Best Actress FAQs
If you have a question that isn't answered below about Best Actress Oscars or about this section of my website, please let me know! Leave no actress and no question behind!

Where do you find all of these movies, especially the rare ones?
I've been reading Inside Oscar since I was 13; when I might have been devoting my impressionable brain to the mastery of languages or the mysteries of the universe, I instead memorized the major Oscar nominees from every year. So anytime a nominated film surfaced in a repertory house or on God's cable channel or in a flea market or in the amazing Hollywood Video in Ithaca, NY, I scooped it up. eBay, especially back before the whole world knew about it, was also a terrific source. Some particularly elusive titles, like Street Angel (28), Private Worlds (35), and Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (36), finally became available through SilverScreenArchive, whose parent site and former nom de plume ClassicFlix is also a great place to rent and buy. GreenCine chipped in with Marriage Italian Style (64), which wasn't popping up anywhere else. The traveling show of films by Dorothy Arzner, gorgeously restored by UCLA and hopefully bound for DVD one day, yielded Sarah and Son. Random fans I encountered on IMDb message boards were generous and invaluable sources for unicorns like The Constant Nymph (43) and The Blue Veil (51). Back to top

Have any Best Actress nominees or winners proven impossible to find?
Only three: The Barker (29), with Betty Compson; The Divine Lady (29), with Corinne Griffith, which Turner Classic Movies has aired once or twice in the last six years, and which some Oscar aficionados dispute as an actual nominee; and The Trespasser (30), with Gloria Swanson, which was restored in 35mm by Kodak Eastman House a few years ago. Eastman House screened the movie in Rochester, NY, an hour away from where I was then living in Ithaca, but I only found out the next day. Anyone with a lead on any of these titles has a fast track into being my new best friend. Back to top

What year had the best overall quality of Best Actress nominees?
Most decades have at least one year where everything seems to come together brilliantly in this category, but a few do stand out: 1950 (including the underseen Eleanor Parker in Caged), 1962 (though I haven't seen Days of Wine and Roses yet), 1987 (where the marvelous Cher, who won the prize, was somehow the weakest nominee). Still, pressed to make a single choice, I'd have to go with 1974. Not only are the performances impeccable (Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Diahann Carroll in Claudine, Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, Valerie Perrine in Lenny, and Gena Rowlands in A Woman under the Influence), but each virtually espouses a different definition of screen acting, from Burstyn's Method realism to Carroll's politicized candor to Dunaway's self-conscious mystique to the very different scales of improvisation that Perrine and Rowlands contribute. This race isn't just a master class in acting but a time capsule of the artform in its fascinating varieties...and if you make allowances for Lenny, the movies are all great, too. Back to top

Oscar had one tie in this category, in 1968. If you could allow one tie over the years, when and between whom would you assign it?
Leaving aside those years I just mentioned, and acknowleding that the Hepburn/Streisand split was a highly satisfying draw between two memorable and crowdpleasing turns, I'd make a case for the barnstorming Liza Minnelli to have shared her richly deserved Cabaret prize with the consummately restrained Cicely Tyson in Sounder (though at the time of this writing, I somehow haven't seen any of their three competitors). Moving past the constraints of actual nominees, I always have a hell of a time calling the imaginary win between two head-scratcher omissions from 1985, Cher in Mask and Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo.) Back to top

Why are you taking so long with Judy Garland in A Star Is Born?
To all the feisty queens who pose this question: because I want to go out with a bang! Would I really want to persevere through almost 400 performances only to end up with Sunrise at Campobello or Sister Kenny, or Norma Shearer's 34-year-old Juliet? I figure that by saving the Garland fireworks, plus her controversial vanquisher Grace Kelly, plus the same year's famous star turn by Audrey Hepburn, I'm at least assured of having something interesting left to see when it's time to tie off the last loose ends. Update, June 2010: I was so right about this! Back to top

