor version in 1949. So, I can’t really vote for her here, just because — it’s too on the nose. I hate voting for on the nose films and performances. You know? Someone plays this movie, Joan of Arc, Hamlet, Macbeth, Oliver Twist — do you really want to vote for the “classics”? It’s just boring, no matter how good the performance. So that’s my opinion on the role itself. The film, though, is actually quite enjoyable. Though not my favorite version of the film.

It’s about the March sisters. They’re happy, and they do their thing, and there’s the boys next door they’re probably going to marry, and all this stuff happens, and they grow, and one dies, and all that. You know how it is. I refuse to believe you don’t know this story or haven’t seen one of the film versions. It’s such a classic story, literature-wise, for you to have not come across it in any form. It doesn’t require a synopsis. I will say, though, Winona does a great job with it, as does Kirsten Dunst, who is so fucking charming in this movie. It’s kind of ridiculous. Sometimes I forget that she can act well. I mean, this and Jumanji in the same year (and Interview with the Vampire), that’s impressive. But, anyway, the film is okay. You get 20-year old Christian Bale, which is just humorous.

Ryder is fine in the film, but, I can’t vote for her. At best, she’s a #3. And even so, Foster is so clearly the best and Lange is so overdue, she had no chance. She should have won Supporting in 1993.

Sarandon — Yeah, I’ll say it right now, this performance should be nowhere near the Oscars. Yet, the film is pretty great. So I’m okay with it being here.

It’s an adaptation of the Grisham novel, about a young boy who sees a dude shoot himself in his car, along with his brother (who was actually inside the car with him). And the brother goes into shock, and they find out the dude worked with some gangsters, who had information on where a body was buried, that could get them all in trouble. And the mob starts looking for these boys. But the boys, specifically the older one, who knows where the body is buried, won’t talk. He’s too afraid too. And the cops, and important attorneys (led by Tommy Lee Jones, who is just amazing here) try to coerce him into telling them what he knows. And the boy goes to Susan Sarandon, who is a recovering alcoholic lawyer, to help him out. Basically, he wants to just go away and live in peace with his brother and mother. He wants the mother to get what she always wanted, a house, and for his brother to get the medical care he needs (he has PTSD from seeing the dude kill himself). And Sarandon helps him out, and becomes his biggest ally. But then the mobsters come, and there are chase scenes and shit, and ultimately it’s a thriller, but it’s a smart thriller. It’s fun to watch, and is a really good movie. All the Grisham movies made in the 90s are great movies.

So, while the performance is nowhere near Best Actress-winning quality, it is very enjoyable. And I’ll take that. I’ll put it #2 on the rankings. But, really, shouldn’t have won. At all. Come on, now.

My Thoughts: I don’t know what to say here — Jodie Foster was legit the best performance. By far. It’s not even close. But, she won twice. Can I still vote for her? I say yes. I understand why Jessica Lange won, but, Foster is too good not to vote for.

My Vote: Foster

Should Have Won: Foster

Is the result acceptable?: Oh hell yeah. Lange totally earned one of these. Jodie gave the best performance, but, had two and didn’t really need  a third. Sarandon was good, but, it’s not an award-winning type performance. So she’s out. Richardson was never going to win this. And Winona — it would have been nice, but, a bit too on-the-nose as a part to win. Would have been okay, but — Lange was the best choice if not Foster.

Performances I suggest you see: Nell. Watch that movie. It seems like a classic “bait” role, but, when you see just how good Jodie Foster is in this movie, and the commitment she shows for the role, you’ll understand why she should have won. It’s also a really good movie.

The Client is also a great movie. A nice summer thriller. If you like The Firm and A Time to Kill — both great Grisham adaptations — you need to see this one. It’s just as good as both of those. It’s really great. A lot of fun.

Little Women — you should probably see one film version of this at some point just because it’s so seminal a work. And, for most people, this is the one to watch. It’s the most recent version. I have a friend (who, if she’s reading this, I did not forget you telling me this) who watches this movie every Christmas. Which, is the opposite of my other friend (who is most certainly not reading this), who watches The Shining every Christmas. Anyway, this is the most palatable version for most people, since most people tend to have an aversion to black and white movies. For me, it’s not my favorite. I’d probably go for the 1949 version, or the 1933 version first. Haven’t made up my mind yet. Still, you need to see one of the versions. It’s like telling people you haven’t seen or read Oliver Twist. You’ll get a look, like, “Really?”

Then, Blue Sky is an enjoyable film, but probably limited in its appeal. Still, it’s not bad. Worth checking out. Tommy Lee Jones is always great, and Lange is good in it.


5) Richardson

4) Ryder

3) Lange

2) Sarandon

1) Foster

One response

  1. I actually don’t like this decision at all. I really think Foster or even Ryder should have won. Foster was amazing as always, and Ryder was FAR better in Little Women than she was in The Age of Innocence, in my opinion. Lange was just “meh”.
    My rankings are:
    1. Jodie Foster
    2. Winona Ryder
    3. Susan Sarandon
    4. Jessica Lange
    5. Miranda Richardson

    September 12, 2013 at 3:04 am

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