The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1970
I chose my birthday as the day to present this category. It felt like the optimal day to do it. Because I consider this the single worst decision in the history of the Academy Awards. In any category. Ever. Bar none.
As for the rest of the year, it’s pretty well covered on the blog. Patton wins Best Picture, Best Director for Franklin Schaffner and Best Actor for George C. Scott (talked about here). I love the Best Actor decision and the Best Director decision, and while I’d have gone another way on Best Picture, it’s still a pretty solid and understandable choice. Then, Best Supporting Actor was John Mills for Ryan’s Daughter, which, as I said here, I consider to be the second-worst decision ever in the Best Supporting Actor category. Then Best Supporting Actress was Helen Hayes for Airport, which, as I said here, I like very much as a decision, mostly because of Helen Hayes’s legend status and the weakness of the category.
None of that, however, changes the awfulness that is this category. This is truly the worst decision of all time in any category.
BEST ACTRESS – 1970
And the nominees were…
Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope
Glenda Jackson, Women in Love
Ali MacGraw, Love Story
Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter
Carrie Snodgress, Diary of a Mad Housewife
Alexander — The Great White Hope is a film I saw relatively late on my Quest, but oh man, is it wonderful.
James Earl Jones plays the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. This causes a problem, because he’s black. And the whites don’t want a black man being champion. This is all based on a true story from 1910. Jones is the champ, and he’s brash, unapologetic, and really gets under the skins of the prejudiced whites. He is openly having an affair with a white woman (played by Alexander), and rubbing the fact that he’s champion in everyone’s faces. And the whites want nothing more than to strip him of the belt, but they can’t. Nor can they find anyone to beat him. They keep getting “the next big thing” to fight him (all white), but each person keeps losing. Jones can’t be beat. So they search for the “great white hope” who will defeat this black champion. But there is no one. So what they do is try to frame and arrest Jones for miscegenation (“unlawful sexual relations”). They arrest him and are gonna bring him to jail, but he manages to escape (with the belt), with the aid of an all-black baseball team, to Canada. And he continues to go further and further, to the point where tensions are really, really high, and even his black friends are like, “Okay, maybe you need to cool it a bit. They’re gonna kill you.” And Jones doesn’t care. He keeps going. And eventually, Alexander is unable to take it anymore and kills herself. And finally, in the final fight, he loses the belt to a white man. But it’s heavily implied that he took a dive because they were gonna kill him if he won.
The film is really, really great. And Jones is so fucking good in the lead role that if George C. Scott hadn’t delivered his Patton performance this same year, Jones would have won the category hands down. He’s that good.
Now, Alexander — she’s good in the role, but is nowhere near as good as Jones is. Which is what she needed to be in order to win this one. (She’s more of an actress who should have won a Supporting Actress Oscar than a lead. Like Robin Williams. Could have won a lead, but a Supporting made more sense.)
Jackson — I honestly don’t understand this. Not even a little bit. The film, the performance, the win — all of it. First we’ll deal with the film.
The film is about two sisters looking for men. They wanna get fucked. They are played by Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden (who did nothing else, really, after this). The men they find are Oliver Reed and Alan Bates, perhaps the only two British actors you could go with for this type of role. Basically, the four of them meet, pair off, and have a weekend in the Alps. And there’s a lot of nakedness and fucking, and the men have a gay wrestling scene — it’s just a fucking weird movie. I don’t even understand how it’s considered a good movie. That aside — Glenda Jackson doesn’t do anything in it. She’s brash, abrasive, and kind of a huge bitch. She’s also essentially a supporting character in the film. So, she’s just, there. Does nothing, and they give her an Oscar for it. Meanwhile she’s literally the WORST choice in this category. I can see if maybe she were in it more like in A Touch of Class, then I could be like, “Okay, I can see it, but I still think it was a terrible decision.” Here, she’s the WORST choice you could have gone with, because every other actress had so much more to do in their films and gave such better performances. Worst decision of all time. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Watch the film. You’ll see. It’s disgusting that she won for it.
MacGraw — Say what you will about Love Story — overdone, sappy, whatever — Ali MacGraw is fucking incredible in this. No one can deny that fact. Here’s a film that, somehow over the years has developed a negative response from people, I guess because it’s — I guess it’s like Jerry Maguire. It’s a film that’s become its own stereotype. Now, a lot of people like to hate on Jerry Maguire, and yet, when you go in without any preconceived notions (at least here, you don’t have to deal with people’s bullshit and irrational hatred of actors that they let influence their perceptions of films to the point where they discredit it before they see it and don’t give it a chance. Fuck those people), there’s no way you don’t enjoy it.
The film is, as the title suggests, a love story. It begins with Ryan O’Neal sitting in a park, and his voiceover says, “What can you say about a girl who died?” So right there you know, shit won’t end well. It’s like American Beauty. Sunset Boulevard. You know the end at the beginning. And, like those other films, it doesn’t matter. The film really begins with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw in a coffee shop. He tries talking to her, and they start flirting. He’s very impressed with her quick wit and constant snaps back at him. As was I. I expected some overly sappy romance, and instead got some of the best dialogue I’ve seen in movies like this. The Ali MacGraw character in this film is my ideal woman. And it’s funny that I say that because, I didn’t see this film until about a month shy of my 22nd birthday. And here I was, trying to write a character like this, and here it was, all along.
So they meet, and they have this great conversation. And I’m not even gonna qualify that. It’s a great conversation. Here’s how it starts. Ryan O’Neal is studying for a test and sees she has the one book he needs.“Do you have this book?” “You have your own library.” “Answer my question.” “Answer mine first.” “We’re allowed to use the Radcliffe library.”