Why don't you care as much about Best Actor?
Buckle your seats for some shamelessly broad generalizations, but here we go. Even among huge male stars—Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Warren Beatty, Jack Lemmon, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington—I have a hard time finding performers who actually move me, considerably and consistently. A recurring impasse for me, particularly in classic Hollywood films, is that men are so saddled with responsibility for narrative and action that they aren't often asked to shade the character emotionally, or not in ways that seize my imagination. I love subtext and implication, and because men often have the centerpiece parts, they don't have the same burdens (i.e., opportunities) or the same skills at inventing or implying subtext. The scales are often very gendered: "vulnerability" itself, to any degree, can count as "shading" in a lot of male-hero performances, whereas the logic of Hollywood sexism presumes "vulnerability" in women, so they've got to dig further than that to layer the character or build in sone surprises. Male star vehicles, which often privilege action over character work, aren't anywhere near as emotionally expressive as female star vehicles; to be fair, Westerns and film noirs often trade hugely on male anxieties and inner tensions, but I don't really cotton to these genres. Moving out beyond Hollywood doesn't always help: really, would you rather watch Max von Sydow act or Liv Ullmann? Michel Piccoli or Brigitte Bardot? Antonio Banderas or Carmen Maura? Toshiro Mifune or — (you can see why Japanese cinema isn't my first love). Obviously, there are grand exceptions to all of the above, as well as beloved figures like Charlie Chaplin (nominated only once as an actor, for one of his glibbest performances), Fredric March, Cary Grant (Oscar nom'd twice, but for the wrong roles), James Mason (never Oscared), Montgomery Clift (never Oscared), Richard Widmark (never Oscared), Marcello Mastroianni (never Oscared), Paul Newman (eventually Oscared), Al Pacino (eventually Oscared, for the wrong role in the wrong era), Gene Hackman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Nick Nolte (not yet Oscared, but at least he didn't win for the wrong role), and Sean Penn who always offer more than the script demands, and/or gravitate toward subtle articulations of ambiguous roles. But there aren't enough of those to keep me loyal to the category, especially with so much Paul Muni biopic'ing and Walter Pidgeon second-fiddling and John Wayne True Gritting and Albert Finney Hercule Poirot'ing and Michael Douglas "Greed is good"ing and Geoffrey Rush hyperventilating along the way. Back to top

Why don't you care as much about Best Supporting Actress?
I do—at least, nearly as much—but I defer to StinkyLulu and Canadian Ken in this regard. Back to top

Why do you care so much, period?
Heaven only knows. Back to top

What is the most egregious nomination snub in this category's history?
As you foresaw in your e-mail, I have a hard time offering up just one. In the 1928-29 eligibility year, I can only assume that Lillian Gish for The Wind and Renée Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc were passed over because Oscar wanted to vault full scale into the sound era, and also into a more populist register (note the victories of Warner Baxter and Mary Pickford, compared to the win the year before for Emil Jannings). But the omissions are still heinous, as was the Academy's decision to include a still-developing Irene Dunne, a limited role for Luise Rainer, and a too-old Norma Shearer in the 1936 contest instead of the enormously well-regarded and twice-bested Ruth Chatterton in Dodsworth, which scored seven other nominations, including Picture, Director, and Actor. The absence of His Girl Friday's Rosalind Russell from the 1940 lineup still smarts badly, no matter how splendid the actual roster was, and particularly in comparison to some of the off-putting performances for which Russell did get nominated in future years. To make this discussion a bit more contemporary, I don't understand why Kathleen Turner's enormously game and appealing comic-adventure turn in Romancing the Stone, an enormous hit, couldn't break into the crushingly boring 1984 list, especially since she did have a Globe and an LAFC prize to her name, and generic snobbery doesn't explain everything: Starman, The Karate Kid, The Natural, and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes all got acting nods that year. Finally, I will always contend that if you simply moved The Upside of Anger up to a holiday or an autumn or even a summer release in 2005, I'm pretty sure Joan Allen not only wins a nomination, but claims the actual trophy. Which still doesn't excuse the Academy for shutting her out, especially in deference to Judi Dench doing what we already know she can and Charlize Theron doing as much as possible with not very much.

So, there's my six-headed answer, and I'm probably leaving plenty of people out. If I have to commit? Falconetti: still widely acknowledged as an all-time landmark performance, and a win for her—especially over Mary Pickford, often cited as the worst Best Actress on record—might have re-directed Oscar's tastes forever afterward. Back to top

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