My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1985: Anne Bancroft in "Agnes of God"

Anne Bancroft received her fifth and final Oscar nomination her performance as Mother Miriam Ruth, a Mother Superior who has to deal with unexpected happenings in the movie version of the Broadway play Agnes of God. The story centers on a young novice nun, Agnes, who has given birth and apparently killed the child – and she insists that her pregnancy was the results of a virgin conception. A psychiatrist, played by Jane Fonda, who is sent to investigate the murder and the character of Agnes clashes with Mother Miriam about how to deal with this case and about more general themes like religion and science, life and death.

The character of Mother Miriam is a very surprising one – she is not the kind of woman one would expect in a movie like this, with a plot like this, with characters like this. She isn’t a strict, unforgiving, humorless and domineering woman who terrifies the nuns into blind obedience like Meryl Streep in Doubt. Instead, Mother Miriam is a warm, concerned, caring and almost down-to-earth character who doesn’t turn a blind eye to the needs and worries of the nuns around her, who takes charge when she has to and knows how to deal with ‘the world outside’ just as much as with ‘the world inside’. Anne Bancroft underlines these features by refusing to play Mother Miriam like a stereotype but instead leaves the viewer constantly wondering and speculating about her real intentions and her knowledge about the night when Agnes gave birth. The way she leans over a waste basket in Agnes’s room and reacts with a combination of shock and grief about its content seems already to suggest that she maybe knows more about what happened in her monastery than she is willing to admit.

By deciding to underplay Mother Miriam, Anne Bancroft certainly avoided the trap of overacting or incredibility and her own warm, loving and likeable screen presence helps to turn her character into a woman that seems warm, loving and likeable but also constantly surprises the viewer when she suddenly pulls back and fights Dr. Livingston about Agnes and about the interpretation of what happened. The two develop an interesting love-hate relationship in which Mother Miriam is the domineering part as she is the one who is laying the rules and constantly defining their levels of cooperation or rejection.

All this certainly sounds very impressive and Anne Bancroft certainly chose and interesting way of brining Mother Miriam to live but at the same time it seems that she let a lot of possibilities to widen her character slip by. The truth is that in the triangle of Mother Miriam, Agnes and Dr. Livingston, Mother Miriam is the most uninteresting and unimportant character who constantly slips in the background whenever a scene doesn’t precisely focus on her. Agnes is the true central character of this story and Meg Tilly gives a surprisingly effective and show-stealing performance as this naïve and mysterious woman and even Jane Fonda, even though her material isn’t the best either, makes a bigger impression than Anne Bancroft simply because her character is, next to Agnes, the second motor who keeps the story going. Mother Miriam, even though a strong influence in the proceedings, doesn’t get the same chances to become an active character. And by deciding to underplay her, Anne Bancroft didn’t really do herself a favor as Jane Fonda and, especially Meg Tilly, know that Agnes of God is the kind of movie that simply needs some overacting, some histrionic moments and that way easily put all the attention on themselves. Anne Bancroft circles around the story and the monastery like an eagle, paying close attention and watching everything with her sharp eyes, but she hardly comes down to become a part of it. Jane Fonda and Meg Tilly play in the arena while Anne Bancroft is like a member of the audience who is invited to join them for a special number. And while I usually lack the imagination to think about what other actors might have done with a part, it’s impossible not to picture the actress who originated the part on the stage, Geraldine Page, who was born to play this kind of character and whose tics and mannerisms would have suited the role perfectly and made Mother Miriam a much stronger presence in the structure of the story and resulted in a maybe predictable, but more interesting performance.

But even though Anne Bancroft underplayed a little too much and allowed herself to be outshine a little too often, she still did a lot of things right. Her exaggerated friendliness when she meets Dr. Livingston for the first time which quickly turns into mistrust and rejection when the questions become too much is already a very effective introduction and shows the characters most important features. Like Meryl Streep’s character in Doubt, Mother Miriam was married before her life as a nun and so is able to use her own experiences of a ‘normal’ life to run the monastery with a combination of religious and secular methods. She doesn’t believe in useless suffering for the sake of religious enlightenment, she calls nuns who believe in beating and strict discipline ‘stupid’, she swears when she has to and tells the other nuns that they should not be ashamed of their menstruations. Anne Bancroft plays all these things in a way that make her character very easy to relate to but at the same time she seemed to focus a little bit too much on the modern and ‘secular’ sides of her character – sometimes it’s easy to forget that Sister Miriam is still a nun. The balancing of her characteristics sometimes didn’t fully work out for the best. She is arguing in favor of the Catholic Church in all her discussion with Dr. Livingston, who left the church years ago, but it sometimes appears that Anne Bancroft wasn’t too convinced of Mother Miriam’s beliefs herself…

