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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1961-1962)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1961

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Piper Laurie, The Hustler

Sophia Loren, Two Women

Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke

Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass

Analysis:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of the all time iconic films.

Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly.

I don’t even think I need to discuss the film or the performance. That pretty much speaks for itself.

The plot doesn’t really matter, and I honestly couldn’t really tell you what it was even though I’ve probably seen this movie five times. She’s iconic here. The performance is very good, but, objectively, not one of her best. At least from a technical standpoint. It’ll be interesting to see where she winds up here. Because on likability, she’s top two. On pure performance, she’s probably closer to third or fourth.

The Hustler is technically a sports film? I don’t really count it. Well okay, only when it’s convenient.

Paul Newman is a pool hustler who shows up with a bankroll to challenge Minnesota Fats, known as the best player in the country. He starts winning, but is soon revealed to be “a loser” who can’t hang with the greats. He loses everything. His life then unravels, and he ends up later getting his thumbs broken in a rushed attempt to hustle the money back for another game. Enter Piper Laurie.

Piper Laurie plays an alcoholic who finds a kindred spirit in Newman. They start a relationship. She falls in love with him but he’s unable to reciprocate. Eventually he starts going back out for stakes so as to build up enough to challenge Fats again, which is when things go a bit sideways.

Laurie is fantastic in this film. She really stands out and plays a great part. Though she might have been better suited as a Supporting Actress nominee, since her performance is very much in support of Newman and the others and doesn’t really have the kind of screen time that would merit a win. Admittedly it’s very strong and she might have won were she in the Supporting Actress category. Here, she probably rates a solid #3 for me.

Two Women is a weird film to have won an Oscar. It was also one of those movies I penciled in as a “for sure” rewatch, since I was so hard on it five years ago.

Sophia Loren is a woman trying to keep her daughter safe in war-torn Italy. That’s pretty much the story. There’s not a whole lot you need to know about it past that.

I’ve always been of the opinion that this wasn’t a particularly great win. I get it, in context, but every time I go back and watch it (which is three times now), I constantly think she won for the role and her stature as an actress more than anything. She’s good here, and I always thought she won for a particular scene (which is horrifying, but not as much as it would have been if they did that scene now), but I never felt the entire performance was all the way there. It’s close, which is why I have her as a second choice, but there’s still a performance in the category I prefer more.

Summer and Smoke is one of those movies I just did not like. I’ve seen it twice and it’s just not for me.

Based on Tennessee Williams, Geraldine Page plays a repressed woman who meets a freewheeling man and they strike up a relationship. The whole thing just felt theatrical and strained to me. She was a well respected stage actress who was going to win one of these eventually. She got nominated for her first role (in Hondo) and then this was her second role, eight years alter. (And she’d be nominated for her third role, the year after this.) All things being equal, I think this is her weakest nomination. Number five for me and just one of the weaker nominees all time, I feel.

Splendor in the Grass is Elia Kazan doing tragic teen romance.

Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty have it all figured out. They’re graduating high school, they’re in love, they’re gonna spend the rest of their lives together. Her mother tells her, “Don’t be in such a rush to have sex.” His father tells him, “Find a girl who’ll put out.” And this puts a strain on their relationship, until eventually circumstances force things to not end well.

Wood is tremendous in this movie. She’s someone who can have a penchant for overacting, and it shows at times in this movie. But I think she’s terrific and really was enamored by her and her performance. Easily top two for me, even if the performance isn’t as remembered as Holly Golightly.

Oh, and I’ll also mention — she had West Side Story this year as well. Granted, she didn’t do her own singing, but that also must be taken into account. Not that the performance would have won or anything, but it is worth noting.

