My love of October is well documented. Autumn is in full swing, replete with crisp air and colorful foliage. Pumpkin coffee and ales of all sorts are flowing like wine everywhere. And of course the best holiday ever is being celebrated with spooky decorations and horror movie marathons—Halloween. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Another reason to love October, though? My favorite actor, favorite movie star crush, and all around favorite person that I don’t know personally, Michelle Pfeiffer also has a strong connection to this cherished month. Three of her best-ever performances were in films that opened in October: The Fabulous Baker Boys (10-13-1989) Frankie and Johnny (10-11-1991) and White Oleander (10-11-2002). That’s a remarkable trio of films featuring Oscar-worthy work from Michelle, all released within three days in October (in different years, of course).
Crazy as it is to believe, she was only Oscar-nominated for one of those roles, Susie Diamond in Baker Boys (she has received three total Oscar nominations over the years). She was robbed of the Best Actress Academy Award for Baker Boys. That was her year. There is no arguing this. She won every other major and minor award for her magnificence as Susie. I’m still appalled over the Academy voters massive screwup that year in handing it to Jessica Tandy instead.
In a career full of roles that should have earned her Academy Award nominations but didn’t—Married to the Mob, The Age of Innocence, and Mother! being just three of them—few are as galling an omission as Frankie from Frankie and Johnny and Ingrid from White Oleander. Frankie is her career-best performance, as vulnerable and heartbreaking as she’s ever been onscreen, yet still funny and heartwarming. As natural and well-rounded a performance as you’re ever likely to see. And Ingrid is as scorched-earth a character as she’s ever played. Michelle’s portrayal of a narcissistic, sociopathic mother is simply astonishing and should have helped her run away with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress—had she been nominated!
Well, we can now add another stellar career highlight to her history of October excellence: French Exit premiered October 10 at the New York Film Festival. One of the only good aspects of this pandemic is that film festivals have gone virtual, meaning we can purchase tickets and watch premieres in the comfort of our own homes. And that’s exactly what I did this past Saturday night. The critics are already slotting Michelle into the running for the Best Actress Oscar category and I wholeheartedly agree with these assessments. She’s exquisite as a droll, cigarette-smoking, martini-swigging Manhattan socialite whose dead husband’s soul resides inside her black cat. And she makes that bizarre plot point seem completely normal. What a wonderful gift her performance is for film lovers, especially during these exceptionally trying times.
After decades of frustration over the Academy’s ignorance when it comes to Michelle’s Oscar-worthy work, I am cautiously optimistic that this could indeed be her year. I’ll believe it when I see it, of course, but for now it’s rewarding enough to have witnessed a legend turning in some of the best work of her four-decade career. Talk about inspiring! As always, Michelle and fantastic October performances go together like pumpkin and spice. In a topsy-turvy year like this, it’s heartening to see some things never change.