But even though Anne Bancroft tended to over-simplify her character, this worked well in the context of the overall movie because that way her Mother Miriam became an unexpected island of calmness, almost the only ‘normal’ person in the story and because of that Anne Bancroft’s scenes tend to be the most quiet ones, even when she is fighting with Dr. Livingston, some welcome moments of peace and sanity in a world that seems to have forgotten about this. It’s mostly these unexpected sides of Sister Miriam that Anne Bancroft portrays the best. Especially the moment when she and Dr. Livingston are secretly smoking together, talking and laughing, forgetting about their disputes and talking earnestly, is one that Anne Bancroft plays with a wonderful mix of drama and comedy and the right amount of gentleness while not forgetting who she is or what she wants.

The most interesting aspect of Anne Bancroft’s performance as well as the character of Mother Miriam is her relationship with Agnes, a young woman who believes in all the things that Mother Miriam would describe as nonsense, like starving or suffering. She wants to help Agnes to have a more modern vision but at the same time she isn’t able to escape the strange fascination that Agnes creates. Mother Miriam wants to do her best to keep Agnes away from the dangers of the world outside the monastery but at the same time she doesn’t fully understand her or know how to handle her. She wants to be an insider but remains an outsider like everyone else, no matter how much she knows or understands. The mystery of the situations has apparently caught her as much by surprise as everybody else but she is the one who has to stay strong and do her best to protect Agnes, maybe even from herself.

It’s a competent and sometimes very appealing performance that unfortunately never becomes truly memorable or outstanding because of both the writing and the acting by Anne Bancroft which tends to let too many chances go by. For this, she gets


Best Actress 1985: Geraldine Page in "The Trip to Bountiful"

In 1960, Geraldine Page was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth but lost the award to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (in fact, this Broadway legend never won a Tony Award). Two years later, Geraldine Page recreated the part for the film version and was nominated for an Academy Award – but lost to Anne Bancroft who also recreated her role in The Miracle Worker. 30 years later, Geraldine Page took the lead role in the Broadway production of Agnes of God but when this story was turned into a movie, the part went to – Anne Bancroft. At the 1985 Academy Awards, both women again faced each other but this time Geraldine Page’s name was finally called.

The five nominees in 1985 were certainly an interesting mix. Both Jessica Lange and Anne Bancroft already had an Oscar at home, Meryl Streep even two. The only nominees without a little golden guy were Whoopi Goldberg and Geraldine Page – two actresses from complete different ends of the career spectrum. Whoopi Goldberg gave only her second screen performance and received her first nomination while Geraldine Page was an acclaimed, famous and award-winning actress nominated for the eight time. So, when F. Murray Abraham announced that the winner was the women whom he considers to be the greatest actress in the English language, it couldn’t have been a surprise to anyone to whom he referred.
The fact that this was Geraldine Page’s eight nomination and her movie had basically disappeared after the awards again made it easy to accuse the Academy of ‘sentiment’ and refer to her win as a ‘career award’. But thanks to the Internet and DVDs, The Trip to Bountiful has found its way back to the public eye to prove that, even though Geraldine Page was certainly overdue for an Oscar in 1985, her performance is an outstanding achievement all on its own.

In The Trip to Bountiful, Geraldine Page played Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who lives with her son and her shrill, uncaring daughter-in-law in a little apartment and dreams of returning to her childhood-home. But this wish is not a priority for her son and his wife – he is struggling to get through the rough economic times and wonders if he should ask his boss for a raise while his wife is mostly concerned with going to the movies or drinking a Coke. The movie shows right from the beginning that Carrie Watts is living in a typical situation that so many elderly people know – living with your relatives, but being more a burden than anything else, not taken seriously. Her son is not ill-willed when he denies his mother her wish to go back, but this is simply something that he hasn’t the time nor means to do. And since she is living with them, she has to live according to their own rules.

