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They Were Robbed! Great Oscar Mistakes

With the Academy Awards just a few weeks away, it's time to focus on a number of performances that should have won the Oscar. There are many more that could be included, but these are a few of my favorite performances that truly deserved Oscar gold.

Norma Shearer, Marie Antoinette (1938)
Bette Davis won the Oscar for Jezebel, and she was quite wonderful, but fellow nominee Norma Shearer gave the performance of her career as the doomed French queen. Shearer, whose career has always been criticized due to her marriage to MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, was outstanding, as she played Marie from age 15 to her death by guillotine at age 38. Shearer is brilliant in the final scenes of the film, where she is imprisoned and finally led to her death. Marie Antoinette is a stunning epic greatly in need of a major reevaluation.

Bette Davis, The Letter (1940) and Joan Fontaine, Rebecca (1940)
Ginger Rogers was a gifted actress, dancer and comedienne, but she did not deserve her Best Actress Award for Kitty Foyle. Joan Fontaine was totally responsible for the great success of Rebecca. This was the first American film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and it won Best Picture that year. Fontaine became a major star after the release of this film. She brilliantly captures the shy, sensitive second Mrs. De Winter. Many felt that Fontaine won the following year for Suspicion as a makeup for not winning in the far superior Rebecca.

Bette Davis had 10 Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars, but her performance as the repressed plantation owner's wife in The Letter is arguably her greatest. Brilliantly directed by William Wyler, this film combines great acting, music and cinematography. It may be the best film released in 1940. (Sorry Rebecca and Grapes of Wrath.)

Gladys Cooper, Now Voyager (1942) and Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Teresa Wright was a lovely and talented actress (Shadow of a Doubt, etc.) but she should not have won the 1942 Best Supporting Actress Award for Mrs. Miniver. There should have been a tie, as fellow nominees Cooper and Moorehead gave performances that are totally unforgettable. Gladys Cooper played the domineering mother of Bette Davis in Now Voyager, and she was incredible. The British theater legend earned two more Oscar bids, but her greatest movie triumph was the evil Mrs. Vale.

Agnes Moorehead actually won the 1942 New York Films Critics Award for Best Actress for her exceptional performance as the repressed Aunt Fanny in Orson Welles' butchered masterpiece. Many critics now rate The Magnificent Ambersons as one of the ten best films ever made, even surpassing Welles' more famous Citizen Kane. Everyone is wonderful in this film, but Agnes Moorehead gave the performance of her long career.

Ingrid Bergman, Notorious (1946)
Ingrid Bergman was not even nominated for her great work as the drunken, promiscuous Alicia in Hithcock's Notorious, but she is brilliant in this great classic and gave the year's best performance. (Olivia de Havillland won for her touching unwed mother in To Each His Own.) For Bergman, coming off her nun's role in Bells of St. Marys and soon to be Broadway's Joan of Arc, Notorious
gave her the richest role of her early Hollywood career. Opposite Gary Grant as the love-smitten FBI agent, Bergman was at the zenith of her beauty and talent.

Jane Greer, Out of the Past (1947)
Loretta Young won the Oscar this year for the mundane comedy The Farmer's Daughter. Jane Greer in the great noir Out of the Past was not even nominated, as her film co-starring Robert Mitchum was an RKO programmer and films like that did not get nominated. It is too bad, as critics now think that Jane Greer's Kathie is one of the great femme fatale bad girls in film history. Jane Greer was gorgeous, and she created a truly memorable monster. Out of the Past is the seminal '40s film noir, and Jane Greer reached cinematic immortality with her portrayal.

Joan Fontaine, Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)
Jane Wyman won the Oscar for her endearing portrayal of a deaf mute in Johnny Belinda. But Joan Fontaine (not nominated) gave the performance of her life in the now classic Letter From an Unknown Woman. Directed by the great Max Ophuls, Letter was not a success when it was released even with the sexy Louis Jourdan as a co-star. Rediscovered by film critics (mostly British), this film is now considered not only Ophul's greatest film but the pinnacle of Joan Fontaine's career. Playing the lovestruck Lisa from age 15 to her death, Fontaine is radiant and gives a performance that lifts the film into the realm of true tragedy. Fontaine is great in her Hitchcock films, but this is the zenith.

Peggy Cummins, Gun Crazy (1949)
OK, so Olvia de Havilland was great and probably richly deserved her second Oscar for The Heiress, but there could have been a tie that year if 30-day poverty row films like Gun Crazy were ever nominated for awards. Peggy Cummins' last American film would give her the role of her life as the truly evil and conniving Annie Laurie Starr. A precursor to Bonnie and Clyde, this film is the
greatest B film ever made and contains a portrait of female villainy unmatched in movie history. Peggy Cummins is gorgeous and deadly in Gun Crazy. She is simply unforgettable.
Next week we will check out the '50s and '60s for even worse Oscar goofs!