The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1975-1976)
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.
Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H.
Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Glenda Jackson, Hedda
Carol Kane, Hester Street
The Story of Adele H. is a Francois Truffaut movie. Which is weird. It doesn’t feel like one of his.
Isabelle Adjani plays the main character, the daughter of Victor Hugo. It’s about her obsession with a British soldier, and how it eventually drives her mad.
Adjani is really great here. In this category, her performance is second best. Most years, she’d rate probably third. Here, she’s second. In another year without a strong #1, she might be considered to be the vote. But that would take an exceptionally weak year. As it stands, I like that she’s second choice on performance, but she will never be strong enough to topple the winner.
Tommy is impossible to explain. Do you know The Who? Do you know the album Tommy? Have you heard “Pinball Wizard”? Well, they took that album and turned it into a movie. And it’s fucking wonderful.
It’s weird as balls, and I’m not even gonna try to explain the plot, because once you get from blind boy to pinball champion, you’re already two steps past making sense. But man, is it great.
Ann-Margret plays Tommy’s mother. And there’s really only one word to describe her performance in this: committed.
I’m shocked she got nominated here, but I’m so happy. I love it. There’s no way she ever stood a chance here. I mean, there’s a scene where she writhes around on the floor covered in baked beans and soap. It takes real commitment to pull that off and not be laughed at. I love that she was nominated and I rate her second (even though on performance, she’s definitely not second). But still, even I wouldn’t vote for her, and I love this movie (and her).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of three films to win the Big Five. So you know it’s good. It’s also really famous. Which practically does my job for me.
Jack Nicholson is a convict who, when faced with jail time versus being institutionalized, he chooses the latter. Little does he know, he’s about to be put on a ward with the most overbearing nurse in the world, who runs her ward with an iron fist. So what he thinks will be an easy stretch in the nuthouse, turns into this crazy battle of wills with pure evil.
Louise Fletcher plays Nurse Ratched, the evil. She’s perfect here. She does not falter for one minute. You hate every ounce of this woman. She is an easy winner in this category and I think most people would agree with that.
Hedda is Hedda Gabler. Glenda Jackson plays her.
This is basically a play on screen. This is actually like watching a BBC show, the way it’s shot and performed. I really was bored by this movie.
Jackson is good. But this is a theatrical performance. I generally don’t vote for those. Plus, after the two wins, I have even less incentive to do so. Fourth choice for performance, fifth for a vote. Pretty weak entry, I feel.
Hester Street is a long forgotten film. The only reason I’ve ever heard of it is because of this nomination. Love Carol Kane though.
It’s a story of Jews in Brooklyn. But like, real Jews. Hasidic Jews. We watch a guy freshly arrived in the country assimilate into the New York Jewish culture. He starts sleeping with a woman, but then his wife and kid show up. And they don’t assimilate as fast. And it’s basically about the dissolution of their marriage and how different people assimilate into new cultures and a character study of Jewish immigrants in New York. Very realistic and well made.
Carol Kane is quite good here, and very different from the persona most people would know her for (comic). Well worthy of the nomination, even though she stands no chance in the category. Love that she’s here though. That’s pretty cool.
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The Reconsideration: Nothing to reconsider. There’s Louise Fletcher and then there’s everyone else. Nurse Ratched is one of the most famous characters and best Oscar-winning performances of all time. She is an easy winner in this category and as much as I love Ann-Margret, she doesn’t even come close to Fletcher. This is all Louise.
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Rankings (category and films):
- Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Ann-Margret, Tommy
- Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H.
- Carol Kane, Hester Street
- Glenda Jackson, Hedda
My Vote: Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the top 100 most essential films of all time. Must see.
Tommy is essential. Because seriously, why would you not want to see a rock opera by The Who? What person hasn’t heard Pinball Wizard by the time they make it to this site? Please see this. This is one of those “please see this so we can be friends” movies.
The Story of Adele H. is a solid movie with a great leading performance. Recommend. You can skip it, but I recommend it.
Hester Street is okay. Light recommend. Easy skip though. Nothing you ever really need to see.
Hedda I did not like and do not recommend. Up to you to see if you want to watch this one.
The Last Word: Top fifteen choice for all time. Louise Fletcher is perfect here. And there was no one else in the category who comes close. They’d all have been terrible winners next to her. She was the only one to take.
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Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin, Cousine
Faye Dunaway, Network
Talia Shire, Rocky
Sissy Spacek, Carrie
Liv Ullmann, Face to Face
Cousin, Cousine is a French movie that no one’s heard of.
Two distant cousins meet at a wedding and become very friendly. And pretty soon their spouses start to think they’re more than just friends.