The rule that Carrie Watts most likes to break is that of her daughter-in-law that she shouldn’t sing any hymns – Carrie is constantly singing or humming some melody while she runs around in the little apartment (even though running is another thing her daughter-in-law forbids). Geraldine Page works wonderfully to bring all the different aspects of the story together right in the first scenes – her desperation to return once to her childhood home, her misery about her life, her constant fights with her daughter-in-law but she also makes sure that she doesn’t portray Carrie is a poor victim of circumstances – she shows that it’s certainly not easy to live with this old, stubborn and hymn-singing woman around the house who, like so many old people, constantly dreams and talks about the past and the better days while the younger people have to concentrate on the present and the future.

The Trip to Bountiful has one of the most wonderful openings ever – not because of any special visual sights but because of Cynthia Clawson’s hunting rendition of “Softly and Tenderly” in which she repeatedly sings the words “Come home”. This is not to be meant literally – she refers to the sinners who should come home to Jesus and even though religion is not a theme of the story, it still describes the journey of Carrie Watts very well. For her, it’s also not just a trip home – it’s a journey to the past, in a better life that only exists in her memory, a time that seems pure and innocent and when she still had everything ahead of her. In this part, Geraldine Page becomes a symbol for lost hopes and dreams, for regrets and happiness, for the questions of life, if we made the right or the wrong choices and how could things have been otherwise. Carrie Watts has the easy to understand wish to return once to her childhood home but she also escapes reality into a world that is long gone. It’s a feeling that everyone, young or old, can understand, a longing for happiness that doesn’t exist, a mind game made of ‘If’ and ‘Maybe’, a theoretical question that will never be answered but everyone likes to pose to themselves anyway.

This universal and touching theme combined with Geraldine Page’s incredibly moving and effective performance in which she leaves all her tics and mannerism behind her that so often end in very memorable but too actorly performances and instead displays a variety of simple and, most of all, honest emotions results in an unforgettable and hunting story that should touch even the most cynical heart. In this role, Geraldine Page creates a woman that seems both delicate and strong like a tiger, dedicated and impulsive. It’s maybe a simple story but Geraldine Page creates a very human and layered character who never asks the audience to love her and instead simply invites us to accompany her on her journey – Carrie Watts knows what she expects from it but she leaves it to the audience to find out for themselves.

Geraldine Page works wonderfully to create a character who carries her heart on her tongue and successfully establishes her as a woman worthy of all the sympathy that the script asks us to give her. It’s a magical and incredibly moving performances and the eyes of the viewer are just as wet as those of the main character. Her expressive and experienced face shows the excitement but also the expectations of Carrie Watts right from the first moments on the bus.

Considering that this woman is up to return to the home of her childhood, it could be very easy to lose interest in the story because so many questions seem so come up – who is Carrie Watts anyway? Why should we follow her? But Geraldine Page’s performance during the journey in which she opens the character up to another traveler who is the receiver of all the information the audience wants is among the most heartbreaking work she has ever done. Memories of misery and happiness, of sorrow and denial come up, things that Carrie Watts has kept inside of her for all these years but now that she comes back, she is overwhelmed by the power of her memories. In a performance where Geraldine Page spends most of her time sitting, it’s only her facial work that tells the story, past and present. And Geraldine Page is so subtle in her emotions and keeps the simplicity of Carrie Watts always afloat while never forgetting to suggest all the things that she was and could have been. Just like Carrie Watt’s life is full of ‘What would happened if’ and ‘Why didn’t I do’, her whole character is also made of ‘If’ and ‘Maybe’ – and Geraldine Page accomplishes all this with a performance that creates such a real and believable woman in the most hunting and moving way but thanks to her strong screen presence and ability to always find a greater truth behind the surface, she completely transforms herself to create an unforgettable character, an epic symbol of a simple desire.

