The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1971-1972)
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.
Julie Christie, McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Jane Fonda, Klute
Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday
Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots
Janet Suzman, Nicholas and Alexandra
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is one of the great films of all time.
Warren Beatty is a gambler who shows up at a small town in the west and realizes he’s smarter than all of them. So he starts taking it over with nothing but his smarts. He convinces everyone he’s a gunfighter, so they leave him alone and basically let him run the town. Pretty good setup… until a mining corporation shows up to actually take the town over.
Julie Christie plays an opium addicted prostitute. She becomes a madame, running her women in the town and partnering with Beatty in a mutually beneficial situation. She’s pretty great here, though she doesn’t particularly dominate any part of the film. It’s just a solid performance.
I want to think about taking it because I love the movie so much and on paper — great movie, Julie Christie — but she’s just a #3 most years. Here, she might be #2.
Klute is a GREAT 70s movie. My god, do I love this.
A man goes missing. All they find is a letter he wrote to a prostitute. The man’s family hires Donald Sutherland to investigate the disappearance. He begins by tracking down the prostitute. And the two become entangled during the investigation.
Jane Fonda plays the prostitute. And she’s great here. She’s a cynical woman who sees a psychiatrist and wants to stop doing what she’s doing. It’s such a complex performance. It’s really quite stunning, especially for those who didn’t fully see the range Jane Fonda had to offer. They Shoot Horses was very good, but this performance is great. She wins this in a landslide. There’s no other competitor in this category who comes close to her.
Sunday Bloody Sunday is a great title. But boy, can I not stand this movie.
A man and a woman who both fall in love with the same man. A love triangle ensues.
Glenda Jackson plays the woman.
I really didn’t like this movie and found myself unable to watch it again. I also really didn’t like the Glenda Jackson win the year before this. So I’ll take my dislike of the film and indifference toward the performance as enough to not take her here and assume my feelings have not changed very much. I’ll leave it to next time to maybe like the film a bit more. She’s fifth for me even though I’m sure she’d be higher for most people.
Mary, Queen of Scots is about Mary. Queen of Scots.
Vanessa Redgrave plays Mary.
I’ll save time. This is a costume drama like Anne of the Thousand Days. Only it’s in an era that’s past those. It comes off as lifeless and clunky. But Redgrave is very good in it. Any later, she might be a #5. Here, she’s probably still a #5, but since I really don’t like one of the films, she rates #4 for me. Not gonna rate any higher than 3 for most people. Solid performance, but this isn’t something that wins here. The wrong film, the wrong era, the wrong everything.
Nicholas and Alexandra is a costume drama just like Mary Queen of Scots. Though I really like this one. Maybe because Franklin Schaffner directed it.
It’s about Tsar Nicholas II and his family. You know him. He’s the guy we talked about briefly when we did Anastasia.
Janet Suzman plays Alexandra, his wife. I haven’t seen the movie again, but I remember really liking the performance. I feel like she’s constantly there and doing solid work throughout, but I can’t remember a whole lot of the performance except for the part where she’s basically convinced that Rasputin is going to save her sick son.
I rated her second last time to Jane Fonda, and there’s nothing that’s gonna change my mind that Jane Fonda deserved this. So she won’t be the vote. I’d need to see the film again to decide if I keep her second or put her third, but knowing the rest of the category, for now she remains second.
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The Reconsideration: Oh this is clearly Jane Fonda. I can’t even think about taking anyone else.
I hated Sunday Bloody Sunday and can’t stand the previous Jackson win. Even though she’s fine in it she would never be my vote. Redgrave is filler. Christie is great in a great movie, but not strong enough that I’d want to take her. And Suzman is great in a movie I like, but she’s not nearly as captivating as Jane Fonda.
Open and shut case. Watch Klute and there’s no denying this is Fonda’s category.
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- Jane Fonda, Klute
- Janet Suzman, Nicholas and Alexandra
- Julie Christie, McCabe & Mrs. Miller
- Vanessa Redgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots
- Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller
- Nicholas and Alexandra
- Mary, Queen of Scots
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
My Vote: Jane Fonda, Klute
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is an essential film. It might be my favorite Robert Altman movie. It’s so fucking good. All film buffs must see this. (Like, really. This is a legit film buff movie. You earn your bones with ones like this.)
Klute is a really awesome film. So utterly 70s in every way. Essential for Oscar buffs, high recommend for everyone else because Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda. Love this movie.
Nicholas and Alexandra is a movie I love. It’s a long costume drama, but I was so engaged by it. I really liked it a lot. Can’t say everyone else will, but I recommend it highly in case you do.