“I’m not talking legality, I’m talking ethics.”
“Harvard’s got five million books, Radcliffe a few thousand.”
“I only want one. I’ve got an hour exam tomorrow, damn it!”
“Please watch your profanity, preppy.”
“Why do you think I went to prep school?”
“You look stupid and rich.” “Actually, I’m smart and poor.”
“No, I’m smart and poor.”
“Why are you so smart?” “I won’t have coffee with you.” “I wouldn’t ask you.” “That’s what makes you stupid.”
That’s a great exchange. It plays even better on screen. You actually believe that these two connect. Nothing feels manufactured or forced here. And what’s best about it is how natural it happens. And the two of them get together and fall in love, and he goes on to law school while she finishes up college. And after she graduates, they decide to get married. And his father — the point is that he’s very rich and has to live up to his father and she’s poor and is working extra hard despite that — tells him he can’t get married. And he basically gets himself disowned because he never really had a strong relationship with his father. And they get married and live poor and happy together. And things progress — there’s the requisite fight and make up scene, and stuff like that — and eventually they decide they want to have children. And after a while, they have trouble conceiving. And he thinks it’s him. But they later find out, after some tests, she has leukemia, and is dying.
And the rest of the film, which at first was a simple romantic comedy, they a film about a father and son, and then a drama/romance of sorts now becomes a tearjerker. But that’s the thing — the rest of it is done so well, it doesn’t feel like they’re aiming for tears. It’s just something that happens to these people. And she slowly gets worse and is dying, and she does it with such dignity, never betraying who she is, and it gets tough for everyone to deal with, but she remains strong for everyone else. And she dies, and there’s this great scene where she’s in the hospital bed, IVs and stuff sticking out of her, and Ryan O’Neal gets in bed and just lays there with her. It’s a very powerful image. And the film ends where it began, only now so much has changed.
I love this film so much. It’s just brilliant. And honestly, I don’t care what anyone tells me, you watch all five performances in this category, there’s no way you can tell me any one of those actresses beats Ali MacGraw in this category. It’s not even close. This was her Oscar. And she was robbed. And this remains the worst decision in Oscar history because of it.
Miles — Ryan’s Daughter is one of David Lean’s worst films. After Doctor Zhivago, the man just lost his touch. It was sad, because, it seemed like he was shooting for the fences (winning Oscars for Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia will do that to you) every time, and these last two — just didn’t work.
The film is about Sarah Miles, a young Irish girl who wants to get away from her small town. She ends up falling in love with Robert Mitchum, a local teacher, thirty years her senior, because he’s been places. They get married, and she’s quickly bored. She starts sleeping with a local British soldier. Mitchum knows she’s having an affair, but doesn’t say anything about it. Then the town finds out about it. It doesn’t go well. The Irish are not very fond of the British. Then some shit happens between the soldiers and the townspeople, and the soldier she’s sleeping with kills himself, and she leaves with Mitchum. Oh yeah, the film is over three hours long.
Wow, this was a brutal film to get through. Nothing happens, it’s boring as fuck, and it has no business being on the screen. At least give me something engaging. This is not engaging. Sarah Miles does a good job, though. She has to do a lot, given the film’s run time, and she does an admirable job. But she’s no better than a #4. She had no shot here. It was just a, “Wow, you made it through this piece of shit. Congrats. Here’s a nomination” nomination. I’m cool with that. But no vote.
Snodgress — And, Carrie. This is one of the more notoriously hard to find films on the Oscar Quest. Very difficult to find. Solid film, though. Frank Perry directed it. He also directed one of my favorite films I found from the Quest, David and Lisa.
The film is about Carrie Snodgress as a bored housewife. We see her a lot with her husband, who is abusive to her emotionally. He works, doesn’t care about her, is having an affair, and pretty much ignores her. She then tries to have an affair, but that doesn’t go anywhere, because that dude also isn’t really interested in her. And she looks for someone to make a connection with, even a psychiatrist, but we see that even that doesn’t work. The film ends on a very powerful image, as she goes to group therapy, figuring that will be the answer to all her problems, but she just sits there and listens to people as they complain and drone on and on, still unable to find someone to connect with. It’s kind of bleak. Actually, I can see why this is hard to find.
Snodgress is really good in the role. She’s very low key. And very effective. Problem is — Ali MacGraw is in this category. So I can’t vote for Carrie even if I want to. That’s just the way it works.
My Thoughts: This isn’t even fucking close — Ali MacGraw by the biggest margin I’ve ever seen in an Academy Award race. Seriously. Just watch all five of these performances. Ali MacGraw wins this by a fucking mile. Her not winning this is the worst single decision — in any category — in the history of the Academy Awards. I will continue to make that statement, ad nauseum, because it’s true.
My Vote: MacGraw
Should Have Won: MacGraw
Is the result acceptable?: THE. WORST. SINGLE. DECISION. IN. THE. HISTORY. OF. THE. ACADEMY. AWARDS. IN. ANY. CATEGORY. BAR. NONE. Does that answer your question?
Performances I suggest you see: You need to see Love Story. That’s it. This, to me, is one of the five best romances of all time. It’s an essential film.
The Great White Hope is a great film. You need to see this one. James Earl Jones is incredible here. Just really, really great. He’s really in the prime of his life for this one. Highly, highly recommended.
I also recommend Diary of a Mad Housewife. Very solid film. Not for everyone, and nearly impossible to find, so if you get the chance, check it out. Otherwise, you won’t be able to find it, and you probably don’t give a shit, so don’t worry about it.
Also, see Women in Love. See why this is the worst decision in the history of the Academy Awards. Go ahead. You’ll see.