It’s a performance that touches so many emotions and feelings that one is almost left with a feeling of emptiness – all the tears seem to have been cried, all the laughter been laughed. Especially the scenes at the bus station almost break your heart when Carrie Watts seemed to have lost the battle, only a few miles away from home but her astonished relief and sad smile when she is given the possibility to go turn everything around again. If Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda achieved to create the illusion of having spent a lifetime together in On Golden Pond, Geraldine Page did the same thing with a piece of land and an old, abandoned house. It’s an almost intimate moment when she walks around through these rooms and breathes the air, full of memories. In these wordless scenes, Geraldine Page tells the whole story of Carrie Watts’s life without telling anything at all – she leaves everything up in the air, a past of possibilities. And it’s in these moments when she shows how this trip has changed her life, no matter how many years are still to come. Seeing the abandoned town of Bountiful has given her peace and allows her to let the past rest – the desire is gone, the past is over and seeing the old houses, she realizes that it also will never return. This visit has satisfied her for now and for the future. Everything seems to look much different now, even her relationship to her daughter-in-law.

Like few others this performance is able to move the viewer with things that are never seen – it’s only an elderly woman and her dreams of the past, there are no heartbreaking images except the ones that Geraldine Page displays on her face. She has only herself to carry the story and create these images and she succeeded completely without ever making everything too corny or exaggerated. In her performance, she perfectly balanced her own experiences as an actress and the experiences of Carrie Watts to heartbreaking results for which she gets


Best Actress 1985

The next year will be 1985 and the nominees were

Anne Bancroft in Agnes of God

Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple

Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams

Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Meryl Streep in Out of Africa


Best Actress 1988 - The resolution

After having watched and reviewed all five nominated performances, it's time to pick the winner!

Tess could have been a great character if the writers hadn’t bended her too many times to fit into the story and that way robbed her of any credibility. Combined with Melanie Griffith’s uninspired acting which only emphasizes the problems of the character by being surprisingly monotonous and dull, Tess McGill becomes one of the most frustrating and disappointing creations in the history of the Best Actress category.

It’s laudable that Jodie Foster so completely threw herself into the part and was not afraid to show a more unlikable side of her character while never letting her lose her dignity. But she still seemed too often destined to make sure that her character would be the dominant force of the story even though she didn’t have to do that since the movie’s structure guaranteed that already. It’s clear that she played the part very effectively, but just sometimes, a little less would have been more. But it’s still an unforgettable performance of a very challenging role.

Who is this Dian Fossey? What is her past? What are her reasons? These questions are unanswered and Sigourney Weaver does her best to let them remain so and solely focuses on the present and future and that way creates a very intriguing because never fully explainable woman who constantly seems to slip away from understanding even if her reasons and intentions seems perfectly clear.

2. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons

Chilling, unforgettable, delicious, outstanding. In this part, Glenn Close has to do most of her acting with her eyes and her stern face – and she succeeds on all levels. It’s a subtle portrayal, presented as a true force of nature. Glenn Close uses her unique looks, strength and overpowering screen presence to create an apparently powerful, but ultimately helpless character.

It’s an all around stunning achievement as Meryl Streep crafts a character with multiple layers and gives various interpretations of this woman at all kind of target groups, all at the same moment. It’s a performance that, like most of her works, seems carefully prepared and thought-through but Meryl Streep is a master in this technique and that way gave an intense and fascinating performance that easily ranks among the best she has ever done.

Best Actress 1988: Sigourney Weaver in "Gorillas in the Mist"

Making Oscar history is always something special. Luise Rainer did it when she became the first person to win two acting Oscars. Katharine Hepburn has the most wins, Meryl Streep the most nominations. Fay Bainter was the first person to be nominated for both a leading and a supporting Oscar in the same year. In 1988, Sigourney Weaver also wrote Oscar history but I am pretty sure that she would have preferred not to – on Oscar night, she became the first double-nominee to lose twice. In the supporting category, she lost for her performance as manipulative business woman Katharine in Working Girl and she also had to remain seated when the winner in the leading category was announced where Jodie Foster’s rape victim prevailed over Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of real-life zoologist Dian Fossey, who studied Gorillas in the Rwandan mountains and was mysteriously murdered, in the drama Gorillas in the Mist.

