The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1993
As I’m sure I said every other time I talked about 1993, I love how easy it is to recap. Schindler’s List. Done. No commotion. Nothing. Just, Schindler’s List. And then we all nod, like, “Yeah, uh huh.” It’s great.
The film wins Best Picture and Best Director for Steven Spielberg (talked about here). The two awards the film didn’t win that it should have were Best Actor, which went to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia (which I talked about here, about how it was such a terrible decision), and Best Supporting Actor, which went to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive (which I talked about here, about how, as much as I love Tommy Lee Jones, this was also a terrible decision). And then the other two awards went to The Piano. The first was Best Supporting Actress, which went to Anna Paquin, and, as I said here, I consider that a pretty bad decision. And the other was this category, which I won’t waste any time setting up. Let’s just get into it.
BEST ACTRESS – 1993
And the nominees were…
Angela Bassett, What’s Love Got to Do with It
Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation
Holly Hunter, The Piano
Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day
Debra Winger, Shadowlands
Bassett — What’s Love Got to Do (got to do) With It is a biopic of Tina Turner. It starts with her as a young girl in — oh, let’s say, Tennessee (I don’t remember, but it can only be one of two places) — who wants to be a singer. She meets Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) and impresses him. Pretty soon they’re performing together and dating. Then she gets more famous than he does, and he gets abusive. He starts beating her. And for a while she takes it, but then she starts fighting back, and works up the courage to leave him. That’s basically it. A story about a woman working up the courage to leave her abusive husband. It just happens to also be about Tina Turner. It could have been The Color Purple. Maybe that’s why I didn’t care for this film so much. It felt like a message movie first and a biopic second. But that’s just me.
As for Bassett’s performance — she’s good. She’s convincing as Tina Turner. But, I don’t know, it didn’t feel good enough to win. For me, the quality of the film hurt the performance, vote-wise. It just didn’t feel like an Oscar-winning performance.
Channing — Six Degrees of Separation is the ultimate high society film. Oh boy, that made it rough. All the characters are rich, well-to-do, don’t have normal people problems, go see weird plays, collect art, have big penthouses and talk about weird stuff that only rich people know about. I fucking hate this culture. With all of my being. The only way I want to find out about these social circles is if Virgil is guiding me through them.
If you are intelligent enough to understand that last sentence, we can be friends.
It’s about Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland. They’re rich. And the film is basically them telling a story to other rich couples. It’s an anecdotal film. Like, “Oh, tell them the one about…”, and they tell the story. Great, because this is what I need, something rich people think is a funny story. And the story is about them meeting Will Smith. He’s a young con artist who comes up to them under the guise that he’s a friend of their son’s (their son, who they have a distant relationship with), and is also the son of Sidney Poitier. And the thing is, the whole thing is so utterly false. He talks with this affected accent that’s meant to sound like a child of privilege, and tells all these stories with big words about heady things, and they’re like, “We fucking love this kid.” They’re immediately taken in by him and let him stay with them.
And the thing is, the next morning, they find him in bed with Anthony Michael Hall. Don’t ask why. And he disappears. And the thing is, he’s not a con artist who wants to steal shit. He just wants to be around rich people. And he works his way into these people’s good graces, and just sits around their house, feeling rich. And after they catch him, he runs away, and they don’t hear from him for months. And then they find out he’s living in the park outside their building, pretending to be their son, who they threw out and are being unnecessarily cruel toward. And they become fascinated with him, because he pulled this same act to other friends of theirs. And all of them go to their children to find out who he is, and they realize their kids don’t know him. And basically the whole thing is about how this dude ended up linking all of these random people because of him. And then we got the Kevin Bacon thing from it, so, I guess that’s a benefit.
