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The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1995

I get in a lot of trouble with 1995. It’s one of those things where — whenever I disagree with the majority, and don’t like something everyone loves, I keep my mouth shut. It’s a no-win situation. If they find out you don’t like something, they start attacking you, because why don’t you like it? And why do you like that other piece of shit instead? And it get malicious. And who needs that? So I just keep quiet. But here is kind of where a few of those things I don’t like come to light. There are two films in particular here that people seem to love that I just don’t.

Braveheart wins Best Picture, which, I don’t really think was a great decision. Braveheart is a great film, but, I think Apollo 13 was a better film (based on the nominees). Just because, each has its problems, and I find Apollo 13 to be the more watchable film and the one that holds up better. Braveheart‘s a little too romanticized for me. And people love that film, which is why I hate to speak ill of it. But, it really shouldn’t have won. And Mel shouldn’t really have won Best Director for it. But since Ron Howard wasn’t nominated (which I talked about here), it was a good decision. Then, Best Actor was Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas, which I think was a great (albeit tough) decision (which I talked about here). Best Supporting Actor was Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects, which speaks for itself. And Best Supporting Actress was Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite, which I’m over the moon about (as I said here). So that’s 1995. In all, a very good year.

Now, my main dissension that shows with this year is in thinking Braveheart shouldn’t have won Best Picture, and here. I just don’t like Dead Man Walking. People just love saying that Sean Penn should have won Best Actor for it, and think Sarandon winning was a great decision. And I just don’t get it. I mean, the film was fine, but, I don’t think it should have won anything it won. And that’s where most people get upset. But, I’m gonna be honest with you, I just don’t see what the appeal with the film and that performance is.

BEST ACTRESS – 1995

And the nominees were…

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

This must be a first. The first alphabetical nominee starts with an S. That’s fascinating. Four out of five are S names.

Sarandon — I think I’ve covered my opinion on this film before. So I won’t preach about that too much. I’ll just get into a synopsis.

It’s about a nun who gets a letter from a death row inmate. And he meets with her and says he’s gonna be executed in two weeks and is innocent, and wants her to help him. And, we find out pretty soon, that’s not true. He did it and he’s not sorry for it either. And the film is basically about her talking to him before he dies. That’s it, really. And she tries to find out why he did it, and they talk. And then he recounts the story, and we see more about him, and then he dies. That’s the film. It’s not bad, just, like I said, I don’t understand why people think this was an amazing film. At best it was just pretty good. I really don’t get it. That’s not a cue for people to try to explain it to me. I’m not saying I don’t understand how people could love this movie, I’m simply saying I just don’t get it. And I don’t really care to. There are some things we just don’t like. This is one of mine. I say that simply to explain why I’m about to say what I’m about to say.

I don’t understand why Susan Sarandon won for this film. She has no character arc. Her character doesn’t change. She doesn’t do anything except talk to Penn. Nobody changes here. It’s just them talking to each other for a while. There’s no arc. And she doesn’t really do anything in the movie. I honestly can’t explain the win except, she was due, because she’d been giving great performances for twenty years, and hadn’t been rewarded yet. And if that’s the reason, I can at least accept that reason. Because this was such a great performance, though, is a reason I cannot accept. Because —

Shue — Elisabeth Shue was so good in this movie, I cannot understand how she didn’t win this award. The whole film is just amazing. This is a lovely piece of cinema.

The film is about two people who find one another. The first is Nicolas Cage. He works in Hollywood, and has a bit of a drinking problem. And it gets him fired. And after he gets fired, he decides that he’s going to go to Las Vegas, and drink himself to death. He takes every penny he has left, buys a lot of alcohol (there’s a wonderful scene where he’s going down the aisle in the grocery store, just filling a shopping cart with a thousand dollars worth of liquor), and plans on drinking until he dies. And Elisabeth Shue is a prostitute. She had one abusive pimp who was killed by the Russian mob, and now she’s sort of on her own. And she meets Cage, and they start a relationship. And their relationship is based on an understanding. He won’t ask her to stop being a prostitute, and she won’t ask him to stop drinking. And that’s what happens. They’re just together.

