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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1965-1966)

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.

1965

Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music

Julie Christie, Darling

Samantha Eggar, The Collector

Elizabeth Hartman, A Patch of Blue

Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools

Analysis:

The Sound of Music. The hills are alive.

Sound of Music

Motherfucker.

This is one of the most iconic films ever made. One of the ten most memorable musical films of all time.

Julie Andrews plays Maria. It’s a famous role. I wouldn’t necessarily say iconic, but it’s one of the more famous musical characters of all time.

This is another one of those performances, like Mary Poppins but to a much, much lesser extent, that’s great because it’s enjoyable and memorable. But no one would actually say there’s a whole lot of heavy lifting to be done here. In terms of pure performance, this is probably fifth in the category. I might take her higher than that because of who she is and how much I like the movie and the role, but coming off a win, and with a performance like this — not something I take.

Darling is a pretty forgotten film. Very 60s. I love it, even though it’s also very British.

Julie Christie plays a model who pretty much sleeps her way to the top. She’s happily in a relationship, and then one day is approached by a TV director about appearing in commercials. They start sleeping together and leave their significant others to be together. And then we chart her over the years, as she gets more and more famous and also more jaded and unhappy. It’s quite good.

Christie is absolutely dynamite here, and between this performance and Doctor Zhivago, is a runaway winner in this category. I can’t really see anyone else being the choice. At worst she’s a second choice. Maybe you really prefer someone else to her. But barring that, she’s the one here. This performance speaks for itself.

The Collector is a movie that nobody knows about, which is why I love this year because it gives me the opportunity to talk about it and get people excited to see it.

Here’s the premise — Terence Stamp is a weird young man who sits in a van, watching a pretty girl from afar in his van. One day, he drugs her, kidnaps her, and brings her to his house deep in the country. In his house, he has a room set up that’s sealed with stone. Quite literally no one can hear her scream. His plan is to keep her there until she falls in love with him. He’s lonely, and this is the only way he feels he can get a woman to love him. So the film is him treating her well (despite the whole kidnapping part, of course) and her constantly trying to escape and outwit him. It’s great. Believe me when I say it’s great. William Wyler directed it too. His last great movie. Well… yeah, probably. How to Steal a Million and Funny Girl are very good, but I don’t know if they’re great. Great in different ways. Which I guess this is too. But anyway…

Samantha Eggar plays the kidnapped girl. She’s very effective here. Not a performance I vote for, but one that I think everyone would watch and go, “Oh yeah, she was really good here.” I could see putting her fourth or fifth here. Not gonna argue that. But I do think she’s a solid nominee and someone you might consider, but probably someone who doesn’t rate top two. I put her third, though I could also potentially drop her fourth below Julie Andrews if I started taking everything into account. Either way, solid, no vote.

A Patch of Blue is one of my favorite Quest movies. (And by that I mean, ones that I knew nothing about and discovered from this Quest.)

Elizabeth Hartman plays a blind girl who lives with her prostitute mother and drunk uncle. She acts as housekeeper for them and is constantly beaten and berated by them. She is left in the park most days to string beads for small amounts of money. While there, she meets Sidney Poitier. They become friends. To him, she’s a nice blind girl who’s very sweet and somewhat helpless. To her, he’s the only man who’s ever given her the time of day. She develops a serious crush on him, and he starts to enjoy his time around her. They walk around the park and talk, and in a way, this is really one of the few times he gets to not be the subject of bigotry and hatred because he’s black. And a lot of the film film is about this relationship of sorts blossoming and the idea that they can’t really ever be together. It’s — it’s really great.

Hartman is also very terrific in the role. Some might say the role of a blind girl falling for a black man is Oscar bait to the max and just about anyone playing the part could have gotten nominated. I disagree. I think Hartman plays this role in such a way that you really feel for this girl and understand her. There’s naivety, vulnerability and strength. And seeing her come into her own is a great thing. I get not voting for this performance. I don’t think it would have been a great winner. But as a nominee, this is a very strong entry to the category. I put her as top two. Most people would probably have her third or fourth, just because of the star power in the rest of the category. But I think this performance is better than most in this one.

Ship of Fools is one of the bigger budget misfires to still be nominated for Best Picture in the studio era.

It’s about a bunch of people on a boat traveling to Germany right on the cusp of Nazism. And all their petty dramas play out over the course of the film. It’s kind of a mess. Not awful, but definitely not particularly great.

Simone Signoret plays a character in the most interesting story segment of the film. She’s a drug-addicted countess who falls in love with the dying ship’s doctor. She’s pretty fatalistic, and he’s optimistic, but love blossoms.