Marie-Christine Barrault plays one of the cousins. She’s fine. Not sure why she got nominated, but whatever. I treat this as a blank. I’m not in the business (here, at least) of talking about what could or should have been nominated here instead. So as it is, she’s just kind of there for me, and rates fourth or fifth. Wouldn’t take her, don’t think anyone else would, and she is just kind of there.
Network is one of the most famous films ever made. It’s perfect.
A news anchor finds out he’s going to be fired because he’s not getting ratings. He has a nervous breakdown and announces, live on the air, that he’s going to kill himself in a week while on TV. Ratings soar. In the middle of a breakdown, he starts going on these crazy rants (the famous one being “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore”). People love it. And now the network promotes him for the ratings, even though they’re basically taking advantage of a mentally unwell person. It’s a great satirical look at what television would become. It’s basically what TV is now. Kinda fucked up.
Faye Dunaway plays a network executive who is ambitious and ruthless. She will do anything to get ratings, including getting into business with actual terrorists and promoting live beheadings by them on their show. She is GREAT here. Probably the best performance of her career and an easy winner here. With the two big losses already and no one to truly challenge her, she’s the choice here. No need to wait for later. She is the one to vote for.
Rocky is so famous I don’t have to say a word here.
Talia Shire plays Adrian.
She’s great. There’s not a whole lot for the character to do, but she’s very effective in the role that she’s given. Ugly duckling who transforms into a swan. Very well done. Theoretically she could have gone supporting, but lead is fine. She may have won Supporting, but given the category, she fares well here too. She’s probably my second choice, even though practically no one would ever take her in this. Which is fine. There’s a clear winner in this one.
Carrie is a really famous movie that never really got made any better than here.
Carrie is a shy, picked on girl who slowly starts to discover she has telekinetic powers. She lives with her overbearing, overly religious mother and a lot of the film is about one of the popular girls who feels bad for picking on her trying to make things right by getting her to go to the prom with a popular boy. Which ends… well, most people know how it ends.
Sissy Spacek is wonderful as Carrie. She’s sweet, innocent, and you can’t help but feel complete and utter sympathy for her throughout. You want her to succeed.
I don’t think she ever stood a chance here, given the type of film. But it’s a testament to Sissy Spacek and her performance that she got nominated. I have her third here, but the iconic nature of the role would probably lead a lot of people to put her second. Which I get. But still, no one beats Dunaway here. She’s too good to beat.
Face to Face is an Ingmar Bergman drama. One that bored me to tears and one that Woody Allen tried to mimic a decade later (which you can imagine was just death for me).
Liv Ullmann plays a psychiatrist, married to another psychiatrist, who starts to lose her grip on reality.
I don’t like this movie very much, and that prevents me from really loving Ullmann’s work here. I’m sure people love it. I’m sure she’s very good. But even if I thought she was great, I doubt she’d ever overcome Dunaway here. So there we are. I’ll admit to not having seen this in five years, but I don’t think it would have made a difference. This is Dunaway’s category.
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The Reconsideration: This should have been one of the biggest landslides in history. Look at this one. You have a French actress nobody really knows — no shot. Liv Ullmann — small shot, but really no shot. They knew her and respected her, but that was never gonna happen. The film needs real Academy support in the major categories to get a win for a foreign actress. Shire is a borderline supporting role and never was gonna get real votes. A few passionate fans but not much else. Spacek had a film that was considered a “genre” film that broke out of its constraints. She was a discovery to them and nothing more at this point. And then Faye Dunaway had lost for Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown, is probably considered overdue and one of the most respected actresses in town, and then she delivers far and away the best performance in the category (and probably of her career). There was no doubt about who was ever winning this category. And she’s the choice. I love Rocky, and I think Spacek is very good in Carrie, but there’s no question that Dunaway is the only person to take in this category.
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- Faye Dunaway, Network
- Talia Shire, Rocky
- Sissy Spacek, Carrie
- Liv Ullmann, Face to Face
- Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin, Cousine
- Cousin, Cousine
- Face to Face
My Vote: Faye Dunaway, Network
Rocky, Network and Carrie are all essential films. Rocky and Network are top 100 all time essential films. Carrie is lower, but still essential.
Cousin, cousine is amusing, but not something I recommend all that much. Up to you.
Face to Face I didn’t like very much. Bergman is very hit and miss with me. His later stuff is more miss. So I don’t recommend this, but if this is up your alley, go for it.
The Last Word: Faye Dunaway is one of the top twenty best choices of all time. She’s fantastic here, and looking at the category, she’s the only choice. No one else would have held up here. This is all her. Easy winner, and a great choice.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)