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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1991-1992)

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.

1991

Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise

Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

Laura Dern, Rambling Rose

Bette Midler, For the Boys

Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise

Analysis:

Thelma and Louise is so iconic, do I even need to say anything?

Waitress and her best friend decide to skip out on their men for some fun. They end up killing a rapist and are on the run from cops. Culminating in that famous final image.

Geena Davis plays Thelma. She’s the more demure of the two, the introvert who isn’t prepared for the insanity but gets to cut loose for a change. She does get to rob a convenience store as well.

Susan Sarandon plays Louise. She’s the one who kills the rapist and is the “leader” of the two until pretty much the end, really.

I — it’s weird. I don’t know if I feel real character arcs across the film for them. But when I watch the film, I know they’re there. I never felt these performances were anything more than just solid work in a mainstream type of movie. I am fine with them being nominated but I don’t think either is really good enough to win. Especially considering.

The Silence of the Lambs. Yeah.

Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling. And is there any doubt that she should have won this category?

Rambling Rose is an okay movie with a great performance at the center of it.

The film is one of those childhood reminiscence films about a guy thinking back to his childhood. Laura Dern is a woman who came to live with his family to get out of prostitution. She’s — not a simple woman, but very naive and impressionable. She immediately falls in love with the father of the family and looks up to the mother as a role model. And she causes their world to turn upside down, as she eventually starts bringing a bunch of men over to the house, and trying to sleep with the father — it’s amusing.

Laura Dern is really, really good here. I actually almost voted for her last time over Jodie Foster. Which says something. Now, I safely take Foster, but I do stress how really great Laura Dern is here and how in any other year, I might vote for her. This performance is unduly forgotten and really is good enough to be the vote.

For the Boys is such a… how best to put it… “Oscar” showcase for Bette Midler that it’s almost funny. This is like The Rose, in that she seems to be playing someone just removed from a real person. Though there, it was clearly Janis Joplin. Here, it’s less defined.

Bette plays an entertainer who ends up entertaining the troops over the course of 50 years. And it’s about her love/hate relationship with James Caan, who is basically playing Bob Hope. It’s kind of a Mr. Holland’s Opus, but for the USO.

Midler is fine. She’s always charming, and she sings here, which helps. But she’s a fifth choice. Maybe with a vote split and her not having won for The Rose, she might maneuver her way to third, but I don’t see it. I’d take at least three people over her, and at that point, might as well make her fifth.

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The Reconsideration: Jodie Foster, open and shut. No one would really argue this.

I think Laura Dern is terrific in Rambling Rose and rates second choice for me. And if I can convince anyone of anything in regard to this category, it’s that Laura Dern is terrific in this movie and is good enough to have won this.

But still — Clarice Starling. She earned this.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Laura Dern, Rambling Rose
  3. Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise
  4. Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise
  5. Bette Midler, For the Boys

Rankings (films):

  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Thelma and Louise
  3. Rambling Rose
  4. For the Boys

My Vote: Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

Recommendations:

If I need to tell you to see Silence of the Lambs, stop reading. I can’t do anything for you.

Thelma and Louise — almost the same as Silence of the Lambs

Rambling Rose is decent because of the performances. The film is fine, but Laura Dern is great. Solid recommend on the performance alone.

For the Boys is ehh. It’s a minor film of moderate entertainment value. Light recommend. Not something you need to see, but the case makes it worthwhile if you ever happen upon it.

The Last Word: Jodie Foster is the choice here. End of story. Case closed. She’s the best choice, and she’s held up the best. One of the better winners of all time.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1992

Catherine Deneuve, Indochine

Mary McDonnell, Passion Fish

Michelle Pfeiffer, Love Field

Susan Sarandon, Lorenzo’s Oil

Emma Thompson, Howards End

Analysis:

Indochine is one of the bottom five or ten nominees of the past thirty years in terms of being remembered.

This won Best Foreign Language Film and must have been a shock nominee for Best Actress. It doesn’t seem like Deneuve had any previous support from guilds or what not. Not that this is why I’m here or is something I need to get into or looked into in any substantial way. It just seems like one of those nominees that came out of nowhere and promptly fell to the back of the category.

Catherine Deneuve plays a French woman in Indochina who owns a rubber plantation. She adopts the daughter of her best friends, who die. So she has this Vietnamese little girl who is raised with the privilege of a white girl. And it’s all set against the rising of the Vietcong.

I didn’t like the movie very much. I’m sure it’s better than I thought. I didn’t have much patience for foreign language films five years ago. Still, I know that I didn’t like the performance enough to take it. I probably should have watched it again, but even if I ended up really liking the performance, I doubt she’d rate higher than third for me in this one. If not still fifth altogether.

Passion Fish is a movie that I saw near the end of the Oscar Quest. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it was just some filler nominee I had to watch to make it through the category. I didn’t expect to get someone I actually voted for last time.

Mary McDonnell plays an actress who is paralyzed in an accident. The opening scene of the movie draws you in immediately. No credits, no studio logo. Just a paralyzed hand trying to move. And then she turns on the TV to see another actress delivering “her” lines. Then she sees that her legs aren’t working and freaks out. It’s powerful. And we watch as she learns to deal with her situation. Not entirely in a hospital. It’s not one of those movies. Though it is one of thoes movies where she goes through caretaker after caretaker until the one shows up who can deal with all her shit. So it’s not entirely this original piece of filmmaking.