She was much better in Room at the Top, and while she’s good here, I’d argue that this could be considered a supporting performance. But even so, how do you take this any higher than fourth (at best)? And even so, even if you really love her and the performance, does she go higher than second? I doubt it. This feels like a filler nominee. Fifth all around for me, though I could see making a case for fourth. But to me that is either because you really hated one of the other nominees or you’re discrediting the musical performance in favor of “acting.”

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Julie Christie all the way. The Darling performance wins this y itself. But then there’s the Doctor Zhivago performance on top of that. The others can’t compete with that.

Plus — Julie Andrews won the year before this. And both performances aren’t particularly strenuous ones. I don’t think she needed two. Simone Signoret had an Oscar for a vastly superior performance. Even if you consider this performance a leading one, I don’t think she rates better than Christie. And then Eggar and Hartman, while very good — I don’t want to say their careers weren’t as worthy as Julie Christie’s, but that is something now that weighs somewhere in the back of the mind when you’re picking. Ultimately, I think Eggar is just solid and doesn’t rate as good as Christie, and Hartman, I put almost as good, but knowing how I respond to things of that sort and how most people would, I feel like not many people would share my sentiment on that performance. So really this adds up to a pretty easy vote for Julie Christie.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Julie Christie, Darling
  2. Elizabeth Hartman, A Patch of Blue
  3. Samantha Eggar, The Collector
  4. Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music
  5. Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools

Rankings (films):

  1. Darling
  2. The Sound of Music
  3. A Patch of Blue
  4. The Collector
  5. Ship of Fools

My Vote: Julie Christie, Darling

Recommendations:

The Sound of Music is one of the most essential films ever made. If you were picking the 100 most essential American movies of all time, this would be one of them.

Darling is a great but forgotten film. Essential for Oscar buffs and a film that I recommend very highly. I think it should be considered next tier essential after you finish all the essentials and need more movies to check out.

The Collector is one of the great hidden gems of the 60s. I can’t call it essential, because then it’s not really a hidden gem. But trust me on this — check it out. You won’t be disappointed. One of the best movies most people don’t know about and one that I’d wager — if you love movies, this will appeal to you.

A Patch of Blue is pretty much the same as The Collector, but with a slightly more limited appeal. Meaning, most people are more likely to go, “Oh man, you need to check out The Collector.” That’s the one you put on for your friends because you want them to see it. This is the one people see and like just as much as The Collector, but not one people rush out to show everyone. Really solid, very highly recommended, not essential, but one of the best forgotten films of the 60s. In my mind a must see for film lovers, because most people will love it and it deserves a bigger audience.

Ship of Fools is a giant mess, but probably worth it for the cast. Catch it if it’s on TCM or if you’re into the Oscars. Otherwise it can be skipped.

The Last Word: It’s Julie Christie. She was by far the best choice and holds up as one of the better winners of all time. There is no alternative here. She was the best choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1966

Anouk Aimee, A Man and a Woman

Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street

Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl

Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!

Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Analysis:

A Man and a Woman is Claude Lelouch. Which means nothing to most people, and doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me either, I’ll be honest. I know people love him and those really into foreign cinema really know his stuff. I only really know him because of this film, but that’s more on me than anything.

This movie is a simple romance. He’s a widowed Formula One driver and she’s a widowed single mother. Romance blossoms. And they struggle with grief from their dead spouses, which threatens to spoil the romance. It’s quite a good movie. I like it more each time I go back to it.

Aimée is good here. Can’t say I love the performance or that it needed to be nominated. Many years this would be fifth. Here it catches fourth because — well, we’ll get why. But this isn’t remotely a choice. If I knew the performance better I might make the case that it’s one of the weakest nominees of all time. Here, I’ll just say it’s one of the weaker nominees.

The Shop on Main Street is a movie that you want to see because of the premise. Watch:

The Nazis take over Czechoslovakia. They put Czech citizens in charge of all Jewish-owned businesses. A mild mannered man with no prejudice is put in charge of an elderly Jewish lady’s shop. She’s confused and doesn’t really know what’s going on. Over time, he starts to like the old lady, and she him. But pretty soon, the Jews are starting to be rounded up and taken out of the city. So now the guy has to decide what to do with the old lady. It’s awesome. It’s a great movie.

Ida Kaminska plays the old lady. She’s wonderful here. It’s kind of a one note performance, as she’s old and senile for much of the movie and really only plays that for most of it. It’s not a performance that wins, and most years, would probably be a solid fourth and maybe a third on sentimental value. Here, it’s number two with a bullet. Not something I vote for, just because the performance is a little too one note for my tastes (plus, #1 is not losing). But she’s appropriately heartbreaking and wonderful in the movie, and this performance reminds me a lot of Emmanuelle Riva in Amour a few years ago. Very similar.

