The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1966
I personally consider this one of the weakest Best Actress categories of all time. The fact that the winner was such a slam dunk hides that fact a bit (kind of like Best Actress 1949), but it’s still pretty weak. There’s only one choice here.
As for the rest of the year — it’s basically split up between two films. A Man for All Seasons wins Best Picture, Best Actor for Paul Scofield (which I talked about here) and Best Director for Fred Zinnemann. Then, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? wins this category and Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis. And Best Supporting Actor is the only outlier, which was Walter Matthau for The Fortune Cookie (which I talked about here).
My thoughts on this year are — I think they got the acting awards 100% correct (Best Actor is a tough choice between Scofield and Burton, and either one was a great decision. That’s one of those where I’ll change my answer every time I’m asked about it), and Best Picture and Best Picture are a matter of opinion between two great films. I tend to go back and forth between which I’d vote for. Still, both are great, so, really this year is a win/win for everybody.
BEST ACTRESS – 1966
And the nominees were…
Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman
Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl
Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!
Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Aimée — A Man and a Woman is one of those films that — I just don’t care about. I’m not sure what it is. I guess it’s that part of me that refuses to allow myself to be in that upper tier of film people. I just don’t like most foreign films. People gush about Godard and stuf — I don’t see it. I think his films are pretty boring, and are just him fucking with form. I don’t see how that’s genius. I just see a dude experimenting and being called a genius. Which, is fine. But, I feel I need to explain this, just like I explain the Woody Allen thing. I don’t really like foreign films, which is my way, as I’ve said, of pushing myself away from the two groups (the upper tier of film people who go crazy over Jodorowsky films and the like and the lower tier of people who go apeshit over shitty films and are the reason The Hangover II can make $250 million domestically) and carving out my own little niche place. I like it here. The weather’s fine, and there are no regrets here. Try it sometime.
A Man and a Woman is about two widowers. Her husband was a stuntman who died, and his wife killed herself when he was in a car crash (he’s a race car driver). They meet, through their kids, at school, and start a relationship. They fall in love. However, she feels guilty about her dead husband, so she leaves him. He goes back to her anyway, and they end up together. And the film has all these flashbacks and dissolves and stuff. Meh. To me, it was a love story told indirectly, which made it less interesting. Plus, the whole film she’s like, “I love you, but I feel bad about my dead husband, so I can’t be with you,” and you’re just like, “Bitch, make up your mind and stop sounding like such a movie character.”
Aimée is fine in the film. She does a fine job with it, but — come on if you think I’m voting her as Best Actress. Come on, now. Look at the history of the category. Not that it has anything to do with it, but, it’s also there. This is seriously Liz’s category, and you’re crazy if you think anyone else should have won.
Kaminska — The Shop on Main Street is a fascinating film. This is a film that had been recommended to me for several years prior to the Quest, I guess because a lot of people who love what I love also loved this one. So I knew what it was about. But that doesn’t change anything. This is still a powerful film.
The film is about a dude in Slovakia whose town is taken over by the Germans during World War II. And he’s told by them, “Either you can go to the camps or you can help us.” So, he says he’ll help them. And he’s made a regulator of sorts. Like when the Germans would make people in the camps act as guards for them and kill their own people (there’s a great scene about this in Seven Beauties where Giancarlo Giannini starts sleeping with a female guard to survive and she makes him a guard in the camp and they make him shoot his friend in front of all his fellow Italians). So this dude is put inside this sewing shop, meant to make sure no one gets out of line. They basically put him there and are like, “He owns this now.”
And what happens is, the dude doesn’t really want to report them or anything, he’s just trying to survive. And the dude who used to own the shop is like, “Look, my mother is very old, and she knows nothing about what’s happening in the outside world. Just tell her you’re her nephew she hasn’t seen in twenty years, she won’t know the difference, and tell her you’re here to help out.” And he agrees, because, like I said, he’s basically a nice guy, and doesn’t want anything to happen to his family.
