The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1977-1978)
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 Turning Point
Jane Fonda, Julia
Diane Keaton, Annie Hall
Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point
Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl
The Turning Point is a straight up melodrama. I actually kind of like this one. I’ve watched it three times in five years, and I continue to enjoy it. Don’t understand how it was such a huge favorite to win Oscars, but that’s another discussion.
Shirley MacLaine is a prima ballerina who quits to get married when she gets pregnant. That leads to her best friend, Anne Bancroft, to taking over her spot. Cut to twenty years later, and the company is back in town for the summer. And the two friends reunite. And MacLaine is jealous that Bancroft got the career she never got, and Bancroft, about to be too old to be the star, is jealous of MacLaine for getting to raise a family. All among this, MacLaine’s daughter wants to be a ballerina and joins the company, being taken under Bancroft’s wing and starting a relationship with one of the men in the company.
I do like this film. It’s quite entertaining. Though it is a soap opera all the way.
Bancroft and MacLaine are both very good here. Hard to separate the two performances. They’re basically a pair. I think MacLaine is better, but it’s really splitting hairs. Given the category, neither performance has aged well and they end up fourth and fifth in the category for me. Neither would be the vote.
Julia is an entertaining movie, but a strange one because I think it’s based on something proven to be untrue.
Lillian Hellman is living in a seaside cottage with Dashiell Hammett. She decides she wants to be a playwright, and works her way into writing a great and successful play. All the while she reminisces about her days growing up with her best friend, with whom she’s lost touch. Eventually she gets a letter from her friend, who is off in Europe fighting fascism. She asks her to smuggle some money into Germany for her. So we watch as Hellmann goes about this and meets up with her friend for a fleeting moment. It’s a really good movie, but the fact that Hellman wrote this as an anecdote in a book and claimed it was true when it most likely wasn’t is a bit strange.
Fonda is fine here. Don’t love the performance and think it’s very weak for her, given the ones she’d previously been nominated for. I think at this point she’s trapped within her star persona. She might end up actually fourth or fifth, but I’d want to take her over MacLaine and Bancroft, so she ends up third. Even though I wouldn’t take her either and think she’d be a fourth at best most years.
Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s best and most famous film. It’s wonderful. Everyone knows this movie.
Diane Keaton plays Annie Hall, and it’s one of the most iconic performances of all time.
In another year she’s not such an easy winner. But here, there’s no other choice. She’s wonderful, she’s charming, she’s the one.
Not to mention — Looking for Mr. Goodbar is another performance she gave this year that’s also worthy of being nominated (and in this category, winning). I think this was the right film to nominate her for and for her to win for, but I also think that Goodbar is the better overall performance. But we can debate that.
There, she plays a kindergarten teacher who secretly has this crazy nightlife where she goes out and has sex with really dangerous men and doing crazy risky things despite an innocent demeanor during the day. Really strong performance that’s gone unremembered.
She’s the only one to take in this category, even without the second performance.
The Goodbye Girl is based on Neil Simon. And it’s pretty great. Even though Neil Simon doesn’t age particularly well.
Marsha Mason is a single mother and former ballet dancer, who hasn’t worked in years after having her daughter, living with her director boyfriend. One day he skips out on her and sells the lease on his apartment to Richard Dreyfuss, a struggling actor, without telling her. Mason refuses to leave, so she and Dreyfuss form an uneasy truce — they’ll both live in the apartment. Of course they get on each other’s nerves endlessly but of course that eventually blossoms into romance. I love this movie though it hasn’t aged overly well.
Mason is great here, but as much as I like her, she’d have been a really bad winner. Wouldn’t have held up at all. Especially over Diane Keaton. At best she’s a second choice. And even then, a pretty weak one at that. She’s a #4 in a strong year, a #3 in most years. Never the vote.
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The Reconsideration: Diane Keaton. Is there any argument there? No one else comes close. The Turning Point nominees cancel each other out. Fonda’s been better and is just okay here. And Mason is amusing but would never be anyone’s vote. Keaton should be one of the most unanimous winners of all time.
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Rankings (category and films):
- Diane Keaton, Annie Hall
- Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl
- Jane Fonda, Julia
- Shirley MacLaine, The Turning Point
- Anne Bancroft, The Turning Point
My Vote: Diane Keaton, Annie Hall
Annie Hall is one of the 100 most essential films ever made.
Julia is a very solid film. High recommend. Essential for Oscar buffs and just worth seeing for any fan of good films. Great stuff here.
The Goodbye Girl is a high recommend. I love Neil Simon movies, even though I think a lot of people will think of it as annoying and dated. But I love it, and I think it’s a great movie that should be seen. Can’t really call it essential though.
The Turning Point is very good and is actually a solid recommend. I think people ought to see it, especially if they’re into the Oscars, because this was a huge favorite to win in 1977. Otherwise, it’s just a good film that I think people will enjoy.
The Last Word: It’s Keaton all the way. All things considered, one of the better winners all time. If each category were rated by consensus, she’d be in the top ten or fifteen. She is the only choice here and the only one who would have held up. And she holds up great.
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Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year
Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
Jane Fonda, Coming Home
Geraldine Page, Interiors
Autumn Sonata is Ingrid and Ingmar Bergman.
Ingrid plays mother to Liv Ullmann. She’s a famous pianist. She’s not particularly close to her daughter, and now she’s coming to stay with her. And it’s a family drama. Daughter wants the mothers love, the mother is too wrapped up in her own shit. I don’t love this movie very much.