McDonnell is GREAT here. I know nobody really knows this movie, but she is really good here, and is good enough to have been

Love Field is a film that doesn’t really work now when you watch it. I think you need to realize just how huge the JFK assassination was, culturally, in order to appreciate the story.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays a housewife who is obsessed with Jackie Kennedy. She tries to get a glimpse of them when they arrive in Dallas, shortly before the assassination. After it happens, and she finds out about it, she decides she has to attend the funeral… in D.C. So she goes on a cross country trip.

Pfeiffer is fine here. She does create a three-dimensional character. And, given her situation and people seemingly wanting to get her an Oscar, I can see even potentially taking her here. But overall, she rates third for me. McDonnell is markedly better and Thompson is also better. She’s solid, but doesn’t rate worth a vote for me. Happens.

Lorenzo’s Oil is one of those uplifting medical dramas.

A boy ends up with a condition that puts him in an iron lung and has an almost instant fatality rate. Guaranteed to die within two years. So his parents do everything they can to find a treatment that can save him. So it’s about them trying to find second, third, fourth, fifth, etc opinions, do all the research, find alternative methods and fight the clock to save their son.

Susan Sarandon plays the mother. And it’s a typical 90s performance. It’s exactly what you’d expect out of a movie like this. She’s fine. I wouldn’t take her, but she’s fine. Rates for the nomination, not so much for the win. Fourth choice for me. Maybe third if I looked closely. Wouldn’t take her either way.

Howards End is Merchant Ivory. But actually not a bad one. I can stand this one.

Emma Thompson plays one of a pair of middle-class sisters trying to make their way in the world. She befriends Vanessa Redgrave, an elderly matriarch of a rich family. Her children don’t listen to her anymore and Thompson is the only person she has. So when she dies, she leaves Thompson her beloved house, (insert title here). But she writes it in handwriting, which is not entirely legally binding. So her children burn the letter and pretend it doesn’t exist. Only thing, Anthony Hopkins, one of the children, falls in love with Thompson and marries her, essentially giving her the house anyway. The whole film is about class difference. It’s not bad.

Thompson is fine here. She doesn’t register a performance that feels like a ‘must vote for’, but she is a fair winner. I guess because the film is classy and feels like something that would win. She’s supposed to be a passionate, opinionated woman, but rarely does she feel like such. I blame the film more than anything. She’s good here. Would be a #3 in most categories. Ends up top two here. I see how she wins this easily, but I think I prefer the McDonnell performance. The only reason I’d want to take this performance is because I love Emma Thompson. That’s really it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Emma Thompson is a good winner, and I like that performance. Especially in a category like this. But I much prefer Mary McDonnell. I’m gonna continue to take her, even though I have zero problem with Emma Thompson having won this category. I think the McDonnell performance is hugely underrated. And sure, in any other year but this she probably doesn’t rate the vote, but in this category, with her and Thompson both having drawbacks to the performances, I prefer McDonnell’s, so she’s my vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Mary McDonnell, Passion Fish
  2. Emma Thompson, Howards End
  3. Michelle Pfeiffer, Love Field
  4. Susan Sarandon, Lorenzo’s Oil
  5. Catherine Deneuve, Indochine

Rankings (films):

  1. Lorenzo’s Oil
  2. Howards End
  3. Love Field
  4. Passion Fish
  5. Indochine

My Vote: Mary McDonnell, Passion Fish

Recommendations:

None of these are essential. To get it out of the way.

Howards End is one of the better Merchant Ivory films. Looks good, performances are good. Good actors. Solid recommend that’s essential for Oscar buffs but not essential for anyone else.

Lorenzo’s Oil is very entertaining, very well made, very uplifting. Moderate to solid recommend. Not essential, but definitely worth seeing. Throw it in the queue and get to it eventually. One of those really solid 90s movies that I feel time is going to forget.

Passion Fish is worth it for the McDonnell performance. And the Alfre Woodard performance too. Solid, but just a moderate recommend. Unless you’re heavy into the Oscars or John Sayles, you don’t need to see it and would be fine without it. If you like disability movies, this one is definitely worth seeing. And if you are gonna talk Oscars, definitely see this performance because, like Laura Dern the year before this, McDonnell is good enough to win and, at first glance, would seem like a blank to most people in this category.

Love Field is okay. Not great, not terrible. Entertaining enough as a weekend afternoon watch. Light recommend. If you think you’re interested, go for it. Worth a watch, but not something that needs to be sought out.

Indochine I don’t much love. See it, don’t see it. Doesn’t matter much to me. That one’s on you. Not something I recommend until I see it again and (ideally) like it more.

The Last Word: Emma Thompson holds up because she’s Emma Thompson. Looking at the category in the abstract — Sarandon would be a middle of the road winner. Pfeiffer doesn’t hold up based on the film and only as an actress. Deneuve wouldn’t have looked good at all. McDonnell is fine because the performance is great, but otherwise doesn’t hold up better than Emma Thompson on an actress level. So the decision is objectively probably the best they could have made.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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