The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1967-1968)
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.
Anne Bancroft, The Graduate
Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde
Edith Evans, The Whisperers
Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark
Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Oh man, are we here already? I always dread this category. But I think this might be a situation where the films are so intimidating that it shadows the fact that the performances are just very good. Right?
That’s just what I’m telling myself to get trough it.
The Graduate is one of the most famous films ever made. Not a whole lot to say here.
Anne Bancroft plays Mrs. Robinson. One of the most famous characters on name alone in movie history. It almost dwarfs how good the performance actually is. (Or isn’t. Depending on where you shake out on it.) It’s hard to rate a performance this famous.
She’s hilarious here. She’s wonderful. There’s nothing bad I can say about the performance. But I also don’t know how to rate it. I love it, but I don’t know if I love it because of how it fits on the film or as a pure performance. And does that even matter? I — I don’t know. This is a category I have to punt with until I get to the bottom.
Bonnie and Clyde is also one of the most famous films of all time.
Faye Dunaway is Bonnie Parker. Also one of the most famous characters. Maybe not as iconic as Mrs. Robinson, but that’s just because she’s part of a pair. The name Bonnie Parker might get you like 60%, but Bonnie and Clyde gets you the full 100. Mrs. Robinson is probably about 85% on name alone. But that’s beside the point.
Dunaway is great here. She’s everything you’d want out of a nominee. I don’t think she’s technically the best performance, and that she’d give better ones later on, but I also think that if I loved the performance just a little bit more, I could take it automatically. I don’t love it enough to take automatically, which is what makes this category so difficult.
The Whisperers is a film so unfairly forgotten because it happened to show up in this category. Not that it changes the outcome of the voting process, but still.
Edith Evans is a poor, old senile woman who barely is able to get by from day to day. And it’s this crazy plot of just about everyone taking advantage of her. It’s a very strange movie.
Evans is great in it, but ultimately I think the movie lets down the performance and prevents me from wanting to take it. But she is quite terrific here. If only it could have come a year later. Here, she rates maybe fourth for me. Solid, and better than the rating, but no.
Wait Until Dark is a really amusing nomination.
Audrey Hepburn is one of the great cinema actresses of all time. The camera just loved her, and pretty much all of her work in her first fifteen years is quite exemplary. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
Roman Holiday, Sabrina, War and Peace, Funny Face, Love in the Afternoon, The Nun’s Story, The Unforgiven, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Children’s Hour, Charade, My Fair Lady, How to Steal a Million, Two for the Road and this.
You know how many movies I left out there? Two. Green Mansions, which nobody knows, and admittedly even I haven’t seen yet (but I will), and Paris When It Sizzles, which I love. So really you’re dealing with only one movie that’s either not an all-time classic or a pretty awesome movie with a great pedigree that a nice pocket of people love. That’s impressive.
Also after this she pretty much stopped working, appearing in only four more movies throughout the rest of her life, none of which are particularly great. (Though they are varying degrees of good.)
Anyway, Wait Until Dark…
Audrey plays a blind girl who lives in a New York apartment. She’s fairly recently blind, so she’s just getting used to it all, but she’s doing a good job of adjusting. Meanwhile, her husband accidentally comes into possession of a doll filled with heroin. There was a suitcase switch at customs, and he wasn’t meant to get it. So the bad guys looking for the heroin trace him to this apartment. So the doll is in there with her, and the husband is gone again for the weekend on business. So now Audrey is left alone in this apartment, and the bad guys have to figure out how to get in and get the doll out. It’s great.
The movie is so good. What a wonderful thriller. Can’t say she needed to be nominated for this performance. But it’s definitely… you know. I think I finally figured it out. I’ve always sort of known, but I’m not sure I never fully articulated it until now.
First off, she had four previous nominations. Roman Holiday, Sabrina, The Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Two iconic performances and two great performances. And then she had My Fair Lady, where she was unnominated. Somehow. (My theory is a mix of it being so obvious/they had some fatigue of her/she didn’t do her own singing.) And so this was a bit of a makeup for that. Not to mention that she also had Two for the Road this same year.
So she has two nomination-worthy performances — or at least noteworthy. And of the two — Two for the Road is a very experimental type film. It’s basically Blue Valentine/(500) Days of Summer. It’s a nonlinear telling of a couple’s relationship. We see them on vacation when they’re young and in love and also when they’re married and bitter and headed toward a divorce. And it’s great. But not necessarily Academy friendly. Not in 1967. And Wait Until Dark… that’s a mainstream film and performance, and that’s the more palatable and marketable of the two. So that’s why they nominated her for that.