Georgy Girl is a movie that has a great theme song. And as a film it’s good, but not particularly great. Though the fact that no one remembers it allows it to have a nice place in the hidden gem territory. Which feels fitting.

Lynn Redgrave is a bubbly, naive girl. She’s the slightly pudgy best friend of the really hot girl in most movies. She’d be played by Zooey Deschanel now. That’s the personality. Twee, is the word. And the film is about her, living with her roommate, who goes around having all sorts of sex (and getting pregnant and thinking about an abortion), while she hasn’t really ever done any of that. She’s not even really interested in it either. Meanwhile, she’s also dodging the advances of her father’s coworker who’s been like an uncle to her and now wants to be more than an uncle to her now that she’s of age.

It’s a weird film because she’s this bubbly character befitting of a different era, and it’s this serious sex movie. It’s like if you took your favorite kindergarten teacher and put her in Alfie. It’s good though.

This is a bit of a career defining performance for Lynn Redgrave. She’s realyl terrific here. But this is one of those performances — the nomination is the reward. She makes no headway in this category. But because it’s so weak, she manages to get as high as third for me. That’s saying something.

Morgan! is one of those weird fucking 60s movies that I can’t believe got even remotely embraced by the Academy. They’re counterculture and weird, and they don’t even really hold up as particularly great films.

I honestly couldn’t even tell you what the plot of this movie is. I remember complete insanity, and a gorilla costume. I didn’t bother going back to watch this movie again, because there’s such an easy winner in this category, the best that was gonna come out of it was the very, very, very off chance I said, “You know, Redgrave is really good. She’s fourth and not fifth.” Not worth it.

It’s about a dude trying to win back his wife, and he does all this crazy shit. Which I guess is where the gorilla costume comes in.

I wrote last time that Redgrave is basically a supporting actress in this movie. Don’t know if that’s the case or not, but she feels like an easy fifth and possibly (I won’t proclaim it without watching it again) one of the weakest nominees of all time.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the great films of all time. This rivals Streetcar in terms of great plays translated perfectly to screen with iconic performances.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are a professor and wife on a college campus. She’s the dean’s daughter. They drunkenly stumble back from a faculty gathering and are preparing to host another professor and his wife for drinks. Over the course of the night, we see their marital issues play out. And boy, do they play out.

Elizabeth Taylor’s performance wins this category every day, Sunday, and then the following 51 weeks. Watch the performance. You’ll see what I mean. There’s no other choice here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: One of the most open and shut categories of all time. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance holds up as one of the five or ten best decisions in this category. There’s no other choice here. Without her in this category, this is one of the three weakest of all time. There’s not even a discussion here. It’s Elizabeth Taylor and then a mile, and then everyone else.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  2. Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
  3. Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl
  4. Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman
  5. Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!

Rankings (films):

  1. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  2. The Shop on Main Street
  3. Georgy Girl
  4. A Man and a Woman
  5. Morgan!

My Vote: Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Recommendations:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is essential. Please tell me you don’t need me to explain why.

The Shop on Main Street is highly, highly recommended. It’s fantastic, and most people will love this movie. If you love movies, you should see this.

Georgy Girl is an amusing little cult film. Not essential, but fun. Catch it if it’s on TCM or put it deep in the Netflix queue for a rainy day. If I were to rate films based on category rankings — #1 being essential (like, say, Gone With the Wind), #2 being the lesser essentials and might as well be essentials mixed with “as high as I can recommend something without it being essential,” #3 being “this is awesome, but objectively you don’t need to see it, #4 being “Yeah, it’s good, but it can be skipped if it doesn’t seem like it’s for you,” and #5 being “no thank you” — I’d rate this a 4. A higher end #4. It’s slightly higher than “take it or leave it,” but not much. It’s amusing and there’s substance here, and that’s why I won’t just say take it or leave it, but I also don’t love it enough to give this that strong recommendation. So… light recommendation.

A Man and a Woman is pretty great. Worth a watch. If you’re really into foreign cinema, yes. Otherwise, decent recommend but can easily be skipped. So let’s call it a light recommend if you ever get around to it. You don’t even need to put it in the queue (unless you’re super into the Oscars or foreign film). If you end up seeing it, great. If not, don’t worry about it.

Morgan! — no. Not for me. Can’t recommend it. Do what you will, but I can’t recommend this one.

The Last Word: She’s the only choice. One of the five or ten best choices of all time in the category.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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