The film isn’t really that good. Yet, I was engaged for the duration. Well, most of it. I didn’t really like it, though. It’s weird. I hated the society that was being depicted, and then Will Smith — it’s pretty clear that either he didn’t know what he was doing as an actor yet, or he was badly miscast in this role. Either way — it doesn’t work. So, overall, I don’t get this film, and I’m not quite sure why Stockard Channing was nominated here. But, I’m cool with it. If they came out and said, “This is for Grease,” I would be like, “Right on.” But, either way, she’s a #5 here. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would vote for her here.
Hunter — The Piano is a Miramax Oscar film. You should know what that entails by now.
It’s about a mute woman who is sold into marriage to a New Zealander. She has a young daughter and talks to her through a specialized sign language. And she only communicates otherwise through her piano. She has it brought with them specially, and her husband (Sam Neill) doesn’t get why. And she is married to him, but then meets Harvey Keitel, who is a retired sailor who lives with the local maori people (he’s all tattooed and shit). She meets him and falls for him and they start fucking. Then her daughter (Anna Paquin) finds out about it, and, having started to adopt Sam Neill as her father, tells him. And Sam Neill cuts off Holly Hunter’s finger so she can’t play piano anymore. Then he sends her away. And as they’re sent away (with the piano), she throws the piano over the side of the boat and holds onto the rope tied to it, trying to kill herself. Then, as she sinks down, she decides, “Meh,” and floats back up, and lives. That’s the film.
Yeah. I don’t know what the fuck it’s about either. Whatever. We’re here to talk about the performance.
Holly Hunter is actually really good in this movie. She does a great job of communicating without ever uttering a single word. It’s a really strong performance. The only thing that hurts it is the subtitles to the sign language with her daughter. I feel like it would have been better if we never knew directly what she was saying unless she expressed it physically. But, she’s really good here. And while she wasn’t my favorite performance on this list — that’s Emma Thompson — Emma Thompson won the year before this, so that puts Holly at the top of the list for a vote. This category wasn’t that strong, and I’m perfectly willing to vote for this performance if its to give Holly Hunter (who should have won in 1987) an Oscar.
Thompson — The Remains of the Day is a film that I really liked. The only Merchant-Ivory film I like. A lot of it probably has to do with me having read the book — quite randomly too. I think I covered it when I talked about Anthony Hopkins’ performance — and really liking it. I saw the film the day after I finished reading the book and liked how it captured the tone of the novel but also was firmly a film.
It’s about a very proper butler, played by Anthony Hopkins, who was born and raised as a butler. It’s all he knows. And all he knows is serving the master of the house. And he is perfect at his job, to the point where he comes off as cold and distant to other servants. He must have everything running smoothly and efficiently. And into the staff comes Emma Thompson. She’s a new maid, and is very free-spirited. She’s lively, and likes to have fun. Which greatly annoys Hopkins at first. But soon, they warm to one another and she even falls in love with him. But his total repression prevents him from ever acknowledging her feelings. And eventually, they don’t end up together, and years pass, and they both express regret, but still, Hopkins is unable to express his true feelings.
It’s actually a really interesting book. The film is not as good, but still — in terms of Merchant-Ivory films — it’s the best. And Emma Thompson is great here. Because, at first you’re with Anthony Hopkins. You’re grounded with him as your protagonist, so you’re on his side. And then Emma Thompson’s role here is to be warm and charming, and she’s supposed to make you fall in love with her. And you do. She’s really charming. And she’s supposed to make you be like, “Stop being an idiot, Anthony Hopkins and marry this woman! She likes you!” And he doesn’t. And the fact that we, as an audience, feel so strong about it, is due to the performance of Emma Thompson. So, she was my favorite performance on this list by far. But, she won the year before this, so I can’t in good conscience vote for her, because I don’t really think she should have won the year before this, performance-wise. But — her winning the year before this made things work out really well, so, it’s cool. But I can’t vote for her.
Winger — And, Debra Winger. Or, rather, to be pessimistic about it — another Merchant-Ivory film.
