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The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1996

I’m well on the record about how much I hate 1996. I mean, The English Patient beats Fargo for Best Picture. And it’s not even a good movie. Anthony Minghella wins Best Director for it (talked about here), and Juliette Binoche wins Best Supporting Actress for it. That’s really the only one of its awards I agree with. Otherwise — seriously, what the fuck, Academy?

Then, Geoffrey Rush wins Best Actor for Shine, in what I consider one of the worst Best Actor decisions of all time (explained here) and Cuba Gooding Jr. wins Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire. Which, funny thing about that (and that article, which is here) — I’m currently in the situation that a lot of Academy voters are probably in now. When I wrote the article, I was like, “I know Bill Macy should really win this, I know he was the better choice, he’s had the better career, he should have the Oscar — gaah, I’m going with Cuba Gooding. He’s just so charming in the role!” And now, I’m like, “Fuck, I totally should have taken Bill Macy.” It’s kind of fitting, actually.

And then, we have this category, which, for me, is one of the toughest things in the world. Because, you have three amazing performances. All for different reasons. And the one that won, while it was great, and it was my favorite, isn’t really the best performance of the bunch. And yet — it’s Marge. It’s, “dont’cha know” and “oh yah, you betcha.” It’s so difficult, because, I love the performance and I know that there were better choices. This category is tearing me apart! (Note: That counts as both a Room reference and a Rebel Without a Cause reference.)

BEST ACTRESS – 1996

And the nominees were…

Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies

Diane Keaton, Marvin’s Room

Frances McDormand, Fargo

Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient

Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves

Blethyn — A lot of qualification about to happen here. But I must give you all the information so you can judge accordingly. I hate Mike Leigh films. I just don’t like them. It’s just his style. He’s like Robert Altman — I just don’t dig their styles. His style is very — not for me. My penchant for stylized dialogue conflicts with this. His style is very — he takes an actress, a barebones concept, and creates a film. That’s it. They work for weeks, he’ll sit there and they’ll write scenes and develop characters. That’s how they do it. And for me — I can’t watch the movies. This, Vera Drake — not my cup of tea at all. You need to know this before you read my review. I will also qualify this further by saying, despite my dislike for Mike Leigh films and this movie — Brenda Blethyn is fucking incredible in it.

The film is about a woman and her family — honestly none of this part matters. Maybe it does to people who like the film, but for me — I don’t care. The first 45 minutes is totally filler, and totally unnecessary. Again, people who like the film might say otherwise, but, this is my blog. Anyway, she gets a random phone call midway through the film, from Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Turns out, she’s her daughter. And then they have this incredible scene at a coffee shop where they meet for the first time:

This scene is basically the movie for me. Outside of this, Baptiste comes over and meets the family, and it’s rocky for a minute, then it turns out okay and she becomes part of the family. That’s the film. But, really, it’s that one scene.

Blethyn is fantastic in the movie. And, a lot of people say she should have won this award. Me? I say no. Because, there are three choices here, three amazing choices, and her film is the weakest of the bunch. So for me, she comes right off the top first, and it’s really between the other two. When you have a tough category like this, this is what you have to do. And despite her being amazing (so much so that I went from completely hating the film to actually kind of respecting it purely because of her performance), I can’t vote for her. There’s a better powerhouse performance and a better personal favorite performance. She had no shot, for my money.

Keaton — Wow, if there ever was a clear number five, this is it. What the fuck is this performance doing here? I guess one of those things where everyone remembers after a few years that, “Hey, we like Diane Keaton,” and they give her an Oscar nomination for something she shouldn’t be nominated for. Because, honestly, after Reds — she was nominated for this and for Something’s Gotta Give. I think you can see what I’m talking about.

This film looks like a clear attempt at an Oscar by whomever made it. It stars Meryl as a single mother whose son (Leonardo DiCaprio) hates her. He set the house on fire and has some problems. Then, out of the blue, they get a call from Diane Keaton, Meryl’s sister, who she hasn’t spoken to for years, for no real reason, and they find out she’s got leukemia. And the rest of the film is Meryl and Leo going there because Keaton needs someone to donate bone marrow to her. And they try to mend broken relationships, and Keaton is able to get through to Leo, and eventually he donates his bone marrow to her. Oh, boo fucking hoo. It’s so sappy it’s ridiculous. Plus, what the fuck is Robert De Niro doing here? This is the first performance where it’s pretty clear he’s not trying anymore.

This is clearly a number five, and I’m not sure why Diane Keaton was even nominated outside the fact that she’s Diane Keaton. Or maybe it’s because they were Meryl’d out. Because Meryl was clearly the performance to nominate here. Either way, whichever one was nominated, it would be a #5.

