The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1978

Love me some 1978. The Deer Hunter is one of my favorite films. I think it’s a masterpiece. It wins Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken (talked about here). All of them are fantastic decisions.

Then, Best Actor for this year was Jon Voight for Coming Home (talked about here). This is a decision that, while I wouldn’t have voted for it, is a great decision because it gave a deserving actor an Oscar. So I like it. And Best Supporting Actress was Maggie Smith for California Suite (talked about here), which, I like as a decision because — while sentimentally I like Meryl’s performance in Deer Hunter, she won the category the year after this, and Maggie Smith winning here gives both her and Meryl two Oscars (and you know Meryl’s gonna get a third one before all is said and done anyway). So I think it works out great. Plus Maggie Smith was amazing in the film.

Which leaves us with this category. The one category I don’t like at all from this year. I think this was a terrible, terrible decision. The only reason I don’t automatically proclaim this as one of the worst five Best Actress decisions of all time is because it’s Jane Fonda. And I love Jane Fonda. But she shouldn’t have won here, and this is definitely one of the ten worst Best Actress decisions of all time. Let me explain…


And the nominees were…

Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata

Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year

Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman

Jane Fonda, Coming Home

Geraldine Page, Interiors

Bergman — Autumn Sonata is an Ingmar Bergman film. That means — it’s slow, meditative, and about internal problems. Ingrid Bergman is a woman who never knew her daughter, and is now coming to visit. And she visits, and they get to know one another, and it’s about the two of them bonding. I found this really, really boring. I don’t like these types of films, and Ingrid Bergman has three Oscars by this point, two of which she should not have won (well, I’ll give it one. Still, that one is a lead), so, I don’t care if she invented the cure for polio — I’m not voting for her for this award.

Burstyn — Same Time, Next Year is a film about two people who meet at an inn. They’re both married, and both take a liking to one another. They sleep together. And, what happens is, they start meeting that same day every single year. And that’s the film. You know that film that came out this year called One Day? This is like that, essentially. The two people are Ellen Burstyn and Alan Arkin, and we meet them over key years in which they meet at this inn. We see how they change and how they stay the same, and how they grow with one another and apart from one another.

It’s a fascinating film. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Alan Arkin is really funny here. The film itself gets too melodramatic for me at times, but, whatever, I enjoyed it. It’s not like I loved it. As for Burstyn’s performance, she’s fine. It’s just — she won four years prior to this. There is no way this performance holds a candle to the one she won for. And since I have two other performances I can vote for, I don’t need to vote for this. And I won’t.

Clayburgh — An Unmarried Woman is a film I didn’t think much of, going into it. I figured, “Okay, woman empowerment film — 70s — it’ll be that, but won’t be that interesting.” And then, literally, within ten minutes of this film, I fell in love with Jill Clayburgh’s character and with the film. She is so charming here, it’s ridiculous.

The film is about a woman, married to businessman, who is living a nice, comfortable, ideal life. Then, her husband comes and tells her he’s leaving her for another woman. And the film is her dealing with this. And we see her deal with the separation, their teenage daughter, and being single again, and having to date — the whole thing is just a wonderful, wonderful film. There’s really no story to give a synopsis for — the film is just about this woman. And it’s great.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you — Jill Clayburgh should have won this Oscar. That’s all there is to it. Don’t believe me? Watch the film.

Fonda — Coming Home is a great film. I really like it a lot. It’s about Jon Voight, a soldier in Vietnam who loses his legs. And he now has to learn to live without them as well as readjust to home life after all he’s experienced. And the first half hour of the film is his experiences in the VA hospital. And then he meets Jane Fonda, a nurse whose husband is still fighting over there. And they start fucking, and work up a relationship. Then her husband comes home, and she has to deal with him, and then he finds out about them, but then he kills himself, and they continue to fuck. That’s basically the film. Obviously it’s about more than that — it’s about soldiers dealing with coming home from Vietnam — but that’s what Fonda’s story is about.