Now, that all sounds good in theory, but I need to show you why it makes sense in practice.
I have two arguments. One of them doesn’t hold up because that’s only in my mind. That’s a case of the more mainstream performance being one of the most iconic characters of all time against a movie that nobody knows that only I think is the real reason they won. The other, however, does make sense. And that’s Dennis Hopper.
In 1986, Dennis Hopper was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Hoosiers.
Also in 1986, he was nominated for Blue Velvet.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you which of the two performances was better and which he should have been nominated for. That said — to the Academy, you have one weird ass film that the art house crowd loves that he’s admittedly great in, but it’s weird and doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, here, in this other movie, it’s a sports movie. It’s uplifting. The underdogs win. And he’s a drunk who gets to redeem himself. And that dovetails with his real-life situation in Hollywood. Of course they went with that.
And that’s why I think she was nominated for this performance and not Two for the Road.
That said… nope. Just no. The two performances together probably rate her maybe fourth for a vote. But no.
Were she nominated for Two for the Road, that would have been interesting. Then maybe I could have made a case for potentially third. Still wouldn’t have voted for her, so this is all moot. But when you’re nominated for the wrong performance, that only helps you so much.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Sidney Poitier is coming to dinner.
That’s the movie.
(That will never not be funny to me.)
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are liberal San Franciscans. (Or so they think.) Their liberalism will be tested when their daughter brings home her fiancée — a black man.
Doesn’t matter that it’s Sidney Poitier and he’s a doctor and basically the perfect husband — he’s a negro. And this is 1967. What kind of wacky shenanigans will these people get up to before dinner is served?
I’m belittling this movie. But it’s one of those movies where, especially now, it seems like the sugar-coated version of what Civil Rights was. But I love the movie. Mostly because of the central performances. Though it is hard to defend a movie where an Irish priest sings “We Can Work It Out.”
Anyway, Hepburn is great here. It’s a performance that is good enough that I’m not against her having won. Though there will always be a major downside to this performance, and that’s — Bonnie Parker, Mrs. Robinson… Christina Drayton. Not that memorable a performance when putting it next to the competition. But she is great here. So there is that. Trying to take the performances on face value, not considering how they’ve held up over the years (as difficult a proposition as that is), she does rate high enough to strongly consider her for a vote. Which is all that matters for now. We’ll deal with the rest in a second.
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The Reconsideration: Do I have to?
Audrey is a no. Evans is a no. The rest, fuck if I know.
Dunaway and Bancroft are iconic, but they might be so iconic I don’t know how to rate them. And Hepburn seems like a lesser nominee because no one remembers her as much. But I actually like that performance the best.
So rather than try to logic this one out and twist myself into circles, I’m just gonna take Kate and leave it at that. They’re all worth in some respects. So let me take my favorite and leave the rest there.
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- Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
- Anne Bancroft, The Graduate
- Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde
- Edith Evans, The Whisperers
- Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark
- The Graduate
- Bonnie and Clyde
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
- Wait Until Dark
- The Whisperers
My Vote: Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are all essential films. The first two are top 100 all time essential. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, if it’s not top 100, it’s top 150.
Wait Until Dark is awesome and I think it’s essential for all movie buffs because you’re gonna love it. As highly as I can recommend a non essential movie.
The Whisperers is good with a great performance. Solid recommend. Definitely check it out and throw it in the queue for a rainy day.
The Last Word: I’m cool with this win. It’s the one the year after this that could be a problem. (But the tie sure mitigates that, doesn’t it?) Evans wouldn’t have held up, Audrey would have been a bad winner for this role. The other three, all worthy and worth winning and would have held up. Dunaway didn’t need two and won for, I feel, the right performance. So that worked out. On its own, she’d have been okay as a winner, though I doubt it would have happened. Bancroft didn’t need two, but would have been worth a second one for this role. Would have held up great. And Hepburn I think holds up as well as she can next to the other two. The performance and her career speaks for itself.
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Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
The Lion in Winter is a great costume drama. The last great one, really.
It’s King Henry II, the same character from Becket, again played by Peter O’Toole. But this is many years later. He’s got his wife locked up in a tower somewhere, is happily with his mistress, and is now trying to figure out which of his three sons is going to ascend to the throne. And he lets his wife out of the tower for the holidays so they can spend them together. And pretty soon, everyone is scheming. The wife has her favorite son and wants him to be the choice, so she starts manipulating things in her own way. And then the middle son thinks he has no shot because the mother favors the older brother, so he and the young brother start plotting with France to wage war against the father. It’s pretty awesome.