Mary, Queen of Scots is one of those costume dramas like A Man for All Seasons but two years too late. Doesn’t really work. It’s fair, but not something I recommend unless you really love these types of movies.
I really didn’t like Sunday Bloody Sunday and can’t recommend it. You’re on your own with this one.
The Last Word: Fonda deserved this. She’s astounding in Klute, and between this and the They Shoot Horses performance, this was a no-brainer. She was the only winner who’d have held up. Redgrave would have been a terrible winner. Jackson two years in a row would have been awful. Suzman wouldn’t have held up. And Christie wasn’t the right choice. This is Fonda. Great choice. One of the stronger winners all time.
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Liza Minnelli, Cabaret
Diana Ross, Lady Sings the Blues
Maggie Smith, Travels with My Aunt
Cicely Tyson, Sounder
Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants
Cabaret is a masterpiece. It really is. I always forget how good it is and it’s a revelation every time I go back to it.
It’s about love and gaiety in pre-Nazi Berlin. We follow an American and a cabaret performer as they go around living carefree. It’s fucking perfect.
Liza Minnelli plays Sally Bowles, the cabaret performer. She’s astounding here. This is one of those force of nature performances. You see this and there’s no other choice in the category. She wins this in a landslide. And that’s before you factor in that she was good enough to win three years earlier.
Lady Sings the Blues is a biopic of Billie Holliday.
That’s the movie.
Diana Ross plays Billie Holliday.
Honestly, were Liza Minnelli not here, Ross would have made a real play for this category. She’s great. She’s a solid second choice, and she, depending on who would have replaced Minnelli, may have been the best performance in the category and a default winner. But, Minnelli is here, so this performance, while fantastic, only rates second best.
Travels with My Aunt is a strange movie.
It’s like a con artist version of Auntie Mame.
Maggie Smith plays the aunt, and she’s exactly what Rosalind Russell was in Auntie Mame, only here she scams people out of money and smuggles money. That’s really it. It’s a comedy still. Don’t get the wrong idea. But it’s very much in the Auntie Mame mold.
Maggie plays much older than she is and is amusing, but this rates nomination at best. No way she even stands a chance in this category. Probably a fifth choice, maybe amusement moves her to fourth. Zero chance, especially after the win three years earlier for a much stronger performance.
The Emigrants is a film that I never understood from an Academy perspective.
It was nominated for Foreign Language in 1971, and then they turned around and nominated it for Best Picture in 1972. I’ve watched this movie twice (didn’t go back this time, because I just couldn’t), and I still don’t get why it’s great. I think the five years is going to help me appreciate it more.
It’s about a bunch of immigrants who come to America to make a life. And we follow them over like three hours.
Liv Ullmann plays the mother. I remember her being good but not being one of those people who jumped all over her as amazing and one of the best actresses of all time. I’m not on that Bergman train. She’s just fine here. Fourth choice at best. She stands zero chance against the top two.
Sounder is based on a kid’s book and is a solid film. Not sure I’d have nominated it for all the Oscars it was up for, but I like Cicely Tyson, so that’s cool.
It’s about black sharecroppers in the 30s. The father is thrown in prison on a trumped up charge. And some time later, the boy is sent to visit his father in prison. And it’s an interesting coming of age story. It’s good.
Cicely Tyson plays the mother. She’s very solid here. Never stood a chance in this one. Third choice at best. Ross and Minnelli are much better. She’s kind of like Jane Wyman in The Yearling. If you like her and the movie, you rate the performance higher. But at best this is just a “good on ya” nomination.
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The Reconsideration: Liza Minnelli is too good to ignore. She’s the only choice here. No one even comes close. Diana Ross is a distant, distant second. This is Liza all the way.
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- Liza Minnelli, Cabaret
- Diana Ross, Lady Sings the Blues
- Cicely Tyson, Sounder
- Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants
- Maggie Smith, Travels with My Aunt
- Lady Sings the Blues
- Travels with My Aunt
- The Emigrants
My Vote: Liza Minnelli, Cabaret
Cabaret is an essential film. Top 100 all time.
The rest you can probably skip.
I don’t like The Emigrants enough to recommend it, though it’s definitely better regarded than I say. So don’t necessarily go by me on this one.
Travels with My Aunt — decent enough, but just watch Auntie Mame instead. Only worth it for whatever the hell Maggie Smith is doing in it.
Lady Sings the Blues isn’t a great movie, but Diana Ross is great in it, and that’s the only reason to see it. Light recommend.
Sounder is the only one I’ll give a solid recommend to. Not essential and can be skipped, but a solid movie worth catching on TCM.
The Last Word: Liza is the one. One of the better decisions all time. She’s astounding here. The only choice.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)