Best Actress 1966
Winner: Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nominees: Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman
Ida Kaminská, The Shop on Main Street
Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl
Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
How to imagine what 67-year-old Ukrainian-born theater actress Kaminská must have thought about being short-listed side by side with three young things, lending their faces and personalities to the tangential, kaleidoscopic styles of swinger-set cinema? I wish I loved the performances by Aimée or the Redgraves just a little more. None of them crack the three-star ceiling for me, and none of them would likely be on the list (Vanessa least of all, given her weird vehicle) if more hometown heavyweights had had vehicles in contention; there's a sense of the Academy looking to coronote a second consecutive Julie Christie. But it's a fetching trio of calling-cards, somehow more ingratiating as a collectivity than on their individual bases, and limited more by scripts and directorial aims than by talent and aplomb. That's the hardest case to make for Lynn Redgrave, which is why she's lowest on this list, despite giving Taylor her only real competition for awards that year. Which wasn't much competition, least of all with Oscar...and who, besides Kaminská, can blame him?

Ranking Oscar's Ballot
My Pick:
Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ★ ★ ★ ★
It probably takes an even stronger and more confident actress than Taylor, and a less understandably self-conscious star, to marshal that opening sequence of Woolf ("What's it from, George, what's it from??") as more than an initiation ritual for the audience, a full-dress preview of the completely unTaylorized moods, cadences, and look of this performance. This is what it's like to watch Taylor waddle across a campus quad and gnaw on cold fried chicken. This is how it sounds when a Taylor hen pecks. She is already compelling in this prologue, physically loose (though not uncontrolled) and temperamentally engaging (though not exactly laying out the welcome mat). But the performance really fertilizes when she follows her ulcerated hubby upstairs for a quick roll on the mattress, and then it explodes into vibrant, shifting, richly suggestive life once the whole quartet of players is in place. Without ever letting go of her blowzy theatricality, and keeping it just this side of schtick (basically the same groove where Martha lives her life), Taylor still makes specific decisions about what Martha feels and how she sounds and moves when she thinks about her father, her son, her husband, her libido, her femininity, her drinking, her jealousies, her disappointments. She solves one of Woolf's huge hurdles by convincing us a hostess who simply doesn't allow her guests to leave—and as a hostess, period. She actually seems interested in these people she helps to decimate. If Taylor hasn't quite cracked her big monologue outside the roadhouse or the dizzying opacity of the notorious climax and conclusion, it's a testament to the extraordinary difficulty and, some would say, the unevenness of the play as much as to her own thesping. She's vivid, she's committed, she changes mood on a dime, sometimes in the middle of a line, without scrawling her way arbitrarily through the script. I would say that only three times has Oscar so fully and rightly rewarded an actress for hitting a career-defining pinnacle of a performance by teasing our own awareness of her stardom, and hauling out the subliminal undercurrents and dirty laundry just underneath that familiar persona, and deploying all of this in the service of the character pre-eminently, but also of making herself about three times more interesting than ever before, just as audiences wondered if the best was in the past. I'm thinking of Crawford in '45, Roberts in '00, and Taylor right here.

From There:
Ida Kaminská, The Shop on Main Street ★ ★ ★ ★
Ida Kaminská's performance won't be for everybody, at least not right away. If you're an Emil Jannings fan, or an enthusiast of Eastern European theatrical style in general, you're likely to be hooked by her determined, suggestive, but slightly parodic delineation of the old, hunched, hard-of-hearing Jewish proprietress of a buttons-and-notions store, right on the main plaza of a Czech village that has just been absorbed into Third Reich overrule. If, though, your hackles tend to rise when confronted with long, mugging expressions and large, expressionist gestures, it might just seem like Kaminská is sentimentally rolling through the part, with too much Jewish-mama stereotyping and merry-widow sentimentality, while the heavy lifting is relegated to the carefully judged images and edits and the lead performance by Josef Króner as Tony Brtko (arrogant and hypocritical, but not quite insensitive). Even with a dim but potent memory stored away of the film's and Kaminská's excellence, I got a little impatient with her during the first hour of my second viewing. But as the nightmare of the town's occupation and, worse, the psychological colonizations and, worst, the ominous deportations begins to encroach, Kaminská not only deepens our connection to her character, and plays her fear and despair more directly, she also reveals an impressive scheme behind the earlier movements in the performance. "I know you're only pretending! You knew what was happening!" Tony shouts, in a long-escalating and grotesquely self-serving context: he's drunk, exorcising his own guilt, and desperate to save his own ass. But, in his reprehensible way, which could never be "right," is he onto something? Kaminská's elaborate mimesis of deafness and ignorance starts to crack, such that we grasp it in retrospect as the character's own semi-willful mimesis. What did she know? What did she understand, and what does she now understand? Without violating the tact or the formal lightness of touch that characterize this film (and many other touchstones of the mid-1960s Czech New Wave), Kaminská constructs a performance that seems, occasionally, too heavy or stagebound or old-fashioned but reveals itself as an inspired, deeply affecting, and ethically courageous decision to speculate about a victim's own denials—this isn't the first time this widow has refused a truth—and about the moments when disavowal is forced to give way to—something else. Her line-reading of the single word "pogrom" raises more ghosts and asks more cutting questions than do most Holocaust-themed films, even those with direct representations of the kind this film refuses.

Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The "swinging" pictures of the British New Wave rank among my least favorite subgenre of film, as I've probably lamented before. However energized by nouvelle vague experiments in framing and montage and by the "kitchen sink" politics of then-contemporary English films, Morgan and The Knack and Darling and so many of them seem to struggle with making the cultural critique or the human interest remotely sincere, much less compatible. Thank goodness that Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan, giving by far the most comfortable of her 1966 performances—she's as natural here as she is self-consciously "mysterious" in Blow-Up and merely decorative in A Man for All Seasons—actually commits to being reflective about the demented neediness and insufferable pranksterism of her recently ex- husband (David Warner, unnerving in the title role). She also allows the character to be truly excited by Morgan's unrepentant outlandishness, and then saddened by his outright inability (or refusal) to rein it in. Not only does Redgrave avoid giving the same baffled/fuming/adoring reaction shot throughout the whole picture, as anyone might well have done—as I certainly did, the first time I saw Morgan—but she's able to use her reactions to Morgan as a credible way to characterize what she wants from or lacks in her new relationship with Robert Stephens' Charlie. All well and good, and she's perfeclty lovely to boot. But, almost inevitably, it's still a limited performance: what to do when the script asks you to play a woman who's supposed to hear the line, "Did you know it is generally agreed that there can be no such thing as rape between man and wife," and find it a charmingly uncouth expression of jealousy? Vanessa's not as "groovy" as these films sometimes want to make her (Blow-Up did it, too, in that unbearable moment where she rocks out to some music while smoking a joint), and the scene where she stands up in Stephens' convertible for a spontaneous, "madcap" bout of singing just looks uncomfortable. It's a miracle, given the role and the film, that this isn't a one-star performance, and that it's in fact quite close to a three-star performance. But there's an incomplete woman on the page and in Karel Reisz's mind, or at least in his priorities; Redgrave fills her in as far as she's able, which is real work, but she's too green as yet in 1966 to go further, and rest easier.

Anouk Aimée, A Man and a Woman ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Next in the nouvelle trio is Aimée, working in a French film that looks like British New Wave, instead of the other way around. Talk about beautiful blanks: as I wrote in my full review, the movie never gets past its crushingly over-simplified ideas about thrill-seeking Men and beautiful, mysterious Women. And while my partner has often made the point, quite correctly, that in my ideal video store, the biggest section would be called "A Woman's Heart Is an Ocean of Secrets," I can't get behind a film that doesn't flesh out or complicate those secrets. Lelouch's driving thesis in the film links mystery and conflict not so much to personality as to risk and grief, and Aimée is stuck playing less someone who is interesting on her own terms than someone to whom dramatically convenient things have happened. Seizing what narrow opportunity inheres here, Aimée allows herself to "act" as little as possible and to show Lelouch, and the world, how a regular gal looks as she grieves a stuntman husband (blown to bits in the line of duty!), as she gads about with her young daughter on weekend trips to her boarding school, as she starts opening up to another visiting parent (Jean-Louis Trintignant, of The Conformist and Red), as she makes up her mind what to say or not say about exactly how dead her husband is (I'll leave this for you to discover). Her playing is sensitive and allows for remarkable identification; she is so especially good at playing a kind of self-effacement that is not exaggerated, as it often is in movies, all the way to chronic bashfulness—the dinner scene with Trintignant and their kids is the selling-point here—that you can almost, almost, momentarily forget that she is one of the world's most extraordinarily beautiful women. And almost forget how little else she has to play. Fans of acting that "looks easy" or is really "just being" will find a lot to love here, and there's nothing to dislike, except how Anne Gauthier's big shift, deciding that she loves this two-time acquaintance, exuberantly, instead of just being turned on by him, gets fatally overdrawn by the script—and, inevitably, unrecuperated by the actress, who's had to key the rest of her performance to how underdrawn the character is elsewhere. Aimée has to get by quite often on how eminently, alluringly photographable her face is, and how charismatic and casual she's able to look in (incessant) montage sequences, not on any particular technique or firm, specific handle on character.

Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Same family, same genre, slightly different set of problems. Rather than flaunt its schizoid allegiances to youth-culture rebellion and to same-old-same-old comic melodrama the way Morgan does, Georgy Girl presents itself as a more integrated, character-driven narrative, with unmistakable Swinger accents. The vehicle thus gives Lynn a lot more to work with than Vanessa enjoys: Georgy has got a vicious and pretty "best friend" (a very young Charlotte Rampling), a wacky chum who's also the best friend's steady (Alan Bates), two-working class parents who can't figure out what she's up to (including the Redgraves' own mum, Rachel Kempson), and a wealthy aristocrat, also her parents' employer and a surrogate father since the cradle, who now (!) wants to recruit her as his mistress (James Mason, Oscar-nominated). Plus, we've got dance classes and dancehalls and musical numbers and wigs and babies and boats and face-in-the-crowd wide shots and straight-to-camera close-ups and dialogue along the lines of "No matter what I try, God's got a custard pie up his sleeve." Georgy is basically Shirley Valentine in her younger years (and in fact, I wonder why Willy Russell didn't just write Shirley Valentine that way, since Redgrave and Pauline Collins even look alike). Lynn is more than game with all the tenuously braided subplots and schematic character relationships, and she shows energy and commitment throughout. It certainly helps that, in Bates and Mason, she's got two of the best and spryest British film actors of the century helping to raise her game; their presence in a scene, especially Mason's, always raises the probability that Redgrave will etch the part carefully instead of driving it home on gales of personality. Not that there's anything wrong with that; Muriel's Wedding and Circle of Friends fans will love this, and love Lynn. It's just that she doesn't have the technique to bring Georgy or her story into focus amid some hair-trigger twists of fortune near the end. She's a good sport, willing to react to "Fat Face" as a term of endearment, but rough and unsophisticated whenever she tries to raise the lid on her buried self-contempt, and a little too blank in her bounciness. Yet again, not far from three stars, but I still can't quite go there.

Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!

My Favorites from 1966:

My Pick: Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nominees: Anne Bancroft, 7 Women
Nominees: Françoise Dorléac, Cul-de-sac
Nominees: Ida Kaminská, The Shop on Main Street
Nominees: Margaret Leighton, 7 Women

Honorable Mentions: None

Gourmet Prospects: Stéphane Audran, Les Bonnes femmes; Hana Brejchová, Loves of a Blonde; Claudia Cardinale, The Professionals; Jane Fonda, The Chase; Salome Jens, Seconds; Anna Karina, Bande à part; Bernadette Lafont, Les Bonnes femmes; Giulietta Masina, Juliet of the Spirits; Jeanne Moreau, Mademoiselle; Nina Pens Rode, Gertrud; Tuesday Weld, Lord Love a Duck

Further Research: Bibi Andersson, Duel at Diablo; Ann-Margret, The Swinger; Lauren Bacall, Harper; Candice Bergen, The Group; Leslie Caron, Is Paris Burning?; Leslie Caron, Promise Her Anything; Doris Day, The Glass Bottom Boat; Samantha Eggar, Walk Don't Run; Jane Fonda, Any Wednesday; Chantal Goya, Masculin féminin; Joan Hackett, The Group; Elizabeth Hartman, The Group; Audrey Hepburn, How to Steal a Million; Madhur Jaffrey, Shakespeare Wallah; Felicity Kendal, Shakespeare Wallah; Shirley Knight, The Group; Sophia Loren, Arabesque; Shirley MacLaine, Gambit; Jayne Mansfield, Dog Eat Dog; Millicent Martin, Stop the World: I Want to Get Off!; Virginia McKenna, Born Free; Melina Mercouri, A Man Could Get Killed; Sarah Miles, I Was Happy Here; Maureen O'Hara, The Rare Breed; Rosalind Russell, The Trouble with Angels; Eva Marie Saint, Grand Prix; Eva Marie Saint, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!; Jean Seberg, A Fine Madness; Léna Skerla, The Fire Within; Elke Sommer, The Oscar; Lana Turner, Madame X; Monica Vitti, Modesty Blaise; Jessica Walter, The Group; Kathleen Widdoes, The Group; Natalie Wood, This Property Is Condemned; Joanne Woodward, A Fine Madness

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