The Oscar Quest: Best Actress – 1971

Love 1971. Here’s a real 70s year. Best Picture was The French Connection, and William Friedkin won Best Director for it (talked about here), and Gene Hackman won Best Actor for it (talked about here). All perfect decisions.

Then Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Best Supporting Actor (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress (talked about here), respectively, for The Last Picture Show.

Whether I like the decisions or not (and I largely like them), this is a very 70s year. And that’s awesome.

And this category is no different. Great 70s decision, and a great award for a great actress.


And the nominees were…

Julie Christie, McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Jane Fonda, Klute

Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday

Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Suzman, Nicholas and Alexandra

Christie — McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a great film. It’s a Robert Altman film, too. I normally don’t like those. I remember seeing this for the first time on my school’s film series. I went in knowing nothing about it and came out loving it. (Though, I remember at the time thinking the print sucked because the sound was fucked up. Turns out, it wasn’t. It’s just the film. The sound design is really shitty.)

The film is about a gambler who shows up in a town and quickly establishes himself as a presence over the, shall we say, simple townspeople. They start to think he’s a gunfighter. He then starts his own brothel and starts making some money. Then, Julie Christie arrives in town. She’s a madam, and she’s also addicted to opium. So she comes in and tells him she knows the job better than he does and he agrees to be her business partner. And they also start sleeping together. And the town starts to prosper. However, because of that prosperity, some dudes show up to buy them out. And they’re from a business where — if someone won’t pay, they have a history of not living much longer. And Beatty doesn’t really want to accept the payment, and seems to not realize how dangerous these people are. And then there’s a big climactic shootout that’s — well, interesting. Very unheroic. It’s a great film.

Julie Christie is great as Mrs. Miller. But she had her Oscar and didn’t really need it for this. This was Jane Fonda’s year. But the film is terrific, though. Definitely worth checking out. Perhaps my favorite Robert Altman film.

Fonda — Klute is a great 70s film. Donald Sutherland is a detective who is hired to investigate the disappearance of a businessman. And he finds in the dude’s apartment a letter addressed to Jane Fonda, a prostitute. And he starts following her and taps her phone. And he starts listening in to the conversations and sort of falls in love with her from afar. And then he confronts her about the dude, and they start looking into it together, meanwhile she tells him how she’s worried she’s being watched. And they investigate this thing, start to fall for one another, and — well, I won’t give it away, but it’s a great film.

Fonda is terrific here. She’s really great. She definitely deserved this award. (In a different year, no, the performance probably wouldn’t be strong enough to win, but here, absolutely.)

Jackson — Sunday Bloody Sunday is one of the films I hated the most on this Quest. It was so boring.

The film is basically about Glenda Jackson sleeping with Peter Finch, who is also sleeping with another man. And then she starts sleeping with the other man too. It’s basically about a love triangle between all these people. I found it very boring.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s that Kids Are All Right thing, where everyone makes a big deal about, “Oh my god, it’s a dude sleeping with another dude!” And I’m like, “All right, but nothing’s happening outside of that.” I really don’t see why this was any good. But that’s just me. To each his own.

Glenda Jackson won Best Actress the year before this in what I consider the single worst decision in the history of the Academy. So I don’t really need any more of a reason not to vote for her.

Redgrave — Mary, Queen of Scots is about, obviously, Lucille Ball.

It’s a costume drama in the vein of Anne of the Thousand Days and The Lion in Winter. Mary and her sister have this relationship, and there’s scheming, and banishment, and killing — it’s too much. The film is okay. Not as good as earlier ones, though. Those 60s ones are much, much better. Plus, now it’s the 70s. These things don’t fly anymore. They feel outdated.

Redgrave is really good here, but this performance won’t win in 1971. 1968, maybe, but not 1971. Fonda is a much better choice all around than Redgrave.

Suzman — Nicholas and Alexandra is a film that I was worried about, going into it. I was like, “Oh great, a three-hour film about the last czar of Russia.” I thought it would be boring as hell. Then I started watching it and was strangely drawn into the story. And then I was really drawn in. And then by intermission, I was in love with it. It’s weird. I loved this movie so much. I’m now one of its biggest supporters.

It covers a long period of time for Nicholas and his wife. Suzman plays the wife. She gets a lot to do here. She’s actually the heart and soul of the movie. They cover a lot of ground, from their beginnings, to the whole Rasputin interlude, all the way to the revolution and the final, you know — “family portrait.”

Suzman is terrific here. It’s the kind of performance that many smaller guilds and ceremonies would give Best Actress, but the Oscars wouldn’t. And the reason they wouldn’t is because she’s not an actress that did all that much outside of this. At least Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda. It’s kind of like (and I’m pulling the most recent example I can find) Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. A lot of smaller awards gave her Best Actress, but the Oscars would have never because Sandra Bullock was a much sexier choice for them. The same applies here for Suzman. She was amazing in the film, and is my #2, but Fonda is just a better choice.

My Thoughts: Right off the top, before I even think for a millisecond about this category, Glenda Jackson is out. If you think I would even consider her being nominated the year after she committed the worst case of robbery in Academy history, you are mistaken. She is out. #5. I wish I could rank her lower.

Then, Redgrave is 4. Just because — it’s the 70s. British royalty dramas are so out. Then, Christie. Love the performance, love the film, but — she won already. Didn’t need this.

That leaves Fonda and Suzman. Loved Suzman’s performance more (not sure why, just, did), but, my vote is for Fonda. She deserved it more. And she was great. Go Jane. (Not the second one, though. I’m in for this one and maybe a Supporting Actress ten years after this. Not the ’78 win.)

My Vote: Fonda

Should Have Won: Fonda, Suzman

Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. Best decision in the category. Fonda had definitely earned one of these. (The second one …. ehh. But this one, absolutely.) Great decision.

Performances I suggest you see: If you want to be friends with me, you should see McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

You should also see Klute and Nicholas and Alexandra. They’re great films, and you will make me very happy if you’ve seen them.

Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s okay. I feel it’s on the downward curve after the apex that was Anne of the Thousand Days, but still okay. Definitely watchable.


5) Jackson

4) Redgrave

3) Fonda

2) Suzman

1) Christie

One response

  1. Jason Hawkins

    You have made me want to see Nicholas and Alexandra. I’ve never heard an actual human being say anything about this film. I will make it a point to see it now. I also want to say that I am obviously a much bigger fan of Altman than you, but I’m really glad to hear you liked McCabe and Mrs. Miller so much. It’s one of Altman’s best, probably my third favorite behind Nashville and Short Cuts. Really enjoying your blog.

    April 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm

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