Gorillas in the Mist luckily never pretends to be a scientific documentary about gorillas in their natural habit but turns out to be a surprisingly balanced look on the life of the controversial researcher that mixes reality with the expected ingredient of Hollywood melodrama. The movie never tries to turn Dian into either a saintly hero who tried to protect endangered animals or an unapologetic activist who went much too far in her quest but gives fairly even view that lets the audience decide for themselves. Of course, the movie suffers from the fact that only parts of Fossey’s life could be portrayed and that way a clear simplification of her actions took place but even despite that, it’s still a gripping, touching and shocking story that provided a formidable central role for an ambitious actress.

Sigourney Weaver remarkably inserted her performance into the tone of the story as she, like the story itself, tries her best to keep her portrayal as balanced as possible, always swinging to one side or the other, never making Dian static but keeping the constant flow in this woman alive. Sigourney Weaver had the not easy challenge to live up the script’s demands and bring this mysterious character to live while also making the story perceptible as it wants to touch both the mind and the heart of the viewer for which it needs the character of Dian and the performance of Sigourney as its vessel.

Sigourney Weaver is an actress with an overpowering screen presence, not only because of her physics but simply because of the stern determination she brings to her characters and that is always perceivable in her face and body language. Right from the beginning she excels in showing the passionate determination that Dian possesses and controls her life just as much as everybody’s around her – she is such a stern and strong actress that when she looks serious, the audience immediately knows it is serious. Her childlike wonderment and excitement about the miracles of nature combined with her strong and withstanding decisiveness when she is fighting for a position in Africa already lays a wonderful foundation for what is yet to come. It’s a foundation that still seems undecided about which way to go which works well for the character – who is this woman? What is her past? What are her reasons? These questions are unanswered and Sigourney Weaver does her best to let them remain so and solely focuses on the present and future and that way creates a very intriguing because never fully explainable woman who constantly seems to slip away from understanding even if her reasons and intentions seems perfectly clear.

Despite her strong determination, Sigourney Weaver also succeeds in portraying a certain naivety in Dian as she arrives in Rwanda – a newcomer to this place, not used to the realities of African life, a woman who seems very unpractical about everything as she is mostly concerned about taking a shower and having all her luggage brought up the mountains. While these moments contrast effectively with later scenes that show a much more experienced Dian, Sigourney Weaver sometimes overdoes her performance in the beginning. But what works very well in her interpretation is the fact that Sigourney Weaver is the kind of actress, regarding both her physic and her talent, who seems to belong in her surroundings, who makes it believable that a women like her not only wants to be in this place, but rather belongs in this place. Even at the rocky beginning, Sigourney Weaver is already able to show a certain fascination in Dian, a wonderment. Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she suddenly enters a colorful and exiting new world. Later, Sigourney Weaver does a wonderful job in showing Dian’s attachment to her new life, how she learns to bargain on the market and becomes accustomed to a new way of life.

The biggest task of Sigourney Weaver is to make the excitement about this new world and her encounters with the gorillas believable and noticeable for the audience at home. While it’s up to the cinematography, art direction and direction to create the feeling of 'being there', she has to create the fascination of this place, of her work, and evoke an understanding and desire in the viewers for being there themselves. And Sigourney Weaver is fully up to the task and is able to bring the allure, the once-in-a-lifetime-feeling, the simply overwhelming happening to the audience, an almost intimate contact, a private moment, captured on a camera for everyone to see. She has to make these encounters as believable as possible in order to make Dian’s own feelings and later obsession understandable. In these early scenes, she builds a second foundation for scenes and events again yet to come. She has to bring the audience on her side and later, just as easily, pushes those back who may not agree with her. Just like her co-nominees Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep and Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver gives a performance that both brings her character close to the audience but also alienates it again.

Sigourney Weaver’s performance sometimes has to take a step back and suffers from occasional bad writing and directing but she still carries the production and gives it life. She also glides through the story with a welcoming lack of self-importance. Even though she is obviously telling an important story, Sigourney Weaver never seems to highlight this fact and instead gives an honest and subtle performance, even in her loud and showy moments. Surely not a lot of actress could have handled the scene when Dian jumps around in her hut, imitating a gorilla. Instead of appearing laughable, Sigourney Weaver makes the scene surprisingly effective and exciting as she demonstrates Dian’s growing fascination and obsession but she is also able to combine it with a sense of comedy when Dian realizes that she is being watched.

