Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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1984: Best Actress

This was the year Sally Field won her second Academy Award and made her (in)famous "You like me" speech:

The film in question was Places in the Heart, a Best Picture nominee that we have discussed at least thrice before, and one of just three rural-based films nominated in the Best Actress category. The others were The River, where Sissy Spacek cedes most of the narrative to Mel Gibson, and Country, a Jessica Lange vehicle - both films openly critical of then-current policies that saw the small-time farmer being pushed out of home and work, eagerly bought up by corporations and the banks. President Reagan even wrote about Country being propaganda, though all three take a look at government opportunism and the impact on communities, disaster relief, even other communities and occupations outside. 

The other nominees were Judy Davis (the only first-time nominee and only non-winner) from A Passage to India, another Best Picture nominee we've discussed before, and Vanessa Redgrave from The Bostonians, a Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James' novel about turn-of-the-century feminists and the young woman who comes between two cousins (of opposite genders!), slow even by their standards. 

The nominees:

Judy Davis as Adela Quested
A Passage to India

Adela Quested is a difficult character. You think you get what this woman is all about in the first half, you're left befuddled by her actions in the second, and all throughout she must not come across as devious or even frivolous, but as someone overwhelmed by a new place and by the realization that her life is not going to go the way she expected it to. David plays all of it so perfectly: the curiosity, drinking everything up with her eyes, the guilt and shame of her own feelings and actions - even on the stand, she seems to wake up, slowly, as though she's been in a dream. How Davis moves physically, what she does with her's specific, hypnotic. Perfection.

Sally Field as Edna Spalding
Places in the Heart
past winner, second of three nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actress - Drama

A confidently understated performance - she doesn't have to keen to get the emotion across. Field instead embodies what people think of her as, a softspoken housewife, and gradually, through circumstances and determination, shows the steeliness that has the family going - and will continue to do so. But like I said, an understated, natural approach: she's one of the biggest stars of all time, but you never doubt that she is this Depression-era farm widow.

Jessica Lange as Jewell Ivy
past winner, third of six nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress - Drama

Not just a nod for her performance, but an acknowledgment of her getting the project off the ground in the first place - she co-produced, commissioned the screenplay and researched the story. This is a star vehicle, so it's no wonder that Jewell is a more direct force than the other farmwives. Lange plays her as a woman who would have just stood by and supported her husband, but circumstances make her a more active participant. She starts the "no sale" chant, she protects her community, and she's a force to be reckoned with.

Vanessa Redgrave as Olive Chancellor
The Bostonians
past winner, fifth of six nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress - Drama, LAFCA Awards runner-up for Best Actress, NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actress

I love that Redgrave plays this character with Sister Jeanne's same fixation bordering on madness but without any of Jeanne's sense of humor or self-awareness. She is passionate about serious things, but she herself is too serious to be taken seriously by many, you know? Everything with her is a declaration. And yet, as I said, there is part of herself that is a mystery to her - the part that feels tenderness for her revolving door of proteges, beautiful young women that she wishes to keep all to herself, that she is soft-spoken towards, jealous Grayson Hall in The Night of the Iguana, she is overwhelmed with a feeling that dare not be said out loud.

Sissy Spacek as Mae Garvey
The River
past winner, fourth of six nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress - Drama

Her "big scene" is the tractor one - she's stuck, she suffers through it with a lack of visible suffering, and in that immediate recovery, shaken, she still had her wits about her. But you know what I can't forget? Spacek and Gibson, together, create believable carnality and camaraderie in their relationship, you believe this is a relationship, a partnership. It's not much of a role, but boy, what she does with it!


My winner:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actor: F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Jeff Bridges (Starman), Albert Finney (Under the Volcano), Tom Hulce (Amadeus), and Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields).

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1 comment:

MrRipley76 said...

My nominees would be like Oscars list.