Ranking Best Actress nominees, 1990s edition

Few nominations deserved a recommendation for prosecution, but the modern malaise gripping Hollywood producers and casting directors about casting women in strong parts not contingent on the whims of the men they date or bed? The symptoms showed themselves in the 1990s. The malaise produced predicted side effects too. Racist preconceptions kept Alfre Woodard from getting recognized like co-star Mary McDonnell did in Passion Fish, likely my favorite John Sayles film. After four nominations in which Susan Sarandon’s vinegary assertiveness impressed anyone who saw it (Atlantic City, Thelma & Louise, Lorenzo’s Oil, geez, even The Client), she won for playing an empathetic nun in Dead Man Walking. She’s fine, but it’s not a pox on her earlier work, and Sean Penn should’ve won instead, just like Elizabeth Shue should’ve won for Leaving Las Vegas instead of Nicholas Cage. The least heralded good turn is Stockard Channing’s in Fred Schepisi’s adaptation of the play Six Degrees of Separation, transformed into a modern screwball comedy that like Holiday (1938) remains sharp about class (and race).

NB: I rate the performances, not the films. This should go without saying.

The Hague

Kathy Bates – Misery
Jodie Foster – Nell
Miranda Richardson – Tom & Viv
Bette Midler – For the Boys
Michelle Pfeiffer – Love Field
Julianne Moore – The End of the Affair


Susan Sarandon – The Client
Judi Dench – Mrs Brown
Catherine Deneuve – Indochine
Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love
Helen Hunt – As Good As It Gets
Sharon Stone – Casino
Annette Bening – American Beauty
Emma Thompson – The Remains of the Day
Meryl Streep – Music of the Heart
Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth
Emma Thompson – Sense and Sensibility
Kristin Scott Thomas – The English Patient
Laura Dern – Rambling Rose
Emily Watson – Hilary and Jackie

Sound, Solid Entertainments

Julie Christie – Afterglow
Julia Roberts – Pretty Woman
Susan Sarandon – Lorenzo’s Oil
Meryl Streep – One True Thing
Geena Davis – Thelma and Louise
Frances McDormand – Fargo
Debra Winger – Shadowlands
Susan Sarandon – Dead Man Walking
Janet McTeer – Tumbleweeds
Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs
Kate Winslet – Titanic
Angela Bassett – What’s Love Got to Do With It
Diane Keaton – Marvin’s Room
Meryl Streep – The Bridges Over Madison County
Joanne Woodward – Mr. and Mrs. Bridges

Good to Great

Helena Bonham Carter – The Wings of the Dove
Susan Sarandon – Thelma and Louise
Jessica Lange – Blue Sky
Emily Watson – Breaking the Waves
Winona Ryder – Little Women
Angelica Huston – The Grifters
Brenda Blethyn – Secrets & Lies
Holly Hunter – The Piano
Mary McDonnell – Passion Fish
Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
Stockard Channing – Six Degrees of Separation
Emma Thompson – Howards End

Jury’s Out

Fernanda Montenegro – Central Station

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