The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1985-1986)
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, Agnes of God
Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
Agnes of God is not a great film but does have interesting performances. Mainly Meg Tilly’s.
Meg Tilly plays a simple-minded nun who is found in her room with a dead newborn. So they have to figure out — how did she get pregnant without anyone knowing and did she kill the baby. And the film is Jane Fonda, a psychiatrist, trying to figure that out. The film is pretty much a play on screen and doesn’t hold up very well outside of the Tilly performance (and even then some people might hate it).
Anne Bancroft plays the head nun who is seemingly trying to protect Agnes, but is also clearly hiding something. It’s — standard Anne Bancroft. By this point, she’d fallen into that trap of giving the same performance over and over, as actors tend to do after a certain point. She’s fine here, but if she weren’t nominated, I wouldn’t have cried foul. She drops to an easy fifth in this category. A veteran nomination, through and through. And there was only one real veteran worth taking in this category.
The Color Purple is what you get when you mix blue and red.
Bam. You just got Roy G Biv’d.
Whoopi Goldberg is a meek woman who is basically sold into marriage to Danny Glover, a much older man who abuses her. And we follow her and the marriage over the years. A lot of stuff happens and I’m not gonna get into it all beat by beat.
But I think we can all agree that, in this category, Whoopi Goldberg is the only person who should have won. A different year? Okay, fine, don’t take her. Maybe someone is stronger. But here, the fact that she didn’t win is one of the biggest black marks on the Academy in history. And they have quite a few of those. Watching this entire category and not coming out with Whoopi Goldberg on top is a difficult thing to do. But we’ll get into that more later. For now, absolutely she’s worth voting for and is going to be my vote.
Sweet Dreams is a biopic of Patsy Cline. One of those surefire Oscar nominations for Jessica Lange, an actress in her prime.
She’d been better as Frances Farmer, but this is a far better nomination than Country was in ’84. I say this is a perfectly adequate performance and a solid nomination. She doesn’t rate any higher than third for me. She’s good, but I don’t love it enough to take it. Not over Whoopi.
The Trip to Bountiful is one of those movies that — yeah. Let’s get it out of the way now. This is one of the worst Best Actress winning performances of all time, and was basically the Academy awarding a veteran who’d never won despite 7 previous nominations. And seemingly deliberately not awarding another film. But we don’t need to get into that just yet.
Geraldine Page is an old woman who dreams about revisiting her childhood home in a place called Bountiful, Texas. Her son and daughter-in-law tell her that place doesn’t exist on any map anymore and isn’t there. But she doesn’t care. So one day she takes some money and sneaks out to go back to her home. Much of the film is her on various buses, interacting with different people, babbling on about her past, until eventually she gets back to where her town used to be, and discovers it’s completely abandoned and in ruins.
The performance is part Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba, and part Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy. And throw in some On Golden Pond for good measure.
She’s a woman locked in the past, who constantly rambles on to strangers about it, and the film is completely sentimental drivel from the 80s, and the only reason you like the performance is because she’s a likable old woman. That’s it. This should not have won, and the fact that they deliberately voted for her over a clear better performance makes this feel like one of those situations where the Academy is not being racist but is being racist. You know what I mean? They can say, “No, we wanted to reward Geraldine Page, a veteran we love who’d been giving great screen performances for 32 years.” But secretly I think it’s because of some disdain they had for The Color Purple. But that’s just me.
This performance — third, at best. And only because she’s likable. Otherwise this rates as a filler nominee that you look at and go, “Great job, but not taking it.”
Out of Africa is a big, epic romance. A good film but not a great film. And the fact that it won doesn’t look great thirty years later.
Meryl Streep plays a woman who marries an aristocrat for convenience. They move to Africa and he decides to start a dairy farm. Which isn’t a great idea, but she goes along with it. And he basically burns through her money and cheats on her, while she starts an affair with Robert Redford, a big game hunter.
Streep is — here’s the thing with her. Her performances are always technically on point. The accent, the mannerisms — it’s all there. But sometimes you’re left feeling cold by her. It’s like… and this is the only example I can think of at the moment — you know in Black Swan, when Vincent Cassel tells Natalie Portman that she’s technically perfect in every way, in all the steps. That’s why she’d made a great white swan. But to be the black swan, it’s not about being technically perfect. You need to have emotion behind it, and feel the moves. And that’s what she’s lacking? Sometimes I feel that with Meryl’s performance. It looks great, sounds great, and seems like she’s doing a great job, but I don’t feel anything when I watch it. So I don’t really want to vote for her when those performances come up. And this is one of them. I watch Sophie’s Choice and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s all the way there.” Silkwood is pretty much there and I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. This one — ehh. Not there for me. In this category, she probably rates as high as second, but I ultimately would not take her over Whoopi Goldberg, and there’s potentially a case to be made for Jessica Lange over her. But at that point, it doesn’t matter.