McDormand — Are there words to describe the brilliance that is Fargo?

I know you’ve seen it. So I won’t waste time on a wordy synopsis. Bill Macy, a North Dakota used car salesman. Needs money. Hires Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare to kidnap his wife, so her rich father can pay the ransom. It goes horribly wrong, step by step. Stormare kills a cop and two witnesses while driving to the hideout with Macy’s wife. Frances McDormand is put on the case. And slowly, everything comes together. It’s a brilliant movie.

How can you not love Frances McDormand here? The whole performance, even that weird interlude with her and the crying Asian man. It’s just brilliant, from top to bottom. And that closing monologue she has:

Just amazing. This is easily #1 on my rankings. Now, I have some problems with the performance, but only in the context of this category and the Quest. The performance itself is perfect. Nothing wrong with it. Here, though, the role is kind of a supporting role. I mean, you can call it a lead, but, a lot of the screen time in this film goes to Macy and Buescmi and Stormare and the kidnapping. It’s kind of a three-pronged film. It’s all split into thirds. And she’s the star of her third of the movie. Which doesn’t cut into me liking it, it just — there’s another performance here still to come that — it’s kind of the best performance in the category, based on pure acting. And, while I love Frances McDormand’s performance — this other one, is kind of a lot better. And McDormand kind of not really being a lead role, in a way, makes it really tough to vote for her over this other performance. But we’ll deal with that in a second. Just know, the performance and the film, are both perfect. Really. I don’t think anyone can find fault with either. They’re just incredible.

Thomas — I think we know my opinion on The English Patient by now. I don’t need to get into that. We’ll just talk about the performance.

The film is about some bullshit — well, there goes objectivity — love story between Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. The film opens with him crashing his plane in the desert. And he gets badly burned and is all fucked up. And he’s in bed, being tended to by Juliette Binoche, and he tells her his story. And basically, 60% of the film is in flashback, 40% is present day. And of that 40%, about 20% of it has no purpose whatsoever and is just filler. Willem Dafoe showing up and losing his thumbs, the Indian dude from Lost as a bomb defuser and Juliette Binoche not wanting to get with him because everyone she’s ever gotten close to has died — all filler. This movie is 45 minutes longer than it needs to be.

Anyway, the story we care about is — Kristin Scott Thomas is married to Colin Firth, and Fiennes is a mapmaker working with them, for whatever the fuck. Who cares. And Firth is a boring dude, and Thomas is lonely in the marriage. And she starts fucking Ralph Fiennes. Which, I totally understand. Seeing him as Voldemort, without the nose and all — and here with all the skin grafts and shit — very sexy. Amon Göth — oh man, I’m wet just thinking about it. (If my friend who loves Ralph Fiennes reads this, she’s gonna be fucking pissed at me.) So they start fucking, and a lot of the film is them fucking. And basically, after about two hours of this, we get to what would have amounted to about a fifteen minute story. Firth finds out, and, he takes Thomas up in an airplane, and tries to run it into Fiennes. Because that’s what you do. And it crashes and he dies. But Thomas doesn’t, and she has this long death scene, and Fiennes is so sad that she died that he does the plane thing at the beginning. And Binoche, who’d been trying to save him the whole time, kills him with morphine after hearing his story, because, well, it’s a shitty fucking movie meant to make idiots cry.

Honestly, Thomas was only nominated because the film got so many nominations. She didn’t really do anything here that’s remotely interesting. Juliette Binoche is really the only person worth watching in this movie. Her and Fiennes, covered in all the prosthetics are the only interesting story. If they just focused on that and kept the flashbacks shorter, and did it as if it were a 40s movie, only 110 minutes, then it would have been a better movie. Either way, Kristin Scott Thomas should never have won here. But, despite me not liking her performance, she’s not a #5, because Diane Keaton is so clearly a #5. So Thomas gets to be a #4. Which really only serves to accentuate the distance between the first three performances and the rest of the category. Those three are so good, and then you get a filler nomination and a “the film’s nominated for everything, clearly she has to come along for the ride too” nomination.

Watson — Holy shit. I heard amazing things about this performance before seeing the movie. Everyone said Emily Watson is jaw-droppingly good in this movie. But, me having bad ideas about Lars von Trier’s films, I actually managed to never see one before this one. I tried watching Dogville one day, but that was back when it came out, before I was cultured cinematically, and I saw the way he staged the film, and was like, “Fuck this, I’m out.” And I just avoided his stuff ever since. I watched the first ten minutes of Antichrist, but I just wasn’t prepared to go all the way with that one. Anyway — this was the first one I saw. And I knew her performance is great. Nicole Kidman is publicly on the record as saying this is her favorite female performance of the past twenty years. She just went through an Oscar season where they asked them questions like that (plus they asked people since it was the end of the decade). Anyway, I’m hearing all the time how good this performance is. But, not as much as Brenda Blethyn. I heard about her performance more. So, I never really got to the place to feel spiteful about this. I figured, “Okay, this performance will be good, but the movie will look like shit and I can disqualify it based on that.” I have weird criteria.

