The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1997

1997 is so simple to recap. Titanic. ‘Nuff said. Whether you agree with the decision or not, you can understand why it won. And why James Cameron won Best Director for it (talked about here). Then Jack Nicholson winning Best Actor for As Good as It Gets, makes sense based on his category. Plus, he was so goddamn enjoyable in the role. Then Best Supporting Actor (talked about here) was Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting, and Best Supporting Actress (talked about here) was Kim Basinger for L.A. Confidential. In all, a solid (and diverse) set of choices.

As for this category, it’s one of those ones that is looked at negatively, after the fact. Not that Helen Hunt wasn’t charming and all, it’s just — she beat Judi Dench. Other people would say Helena Bonham Carter, but most people say Judi. It’s a tough call, the category’s not that strong, and there isn’t really a #1 performance. Although, the current result does help perpetuate a nice bit of trivia, which is — all three times Jack Nicholson has won an Oscar (1975, 1983 and here), his female co-star in the film also won Best Actress for the film. And that coincidence might be worth the result. Maybe. I don’t know. I consider this mostly a blank. Does it really matter so much what happened here?


And the nominees were…

Helena Bonham Carter, The Wings of the Dove

Julie Christie, Afterglow

Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown

Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

Kate Winslet, Titanic

Carter — The Wings of the Dove is a boring, British, period drama that only Miramax could make. Helena Bonham Carter is a woman with an inheritance who loves a man of a lower class. Her guardian won’t let her marry him, because, it’s England. Stature matters. So she ends up befriending an American woman, whom she finds out is dying. So she decides to have her fiancé marry the woman, get her money when she dies, and then she’ll be able to marry him. And then, he falls in love with the woman, and she dies, and the whole thing goes according to plan, only, now he doesn’t love Helena, so they’re basically in a loveless marriage. Quel dommage.

I hate these types of movies. I mean, it was kind of watchable, but, not my thing at all. Carter is pretty solid in the movie, only, the downside to the performance is that she disappears for much of the middle of the movie. Once the plan is in motion, the story shifts to her fiancé and the other woman, and Helena disappears for a good half hour or more. So I can’t really count this a lead role. That’s why, despite there really not being a clear winner here, I can’t vote for her. Some could, but I can’t.

Christie — Wow. Stature nomination entirely. This film sucked.

Julie Christie plays a former B movie actress who sits at home and watches her old movies. Her husband, Nick Nolte, is a handyman who fucks his clients’ wives. Then there’s another couple, who is having some marriage issues, and, coincidentally, Nolte fucks the wife, and Christie almost (or maybe she does) fucks the husband. And they have these affairs, then find out about them, and there’s a confrontation, and that’s pretty much the movie. Really, I didn’t like this at all. It felt like a straight to DVD drama they’d put on Showtime. I’m amazed Julie Christie even got nominated for it. But, when you’re an Oscar-winning actress, they’ll nominate you for just about anything once you hit a certain age.

Dench — Oh, Judi, Judi, Judi. I love this woman. Is there anything she can’t do?

The film is about Queen Victoria, whose husband, Albert, dies, and now she’s a widow. And she’s very sad. And she sends for a good friend, Mr. Brown, who is a loyal servant of the crown, a Scotsman (played by Billy Connelly — yes), who was a good friend of hers. And, he comes and sees that she’s letting herself go. She’s sitting in the house, just being sad. And he shakes up the place, ignoring the fact that she’s queen, and treating her like his friend. He disobeys all the rules of the house unless they come from her directly, and gets her to come out of it and return to duty. And she starts relying heavily on him, because he doesn’t mince words. He says what he’s thinking and won’t treat her like a queen (though he does, obviously). And it becomes scandalous, because they think she’s married to him, and it becomes a minor scandal, and he doesn’t give a fuck, because he only answers to her. And the film is about her and him, and them putting pressure on her to get rid of him, and her refusing to. It’s pretty good. Not great, but Judi’s good.