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The Reconsideration: I’ve always considered this one of the five worst decisions of all time in the Best Actress category. And I used to think it was because Whoopi Goldberg was so good. But now, five years later, it’s simply because Geraldine Page is so bad.
Geraldine Page was nominated for eight Oscars. And the previous seven times, she made it higher than fourth for me exactly once. In Supporting Actress 1984. And that’s because that category was not strong. That category was as weak as Best Actress 1984. I just never was a fan of her as an actress.
And this performance — it’s sentimentality and the quintessence of sappy 80s filmmaking all rolled into one. It’s one of those “okay but not great” veteran performances that just looks awful when they win. The kind that only holds up when it’s Jessica Tandy in a really weak category. But here, there is a better choice. Whoopi Goldberg is markedly better and if you presented all five of these performances to a sample size of people, the majority would take Whoopi Goldberg.
I can see maybe taking Jessica Lange. That would make sense. And even Meryl might warrant some consideration, but I think this is weaker than her last two nominations.
Whoopi is the only choice for me. Her losing is one of the bigger travesties of all time.
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- Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
- Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
- Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
- Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
- Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
- The Color Purple
- Out of Africa
- Agnes of God
- The Trip to Bountiful
- Sweet Dreams
My Vote: Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
The Color Purple is an essential film, and not many people would argue otherwise.
Out of Africa is probably essential for most. Definitely essential for Oscar buffs and those wanting to talk about 1985. Let’s call it essential, because it is Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, after all.
Sweet Dreams is okay. Light to moderate recommend. Not a bad movie. Very dated. Very 80s pretending to be 50s. Worth a watch. Deep queue stuff.
The Trip to Bountiful is only essential for Oscar buffs but otherwise just an okay film. Moderate recommend but very skippable if you don’t care about the Oscars.
Agnes of God is only interesting because of the performance of Meg Tilly. And even then, some people will hate that. So light recommend, but really only if you’re gonna talk Oscars and performances. As a film — ehh. Maybe it’s better as a play. Seems like it would be.
The Last Word: One of the weakest decisions of all time in the Best Actress category. I’d say bottom five, but I don’t know just how many terrible choices there were. This could end up as like #6 or #7 from the bottom just because there are so many Sandra Bullocks and things like that. Still, awful choice. She looks okay as a winner because of all the previous nominations, but if you watch the category I don’t see how she rates higher than second for anyone. Whoopi Goldberg would have been a better choice and would have held up way better as a winner. (And maybe then the Ghost win doesn’t happen, which I’d prefer.) Lange would have been forgettable, but not awful. Page just does not hold up over Goldberg no matter how you slice it.
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Jane Fonda, The Morning After
Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God
Sissy Spacek, Crimes of the Heart
Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married
Sigourney Weaver, Aliens
The Morning After is a thriller. And Jane Fonda’s last Oscar nomination. Or most recent, anyway. Seems like everyone got nominated for thrillers in the 80s.
She’s an alcoholic actress who wakes up one day to find a dead man in her bed. She has no memory of what happened and goes around trying to figure out what the hell happened. I won’t spoil how it turns out, but like a lot of these thrillers, you can see the result coming from a mile away.
Fonda is fine here, but it’s hard for me to take these thriller performances seriously for Best Actress. I can maybe come around to nominations, but outside of that, this is not something I’d ever think to vote for. I put her fifth here, and if I went back to see it, she might make fourth. But she’d never be the vote. Not after two wins and much better previous nominations than this.
Children of a Lesser God is a very dated, but very great movie that I really liked the first time I saw it.
William Hurt plays a new teacher at a school for the deaf. And he’s unconventional and manages to find interesting ways to get through to students. He meets Marlee Matlin, a former student at the school who currently works as a janitor there, who is known as a hard case. She has a mean temper and doesn’t like to “speak” the way other students are taught to (meaning using their actual voices). He begins a relationship with her, and that’s much of the film. Eventually we find out she’s got some issues with her mother that end up getting resolved. It’s a good film.
Matlin is terrific here. Her being deaf is one thing. But she’s actually really engaging and really likable here. She creates a full-fledged character. In another year, she’d just be a nice nomination you like but one of those people who maybe you want to vote for, but clearly isn’t the choice next to whoever the winner is. But here, you can make a case that she is the choice. Which is why she won. And why I’m probably gonna take her. Because I like her best and there’s no one that overtakes her.
Crimes of the Heart is a weird movie that I just don’t like very much. It also seems like all of these southern movies about sisters all seem to have either Sissy Spacek or Diane Keaton in them. Or is that just me?
