(the 5th of the 25 remaining Best Actress nominees!)
ANNE BANCROFT IN AGNES OF GOD (1985)
The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!):
Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful
Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple
Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams
Meryl Streep in Out of Africa
Draped head to toe in stark blacks and whites that absorb every movement, any actress playing a nun is armed with two things: a silhouette and a face. Anne has the most wondrous face of any actress, for the reason of its individual features: those hooded eyes, that thin crescent of a mouth, those severely plunging cheekbones. Her minimalist portrayal of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate works so well because she holds her face in a flawlessly chic mask, while letting the sensual curves of her body do the expressing. In Agnes of God, it is her body that conceals her thoughts and her face, floating above it, that reveals them; whether she’s putting on a gnomic smile or looking daggers at a blanching opponent, she rivals a statue in purity of expression, and sometimes even a gargoyle.
Anne’s expert facial manipulations are her greatest strength in Agnes of God, in which her redoubtable mother superior battles with Jane Fonda’s psychiatrist over a Meg Tilly’s Luna Lovegood-like nun at the center of a pregnancy scandal. Anne’s is probably the least deserving of the three roles to be dubbed a lead performance, both in screen time and centrality to the plot, although the bias carries over from Broadway, where Geraldine Page (coincidentally, 1985’s Oscar winner for The Trip to Bountiful) earned a Tony nomination for the same role. Still, Anne commands every scene, exuding the sense of a woman who truly understands power. The film does her and Jane something of a disservice in its inconsistent characterizations and sudden shifts in mood, both between scenes and within them (there’s no reason for the their initial meeting to go from courteous to hostile so rapidly, and a moment of cigarettes and bonding laughter seems to float apart from the harrowing confrontations that precede and follow.) Even if the plot has its weaknesses, though, Anne is still a tactical expert, playing each note smartly and to the hilt. I’d give the award to Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple narrowly over the Academy’s choice of Geraldine, but this is a delicious performance that I could watch on a loop, and a resounding fifth and final nomination for a great actress.