Bergman is fine. It’s a spirited performance. But at this point, they’d have nominated her for anything. Fourth, fifth choice here. Not gonna take her. She’d won enough. Even if I really liked the performance, I’m not sure I’d have her any higher than third. She might actually be third, now that I think about the rest of the category.
Same Time, Next Year is an interesting idea. Not sure the film wholly works, but I like it.
Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda are both married and meet at an inn. They have an affair. Because they have chemistry, they agree to meet there every year. So we watch them showing up at the same place, every year, and discussing where their lives are at that time.
It’s very theatrical. The actors are good in it. Not sure there’s anything truly special out of Burstyn here. Fourth choice, probably fifth on performance. Good, but wouldn’t take her.
An Unmarried Woman is one of those movies that hasn’t held up, but is also way better than you’d think, looking at the rest of this year. It got a Best Picture nomination. You gotta take that seriously.
Jill Clayburgh is a Nancy Meyers protagonist. Basically. Housewife, living in a loft in New York, drinks wine with her female friends and gossips. And then one day that life is blindsided by her husband saying he’s in love with another woman. So now she has to contend with being (insert title here).
This is an incredible performance, and I remember seeing this the first time and wondering why she didn’t win the Oscar. I think at the time a lot of that had to do with my opinion of the Fonda performance and looking to latch on to any alternative. But I also do think she’s quite good. Having watched it again for this article, I don’t think it’s quite “can’t ignore” but I also think she is good enough to have been the vote in what is underwise (for me at least) a very underwhelming category with at least three options I flat out wouldn’t take. She will probably be my vote again, but lets see what happens with Jane.
Coming Home is a great Vietnam film, but less famous than The Deer Hunter.
Jon Voight comes home from Vietnam without his legs. Jane Fonda is married to Bruce Dern, who goes off to war. She volunteers as a nurse at the VA hospital, and starts a relationship with Voight. Then Dern comes home all PTSD and that throws a wrench in everything.
It’s a really good film. Fonda is very good here. Not sure I take her, but I can’t really bemoan the win. She is good and the win looks okay. As a pure performance, I’m not sure she has a whole lot to do in this. There aren’t that many great dramatic moments, and it’s certainly not as ballsy a performance as her earlier ones that she won for/was nominated for. I wouldn’t take this unless I had to. And I almost have to.
Interiors is Woody Allen doing Ingmar Bergman. Or, kill me now, as I like to say.
Three daughters come home to find out their father is divorcing their mother, who promptly attempts suicide. And the rest of the film is family drama shit.
Geraldine Page plays the mother. She’s said for much of the film. I always liked her as an actress, but never really liked her performances. Maybe she’s one of those actresses that just doesn’t hold up over time. Sometimes an actress seems great in the moment but then twenty years later seems dated. It happens. Looking back at some of those Fredric March performances…
I consider Page a fifth choice here. Maybe fourth on pure performance, but I don’t like the film. So I wouldn’t take her no matter how you slice this category.
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The Reconsideration: The issue with this category — and this is half for the reconsideration and half for the final thoughts down below — whoever won would have been a time capsule for 1978. All these performances feel dated. Particularly the two main contenders. There isn’t that timeless choice like the two on either side of this one. Not that it affects my voting, but it is worth noting.
For me — would never take Page in a million years. Wouldn’t take Bergman (though I’ll admit maybe in five years I’ll warm up to it more), and Burstyn has the weakest of her nominated performances to this point. It’s always between Fonda and Clayburgh. I think Fonda has little to do and is admirable but this isn’t a performance I vote for. And Clayburgh is great in her film, though she’d be a #3 in a really strong year and a #2 most years. Here, she shakes out as #1, so that’s who I’m gonna vote for. This isn’t an all time kind of vote, but she is serviceable enough in this category to be considered my choice.
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- Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
- Jane Fonda, Coming Home
- Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
- Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year
- Geraldine Page, Interiors
- An Unmarried Woman
- Coming Home
- Same Time, Next Year
- Autumn Sonata
My Vote: Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
Coming Home is an essential film. All-time, it’s like 200-300. But for film buffs, must see. Oscar wins, all time classic, great Vietnam film, great 70s film — you need to see this.
An Unmarried Woman is a great film. I loved this way more than I thought I would. This is one of the best films of 1978 and one of the great Oscar snubs of all time. Jill Clayburgh is incredible here. High recommend, and a film you should consider essential if you’re an Oscar buff.
Same Time, Next Year is a film that I really enjoy. I give it a solid recommend. Good stuff. Great performances by the actors. I can watch Alan Alda in anything. And Ellen Burstyn is always solid. Good stuff. Check it out.
Autumn Sonata — ehh. Not for me. Others might like it. Good performances. Very light recommend, but this is more one you should decide for yourself and not just go by me. Because I don’t much care for this film.
I can’t recommend Interiors. If you love Ingmar Bergman, love Woody Allen, and really like theatrical dramas, go for it. Not for me.
The Last Word: Fonda does hold up. In her career, she is worth two. Page wouldn’t have held up for this particular performance. Bergman had three and didn’t need this. Wouldn’t have held up for this film. (Maybe on performance, but that’s not a call I can confidently make at this moment in time.) Burstyn wouldn’t have looked very good at all. Clayburgh would have held up almost as well as Fonda. Fonda had more staying power in her career, earned two wins, even if they might not have been for the optimal two choices, and had a film that has held up as a great film from its era. She seems like a good choice, all things considered. I feel Clayburgh gives the better performance, so she’d also have been a good choice, but as things stand, Fonda isn’t that bad of an option.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)