Three of those people are mothers - indeed, none of them seem to have a career outside of it! Jane Alexander is a mom struggling to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Shirley MacLaine is a mother who cannot fathom her daughter's decisions, and isn't shy about saying so. Debra Winger is her daughter, but also a mother of three making the best of things in a marriage that has more than its share of ups and downs.
The other two are young women you underestimate at your own peril. Meryl Streep may seem like a mess - she's consistently tardy, she flashes co-workers, she chews gum on the job -- but she's the lone voice speaking out against what could be corporate corruption. And Julie Walters is under-educated, with a coarse manner of speaking, but when she sets out to better herself, she reveals an unpolished wisdom.
Shirley MacLaine won the Oscar -- which only seems fair. After all, she had been nominated in this category four previous times, with a fifth nod in Best Documentary for The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir. Meryl Streep was just coming off her second win for Sophie's Choice the year before, where she had defeated An Officer and a Gentleman's Debra Winger. Jane Alexander had been nominated thrice previously - she, too, had lost to Streep, when both were up for Kramer vs. Kramer. And Julie Walters was making her film debut.
But here's what I think....
Jane Alexander in Testament
****A quiet performance, but one that burrows in deep. She can break your heart with just silence, with what she tries not to react to....and she can wreck you when she does react, as with the teddy bear. Her level, controlled readings of the diary entries, as of someone trying to maintain normalcy, are effective.
Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment
***A little icy, a lot hilarious, she's great as the mom who's curated her house and admirers. I love even the little bit of distance that comes with her affection...distance that grows shorter when she finally starts to let go with Garrett.
Meryl Streep in Silkwood
*****One of Streep's un-fussiest, most natural performances. She doesn't sand down the edges, making Karen just coarse enough, just annoying enough, to make you wonder if she might be in over her head. But she also shows what a careful listener and observer Karen is.
Julie Walters in Educating Rita
*****There's a real freshness Walters brings. I don't think it could be easy to balance the blend of streets and naiveté that Susan/Rita possesses, but she does it. She carries off that arc naturally, bringing an emotional truth and a executing the comedy organically, hilariously. A star-making performance.
Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment
****For me, she walks away with the whole movie. She's funny, energetic, warm, and most importantly, real. I recognized her exasperations and affections as a mother from the women in my life. The last scene is played just right, no caterwauling, or labored speeches, but the measured calm someone in that situation would keep. I will say, I never buy the romance with John Lithgow...though maybe her character doesn't either?
Shirley MacLaine finally won her Oscar, but my vote goes to....
Monday: The nominees for Best Picture of the Year.
Tuesday: Re-casting Tender Mercies with the stars of today.
And Wednesday - Friday: The Retro Hollmann Awards for 1983!