The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1989

Let’s try not to editorialize too much. The facts do it for us. Driving Miss Daisy wins Best Picture for 1989, beating Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poet’s Society, Field of Dreams and My Left Foot. Uh huh.

Best Actor this year was Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot (talked about here), which we should all recognize as one of the best Best Actor decisions of all time. Brenda Fricker also won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here), which is a tremendous decision. She was fantastic. Best Supporting Actor was Denzel Washington for Glory, which I’ve yet to fully make my decision on (as in, what I’m voting for), but I think it’s a solid choice. And Best Director was Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July (talked about here), which — I guess makes sense based on the category.


And the nominees were…

Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel

Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine

Jessica Lange, Music Box

Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys

Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy

Adjani — Camille Claudel is a film about the sculptor (guess what her name is) and her long affair with Auguste Rodin (played by Gerard Depardieu. But it’s a French movie from the 80s, so you knew Gerard Depardieu was the male lead).

There’s really not much to say here. There’s a plot, but the film is almost three hours long and will bore most people to tears. The one bright side to the film is a strong performance by Isabelle Adjani. Her performance here is not really good enough to win any category, but this one is particularly weak, and I feel like her performance here, along with her performance in The Story of Adele H. gives her serious consideration for a vote. I know I won’t vote for her, because I wouldn’t want to inflict this film on anyone, but still, the category is so weak that it remains a possibility.

Collins — Shirley Valentine is a film about a bored and lonely British housewife who talks to an imaginary camera (she addresses the audience directly, but in her own mind, she knows she isn’t talking to anyone). She just narrates everything, telling about her life, like one would write in a journal, but narrating like Alfie. And she ends up going on vacation with a friend of hers, and this gives her a renewed sense of existence, and she loosens up a bit and resparks the romance between her and her husband.

Collins is really solid here. Very delightful performance, particularly because she’s so upbeat all the time. But I can’t vote for this. I just can’t. I’d rather vote for three other people over her.

Lange — Music Box is a boring ass film. Based on a Joe Eszterhas script — lord knows how much I don’t like those (how did that man get so many movies made?) — it’s about a young lawyer whose father is revealed to have committed war crimes. She doesn’t believe it, and fights to save him, but it eventually comes out that he did commit the crimes, and she has to wrestle with trying to clear her father or letting him pay for the crimes he’s committed.

I was bored as shit during this entire film. I love Jessica Lange, and she was way overdue for an Oscar by this point — but not for this. This — no one should even be nominated for a film like this. I seriously put her as #5 here, despite how overdue she was. That’s how much I didn’t like this movie.

Pfeiffer — The Fabulous Baker Boys is a film about Jeff and Beau Bridges (real life brothers) who are a pair of piano playing siblings. And Beau is the showman of the group — he overacts for the crowd, does the hokey schtick, plays the classics. And Jeff is the prodigy of the group. Clearly the one with serious musical talent, the tortured genius, if you will. He hates having to do the act. Doesn’t like talking to the crowd, just wants to play and that’s it.

And the two of them decide they need to get a third member in order to get more gigs (people have stopped hiring them). So they audition people, and end up taking Michelle Pfeiffer, a sexy lounge singer. And she joins the group, and they take off. And then she and Jeff start sleeping together, and there’s that, and there’s this whole relationship drama and stuff — the film is only marginally interesting. Some people love this. I just think it’s okay. I probably wouldn’t watch it again.

Pfeiffer, though, is really good here. In a stronger year, she’d have no shot. But in this category, she really, really contends. For me, this is gonna come down to her and Tandy. But I think I’d still go Tandy, just because Pfeiffer didn’t seem like an unquestionable winner. And Tandy’s a veteran.

Tandy — Driving Miss Daisy, to put it simply (since you probably should have seen it by now), is about a rich southern woman whose husband dies and who can no longer driver (she’s old and can’t see well). So her son hires a driver — Morgan Freeman. And Tandy doesn’t like him because she’s bitter that she can’t drive. But eventually they become friends, and Tandy teaches him to read, and soon he’s the best friend she has in the world. It’s a really tender story. The only bad thing you can say about it is that it won Best Picture and maybe shouldn’t have.

Tandy is fine here. Nothing outstanding, but she’s lively, and she’s a veteran. Why wouldn’t you just give it to the veteran if you’re gonna give the film Best Picture?

My Thoughts: This category’s pretty weak. It’s perfect for a veteran Oscar. Tandy really should have won this just because it’s the only performance that makes sense. I’d probably put Adjani second for a vote, and then maybe Pfeiffer third. Still, I say just give it to Tandy. It makes the most sense.

My Vote: Tandy

Should Have Won: Tandy

Is the result acceptable?: How could it not be?

Performances I suggest you see: Driving Miss Daisy is an utterly delightful film whose only real flaw is that it won Best Picture. Otherwise it’s a great film that’s very enjoyable. I think everyone should see it. Because if you can get past the Oscar win (which, even so, even that makes sense), you’re left with a really good film.

The rest of them are a mixed bag. Most people probably wouldn’t care for them.

The Fabulous Baker Boys is probably the film with the most appeal. It’s okay. I didn’t particularly care for it past a moderate respect. Others might like it more than I did.

Shirley Valentine is a small, but delightful film. Not amazing, but worth a watch if you’re into British films.

Camille Claudel is really long and will be really boring to most people. Adjani is good in it though. Most people probably wouldn’t care about it. Just figured I’d mention it.


5) Lange

4) Adjani

3) Collins

2) Pfeiffer

1) Tandy


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