And we see them fall in love, and there’s a moment where it’s possible that she might want him to stop drinking and have a future together, but he’s so steadfastly committed to drinking himself to death that she just watches as he does that. I liken this movie to that one moment in the third Matrix movie. Where Neo and Trinity are in the ship and go all the way up into the clouds. And we see them on this crash course to get up there, and then, for that one beautiful moment, they can see the clouds. But then, they fall back down and crash. That’s what this movie is like. There’s that moment where you think, them getting together could save them both, but, no, it’s not like that. And he dies, and then we see her turn her life around (which she’d been doing in these interview things over the course of the film). It’s a fucking amazing film. The lead performances are just fucking incredible.

Seriously, I don’t understand how Shue didn’t win this award. All pun-related references to her name aside, she really deserved to win this. And no matter how overdue Susan Sarandon was, Elisabeth Shue not winning this award is just not okay for me. That’s just how it is. You can think otherwise, but, I don’t care. This is my opinion. And that’s what matters here.

Stone — Casino is a masterpiece. And yet, there are flaws. But it’s still just an incredible film. I feel like this is one of the Scorsese works that we just overlook. For whatever reason. I find myself almost forgetting that he even made this movie. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s like Goodfellas part 2. He took all the techniques from Goodfellas (as well as most of the cast and the writer) and made this film. And it’s very similar, which isn’t a bad thing. the film is fucking incredible. Personally, I’d have voted for this for Best Picture in a heartbeat.

The film is a huge 3-hour odyssey about the rise and fall of Las Vegas. All through the eyes of Sam “Ace” Rothstein. And we see him go from small-time bookie who is surprisingly good at picking winners, to being the casino head in Vegas, bringing along his hot-headed partner (Joe Pesci, naturally). And we see them start making money hand over fist, and how the whole thing runs like clockwork. But then, small nuisances here and there (like when he fires the son of an important man, which then causes him to be denied a gaming license, which then forces him to take jobs that aren’t as the head of the casino, and then another thing and another thing — like quicksand) add up, and eventually shit goes wrong, and the whole empire comes crashing down. It’s a spellbindingly good film. I kind of want to watch it right now.

(Also, just gonna throw it out there — has there ever been a bigger stroke of genius than the moment where Joe Pesci is doing the voiceover in the cornfield, which he’d been doing for the entire film, and then when they start beating the shit out of him with bats, you hear the voiceover go, “Ahh!” and then stop? I mean, how brilliant is that? I don’t know if that moment gets enough credit. Because, to me, that’s one of the best moments in film history, right there.)

Anyway, Sharon Stone plays De Niro’s wife, who, at first is just a small-time con artist, who cozies up to men in the casino and gets them to buy her drinks and stuff. And she plays games with them, wins them a bunch of money (pocketing some of it) and then asking for her cut. That’s what she does. And she has this ex-boyfriend, Lester Diamond, a pimp, wonderfully played by James Woods, who she can’t seem to get over, even though he’s a piece of shit who just takes money from her all the time. And then De Niro becomes smitten with her, and showers her with money and gifts, and she marries him, even though she can’t leave Woods behind. And they’re married, and it’s a decent marriage, mostly because she loves the money and the lifestyle, and he loves her. And eventually, when it all comes crashing down, she gets hit the hardest. She gets hardcore into drugs, and goes back to Woods, and runs away with him and takes her daughter, and then De Niro goes nuts trying to get the daughter back, and then she comes crawling back to De Niro when she realizes the money will be gone, and then we see her try to run away from him and take a bunch of money in his bank account — we really see her spiral out of control.

Stone does a great job with the role. She’s really good. Honestly, if Shue wasn’t here, I’d totally be voting for Sharon Stone. Though, I will say, while Casino is my favorite movie on this list, I’m ranking Stone #2, just to really state how good I think Elisabeth Shue is in Leaving Las Vegas. But just know, Casino is my favorite film on this list. And I think most people know that, which is why it doesn’t really need to be ranked #1.

Streep — The Bridges of Madison County is an unabashed chick flick, directed by Clint Eastwood, of all people. I wonder what led to him directing this. It’s a strange choice. Yet, only adds to his prestige as a filmmaker.

