My vote - Best Actress 1961
There had been both worse and better Best Actress years for me to review in the past, but the 3 films Breakfast at Tiffany’s and lately I’ve had a lot of coincidences related to this film. To see the post on how the 5 actresses got nominated, click here.
I discovered were at least interesting and I had always been curious about them. I also had no idea who the winner would be and, in fact, it proved to be a rather easy & obvious choice. Also, it’s always nice to revisit
If #1 was an easy choice for me, the same could be said about my #2. From then on, it’s all a bit mixed up. While I found qualities in all 3 performances following, none was truly exciting. I am literally coming back to this and changing the ranking minutes before posting. In the end, it’s all about passion, I guess. I can’t believe who I’m choosing for #3, but the performance grew on me. #4 makes small mistakes, but it’s also not very creative. My #5 is a performance that people tend to love, but I find it really overrated; no remorse there.
So here is how I ranked them:
The screentime: approximately 71 minutes and 41 seconds (74.4% of the film)
The film: It’s surprisingly good and easy to watch, except towards the end when it loses both the intensity and the fun. Some thoughts on it: LINK.
The role: Sophia plays Cesira, a loud-mouthed Italian woman, mother of a teenage girl, trying to keep her daughter safe during WWII.
The performance: You know what, it IS the role she was born to play. Sure, she’s a bit young for the part, but the energy she brings to the screen, the tears and the humour are all fascinating to look at, captivating and often entertaining. It’s the kind of performance only an European actress could’ve created – there’s no fuss to it, just pure emotions on display in what would be the opposite of anything theatrical. She’s extremely beautiful, but the performance doesn’t rely on looks. It’s all about what her character feels and her honesty. The highly dramatic scenes towards the end are carried perfectly, balanced beautifully. An almost 5, since I have no excuse to go for less.
The highlight: Her final scene with her daughter.
The screentime: approximately 70 minutes and 38 seconds (64.6% of the film)
The film: I had seen it a couple of times before. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s fun and it plays well even nowadays. Some thoughts on it: LINK.
The role: Audrey plays Holly, a beautiful party girl and part-time escort, who befriends a handsome neighbour while looking for the right rich guy.
The performance: The character was created for a different kind of girl, but at least we can all agree that Audrey brings a lot of class to it. She tries to be funny and relaxed and look drunk, and it succeeds most of the time, even though you can tell she’s out of her comfort zone. But the performance has class, it has some relatable emotions and some smarts to it. The dramatic talent she brings in the post-engagement scenes feels right for the film and the character’s arc is nicely done. We knew the camera loves Audrey; but such a performance doesn’t become iconic without some real acting behind it. An almost 4.
The highlight: The taxi scene towards the end.
The screentime: approximately 67 minutes and 29 seconds (59.6% of the film)
The film: Listen, it’s just Tennessee Williams doing his thing. It’s not his best material, so the film is not exciting; but it had me curious. Some thoughts on it: LINK.
The role: Geraldine plays Alma, a frustrated spinster whose unrequited love for a handsome doctor creates trouble in their lives.
The performance: To call this performance theatrical feels like the understatement of the year. She had actually played the role on stage, so all she had to do was get ready for her close-up. The performance is gradually growing on me (because I usually tend to favour Geraldine) and I have literally pushed it to #3 just now, but I have to be objective: she creates a dislikeable character that I’m not 100% sure can be put on the writing. She’s delicious to watch throughout, but in an almost involuntarily humorous way. Where there should be nuances, there’s a didactical, almost unnatural acting style. Strangely, there are countless highs and lows in a performance that can be seen as mostly tiresome. I don’t know: I still am rather fascinated and confused by it, even after seeing it twice. A strong 2.
The highlight: Trying to seduce John but realizing it’s too late.
The screentime: approximately 49 minutes and 46 seconds (37.1% of the film)
The film: A well written and nicely directed film, with a strong acting ensemble and a captivating ending. Some thoughts on it: LINK.
The role: Piper plays Sarah, an alcoholic woman who falls in love with an insecure pool player and helps him become a better man.
The performance: Truth is it’s a role that could’ve been played in many different ways. My problem with it is that I never really connected with the character and in the end I didn’t really care about what happened to her. Just like in the case of Natalie, the performance lacks a certain sparkle and I question how emotionally available she allows her character to be. Even in her vulnerable moments, there’s a feeling of arrogance that rubs me the wrong way. There’s too much class in this troubled woman and Piper’s acting ends up looking a bit strange next to Newman’s more realistic approach.
The highlight: Getting drunk at the party and speaking the truth.
The screentime: approximately 56 minutes and 37 seconds (46.3% of the film)
The film: It’s dated as hell, but there’s some honesty in the screenplay. Strangely enough, the problem comes from the casting. Some thoughts on it: LINK.
The role: Natalie plays Deanie, a good girl who has a nervous breakdown after her handsome boyfriend dumps her.
The performance: What’s the catch? I don’t get it. When she gets a big scene, she hides her face and I can only assume it’s because the acting skills are not there to carry it through the right way. Unlike Geraldine, there’s nothing exciting in her rather theatrical choices, no sparkle, no real energy. There’s little charisma and too much dignity; the performance needed charm and, while I did sense the character’s struggle at times, it’s as if she puts no real effort in making the character even remotely interesting. It’s my opinion she cannot carry the film, not that Beatty’s anywhere close.
The highlight: Reading the poem in the classroom.
How did the Academy vote: I’m quite sure it wasn’t an easy win for Sophia since this was the first time (?) they rewarded a (leading) Oscar to a foreign-language performance. And the film hadn’t received any other nominations. But given the runner-ups, you can tell I’m thrilled with her win. Daniel P. tried to convince me that Natalie was the runner-up, but after seeing Splendor again, I feel like #2 was Geraldine – sure, it’s a polarizing performance, but it’s flashier and it had the critics’ support. Natalie was a close 3rd, for sure (not sure Best Picture winner West Side Story worked in her favour). Feel free to argue on my guessing game. :) The other two nominees didn’t really stand a chance: Audrey was probably 4th, because Breakfast was a hit. Piper was definitely 5th, because she was an unknown and not the star of her film.
And those are my thoughts on 1961.
What’s next: Another draw, this time from the 80s & 90s. There will be 15 options to choose from [all except 1980, 1985, 1992 & 1994 already discussed + 1987 because for some reason, although I’d seen it in the past, I don’t have a copy of Anna to see it again and count the screentime].
To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, you can go to the column on the right.