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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1989-1990)

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.

1989

Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel

Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine

Jessica Lange, Music Box

Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys

Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy

Analysis:

Camille Claudel is, I’d wager, one of the top ten films of the past 30 years of Oscar nominees in terms of people not having heard of it. Unless you’re really into the Oscars, you have no idea what this movie is.

It’s about a French sculptor, (insert name here), who had an affair with another sculptor. But we know him. Rodin. And that’s pretty much it.

Adjani is good here, but I didn’t love the movie and only marginally liked the performance. In a strong year, she’d be a #5. In an average year, maybe fourth. Here, third. Maybe fourth. Depends on where I shake out on Lange. This isn’t something I’d vote for. I like Adjani as an actress, and she’s fine here, but I liked her previous nomination better.

Shirley Valentine is apparently based on a stage play. Which I imagine was the crux of this nomination.

Pauline Collins plays a bored housewife. Her life hasn’t turned out the way she thought and she basically is ignored and stepped on by everyone in her life. And then her friend get a trip to Greece and she decides, “Fuck it, I’m gonna go.” And while she’s there, she starts romancing someone else, and basically coming out of her shell. And the whole time she speaks to the camera, Ferris Bueller style. Or I guess, Alfie style.

Collins is fine here. I think the format of the film hurts her. A lot of direct monologues to the camera. She’s charming, but not something I vote for. Probably fifth on performance, fourth on charm. If that makes sense.

Music Box is a Joe Eszterhas trial movie.

I’m sorry. It’s just when I see Joe Ezterhas on a movie he immediately becomes the most interesting thing about it for me.

Jessica Lange is a DA who finds out her father is accused of war crimes. Turns out, he may have been the commander of a Hungarian Death Squad. You know, like all our grandfathers. So she has to defend him without really knowing if he did it and wondering if she knows who her father really is.

Jessica Lange is always good in stuff, and she gets a great role here. I get it. Can’t vote for her at all. Solid work, but the film is just too preposterous for me to consider. I mean — I’m not gonna spoil it, but no. She’s given better work in the past and she just isn’t helped by the script of this one. Third choice because she hadn’t won yet and was solid, but easily two other performances I take over her.

The Fabulous Baker Boys is an interestingly forgotten movie. Written and directed by Steve Kloves, who wrote all the Harry Potter movies. (He also wrote Wonder Boys.)

Jeff and Beau Bridges play aa brothers act. They both play pianos and sing jazz standards. And they decide they need a girl in the act to sing, so they have auditions. And in walks Michelle Pfeiffer and she turns their world upside down. Of course it’s an eventual build up to her and Jeff having sex, as well as them fighting against Beau’s conservative and tyrannical control of the act.

There is no denying the effect Michelle Pfeiffer has on the audience in this movie. The “Makin’ Whoopee” scene alone — damn. And the fact that she did all her own singing is majorly impressive. I honestly could not argue with anyone who wanted to take her in this category. And honestly, most people would. Because it’s so weak. I might end up doing so myself. There’s not a whole lot of other options here. I make myself rewatch this performance every time I go over this category, because I keep thinking, “Is this the time Michelle Pfeiffer goes over the top?” And every time I watch it again — I’m still not sure.

Driving Miss Daisy is the greatest film ever made and the most consensus choice for Best Picture of all time.

Jessica Tandy is a retired teacher who isn’t allowed to drive anymore after she drives her car through a window. Her son hires Morgan Freeman, a magical chauffeur, to drive her around. She wants nothing to do with him at first. But eventually — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — they grow to become really good friends.

Tandy plays Miss Daisy. And she’s lovely.

Most years she’d be a solid third choice or a second on sentiment. But here, she’s top two and can even legitimately be considered the choice. I know this movie has its detractors, but Tandy is really entertaining in this role, and this isn’t a category where she’s really a bad choice. You can take her here. And I still even might.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I think we can all agree that this is either Michelle Pfeiffer or Jessica Tandy. Jessica Lange should factor into it more than she does, but she unfortunately falls by the wayside due to a fairly mediocre film. Adjani and Collins don’t rate for me at all.

Pfeiffer is great, but despite looking great and being charming, I don’t know if I see a performance I really want to vote for. In most years, she’d be a #3 or #4. I get that it’s the category, but I do generally want to vote for something I like enough to take. And no matter how many times I see that performance, I never am struck with that feeling of “I want to vote for that.” I want to vote for Michelle Pfeiffer, but that’s a different proposition entirely.

So, yet again, I’m stuck taking Jessica Tandy. Which I’m fine with. She’s delightful in a movie I enjoy, and it’s a character that has (for better or worse) become an iconic character. Which makes me feel better about the whole thing. I don’t love the choice, but in this category, this is the performance I liked best. So there.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy
  2. Michelle Pfeiffer, The Fabulous Baker Boys
  3. Jessica Lange, Music Box
  4. Isabelle Adjani, Camille Claudel
  5. Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine

Rankings (films):

  1. Driving Miss Daisy
  2. The Fabulous Baker Boys
  3. Shirley Valentine
  4. Music Box
  5. Camille Claudel

My Vote: Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy

Recommendations:

Driving Miss Daisy is a great movie. Don’t be that person that thinks it’s shitty because you hate that it won. It’s awesome. And it’s essential. Because it’s so culturally iconic and such an Oscar pariah that everyone should get it out of the way

The Fabulous Baker Boys is a nice movie. Great acting, really amusing. Worth a watch. Solid recommend. Deep queue movie.

Music Box is fine. An average 80s thriller/trial movie. Light recommend. Beyond deep queue stuff. If you happen upon it, go for it. Otherwise, you’re more than fine without it. Put it this way — if you stumble upon it organically, fine. If not, then no need to seek it out.