This one’s about C.S. Lewis. And also stars Anthony Hopkins. C.S. Lewis is a lonely professor. And into his life comes Debra Winger, and American poet. And at first, he thinks, “Oh, she’s got a Jersey accent, she’s a standard American. Her poems must suck.” Like, if you meet some woman who dresses like a whore and is like, “I’m a singer.” Sure you are, honey. But then he reads her poems and realizes they’re very good. And eventually he builds up a relationship with her and her son, and starts to fall in love with her. But then she dies. That’s the film. They get together, and she dies of a bone disease. Boo hoo.
As you can tell, I didn’t like the film. It’s Merchant-Ivory. It comes with the territory.
Debra Winger is fine, here, but I refuse to vote for a Merchant-Ivory performance (outside of The Remains of the Day) unless I have to. The only Merchant-Ivory performance I ever voted for was Judy Davis in A Passage to India, and that’s because I really had to (that category might have been the worst Best Actress category in history). So, as much as I love Debra Winger, I’m not voting for her here. I refuse to give validation to these films.
My Thoughts: Oh, this one’s easy.
Channing is out first, because I didn’t like the performance.
Emma Thompson is out because she won the year before this. I liked her performance the best, but, she won already. If there’s any category she was gonna win, it was gonna be Supporting this year, since she was also great in In the Name of the Father. It all really this points to the fact that she shouldn’t have won the year before this. But it does work out for the best that she didn’t win this year. So, she’s out.
Bassett is out because — I don’t know. The performance didn’t feel good enough for a vote. I think it was the film that let her down. That happens where a performance is great but a film isn’t, and that really hurts somebody’s chances. Only the really great performances can triumph over a bad film. This isn’t one of them. So she’s out.
Then, Debra Winger, if she was gonna win, she was gonna win in 1983. But they fucked up and didn’t give Shirley MacLaine an Oscar when they should have so she had to win that year. Plus her performance here just wasn’t worth an Academy Award.
And Holly Hunter — she should have won in 1987, and she was great here. So, it’s really pretty simple. Just give it to her. And that’s what we’re gonna do. Simplicity. I love it.
My Vote: Hunter
Should Have Won: Hunter
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. Great decision. The only other decision here was Emma Thompson, and she won already. So, all around, great decision.
Performances I suggest you see: The Remains of the Day is a wonderful film. The only Merchant-Ivory film I can really recommend. The rest are boring as shit. This is the only one I consider a legit good movie. And most of that (probably all of it) has to do with the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Plus, I also read the book this was based on and loved that, so that also has a lot to do with why I loved this film. But, if you’re gonna see a Merchant-Ivory film, watch this one. Do not watch Shadowlands. You can, but — you’ve been warned.
The Piano is a good film. I don’t love it, but I recognize that it’s a good film. See it, don’t see it, whatever. Holly Hunter is strong in it, but otherwise, you don’t really need to see it. Most people will (rightly) find it boring.
And — Six Degrees of Separation is a film that’s interesting, but only moderately. The plot and story is utterly preposterous. There was nothing remotely realistic about any of this. I do not care about rich society people who collect art and talk to other rich people about inane shit at all. But somehow, I was paying attention to this film for most of it. And you get a young Will Smith looking like a young Will Smith. Like — you can really see him acting here. It’s pretty clear he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing yet. He also kisses Anthony Michael Hall in this. But, not really, because — well, there’s a long story to this, and I don’t want to get started on it. Anyway, passing recommendation for the film. Not strong, but, I’m not anti you seeing it. So I had to mention it.
Then — What’s Love Got to Do With It — I don’t really like it. I like Fishburne’s and Bassett’s performances, but the film — it’s too 90s for me. I know the film is set in the 70s and 80s, but — come on. You can tell this was made in the 90s. Plus — I don’t know, something about it just made it not work for me at all. I wasn’t interested in any part of this film except to watch Laurence Fishburne. That’s just me. You might like it. Some people just love musical biopics. You know yourself better than I do. Go with that. Don’t listen to me. Use me as a barometer for you.