Thursday, May 20, 2021

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1972: Liza Minnelli and Best Actress

Now that Sacheen Littlefeather was off stage, Rock Hudson and Raquel Welch (of Kansas City Bomber) came to present Best Actress, and were very harrumph-y about what just happened. "Hope none of them has a cause," Welch said. Unfortunate!

As far as people go, it's a good lineup. A past winner, Judy's daughter, a foreign language performance, and, for the first time, two Black actresses nominated (the next time it would happen was...just this past year, Viola Davis and Andra Day). The actual performances in the films? Let's talk:

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles
second and final nomination; BAFTA Award winner for Best Actress, Golden Globe winner for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy

Fraulein Sally Bowles is an American singer who wants to be a star, full of stories, ready for adventure, terribly spontaneous - like a fox. Minnelli is the consummate performer: on stage, there's no denying the go-for-it magnetism and genuine talent that makes her the Kit Kat Club's star attraction; off stage, she plays very carefully Sally's calculated dizziness, the charm that gets people in her orbit, the need to control her studied lack of control, one foot already out the door even as she hangs on to your every word (I love that in one conversation with Marisa Berenson and Michael York, she makes sure that her reactions to a story become the story, not the tale itself). How self-aware is the self-destructive, always-running Sally? Very, I think, and Minnelli plays this perfectly.

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday
Lady Sings the Blues
first and only nomination; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Actress

As Billie Holiday, the legendary chanteuse. Ross gives a good performance of the character she plays, a shy but talented woman who's been used and abused, finds some success as a cabaret singer, falls in love with a wealthy man, and battles the demon of drug addiction. Is that character Billie Holiday? I'm not sure that she is, but Ross delivers the performance the movie asks for, surprisingly convincing as she plays Billie even as a child. 

Maggie Smith as Aunt Augusta Bertram
Travels with My Aunt
past winner, third of six nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy

Eccentric Aunt Augusta flies into conservative Henry Pulling's life after his father dies. If it's just Maggie Smith twitching around in old-age makeup, the nomination is impossible and defies all sense of reality, justice, taste. But through flashbacks, we get to her play the same character as a minor schoolgirl, a glamorous prostitute, and the present eccentric old lady. And because of that, it's...OK, there's still no justifying the nomination, but the miscast Smith is still very funny in a few scenes.

Cicely Tyson as Rebecca Morgan
first and only nomination; National Board of Review's Best Actress of 1972; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress in a Drama, NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actress

What I love about Tyson's performance is that you can see Rebecca playing the rest of the movie in her head as soon as she knows Nathan Lee stole the ham. But she sticks by him, even though she's waiting for that bad day to come - and when it does, she holds everything together. That scene in the grocery store: she's just trying to get done ad get out, make it less awkward for everyone, but now she's a pariah - worse, a target, and as the grocer reminds her of all he's done for her family, she steels her nerves before answering him in a way that won't get her in trouble but makes her own point: he did nothing out of the goodness of his heart, he expected payback in full.

Liv Ullmann as Kristina Nilsson
The Emigrants
first of two nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actress in a Drama, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actress

Kristina is the wife of Karl Oskar. I like Ullmann, I really do, but I don't really understand this nomination. She's fine, but there are much better performers in her own movie, and there were much better actresses this year.


Gosh, when was the last time this happened? Four acting winners, three times I agree with the Academy, for my vote goes to:


Next - Best Picture of the Year: Cabaret, Deliverance, The Emigrants, The Godfather, and Sounder.

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