Three sisters all very different and leading different lives all reunite after one of them shoots her husband. It’s a movie about sisters and their bond and also somewhat of a comedy? I mean, how else do you explain a scene where a nosy cousin is chased outside and hit with a broom?
Sissy Spacek plays the sister who shot her husband. Spacek is good at making southern characters feel authentic, and this is no different. But otherwise, she’s just amusing in this and not someone I’d take at all. This is the weakest of all her nominations so… actually, wait. The River. This is the second weakest of her nominations so far. She’s fine, but she rates fourth for a vote and maybe third for performance.
Peggy Sue Got Married is an utterly delightful movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, of all people. This was during his “director for hire” period.
Kathleen Turner is attending her high school reunion and thinking about how terrible her life is. And she thinks back to how different her life would have been if she didn’t marry her high school sweetheart just after graduation. And then, after being struck by lightning, she ends up back in high school with a chance to live it all again. It’s a weird Back to the Future meets The Wizard of Oz mix. It’s amusing.
Not sure why Kathleen Turner got nominated. This is one of those Goldie Hawn nominations. Big star they like who is charming, but otherwise not someone who you’d ever vote for. Also, nominated for this movie and not Prizzi’s Honor? Weird choice. But anyway, she’s maybe fourth in the category because she’s amusing and had two performances I liked this year, but I’d never take her.
Aliens is a movie everyone sees. We all know it.
Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley. This is the second time she plays Ripley. Though in the first film, she was an ensemble character who survived in the end. Here, she’s an action hero. A James Cameron action hero.
I get the nomination. She’s a badass here. But I’m not gonna be the one to say she should have won an Oscar for it. I’ll give her second, because I like the film and performance so much, but I’m not voting for this. I get that a lot of people would, many of whom are doing so without having seen the other performances. But I wouldn’t.
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The Reconsideration: Fun year. This is where most people’s film nerds show.
Looking at this one — I feel like no one takes Fonda or Spacek. And I feel like Turner is amusing and may catch a few likability votes mixed with “this and Prizzi’s Honor” votes, but isn’t really someone worth taking.
Marlee Matlin is great in a film that’s very dated, not overly memorable, and easy to overlook. Which means that most people looking at this see — “Oh yeah, Sigourney Weaver. Aliens. Of course I take her.” And I get it. This category isn’t strong enough where I can’t say she isn’t top two. But I also feel like most of the people who take her either haven’t seen any or all of the other performances and haven’t thought it through critically before making their decision. Which is really why I have such a problem with people taking Sigourney Weaver in this category.
Admittedly, I am almost in a position where I have to take her. But I do also really like the Marlee Matlin performance and never thought Weaver was really good enough to be the vote. Sure the character is very iconic, but I never saw an Oscar winning performance out of it. And I know the term Oscar winning is nebulous and can mean anything and when I say it sounds like a certain rigid set of criteria that are outdated and unnecessarily exclusive, but I have given this some thought and, having seen as many nominated performances as I have, I just have a feeling when something seems like a vote and when it doesn’t. And this one just never did for me. I don’t know. Maybe in five years.
My vote is Marlee Matlin.
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- Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God
- Sigourney Weaver, Aliens
- Sissy Spacek, The Morning After
- Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married
- Jane Fonda, The Morning After
- Children of a Lesser God
- Peggy Sue Got Married
- The Morning After
- Crimes of the Heart
My Vote: Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God
Aliens is essential. You should know this.
Children of a Lesser God is only essential for Oscars buffs and just a high recommend otherwise. I really like this. But it’s very 80s. So know that going in. But I do think it’s very good and definitely worth seeing.
Peggy Sue Got Married is very entertaining. Francis Ford Coppola film. That counts for something. Solid recommend. Very fun. Not essential, but definitely worth seeing. Also, Nicolas Cage doing crazy shit early on. That’s worth the price of admission alone for some people.
The Morning After is an 80s thriller with Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges and directed by Alan Pakula. That’s got to count for something, right? Light to moderate recommend. It’s watchable, but more a movie you watch on a Saturday afternoon than one you actively seek out and strive to see as an essential movie.
Crimes of the Heart is okay. Not great. Very light recommend. Nothing you need to see, but with Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton, that is something some people would want to check out.
The Last Word: Tough one. Because Spacek, Fonda and Turner wouldn’t have been good winners or held up at all. So you have Marlee Matlin, who is very good but not remembered at all as a winner and whose film is solid but not remembered, versus Sigourney Weaver in one of the most famous films and playing one of the most iconic characters of all times. On the one hand, Weaver would have bene remembered better, but I can’t say the performance would have held up as a winner any better. If that makes sense. So I don’t know how to call this. Either one could have been fine, and I think they made the right choice, performance-wise. I think I need another five years to come out the other side on this one.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)