So he works in the store with the old lady (played by Kaminska), who thinks he’s just there as a supervisor. And then he starts finding out more and more about the old lady, starts becoming fond of her. And she knows nothing about what’s going on outside — the war, none of it. He also finds out that her shop doesn’t make money and sustains itself on donations. And all the Jews in the area offer him money in order to stay in the shop, because they know that if someone else is put there, they won’t be nice like this guy. And this dude works the shop and grows really close to the old lady — until the Germans come into town in order to gather all the Jews of the town and take them to the camps. And the dude wonders what he should do. Does he hide the lady and risk his own safety? Or does he turn her in? And she’s senile, which only adds to the dilemma. And eventually, as he’s trying to keep her hidden, she finds out about what’s going on, and starts shouting and screaming. And he tries to shut her up, because otherwise they won’t know the difference, he accidentally kills her. She gets knocked over and dies. And, knowing he accidentally killed her, he hangs himself. And that’s how the film ends.
It’s a powerful film. It’s really well done. Kaminska is also really great in it. And, in this category, she actually runs a second choice to Liz. Most years, she might be a 3 or a sentimental 2, but here, she’s a legit 2. The category is that bad. She’s also awesome in the film. Utterly heartbreaking.
Lynn Redgrave — Both Redgrave sisters were nominated in the same category. That’s pretty awesome. Also, what do voters do here? Vote for the better performance at the risk of having one sister win and one lose (a la Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland in 1941?), or do they treat it like two nominees from the same film and vote split? Or do they realize that Elizabeth Taylor gave the best performance in the category and not vote for either? Methinks that’s what happened.
Georgy Girl is an interesting film, in that, it feels like it’s being progressive, and yet — it’s kind of not. I don’t know. It’s strange. Georgy Girl is a twenty-something girl who has no desire to be with a man. She has no idea about anything to do with love, sex, anything. Never been with a guy before. And she thinks she’s just this plain girl and has no desire to make herself up and basically just goes around, being herself. And she’s very extroverted and a little weird, and it comes off as very weird to others, because she’ll just say and do whatever she wants at any given time. In a way, it’s like Sally Hawkins’s character in Happy-Go-Lucky, except, rather than being optimistic, she’s more — the type to do and say weird things.
And she’s living with a very attractive roommate who is pretty much a vapid cunt. And then her father’s boss (played by James Mason) is very attracted to her and wants to have an affair with her. He tells her he’ll set her up for the rest of her life as long as she agrees to be with him. But she’s not interested in any of that. And then the film is her having an affair with her roommate’s boyfriend (while her roommate gets knocked up by the same guy). And then the roommate has the baby, and Georgy and the guy try to raise the baby and continue their relationship, but Georgy realizes she’d rather be a mother than be with a man. So she kicks him out, takes the baby (which the roommate wants no part of, because she’d rather be out partying and fucking), takes up Mason’s offer, and moves in with him in order to provide for the baby. Like I said, it’s kind of a strange film.
Lynn Redgrave is really good in it. She’s lively, likable, and does a great job with the material. Problem is — Elizabeth Taylor is in this category as well. Lynn was never going to win this.
Vanessa Redgrave — And, Vanessa. The Redgrave sister we know best. Unfortunately, in this category, she wasn’t the Redgrave sister with the best performance.
Morgan!, which has a much longer title than that (its subtitle is A Suitable Case for Treatment), is a strange motherfucking movie. It’s like You’re a Big Boy Now, which was also released this year (and Geraldine Page was nominated in Supporting Actress for). I guess it was part of the rejection of classical Hollywood, them having narratives that don’t make sense and putting all this weird shit in the films, like a dude going around, dressed like a skeleton and acting like an ape. This is a very strange film.
It’s about Morgan, who is batshit insane. He’s married to Vanessa Redgrave, who is — he married up. Let’s put it that way. And she tells him she’s leaving him for another man. And he loses it. He starts pulling off all these crazy stunts, playing loud music, blasting him talking on a radio through the speakers of the house, dressing like a gorilla and ruining her wedding to this dude. It’s just fucked up. Then he ends up in an asylum, and finds out she’s pregnant with his child, and he doesn’t care. It’s so fucking weird.
