Judi Dench’s roughly eight minute performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love was not the briefest to ever win an Academy Award; that record is still held by Beatrice Straight at six minutes for 1976’s Network. But it’s still pretty friggin’ short — and pretty friggin’ memorable. Dench’s droll, deftly understated take on the monarch sets much of the film’s plot in motion, gives its theatrical climax a pungent grace note, and steals every square inch of the screen for every precious second she’s on it. And yet, when Dame Judi collected her Oscar for the performance, even she felt obliged to note, while regarding her statue, “I feel for eight minutes on the screen, I should only get a little bit of him.”
Should she have gotten any of him? We’ve been looking back at all the major Oscar categories from 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years ago and asking just that question in our Recall the Gold survey of the entertainment industry. For a decade, the performances of these five best supporting actress nominees — including Kathy Bates (Primary Colors), Brenda Blethyn (Little Voice), Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie), and Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters) — have percolated in the popular culture, and now we want to know if you, PopWatchers, think Dench’s still rates as the most Oscar-worthy.
Ten years ago, her win wasn’t a sure thing. Redgrave had won the Golden Globe for her role as the hilariously no-nonsense maid to Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale (fellow nominee Ian McKellan). Bates had taken home the Screen Actors Guild award for her role as a hilariously take-no-prisoners political operative. Both were far more traditional supporting performances (i.e. they we’re a fair shade longer than eight minutes). Bates’ movie, however, was otherwise seen as a disappointment, and it was released way back in March 1998 — rarely an Oscar-friendly month. As for Redgrave, perhaps some voters thought Gods and Monsters should be recognized by McKellan’s performance instead (er, whoops), or by screenwriter Bill Condon’s win for best adapted screenplay.
Blethyn and Griffiths were caught in a different bind: They arguably gave lead performances against a fellow actress with a far showier role. Blethyn tore into the chance to play an oft-sozzled stage mom to Jane Horrocks’ meek title character; the movie, however, was specifically created to show off Horrocks’ jaw-dropping impersonations of legendary Hollywood singers (Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland), and Blethyn’s over-the-top scenery chewing may have turned off voters besides. (The film, alas, has also lived up to its title: I can’t even find the trailer on the Web.) Meanwhile, much of Hilary and Jackie, a biopic about sisters and musical rivals Hilary and Jacqueline du Pré, is told from Griffiths’ perspective as the older, more ordinary sister Hilary…who is overshadowed by her brilliant, egomaniacal younger sister Jackie, played by (ahem) Best Actress nominee Emily Watson. Though the Griffiths stunning work in the film launched quite the healthy career (HBO’s Six Feet Under, ABC’s Brothers & Sisters), she was, at the time, the designated “now who is she again?” nominee.
So, PopWatchers, is there still, in the inimitable words of presenter Robin Williams, nothing like a Dame? Or should another actress have be anointed with Oscar gold? Vote in our poll below; if you need a reminder of the performances, check out the clips after the jump. While you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the 1993 Best Picture race; also, check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.
Judi Dench’s Oscar victory for Shakespeare in Love, with short excerpts of all five nominated performances (Robin Williams’ japery ends at the 1:20 mark)
Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
Rachel Griffiths, Hilary and Jackie
Lynn Redgrave, Gods and Monsters (Redgrave’s scenes start at 4:05 mark)