Six Spot: Which Actress Was Left Out Of the 1994 Best Actress Field?

10

Welcome to the nineteenth entry in our Six Spot series.

The year 1994 features some of the most contentious Oscar races. “Forrest Gump” was selected over “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” for Best Picture. Actor Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for “Forrest Gump.” Even the supporting winners (Martin Landau – “Ed Wood,” Dianne Weist – “Bullets Over Broadway”) were for celebrated performances where actors portrayed other actors. For such a strong year, the 1994 Best Actress race stands out for being shockingly low profile. Let’s take a look at who was nominated.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • Jodie Foster – “Nell”
  • Jessica Lange – “Blue Sky” – WINNER
  • Miranda Richardson – “Tom & Viv”
  • Winona Ryder – “Little Women”
  • Susan Sarandon – “The Client”

OVERALL SUMMARY

The Academy loves to play favorites with certain actresses during the peak of their careers. All five actresses were recent nominees or past winners. On the penultimate night, Jessica Lange won her second Oscar for “Blue Sky,” where she plays an army wife struggling with her mental health. The film also boasts the lowest box office gross of an acting winner since 1980 ($3 million domestic). Still, Lange was incredibly popular with Oscar voters. She received six nominations in the span of twelve years. Her closest rival was likely SAG winner Jodie Foster for “Nell.” If Foster had won, it would have marked her third Oscar win in six years. The Academy loves Jodie Foster, but not quite that much.

All three remaining nominees were previously nominated in either 1992 or 1993. The Oscars were in love with Susan Sarandon. “The Client” was her fourth Oscar nomination and one of three from the past four years. She would win the following year for “Dead Man Walking.” With a box office total of $90 million, Sarandon’s film was the highest grossing of the group. “Tom & Viv” was the lowest grossing film of the nominees, not even cracking $1 million domestic. Still, Miranda Richardson was part of a filmmaking lineage (daughter of Oscar winners Tony Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave) and was nominated in 1992 for “Damage.” The most surprising nominee was Winona Ryder, who had no significant awards precursors that season for her role in “Little Women.” Still, it was an iconic role in a beloved, lauded film. Plus, Ryder was the Oscar’s latest ingenue, having been nominated the prior year for “The Age of Innocence.” 

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Jamie Lee Curtis – True Lies
    • Precursors – Golden Globes (WINNER), Satellite Awards (WINNER), SAG Nominee (in Supporting)
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Visual Effects
  • Geena Davis – “Speechless”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Linda Fiorentino – “The Last Seduction”
    • Precursors – Independent Spirit Awards (WINNER), New York Film Critics Circle (WINNER), BAFTA Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Irene Jacob – “Three Colours: Red”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Director (Krzysztof Kieslowski), Cinematography, Original Screenplay
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh – “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”
    • Precursors – National Society of Film Critics (WINNER), Independent Spirit Awards Nominee, Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Andie MacDowell – “Four Weddings and a Funeral”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee,
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Original Screenplay
  • Shirley MacLaine – “Guarding Tess”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Meg Ryan – “When a Man Loves a Woman”
    • Precursors – SAG Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Meryl Streep – “The River Wild”
    • Precursors – SAG Nominee, Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Emma Thompson – “Junior”
    • Precursors – Golden Globes Nominee
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Original Song

INDIE MOVIE UNDERDOGS

This year, two actresses split the hearts of critics. Both Linda Fiorentino (“The Last Seduction”) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”) won a slew of critics prizes. Fiorentino took the New York Film Critics Circle and Indie Spirits, while Leigh won the National Society of Film Critics prize. Both seemed like big Oscar prospects. Unfortunately, Fiorentino was disqualified because her film had aired on HBO prior to its release in theaters. October Films and ITC Entertainment (the studios behind the film) tried to sue the Academy, but the damage had already been done. Meanwhile, Leigh’s portrayal of writer Dorothy Parker landed her a Golden Globe nomination. The actress seemed well on her way to an Oscar nomination. Yet, the Oscars went with more populist fare with Ryder and Sarandon, rather than the little-seen “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.”

