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Oscar Loves a Woman on the Edge: Eight Iconic Best Actress Snubs (CLIPS)

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! February 25, 2014 at 1:40PM

Why does cinema favor the mad woman? It's easy to see why Oscar does: roles like Jasmine French give an actress space to not only chew but swallow and spit up scene after scene. Cate Blanchett will almost certainly win Best Actress this year for her frittered, diabolical performance in "Blue Jasmine" as cinema's archetypical woman-on-the-verge: that pill-popping, martini-swilling mad Medea who men fear and women sometimes dream of (being? playing? escaping into?).
10
Gena Rowlands in 'A Woman Under The Influence'
Gena Rowlands in 'A Woman Under The Influence'

Why does cinema favor the mad woman? It's easy to see why Oscar does: roles like Jasmine French give an actress space to not only chew but swallow and spit up scene after scene. Cate Blanchett will almost certainly win Best Actress this year for her frittered, diabolical performance in "Blue Jasmine" as cinema's archetypical woman-on-the-verge: that pill-popping, martini-swilling mad Medea who men fear and women sometimes dream of (being? playing? escaping into?).

Thus, here are eight classic Oscar snubs in the Best Actress category. Bow down to Gena Rowlands in "A Woman Under the Influence." Watch clips after the jump. Also, check out our TOH! feature on eight scene-stealing female performances from 2013.

Joan Fontaine

1940
Who Won: Ginger Rogers ("Kitty Foyle")
Who Should've Won: Joan Fontaine ("Rebecca")
Who Was Nominated: Bette Davis ("The Letter"), Katharine Hepburn ("The Philadelphia Story"), Martha Scott ("Our Town")

Hitchock's delirious and deliciously twisted English gothic "Rebecca" tends to get lost in the ether when we're talking about his very best films ("Vertigo," "Psycho," etc.) -- as did Joan Fontaine in 1940 when she lost Best Actress to Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle." As the second Mrs. de Winter living in the shadow of the first, Fontaine delivers a note-perfect performance as an object of obsession driven mad by repressed spinster Mrs. Danvers, the live-in housekeeper who quite literally drives Fontaine over the edge. 

Judy Garland

1954
Who Won: Grace Kelly ("The Country Girl")
Who Should've Won: Judy Garland ("A Star Is Born")
Who Was Nominated: Dorothy Dandridge ("Carmen Jones"), Audrey Hepburn ("Sabrina"), Jane Wyman ("Magnificent Obsession")

It was 1954 and Judy Garland was in the hospital when Grace Kelly was named Best Actress for "The Country Girl." Allegedly, camera crews up and left the delivery room before Kelly even reached the stage. And what a wave of disappointment the bedridden Garland must have felt. Nothing in the world of movie musicals tops Garland's virtual one-woman show in "A Star Is Born," where a career-driven starlet becomes (as they often do) a pawn in the Hollywood game. You can't experience Esther Blodgett's highs and lows without feeling that it's Garland's torment, in a role that was intended to be her comeback, we're really watching.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

1958
Who Won: Susan Hayward ("I Want to Live")

Who Should've Won: Elizabeth Taylor ("Cat on the Hot Tin Roof")
Who Else Was Nominated: 
Deborah Kerr ("Separate Tables"), Shirley MacLaine ("Some Came Running"), Rosalind Russell ("Auntie Mame")

Though Taylor rightly won in 1966 for the best work of her career in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" the Best Actress prize could have easily gone to her for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," in which she plays Tennessee Williams' sexually rejected Maggie the Cat with ample flourishes of feline sexuality and woman-scorned bitterness. Every cutting jest slung at Paul Newman's broken husk of a man, Brick, stings with venomous truth and anguish. That year she was beat by Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live" before finally winning in 1960 for "Butterfield 8"--an overrated movie and not her best work.

1974
Who Won: Ellen Burstyn ("Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore")
Who Should've Won: Gena Rowlands ("A Woman Under the Influence")
Who Else Was Nominated: Diahann Carroll ("Claudine"), Faye Dunaway ("Chinatown"), Valerine Perrine ("Lenny")

For my money, all actresses will forever be in the shadow of Gena Rowlands' towering performance in the verite psychodrama "A Woman Under the Influence," directed by John Cassavetes. Rowlands plays Mabel Longhetti, a nutty but lovable housewife with personality disorders for days, and a loyal husband who valiantly puts up with her manic bouts of loopy madness, despair and loneliness. It's a truly astonishing embodiment of mental illness -- and the beginning of a longtime collaboration between director and actress in which Rowlands would outdo herself again and again (see "Opening Night," "Love Streams"). Burstyn's is a worthy performance in Scorsese's tender "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," but she should have won in 2000 for another film (more on that later).

1978
Who Won: Jane Fonda ("Coming Home")
Who Should've Won: Geraldine Page ("Interiors")
Who Else Was Nominated: Ingrid Bergman ("Autumn Sonata"), Ellen Burstyn ("Same Time, Next Year"), Jill Clayburgh ("An Unmarried Woman")

In a year rife with great female performances, Jane Fonda won the Best Actress Oscar only six years after winning the same prize for Alan J. Pakula's terrifically dark "Klute." And while "Coming Home" holds up as a tender postwar film from director Hal Ashby, Geraldine Page (who won Best Actress in 1986 for "The Trip to Bountiful") made a good film great with her unglued performance in Woody Allen's "Interiors." Playing the banished matriarch of a dissolute family whose husband leaves her for a bawdier, younger woman, Page throws herself headlong into the saddest work of her career--most memorably, a candle-side freakout in a New York church.

This article is related to: Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Academy Awards, Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett, Features


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.