The thing about Vanessa Redgrave’s performance here is — she’s not a lead role. She’s supporting. Very much so. She should have been in Best Supporting Actress. And because of that, I can’t even begin to take this performance seriously in this category. She automatically becomes #5 because of that. Plus, the film and performance are just not good enough to win anyway. But the extra nail in the coffin is the fact that she really is a supporting character in the film. The film is really about the dude and all the crazy shit he does.
Taylor — Oh, Liz. Swoon.
This is actually a film where she went full actress. Most films she looks gorgeous and uses that to her advantage. Here, she gained thirty pounds, wore a wig, and really just acted the shit out of it. And it shows. Thirty minutes into this movie and you’re like, “Done. Give it to her. I’ve seen enough.” She’s that fucking good in this movie.
The film is about a professor and his wife (Liz and Richard Burton, actually husband and wife), and their marital problems. The film begins with them drunkenly returning from a campus party. And she says she invited another professor and his wife over for drinks. He gets upset because she didn’t ask him first. Then they have this huge fight, the first of many throughout the film. And that’s what’s great about them. They have these loud, drunken fights, and yet, at the same time, can drop them and pick them up just as easily. Here’s a married couple you just believe are married. And then the professor and his wife (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) show up, and are immediately thrown into the shit. Liz and Burton are still arguing, and now there’s company in the middle of it. And they try to continue as if it’s all okay, but they keep snapping at each other back and forth, and then Liz starts flirting with the other professor in front of her husband, and eventually, the other couple tries to leave, but are coerced into staying.
And the rest of the night is Liz trying to seduce Segal, telling embarrassing stories about Burton, and them snapping at each other and saying nasty things about one another — all while everyone drinks. And eventually the other couple starts confessing things. Segal says he was only And then the subject of Burton and Taylor’s son comes up, and she starts talking about him, and they end up in a huge argument over how poorly they raised him, and Burton says he got a telegram saying his son is dead. And Taylor then goes nuts, says he can’t do this. And we find out they never actually had any kids, and the whole thing was made up. And the film ends with the other couple leaving and them sitting there, alone, in the aftermath of all that’s happened.
It’s a great fucking movie. Taylor and Burton are just, perfect. Seriously. Watch the movie. I bet twenty minuts in you’re like, “Yeah, she should have won.” Especially if you’ve seen her other performances. If you see A Place in the Sun or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as compared to this, you’ll realize just why she deserved to win.
My Thoughts: This isn’t even a challenge. This is like Olivia de Havilland’s second Oscar — it’s not even close. Elizabeth Taylor runs away with this category something awful (the category also is something awful). Put it this way — second choice is a long ways back, and is Ida Kaminska. After her, 3-5 are interchangeable for me. Seriously. It’s not even a competition. This is Liz’s Oscar, and that’s that.
My Vote: Taylor
Should Have Won: Taylor
Is the result acceptable?: This is seriously one of the top ten (possibly, and probably, even, top five) best Best Actress decisions of all time. There are few better female performances ever put to film. Liz is so fucking incredible in this movie. Her first Oscar may have been debatable, but this one is not.
Performances I suggest you see: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the best films ever made. Liz and Burton are at the tops of their respective games here, and the result is something special to watch. If you haven’t seen this film, you really should. You’ll be amazed at how great the performances are. Also, if there were a list of films from the Oscar Quest you need to see (like, the most essential films of all time, only including the ones in the Oscar Quest), this would be on that list. You kind of need to see it. And it’s great. So everybody wins.
The only other film I can really recommend is The Shop on Main Street. It’s just such a good film. Ida Kaminska’s performance is just heartbreaking. This really is a special little movie. I rarely recommend foreign films (especially when they’re not the major ones like 8 1/2 or Breathless or something), but I do recommend this one. It’s really great.
The rest — meh. Maybe Georgy Girl is okay, but that’s about it. A Man and a Woman, watch if you really like foreign films. Otherwise, you can skip these two. And Morgan!, don’t bother with unless you’re really into some 60s counterculture stuff, or like Vanessa Redgrave, or just want a crazy as fuck movie (though, if you want that, just watch Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? instead. That’s a crazy as fuck movie I can recommend highly).
5) Vanessa Redgrave
3) Lynn Redgrave