Anyway, this film — incredible. It’s so fucking raw. It starts with Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård getting married. And it’s clear she’s this innocent virgin, and he’s this big strong oil rig worker. And we see that she’s demure, and wants to be a good wife. And then they have sex for the first time, and her whole world opens up. And she falls madly in love with him, and we see them very happy, living life together. And she’s a religious girl, she talks to god and asks him for things. She’s also kind of simple. Kind of like a child. We see her having fits when he’s away, working, even though it’s only for like a week. And then, one day, he gets injured in an accident and is paralyzed. He’s hit on the head by a piece of metal. And, he gets paralyzed, and is affected mentally from the hit. And, in the hospital, he tells her that he wants her to have sex with another man and tell him about it. He’s upset he can’t sleep with her anymore and wants her to do this for him. And she refuses. But, she loves him, so she does it, even though it’s pretty clear he’s only saying it because the accident fucked up his head. And she does it, and tells him about it, and continues doing it. She starts openly sleeping with a bunch of men — she gives a dude a handjob on a bus, shit like that — and she starts to think she’s doing what god wants. She thinks she’s on a mission from god, and gets so delusional that eventually she gets beaten to death with a man she sleeps with. And he ends up recovering from the accident.

Make no mistake, this is not an easy film to watch. But holy shit, is Emily Watson breathtaking in it. Her characterization of this woman is perfect. She hits the right amount of naivete to the character to make all of the things she does appear to come from a good place. She means well, and that’s what makes everything so fucking heartbreaking. Seriously. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to have gone through this performance. This is by far — by a fucking mile — the best acting performance on this list. And that’s what makes my final decision on the category so fucking difficult. I have to choose between an amazing performance because it’s just simply amazing, and one that’s amazing because I love it so much. That’s why this category is so fucking hard to write up.

My Thoughts: There are three amazing and/or perfect performances on this list. Those are Brenda Blethyn, Frances McDormand and Emily Watson. Now, for me, Blethyn comes off first, because, as I said, I hate her film outside of her performance. I need things to narrow it down, and that has to be something I look at. It just is. Otherwise I’d never be able to vote. So, for me, it’s between the awesomeness that is Frances McDormand’s performance as Margie, and Emily Watson’s sublime performance, for a vote.

And, really, this is about as close to a stalemate as it can get for me. Because, on the one hand, Emily Watson clearly gave the better performance. And on the other — I love Frances McDormand’s performance so much. It’s kind of like Best Picture 1991. We all love Beauty and the Beast. We fucking love it. It’s a perfect movie, and we’d all love to be able to give it Best Picture. And yet, also nominated that year (along with Bugsy) were JFK and The Silence of the Lambs. You see the dilemma?

So, that analogy, is ultimately why, as much as I love Frances McDormand’s performance, I have to vote for Emily Watson. I do. She really gave the best performance. Just watch it. You’ll see what I mean. I mean, I love Fargo, and I love Frances McDormand’s performance, and I love that she won, but, Emily Watson is just too good here to not vote for. Too good.

My Vote: Watson

Should Have Won: Watson, Blethyn, McDormand

Is the result acceptable?: I’m not going to pretend like it isn’t. This is totally acceptable. Is it the best possible decision? Probably not. But it’s a good one.Emily Watson and Brenda Blethyn gave amazing performances, more so Watson. Frances McDormand gave a great, and very likable performance. Technically it probably wasn’t as good as the others, and technically it wasn’t really a lead role, but it was awesome, so, it is acceptable. But it wasn’t the best performance. That’s how we’ll leave this one.

Performances I suggest you see: Fargo is a perfect film. If you haven’t seen it, you fail at life.

Also, Breaking the Waves — I think you need to see this movie, because Emily Watson is so good here, you almost can’t put it into words. And even if you think, “Yeah, it was okay,” think about what she had to go through to give that type of performance. If you still don’t understand, ask an actor. They’ll tell you. She gave a fucking brilliant performance here, and the movie is also really great.

Otherwise — skip the rest of them. Maybe see The English Patient, just so you can see what happens when the Academy awards a piece of shit film Best Picture.

Rankings: 

5) Keaton

4) Thomas

3) Blethyn

2) Watson

1) McDormand

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One response

  1. Wow this is extensive. I’m way over my head.

    Fargo is a piece of art, though.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

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