Personally, I don’t consider her more than a supporting character here. In terms of a vote. I get that she was the lead and all, but she didn’t really do much here except get naked and fuck a paralyzed Jon Voight and react to her husband’s craziness. I saw nothing here that was enough to beat the brilliant performance that was Jill Clayburgh’s this year. This makes absolutely no sense to me that she won.

Page — I can do this succinctly now. I don’t like Woody Allen movies. This article explains why. So my opinion is obviously influenced by that.

Interiors is Woody Allen doing an Ingmar Bergman film. Geraldine Page is a housewife whose husband decides, after thirty years of marriage, that he’s leaving her for another woman. And the film is about her and her three daughters dealing with that. It’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s everything I hate all rolled into one.

And, if my personal opinion isn’t enough to justify my lack of vote for this, then riddle me this: Why would I vote for Woody Allen doing an Ingmar Bergman film when I could just vote for the Ingmar Bergman film? (And, if I’m not voting for that, QED…)

My Thoughts: The great thing about this category is how easy it is to spot the major competition. (It’s also a pretty weak category, overall, but I don’t care so much about that.)

Right off the top you take off Bergman — she won three Oscars, was not gonna win here. You also take off Ellen Burstyn. Delightful film, but not a film that’s gonna win her a second Oscar in four years. It just isn’t.

You also take off Geraldine Page. Not just because it’s a Woody Allen film. That’s my rationalization. The real rationalization is — if Ingrid Bergman isn’t going to win for acting in a real Ingmar Bergman film, why would Geraldine Page win for acting in a Woody Allen film which is him trying to make his own version of an Ingmar Bergman film? Ya follow? Makes no sense. So she’s off.

That leaves Jane Fonda and Jill Clayburgh. Now, right off the bat, I say — Fonda won, I lean toward Clayburgh. That’s if the performances are roughly close in stature in my mind or if Fonda is even slightly ahead. Anything close to a toss-up, tie goes to the person who hasn’t won if they’re a respected actress.

However — Jill Clayburgh was so far and away better here, that it’s just amazing to me that she didn’t win. Just watch these two films, and you tell me which performance is more worth an Academy Award. Tell me which performance you even registered as being really good. I don’t see anyone who looks at these two and says, “Oh yeah, it’s Fonda.” How the fuck did Jill Clayburgh not win here? I mean, seriously…

Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to watch these two films and watch the performances. No snap judgments based on the first ten minutes. Watch the films. And you tell me which one should have won the Oscar. Tell me who should have won, and tell me it isn’t Clayburgh. Go ahead.

My Vote: Clayburgh

Should Have Won: Clayburgh

Is the result acceptable?: Honestly — no. Jill Clayburgh was fucking amazing here and should have won this category hands down. Now, historically, Fonda’s had more of a storied career and probably sort of deserves to have two Oscars, I don’t know, that’s up for debate. (Though I did vote for her as Supporting in On Golden Pond in 1981, so I think that is perfect compensation for not winning this.) So maybe historically it’s kinda okay, but, based on the performances, I’m sorry. Not okay at all. Jill Clayburgh was fucking magical in this role. She deserved this hands fucking down.

Performances I suggest you see: Skip the rest (though Alan Alda is fucking hilarious in Same Time, Next Year. So you should probably check that out. He really is funny. I recommend you seeing Alan Alda be funny) — the two you want to focus on here are Coming Home and An Unmarried Woman.

First, both were nominated for Best Picture. So, between these two and The Deer Hunter, Midnight Express — two films you should have seen — and Heaven Can Wait, a film you should definitely see — and you’ve just seen the whole category. Which is great. Because all the films are really strong.

And second, they’re both really great films. So you should want to see them. So you should see both. They’re both really great and come recommended very, very highly by me. You really have no reason not to.


5) Page

4) Bergman

3) Burstyn

2) Fonda

1) Clayburgh

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