The Oscars finally came around to the “Three Colors” franchise this year. Director Krzysztof Piesiewicz’s three-part saga garnered three nominations (Director, Cinematography, Original Screenplay) for “Three Colours: Red,” its final installment. While this entry performed best with the Academy, lead actress Irene Jacob was left out of the Best Actress race. Juliette Binoche had experienced a similar snub the year before with “Three Colours: Blue.” Still, Binoche won a Cesar Award and earned Golden Globe nomination. Comparatively, Jacob only had nominations at BAFTA and Cesar.

GOLDEN GLOBES COMEDY QUEENS

The Musical/Comedy categories at the Golden Globes always offer a few laughs. The 1994 Lead Actress nominees provide more than its fair share of eyebrow-raising choices. Shirley MacLaine is an acting legend, but her role as a cantankerous first lady in the middlingly reviewed “Guarding Tess” was far from Oscar quality. Those reviews are nothing compared to the horrible notices the political romantic comedy “Speechless” received. Geena Davis earned a nomination despite the film’s 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Lastly, Emma Thompson is a welcome addition to any acting category. However, few would nominate her for anything for her work in “Junior.” Yes, the film where Arnold Schwarzenegger is pregnant. Believe it or not, this won’t be the last time we talk about Schwarzenegger in this article.

Of the Lead Actress in a Musical or Comedy nominees, Andie MacDowell stood the best chance of making it into the Oscar lineup. Her role as an American who falls in love with Hugh Grant was one of the more divisive performances in the film. Yet, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” managed to earn a surprising Best Picture nomination in addition to its Original Screenplay nomination. None of the nominees for Best Actress this year gave performances in a Best Picture selection. This makes more sense when considering (shockingly) all the Best Picture nominees centered on male protagonists. Still, with MacDowell as the only leading lady in a Best Picture nominee, she could have been campaigned to a nomination.

FIRST CROP OF SAG NOMINEES

This year marks the first year of the Screen Actors Guild Awards. This particular ceremony has become one of the strongest precursors in the Oscar Circuit thanks to high voter overlap with The Academy. In the Best Actress category this year, SAG matched Oscars three for five. One of the women who SAG nominated but Oscar-snubbed was Romantic Comedy Queen Meg Ryan. Her role in “When A Man Loves a Woman” gave the actress more dramatic material to work with. Ryan plays an alcoholic mother whose journey to sobriety takes a toll on her family. The film was a modest hit with $50 million but received mixed reviews overall. Ryan’s role ticks off many Oscar boxes (overdue actress, alcoholic role, comedian turns to drama). In the end, Oscar went with a field full of past nominees.

This may be one of the few times Meryl Streep makes it into a Six Spot profile. The legendary actress boasts a record 21 nominations, including three wins. It seems inconceivable that she has missed out on any nominations. “The River Wild” was always going to be a hard sell. Despite Streep’s involvement, it was still a river rafting action movie. Few women have been nominated in lead actress for an action role (Sigourney Weaver was a rare exception for “Aliens”). This film also comes during Meryl Streep’s longest gap between nominations (5 years between 1990 and 1995). Very rarely is Meryl Streep the only nomination from her films. Of her 21 nominations, only four times has she been the film’s sole nominee (“A Cry in the Dark,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “One True Thing,” and “Julie & Julia”). Perhaps Oscar just wasn’t wild for “The River Wild.”

Voters struggled with category placement for Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies.” SAG nominated her in Supporting Actress, but Curtis won the Lead Actress in a Comedy/Musical prize at both the Golden Globes and Satellite Awards. It’s hard to believe an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie turned out a viable Oscar contender in the acting categories. Working in her favor was Jamie Lee Curtis’ overdue factor. Despite iconic performances in “Halloween,” “A Fish Called Wanda” and many other features, Curtis had never been nominated for an Oscar. For what it’s worth, Curtis still wrongfully has zero Oscar nominations to her name. The 90s featured many other children of Hollywood royalty win Oscars for early film roles (see Mira Sorvino and Gwyneth Paltrow). Could these optics have helped Jamie Lee Curtis to an Oscar nomination?

THE SIX SPOT FOR 1994 BEST ACTRESS WAS:

JAMIE LEE CURTIS – “TRUE LIES”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 1994 Best Actress race? Share with us in the comments below.

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