Most people say Judi should have won this category. And while I agree that she was good, this wasn’t really the kind of performance I’d vote for. Seriously, how many fucking times are we gonna vote for the monarchy? You’d think the Academy voters would prefer it as an alternate form of government. Though, she was good, and has had more of a solid career than Helen Hunt. So that works in her favor. The downside, though, is, she won an Oscar after this (the year after this, even), and, the film isn’t as good as As Good as It Gets. For someone watching a lot of Oscar movies, you have no idea how much of a relief it is to see a good film having won an award over another fucking Miramax movie.

Hunt — As Good as It Gets works as well as it does because Jack Nicholson is amazing in it. The man is so good (and has been so good), that whenever he’s at the time of his game (Oscar-winning), he’s gotten all of his leading ladies Oscars for playing opposite him. And make no mistake, this is the defining role of his, shall we say, older, years. This is his middle-aged iconic performance. He’s so fucking good.

In case you don’t know — and how can you not? This film was huge in 1997, and has been on TNT like, every Saturday for the past decade — Nicholson is a misanthropic author who hates people and has a lot of — OCD —  things. And the first twenty minutes is basically just him being a dick to everybody. And he goes to the same place for breakfast every day, berates the wait staff, particularly Helen Hunt, who is a single mother dealing with a sick child at home. And she’s paying to get the kid proper medical attention. And Nicholson, over the course of the film, starts to lighten up. His gay neighbor (played by Greg Kinnear) is attacked, and Nicholson has to take in his dog (which he hates), and eventually he takes a liking to the dog, and then he feels empathy for Helen Hunt, which turns into romance, and yada yada yada — you know how it turns out.

It’s a funny movie. Nicholson just makes this work so well. It’s incredible. As for Helen Hunt — you know, she’s nice, charming. She does a great job with the role. Is it a proper Academy-Award winning performance? No. But does that matter? In a category like this — not really. Probably. It’s not like 1996, where the favorite performance had two great ones on its heels. Here, it’s either the lesser, fun performance, or the boring, period pieces. Honestly, I can see why they went the way they did.

Winslet — And, Kate. Her second nomination, after Sense and Sensibility. It’s Titanic. I think you understand what it’s about. I don’t think I need to go over anything here.

Kate does a good job in the role. She’s charming and all, and maybe we’d sort of sentimentally pull for her to win here, but, it’s not a performance that was ever going to win. This was her calling card. This is what helped make her Kate Winslet. Well, this and all the shit she did between this and 2001. But, this is a performance that will lead to future nominations and a win, not a win. So, good, but, not gonna vote for it. I might not have been totally upset if she won, but, it’s not really something to vote for. I think we can all agree on that.

My Thoughts: I don’t really like this category. Sure, Helen Hunt didn’t need to win, Judi Dench was also great, and Helena Bonham Carter was solid, but, Carter had a large chunk of time off-screen, to the point where I doubted she was actually the lead of the movie, and Judi’s performance, while good, doesn’t feel like a Best Actress winning performance. And, since Helen Hunt was in the best film on that list (or at least my favorite), and her winning kept that Nicholson trivia thing going — I’m cool with it. I’ll vote for her. I’d rather the film that won Best Actress this year be As Good as It Gets and not Mrs. Brown.

My Vote: Hunt

Should Have Won: If anyone, probably Judi.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s not the best decision, but it’s acceptable. Judi at least got an Oscar. And Helena Bonham Carter, yeah, okay, so she didn’t win. But she probably will. Still, I don’t think this was so bad, even though she didn’t really need the win.

Performances I suggest you see: Titanic is such a landmark film, everyone needs to see it, whether they want to or not. Actively trying not to see it is really only doing a disservice to yourself.

Also, As Good as It Gets is clearly the best film on this list. It’s so fucking enjoyable. For my money, Jim Brooks’s second best film, though definitely his most watchable. Nicholson is so fucking entertaining here. Sure, it’s not really an Academy-Award winner, but, whatever. It’s fun. Check it out, if you haven’t already. I feel like everyone my age has seen this one. But if you haven’t, definitely see it. It’s awesome.

After that — meh. You can skip the rest of them. They’re not that good. I mean, Mrs. Brown is okay, but, you don’t need to see it.


5) Christie

4) Winslet

3) Carter

2) Dench

1) Hunt

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