Katharine Hepburn plays Eleanor of Antiquane, Henry’s wife. She’s incredible here. She really is. This is one of those times where I’m totally on board with the win.
The Subject Was Roses is a movie with only three actors in it. I think there’s one or two more, but it’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The other actors are barely present and don’t matter.
Martin Sheen is a guy who just got back from Vietnam. He comes back home to his parents, Patricia Neal and Jack Albertson. The family dynamic is now much different. Since he used to be all happy and idealistic, and now he’s cynical and speaks his mind. He argues with his father and his political views. He brings up all the difficult topics the family never spoke of before — like his father’s affairs. It’s basically a film about a family arguing. Very theatrical.
Neal as the mother is good, but this is one of those nominations are the reward situation. Fourth at best. Nothing overly great. She’s very solid, and gets a couple of great moments, but otherwise this is a performance you respect but don’t vote for.
Isadora is a biopic of Isadora Duncan, one of the most famous dancers of all time.
Vanessa Redgrave plays Isadora.
I remember not liking the film very much but thinking it worked because she was so good in it. She’s very… what’s the word… lively. I guess. She moves about with a certain amount of freedom that feels like she can do or say anything at any given moment. It’s hard to pull that off on film.
I quite liked this performance a lot, but I wouldn’t vote for it. Somehow she only ends up as third choice for me. Maybe in five years she’ll rate better.
Funny Girl is a biopic of Fanny Brice. A comedian most people don’t remember but a person tailor made for Barbra Streisand to play.
Seriously, look up a clip of Fanny Brice. That’s Streisand.
It’s all about her and her rise in show business and her marriage to a gambler/gangster.
The film is whatever. It’s fine. Overlong and pretty good. The real star is Streisand. She just dominates every moment on screen and blows you away. This is one of those force of nature performances. You can’t deny this one. You might prefer another, but there’s no denying she deserved this.
Rachel, Rachel is Paul Newman’s directorial debut. Starring his wife.
Joanne Woodward plays a shy teacher who’s never really been in a relationship. And we watch as she has a fling of sorts with a charming man from college she hasn’t seen in years. And then he leaves and she thinks she might have gotten pregnant. Mostly it’s a study of a shy, repressed woman and all her neuroses. It’s pretty good.
Woodward is strong here. Not sure the nomination makes the category any stronger, but it’s fine that she was nominated for it. Easy fifth in the category though. Doesn’t make any headway, and not as strong as her winning nomination eleven years earlier.
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The Reconsideration: Well, at least the tie got the two right.
Joanne Woodward is a filler nominee, even though she’s fine. Vanessa Redgrave is awesome, but not someone I like enough to take. And Patricia Neal is just solid. The category was always between Hepburn and Streisand.
And for my money, it’s Streisand’s category all the way. This is a force of nature performance and she’s just to powerful to not take. Hepburn is totally deserving and right there for me, but, with a win just the year before
– – – – – – – – – –
- Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
- Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
- Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
- Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
- Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
- The Lion in Winter
- Funny Girl
- The Subject Was Roses
- Rachel, Rachel
My Vote: Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
The Lion in Winter is essential. I only call two of these costume dramas essential. This and A Man for All Seasons. Not top 100 all time essential, but 101-200. You should definitely see them if you love movies. Plus it won Oscars and the cast is great. No reason not to see this.
Funny Girl is a great musical. Not an all-timer, but Streisand is so, so good in it. Essential for Oscar buffs, solid recommend for everyone else. Mainly because of the performance. Also William Wyler’s last good movie. His age is showing here, but Streisand helps the movie stay good.
The Subject Was Roses is a pretty good film. The three leads are really good. The film is okay. Only essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise moderate recommend. It’s fine. You’re okay without it, but it’s basically like watching a play. It’s not so bad.
Rachel, Rachel is a Paul Newman-directed film. Which is of interest. Not overly great, but decent. Light recommend. If you get the chance, check it out. You might like it. Otherwise, ehh. It’s just okay.
Isadora is an okay film that is only good because Vanessa Redgrave is so great in it. Light recommend, but if you don’t get around to it, you’re more than fine.
The Last Word: How does one even begin to argue this? The two best options both won. So yes, it was a good outcome. Streisand/Hepburn. Vote for whoever you want, but since they both one, no one can argue. Plus all the other three nominees had/would win Oscars. For arguably better performances than they gave here. So it works all around.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)