The man who watches her is a photographer who will also become the obligatory love interest. But Sigourney Weaver understands the material and the character well enough to not play a woman who is swept off her feet and falls in love head over heels but rather demonstrates that she simply loves the togetherness, the companionship, the fact that they are both interested in the gorillas. In these love scenes, Sigourney displays the subtle joy of life that Dian possesses inside of her and she lets Dian become a much more relaxed person when she is with the man she loves – a man who is her only contact to the realities of life, a life in which she is a co-star and not the Queen of the mountain, a man who keeps her on the ground until he is not able to compete with her other love anymore. Because there is also another love in Dian’s life – the gorillas. As already mentioned, Sigourney Weaver makes this love very believable and realistic and understandable. And that’s why her later scenes, when the poachers kill some of them, including her most beloved gorilla, are so incredibly moving. Her devastation when she sees the beheaded body is devastating, just as her scenes with the dying gorilla baby that she carries into a hotel lobby to confront the rich business man who gave the order to capture it. It’s impossible not to feel with Dian in those moments and Sigourney’s strong performance makes it easy to root for her in – even if one doesn’t agree with her, Sigourney’s strong, honest and charismatic performance makes it hard to deny Dian any respect and sympathy (but I have to say that while I am usually a very cynical viewer and analyze too much instead of just watching a movie, cruelty against animals is one of the few things in movies that is too much for me and so Sigourney Weaver’s acting may have a bigger emotional closeness for me than it might have otherwise).

When a couple of young people come to join her in her work years later, Sigourney Weaver uses these scenes perfectly to demonstrate how far Dian has distanced herself from the rules of civilization. Dian starts more and more to fight the poachers without any rules, burns their houses, puts on a witch mask to scare them away and even fakes executions. The shocked reactions of her co-workers don’t even interest her anymore and she instead shows them that basically, on this mountain, she is now the Queen. She seems to have lost the ability to judge, to analyze her own behavior and she expects the same kind of determination from anyone else. When she finds two of her co-workers in bed together, she seems to be so upset because she has lost her own love but also because this isn’t what they should be there for. Dian mourns the death of the gorillas and she can’t bear the thought that the others don’t do it in the same way.

Sigourney Weaver uses all the scenes of Dian’s anger and shocking actions to show a woman who is not crazy but simply helpless and desperate. Dian is still able to see her own eccentricities but at the same time she seems to have lost control over them. She is a woman who acts very impulsively but at the same time very peremptory. Sigourney Weaver made the wise decision to show that Dian’s determination and strong believes aren’t something that happened overnight. This determination was already visible in her first scenes in the auditorium and the fight against the poachers isn’t something that made her become more and more decided but rather something that aggravated her characteristics. Just as Sigourney never made Dian look crazy for staying with the gorillas, for living there and for devoting her existence to them, she avoids a too simple characterization in these later parts. She shows a woman who uses all the advantages she has in her desperate fight, a woman who begins to think of herself as more powerful than she really is – maybe it may even be a racist view by her, maybe she thinks of herself superior to everyone else around her and that way loses her sense of self-defense and becomes too trustful in her own security. It’s not clear and Sigourney Weaver gladly leaves room open for all kinds of speculations and that way avoided to go overboard with her acting and always stopped before any kind of overacting.

What, of course, shouldn’t be forgotten is the fact that Sigourney Weaver has the help from the fact that the movie makers show very shockingly the cruelty against the gorillas and that way, as mentioned before, Sigourney’s character is easy to relate to in her anger and fury. What, unfortunately, diminishes the impact of her performance somehow is the fact that sometimes she isn’t given the best material and her character sometimes lacks a certain depth. While the change in character and her arc is portrayed impressively, the mystery of Dian Fossey is never really as mysterious as it could have been. Sigourney Weaver wonderfully plays all the different aspects of her character but she often doesn’t really combine them and instead plays them one by one. It’s a strong, challenging and ultimately difficult part that Sigourney Weaver handles with apparent easy and impressive dedication but she doesn’t quite achieve the result by herself – it seems that it’s the situations that help her performance achieve a high level instead of the other way around. A dying gorilla baby is always moving by itself – Sigourney Weaver does mourn gracefully in scenes like this and her reaction shots perfectly mirror the feelings of the viewer, but it seems that she is very often given nothing else to do but react to the situations instead of creating them. Ultimately, it seems that she is sometimes overshadowed by the story itself – and the gorillas. Maybe this was intended but it doesn’t help Sigourney Weaver.

