The Golden Girls
So, this Super Bowl thing is happening again. I have never in all my 50 years watched a football game, nor had the slightest interest in doing so, but I somehow have accumulated a group of friends who are very into it, and for months they’ve all been excited about the big game. Or were. They’re mostly New Orleans Saints fans, and I gather Something Very Bad happened a couple of weekends ago that put them all into a very bitter mood, because now they’ve gone silent.
Even if I don’t really get what all the fuss is about, I’ve been sympathetic because I too understand the tragedy of a favorite team losing what should rightfully be theirs. And by team I mean person. And by person I mean actress at the Oscars.
The first time I remember being actively angry about a Best Actress Oscar win was the 1986 telecast, when Geraldine Page won for The Trip to Bountiful over Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple. At 17 I didn’t care that Page had seven previous nominations without a win, and that she was really getting what amounted to a lifetime achievement award. All I knew was that Goldberg’s performance of Celie in The Color Purple had made me feel things very strongly, and I couldn’t believe the world didn’t recognize what an astonishing thing she had done.
Thus began a long and rocky relationship between me and the Best Actress race. After the Goldberg fiasco, I was retroactively angry about Bette Midler (The Rose) losing to Sally Field (Norma Rae) in 1980. I hadn’t seen the films when they were released, being a little young for them, but went back and watched them. Again, I couldn’t fathom how Oscar voters had failed to reward Midler’s raw portrayal of the perils of stardom.
As painful as these two losses were, they pale in comparison to the Great Injustice of the 71st Academy Awards, an occasion that until the 2016 presidential election had few rivals for ending in unadulterated disappointment. For on that night in 1999, the golden statuette that should have exited the stage cradled in the hands of Cate Blanchett for her breathtaking performance in Elizabeth instead was kidnapped and hauled off by the despicable Gwyneth Paltrow for what can only kindly be called her mildly passable line reading in Shakespeare in Love.
Twenty years later, I am still angry about this. My hatred for Paltrow’s win may be the longest relationship I’ve had with anything in my life. And I am not letting it go. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
It doesn’t help that Blanchett repeated her Best Actress loss nine years later, again for playing Elizabeth. (Yes, I know she won Best Supporting Actress in 2005, but we all know that was a consolation prize.) Although, honestly, I was okay with Marion Cotillard getting it for playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose and personally, if I were an Oscar voter, I would have given it to Julie Christie for her turn as a woman losing everything to Alzheimer’s in Away from Her anyway. But still.
Blanchett finally won in 2014, for her scenery-chewing role as Jasmine in the Woody Allen movie, Blue Jasmine. Was it her finest performance? Not if you ask me. But it was about time, and finally I kind of got the Geraldine Page thing.
We’re facing a similar situation this year, as Glenn Close tries to take home the gold for the first time in seven nominations, for her role in the little-seen The Wife. But standing in her way is none other than Lady Gaga, nominated for her breakout performance in the nine-hundredth remake of A Star is Born. A win for Gaga is the kind of story Hollywood loves. But Close is an undeniable legend, a three-time Tony Award winner, and at 71 this could be her last chance. She and Gaga tied for the Best Actress win at the recent Golden Globe Awards, so this one is a real nail-biter.
Close seemed genuinely relieved to tie at the Golden Globes. Perhaps she’s been having flashbacks to the 1987 Oscars, when she was also up against a musical diva and ultimately lost to Cher for her performance in Moonstruck. For the pure camp factor, I was thrilled that Ms. Sarkisian won that year. Watching the ceremony in the lounge of my college dorm, I cheered loudly. But really it was Close who should have taken it, for her role as the utterly unhinged bunny-boiler Alex in Fatal Attraction.
Will history repeat itself this year? We’ll find out on February 24. Who do I want to win? My heart says Gaga, but as long as it’s not Paltrow or Trump, I don’t really care. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. More Michael Thomas Ford