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The Reconsideration: I get the Loren win. I’m not even mad about it anymore. I get it. Hepburn had won, Laurie is borderline supporting, Page was never going to win for this, and Wood — well, that I can’t explain. Especially with the double films. But even without the double films, I prefer the Wood performance to the Loren performance. Most people don’t, so fine. Sue me. But I take Wood here, and she’s my choice. Maybe five more years it’ll be closer. But for now — still prefer Natalie Wood.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass
  2. Sophia Loren, Two Women
  3. Piper Laurie, The Hustler
  4. Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  5. Geraldine Page, Summer and Smoke

Rankings (films):

  1. The Hustler
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  3. Splendor in the Grass
  4. Two Women
  5. Summer and Smoke

My Vote: Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass

Recommendations:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is so essential you already know you need to have seen it if you haven’t. If not, you’re gonna get a look like this:

The Hustler is one of the most essential American movies ever made. Not top 100. But 101-200. Must be seen by all film fans. It’s perfect.

Splendor in the Grass is also pretty essential. Probably 201-300. Still essential though. Great cast, great performances, and one of the best film romances of all time.

Two Women is good. Solid recommend. Essential for Oscar buffs, otherwise just a film that’s worth checking out but not something you need to see.

Summer and Smoke is Tennessee Williams, but I don’t like it very much and I can’t recommend it at all. You do what you want with this one.

The Last Word: Loren isn’t a bad winner, but she is a pretty forgotten one. Then again, most winners from this category would have been forgotten. Page would have looked awful in perpetuity. Laurie would have been okay but probably weak. Hepburn would have looked good because of the film and role, but weak on performance. Loren and Wood feel like they’d have been the best choices given their performances and body of work. I still feel like Wood was the best choice given her year in 1961. And I think the performance is best, but again, totally cool with Loren having won.

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1962

Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker

Bette Davis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Katharine Hepburn, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth

Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

Analysis:

The Miracle Worker is about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.

That’s really all you need to know, because most people have read the book or seen this, simply by growing up and going to school.

Anne Bancroft is Annie Sullivan, and there’s really no denying that she deserved this. You can maybe vote elsewhere, but she’s strong as hell in this movie and easily rates top two.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of the most batshit crazy movies ever made.

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (notorious for having a professional rivalry throughout the years and “hating” one another) play sisters. Bette was a child star. Joan was her jealous sister. When they were teenagers, Joan started becoming a star, and Bette was being forgotten. One night, an accident occurs where one of the sisters tries to run over and kill the other one. It’s not shown who was driving, but you can make some guesses. Crawford ends up paralyzed. Cut to thirty years later. Joan’s an invalid in bed and Bette is caring for her. She’s half-crazy and despises her sister. And the film is basically all the fucked up shit she does to her in the house, all the while plotting her “comeback.”

This spawned a genre known as the “psycho biddy” film, and it’s one of the most glorious and grotesque things you will ever see.

This is a performance that is deliberately campy. It’s so over the top and crazy. I can’t vote for this. Some would. I know the type of people who would vote for this. To each his own. But for me — probably gets a slight bump because it’s so amusing, but this doesn’t do a whole lot for me at all.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is based on the Eugene O’Neill play. One of the great plays of all time.

The entire play takes place in the family’s house over the course of one day. And we see all their issues play out.

Katharine Hepburn plays the matriarch of the family, who is addicted to morphine. She’s a great actress, but this, to me, is just okay. She’s good, but she’s always good. This reminds me of Meryl in August: Osage County. Sure, it’s her doing good work, but I don’t love it enough to take it. What, are you gonna vote for her for every performance?

The performance is better than I’m gonna rate it, but simply, I just don’t wanna vote for it. I like it, but I don’t think it’s better than at least one other performance in the category.

Sweet Bird of Youth is another one based on a play. That’s three in this category, fourif you count teleplays.

Paul Newman shows up in his small town after leaving (being run out) for Hollywood. He’s got a famous actress in tow and acts like a big shot. And while he’s there, we find out what’s really going on and why he left town all those years ago. Mostly it has to do with his ex-girlfriend and her father, the corrupt “boss” of the town.