But in the end, it’s a very strong and unforgettable performance in which Sigourney Weaver always lets Dian keep her dignity – a respectful portrayal of a sometimes controversial person which gets


Best Actress 1988: Meryl Streep in "A Cry in the Dark"

In 1988, Meryl Streep completed her domination of the 80s with her 6th Best Actress nomination during that decade. It seems just as impossible to find a Best Actress year back then without her as to find a nominated performance of hers without one of her famous accents. This year she discovered her inner Australian to play the real-life character Lindy Chamberlain, an unusual, apparently unemotional woman who claims that her baby was killed by a dingo in the Australian outback.

It’s always dangerous to see a performance for the first time when a certain part of that performance has already been parodied countless times – Lindy’s famous expression “The dingo’s got my baby!” and all its different variations are always good for a laugh and so it may be hard to appreciate the actual drama and tension in this moment. But there was certainly no need to worry – Meryl Streep's emotional devastation that she portrays in the few seconds when she searches the tent for her baby in panic is one of the most shattering moments in her career and ever captured on the screen. Her desperation and shock are played in a highly tense way, as if she is waiting to wake up, waiting for a deliverance that won’t happen, moments of fear and panic followed by grief and what seems to be to soon acceptance. Right from the beginning Meryl Streep crafts a woman who seems both very real and a product of stylized movie making but she knows how to invest her with a great deal of emotional honesty while also preserving an aura of mystery and inexplicability. She is able to lay a foundation of a warm and caring woman, a woman who naturally and obviously loves her children and her husband – basically, a typically ordinary woman who enjoys her life. That she and her husband are very religious and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and looking for God’s reasons in everything that happens to them will ultimately turn their lives for the worst very soon.

As the movie audience we have an undeniable advantage over the people who actually witnessed the case themselves – we know that Lindy is innocent as the cameras shows us a dingo running away and Lindy frantically searching for her lost baby. This means that Meryl Streep actually gets to play a part that has ‘sympathy’ written all over it – a woman who wrongly gets accused for a crime she didn’t commit. But instead of simply going up a few steps on the acting mountain and then resting on the little hill called ‘sympathy’, Meryl Streep backpacked all her talent and bravely went up to the top because instead of letting the audience pity her and immediately take her side, Meryl Streep plays a mysterious, distant, cold and sometimes dislikeable side for both the other characters in the story but also the viewer at home. The other characters in the story don’t know if Lindy is innocent or not but her behaviour surely doesn’t win her any friends. The audience knows that Lindy is innocent but Meryl Streep kept this cold behaviour throughout the entire running time and that way even alienates the viewers from her character. When Lindy is lying in a hotel room, just hours after her baby was taken, she complaints about the cold in the room and takes a sleeping back even though her husband warns her that is has blood stains on it – blood stains from her own baby but Lindy doesn’t mind and covers herself with it. It’s moments like this that Meryl fills with an undeniable strange charisma that makes her character a complete mystery, a woman who is as fascinating as she is off-putting. Meryl also doesn’t use scenes when she is alone with her husband and away from the hunger of the media to show another side in Lindy – there is no devastated break-down about the death of her baby, no teary pledge for her innocence. Lindy is a very independent woman who doesn’t care about the media and who even begins to see humour in her situation – when a woman spits at the phone booth that Lindy is using, she is only laughing about it, not a fake laugh that hides her fear and worries but a real laugh that shows how ridiculous the whole situation is for her.

Meryl Streep knows how to project a character than can be seen as guilty of everything she is accused of, who knows about the possible consequences while at the same time completely unaware of them. She perfectly executes the scenes when Lindy is talking to the media as she constructs a woman who thinks she is doing the best in her situation while actually ruining her reputation by behaving so completely abnormal – at least for the public. The viewers are, to some extent, able to understand this woman, that this is simply a part of her character and since we know that she is innocent, we take a completely different look at anything she does but Meryl Streep makes it both understandable how Lindy acts and why the other movie characters would think different than the viewers at home. It’s an all around stunning achievement as Meryl Streep crafts a character with multiple layers and gives various interpretations of this woman at all kind of target groups, all at the same moment. It’s a performance that, like most of her works, seems carefully prepared and thought-through but Meryl Streep is a master in this technique and that way gave an intense and fascinating performance that easily ranks among the best she has ever done.