Shirley Valentine is fun. Not great. Very light recommend. Can easily be skipped. Not something you need to see if you don’t think you’ll be interested.

Camille Claudel is fine. Very light recommend. Overall — ehh. Unless you’re really into the Oscars, this is very easily skipped.

The Last Word: Tandy holds up because none of the others would have. Three of the nominees would have been horrible winners for their films. And Michelle Pfeiffer honestly wouldn’t have looked that good, despite a lot of Oscar people loving her and thinking she was robbed. I think overall Tandy was the best choice and the one that holds up in a really weak category.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1990

Kathy Bates, Misery

Angelica Huston, The Grifters

Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman

Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge

Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

Analysis:

Misery is one of the most fucked up and awesome movies. Rob Reiner directed this, too. Which is pretty crazy.

James Caan is an author who ends up in a car crash in a snowy, remote area. He is saved by Kathy Bates, who is a huge fan of his. Laid up with a broken foot, she nurses him back to health. Only, as she does, we start to see that she’s… a little crazy. Actually, a lot a crazy. She is upset that he was going to kill off his main character, who was the star of a long running series of books, and demands that he rewrite the book to make the main character live. And to make him feel incentive… well, let’s just say a sledgehammer is involved.

Kathy Bates is WONDERFUL here. It doesn’t feel like the kind of performance that would win Best Actress, but looking at this category, there’s no denying that she’s great and is pretty much tops in the category. I don’t know how you take anyone else over her. Kathy Bates is a wonderful actress, and this might be the pinnacle of it all.

The Grifters is a great neo noir that not enough people have seen. Even if a lot of people have seen it, still not enough have.

John Cusack is a con man dating Annette Bening, another con artist. His mother is Anjelica Huston, another con artist. And they end up together in a scheme to pull a big con. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you. Because it’s great. The ending of this movie is — it’s memorable.

Anjelica Huston is fantastic here. And a lot of people would vote for her because they love her and love the film. But I wouldn’t take her over Kathy Bates. She’s fantastic, but Misery is just too good.

Pretty Woman is Julia Roberts’ star-making performance.

Everyone knows this movie. She’s the hooker with a heart of gold who makes Richard Gere fall in love with her. Naturally he’s a millionaire. It’s your classic rom com.

Julia Roberts is utterly charming and fantastic here. And I get why she was nominated. Not a fucking chance I vote for her at all in this one. Maybe put this category a year before this and she manages to make top two. But not here. Charming only gets you so far. And in this category, it ain’t taking her past Kathy Bates.

Postcards from the Edge is Meryl Streep playing Carrie Fisher.

Carrie Fisher wrote this movie about her life and living with her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Meryl plays an actress trying to overcome a drug habit and deal with her mother who consistently wants all the spotlight on herself. It’s fantastic.

Meryl is really good here. I loved this performance. I’d think about taking her most other years. Put in 1989, I probably do take her. Here — second choice on performance, third on vote. Because I do like Anjelica Huston a lot. I still take Kathy Bates though.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge is a Merchant Ivory movie. Which is not that interesting. But it is Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Which is of interest.

They play a couple dealing with the changing times of the 1940s. Newman is an overbearing husband who is hugely conservative and Woodward is a wife trying to maintain a positive view of everything. This is a yawner.

Woodward is fine, but whatever. Not something I vote for and it would have been one of the worst wins of all time if she’d beat any one of these other nominees.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Kathy Bates. The end. Anjelica Huston is great. Meryl Streep is great. Could you take them? Yes you could. But Kathy Bates is the only choice for me in this one. Her in Misery is just perfection. No contest.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Kathy Bates, Misery
  2. Anjelica Huston, The Grifters
  3. Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge
  4. Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman
  5. Joanna Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

Rankings (films):

  1. The Grifters
  2. Misery
  3. Pretty Woman
  4. Postcards from the Edge
  5. Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

My Vote: Kathy Bates, Misery

Recommendations:

The Grifters is awesome. High, very high recommend. Great movie. Seek it out, watch it, enjoy it. This is in that first hidden gems tier of movies that you see and like that you get because people like me recommend it based on stuff you like. Definitely see this. It’s great.

Pretty Woman is iconic. Consider it essential just because everyone’s seen it and it’s one of those movies that gets referenced so often you have no reason not to see it. What, do you really think you ought to see Camille Claudel over this?

Misery is GREAT. Definitely see this. I’d consider it essential because I wouldn’t want to be the film buff who doesn’t get to reference this movie in conversation due to not having seen it. (Because nothing is worse than someone who references movies without having seen it. Those people are the worst.) The Grifters is essential because it’s awesome. Pretty Woman is essential because it’s iconic. Misery is essential for both of those reasons.

Postcards from the Edge is really good. Solid film. Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine. Deep queue movie. Worth checking out, but not essential. Worth it for those into movie trivia, since it’s based on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge is ehh. Merchant Ivory. Not something I love. Worth it either if you enjoy Merchant Ivory stuff or want to see Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward acting together. So, yeah, based on that alone, I’d give it a light recommend. But I can’t say I recommend it as a film that I enjoy. Just because intellectually, I like that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward star in it.

The Last Word: Kathy Bates holds up. Streep is good enough to be the choice, but she wouldn’t have been a better winner. Huston wouldn’t have been a better winner. Julia Roberts seems like she could have held up because everyone knows the movie, but the performance wouldn’t have held up as a winner even though she might have been second choice for who’d have held up best. I think Kathy Bates was the right choice here all around. Who can forget that performance?

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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