Geraldine Page plays the famous actress. For the first half of the movie, she’s drunk and/or passed out. She’s aging and thinks her star is fading after a couple of flops. She’s sleeping with Newman because he’s young and is stringing him along with the promise of starring in her next movie. She’s escaped town on a bender because her new movie is coming out and she’s convinced it’s going to flop again. He’s basically supplying her with booze and pills long enough to get her to sign a contract that says he’ll be the lead in her next movie. Eventually she sobers up and starts to see more of what he’s doing, all while he lies to her and tries to convince her otherwise.

She’s good here. Don’t love the performance, but it’s decent enough. I feel like she’s a supporting character for most of the film. But I’m sure they put her here because she’s known for being a lead. In the category, maybe she can get fourth, but honestly, given the competition, she’s probably fifth.

Days of Wine and Roses is one of my favorite films. I love the performances in it.

Jack Lemmon is a publicist who’ll do all the dirty work (i.e. get women for his boss and his clients to fuck). Lee Remick is his boss’s secretary. He mistakes her for one of the “girls,” and that’s what’s known as a meet cute.

Anyway, they soon begin dating and he introduces her to the joys of drinking. And they both start drinking, a lot. And we watch it destroy both their lives and their marriage. It’s really great stuff.

Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon deliver powerhouse performances here. And in many other years, she likely would be my vote. Here, she’s in a tight race with Anne Bancroft. Still could be the vote, though. I like her that much.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Tough one for me. Page does nothing for me, Davis is amusing but would never be my vote. Hepburn is solid but not something I’d want to take. Maybe in five years I’ll warm up to the performance more. To me, this is either Remick or Bancroft.

Bancroft has a character that could go overlooked, since she’s sensible and logical and doesn’t necessarily “change” over the course of the film. But she’s sturdy and dependable and strong and befitting of the woman she’s playing. Remick, on the other hand, gets a much more showy role. She gets to play situations most actors would kill for, and she never gives in to the urge to overplay it.

I think this is a tough category. I feel like my decision comes down to whichever of the two performances I saw most recent. Which means… this time I want to take Lee Remick. So I will. I think they’re both worthy, but I love Days of Wine and Roses so much… I think Remick is my choice this time.

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Rankings (category):

  1. Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses
  2. Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
  3. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
  4. Bette Davis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  5. Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth

Rankings (films):

  1. Days of Wine and Roses
  2. The Miracle Worker
  3. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  4. Sweet Bird of Youth
  5. Long Day’s Journey Into Night

My Vote: Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

Recommendations:

The Miracle Worker is an essential film. Because why would you not see it, if you love film? One of those stories everyone knows simply by going to school. Hell, you probably watch this movie in school.

Days of Wine and Roses is GREAT. Essential for all film buffs. It astounds me every time. Not Lawrence of Arabia essential, but definitely film buff/IMDB essential. This should be about 100-150 in your queue of 500 (assuming #1 is like, Casablanca). Get to it pretty soon, but no immediate rush.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is an essential movie. Trust me on this. It’s so campy and memorable that every film fan should see it just to say they have. Like Rocky Horror or Pink Flamingos. This is one of the great oddities of cinema that happens to have wonderful ties to a lot classic Hollywood stuff as well. Must see. Especially if you don’t know what it is.

Sweet Bird of Youth has a great cast and is based on Tennessee Williams. Paul Newman alone and all the Oscar nominations should attract most movie buffs to this. Solid recommend. Throw it in the queue and get to it eventually.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the most famous plays of all time. As a film it’s just good. Not overly essential or remembered well. Like Death of a Salesman. They never made that classic film version of it. Good though. Solid recommend.

The Last Word: Bancroft holds up. You might argue she’d be better than this twice over, with Pumpkin Eater and The Graduate, but in this category, she’s worth the win. Hepburn is on the nose as a winner and wouldn’t have held up. Maybe 15 years earlier. Page wouldn’t have held up at all. Davis would have been too weird a winner for them and would have been amusing, but wouldn’t really have held up. Lee Remick is the only alternative, and I’m not sure she’s historically any better a choice than Bancroft. So, between the two, either is fine, and I think Bancroft holds up best.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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