Meryl Streep plays a part that is similar to one that she would play later in her career – the strict, unforgiving nun in Doubt. Of course the characters aren’t similar in an obvious way but both don’t act like society expects of them and that way all their actions and doings become suspicious. It’s this character of Lindy which Meryl Streep brings to life with a frightening clearness for the viewer while making her a confusing mix of sympathy and dislike for the other characters. Lindy Chamberlain is a woman who accepts things as they happen to her. She and her husband believe that God does everything for a reason and if God decided to take their baby then it must have happened for a particular reason they both may be not able to understand but have to accept. But Lindy’s husband is still the more emotional part in the relationship who shows more grief and sorrow, not only over his child’s disappearance and death but also over the following events while Lindy keeps a cool, logical façade, a woman who seems to be both a victim and a perpetrator. This difference in characters is also what later causes a temporary rift in their relationship as even the husband cannot understands his wife’s intentions. But Meryl Streep clearly and thrilling builds a character who is not willing to change her behavior for the sake of the media or a jury – which is basically the reason why it came to suspicions and a condemnation at all. A Cry in the Dark is mostly a story about the power of the media and prejudices. The media and the public expect a crying mother, a likeable woman who movingly mourns the loss of her child and Lindy does not meet these expectations. Meryl Streep has to turn Lindy Chamberlain into a kind of woman who can evoke the most fervid discussions, a woman who can keep a whole country on the edge while never putting an end to any discussion because her character seems to allow all kinds of interpretations by the media and the public. Lindy doesn’t play by the rules of society and so becomes a woman one loves to hate, a welcome prey for the media who loves nothing more than knocking somebody down for the sake of a great story. Meryl Streep perfectly portrays this woman and makes her believable at every step of the story. When she is condemned for murdering her child, the reaction of two women in the jury perfectly sum up what Meryl Streep had carefully constructed – they cry out of guilt for having found her guilty which perfectly underlines how conflicting the character is.

The scenes on the witness stands surely belong to the best Meryl Streep has ever done in her career. When she talks about what happened that night with a mix of grief for her child but also anger for the lawyer and the whole court, a subliminal fury, it seems to be the first time that she is not sure what to think or do anymore, as if she is overwhelmed by the whole situation even though she does her best to tell what’s on her mind. It’s shown how much the whole court is already against her as the lawyer is asking her questions in the most insensitive way which Lindy has to but is also willing to endure just to bring the whole affair to an end. In these scenes, Meryl Streep is able to be both incredibly moving while also so complex and fascinating that it’s almost impossible to feel anything while watching her except a radical tension.

Glenn Closes’s Marquise wants the viewer’s respect but enjoys to throw it back in their faces – Meryl Streep’s Lindy doesn’t care for respect nor the viewers themselves. Like Greta Garbo, she would like to be left alone but at the same time she has no problem to face the spirits she called. In the beginning of the story, Meryl Streep found the right tone to show a believable naivety in Lindy that is not overdone to become a plot device but a realistic result of shock and grief when she allowed the media to enter her life, an invitation they greedily accept. Meryl Streep shows a strong side in Lindy that doesn’t cover and signs of weakness but rather are an undeniable part of her which seems to be a blessing and a curse for her own good. It’s this constant mix of all kinds of different emotions that turns Lindy Chamberlain in one of the most interesting and perplexing movie characters of all time.

Meryl Streep herself stated that this is the performance she is the most proud of. And even among the high standards of Meryl Streep, this performance is a stunning achievement that naturally gets


YOUR Best Actress of 1971

Here are the results of the poll:

1. Jane Fonda - Klute (42 votes)

2. Glenda Jackson - Sunday Bloody Sunday (12 votes)

3. Julie Christie - McCabe & Mrs. Miller (7 votes)

4. Vanessa Redgrave - Mary, Queen of Scots (4 votes)

5. Janet Suzman - Nicholas and Alexandra (2 votes)

Thanks to everybody for voting!