The film is about a bored housewife, who, will her husband and children are away for the week, meets a nature photographer, played by Eastwood. And they have this affair of sorts, and it’s clear both are in love, even though it will never amount to anything. And the film is basically them having this weekend thing, and then the regret afterwards when it has to end. There’s that one great scene at the end, where Streep’s husband is back, and she’s largely forgotten about Eastwood. At least, consciously. She still has feelings for him, but he’s been gone long enough to where she can block it from her mind and focus on her husband and the children. But then, she sees Eastwood sitting in his truck across the street. And he drives in front of her and her husband (who doesn’t know), and she’s just thinking to herself, wondering what to do, and almost opens the door and goes out to be with him, but then doesn’t. And he drives away. It’s a powerful moment. Here it is, actually:

The film itself is okay. Not really my kind of thing. Streep is good in it though. She gets to do an Italian accent this time. Which, come on, Meryl. Must you be such a show-off? Sometimes people are so good at things, it’s just embarrassing to see them excel at another thing. I feel like Meryl has mastered every accent in the world. And even some others, too. But, she’s good here. I’d put her third for a vote, just — because. I don’t know. I have one performance that I know should have won and one I’d vote for if I didn’t vote for that. 3-5 honestly don’t matter.

Thompson — Yeah, I don’t get what this movie was about, either. People are saying this should have won Best Picture. Hell, it won Best Picture at the Globes! Why? It’s not that good.

The film is about two sisters (alike in dignity), played by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. And Kate is the headstrong sister who falls in love quickly and deeply, and is prone to foolish behavior. And Emma is the sensible, boring one. And the film is about what happens to them. One falls in love with one dude, but ends up with another, and then the other ends up with the other guy, and it’s all — come the fuck on. British drama based on a Jane Austen book. Really? It’s like Pride and Prejudice. I don’t get how people can love these movies. I’m not criticizing that love, I’m just saying I don’t understand it. And love for a movie is one thing, but, Best Picture? Best Actress? Really? Unnecessary.

Emma Thompson is actually my fifth choice here. Which is strange, because — I don’t like Susan Sarandon’s performance at all. But, Emma won for a stuffy British drama before, and didn’t need to win for another within three years of that. That’s really all it is. Plus she won for writing the film, and that’s enough. So, she’s #5. And this film should not have been nearly as close to winning Best Picture as it was.

My Thoughts: Shue is really the only person who should have won here. I’d have also accepted Sharon Stone, but, you know that wasn’t happening. It’s Shue all the way. Susan Sarandon was a terrible decision. (Though not historically. Of the two actresses, Sarandon is the one who should have the Oscar. Still, though, Shue gave the better performance here.)

My Vote: Shue

Should Have Won: Shue

Is the result acceptable?: I guess. Streep had two and wasn’t winning, and Thompson won for writing and had one. And Stone was never going to win. Shue and Sarandon were really the only options. Now, short-term, this is so unacceptable it’s not even funny. Shue was far and away better than Sarandon. Long-term, though, Sarandon’s had the better career and earned the Oscar more than Shue has. So, in that sense, it’s okay. As long as you don’t look at the category, Susan Sarandon having an Oscar is fine. But, in this category, this is a terrible decision. It’s complicated.

Performances I suggest you see: Casino is a must-see film. I’ll leave it at that. If you don’t see it, then you’re a fucking douchebag. (I hope someone got the vague reference there. If you did, then we can be friends.)

Leaving Las Vegas is a perfect film, in its own way. It’s just a brilliant, brilliant movie, and is one that, if I made a list of essential films people needed to see that weren’t the essential essential films (like Star Wars and Rocky and shit), this would be on that list. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful film, that I think everyone needs to see.

Dead Man Walking, while a good film, is also one I can’t really recommend. I mean, you probably should see it, because it’s recognized as a great film, I’m just saying I can’t really recommend it. And, The Bridges of Madison County — it’s Clint and Meryl. I mean, I don’t like it, but, some women might, I guess? And maybe some dudes? I don’t know. I can’t really recommend it, but, it’s kind of well-known, so I have to mention it. I figure if I keep talking circles I won’t have to write anymore and not actually put forth an opinion on it.

Rankings:

5) Thompson

4) Sarandon

3) Streep

2) Stone

1) Shue

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