Her reaction to an Oscar for Fargo suggested a complex attitude towards fame. With Three Billboards, it will be tested again
Winners of the Oscar for best actress can pretty much choose what to do next. But, when Frances McDormand won in 1996 – for her performance as an eccentric but unfoolable Minnesota cop in Fargo – she made choices that surprised Hollywood.
The best thing about the award, she told interviewers, was that she was now famous enough to be cast in a Sesame Street video giving tips to children who got lost. Then, at a point where she could have picked any film, she chose to go to the Gate theatre in Dublin for a revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. She specifically asked the Gate not to mention her Oscar in the programme.
Elizabeth Taylor? Meryl Streep? Frances McDormand? Our chief critic picks a winner from his five nominees – and reveals who you chose as your champion
The Academy award for best actress confers a burdensome glamour on its recipient, in most cases a career-high but sometimes a career-end, a longed-for prize that nothing can top, making its winner a pampered jewel in a very male prestige display. Like almost everything about the Academy Awards, it rewards tragedy rather than comedy, and grandiloquence rather than subtlety, so there is something operatic in lining up a five-part fantasy league of the best actress winners. But these are some of the most glorious and intensely pleasurable performances it is possible to watch.
Frances McDormand excels as a mother taunting the police to uncover the truth about her daughter’s death
Life and death, heaven and hell, damnation and redemption collide in this blisteringly foul-mouthed, yet surprisingly tender, tragicomedy from British-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh. Lacing a western-tinged tale of outlaw justice with Jacobean themes of rape, murder and revenge, McDonagh’s second American-set feature finds a grieving mother naming and shaming the lawmen who have failed to catch her daughter’s killer.
The subject is no laughing matter, but as with his 2008 debut feature, In Bruges, McDonagh’s Chaucerian ear for obscenity provokes giggles, guffaws and gasps in the most inappropriate circumstances. More importantly, he underpins the anarchic nihilism of his narrative with a heartbreaking meditation upon the toxic power of rage. When characters, struggling to make sense of all this chaos, utter platitudes such as “anger just begets greater anger” and “through love comes calm”, it seems less like a killing joke than a weirdly sincere mission statement.