(the 7th of the 25 remaining Best Actress nominees!)
JESSICA LANGE IN BLUE SKY (1983)
The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!):
Jodie Foster in Nell
Miranda Richardson in Tom & Viv
Winona Ryder in Little Women
Susan Sarandon in The Client
Blue Sky gives Jessica the opportunity to play a flirty sexpot/tempestuous military wife/outraged victim of injustice/intrepid crusader for the truth and her husband’s freedom. I wonder how she won her Oscar.
I know I’m being somewhat unfair to Jessica; no one becomes a six-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner purely by accident. We definitely got off on the wrong foot with Frances, Sweet Dreams, and Music Box, in which I thought she was misdirected, listless, and pandering (respectively). Even her Supporting Actress win for Tootsie bothers me, fueled as it was by her lead nomination for Frances that same year and coming at the expense of Glenn Close and Teri Garr (a friend once exclaimed that Jessica wasn’t even the best supporting actress in her own movie, let alone the year in cinema!) In Blue Sky, she does an adequate job in a juicy role, but I still don’t feel that she added anything unique to the role or produced a fully human character.
The one thing I will hand Jessica is that she sure looks the part of the high 1950s period, Kodakchrome-tinted beauty. As regards her acting, the film gives her a lot to work with, lunging midway through from domestic drama to social justice drama, leaving equal time for her to make full use of each. She plays to the hilt her hysterical quarrels with her husband (Tommy Lee Jones) the haunting grief of guilelessly helping a power-hungry colonel (Powers Booth) have him institutionalized, and the flinty Thelma & Louise-style vigilante resolve, riding out (on horseback, literally) to liberate him. Still, I never fully got a sense of a character, especially during her shift from petty housewife to brave paladin. This could be partly attributable to ailing director Tony Richardson; the film is riddled with seemingly truncated scenes, linked through arbitrary dissolves and musical buttons, but I still didn’t see a full character in Jessica’s performance, only a series of drastic responses to the machinations of the plot.
Despite all this, it’s kind of easy to picture how Jessica could have won in 1994. The film (shot in 1991) was held up for three years by its distributor’s bankruptcy, and I can imagine this showy performance taking the category by storm in a year that truly had no presumptive frontrunner. Somehow, the quirks of the season once more blessed Jessica with an Oscar, and one that was more earned amid weaker competition than in 1982. Out of her fellow nominees, I’d go with Jodie Foster in Nell for an equally baity, but much braver and more unorthodox performance. But as I said after finishing out 1947, I’m glad to close the book on this year.