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Best Actress Oscar Winners - 1970s

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Hollywood in the 1970s was markedly different than the one that existed in the previous three decades. The old studio system was gone thanks to financial struggles and a seismic cultural shift that saw the rise of the youth-oriented counterculture. Hollywood responded by opening the doors wider to more experimentation, resulting in a second golden age known as New Hollywood.

Unlike the heroines of movies past, actresses were featured more and more as strong independent women. In the 1970s, leading actresses bucked their male counterparts while seeking independence from male power structures, while in some cases becoming the very definition of women's lib. The envelope please…

1. 1970 Best Actress – Glenda Jackson in ‘Women in Love’

MGM Home Entertainment
Before she was a member of the British Parliament, Glenda Jackson was an acclaimed actress who won two Academy Awards in the 1970s. Her first came in this adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s controversial novel about love and sex in 1920s England, which became notorious for its nude wrestling scene between co-stars Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. Jackson’s performance as the free-spirited Gundrun Brangwen earned her the Oscar over Jane Alexander in The Great White Hope, Ali McGraw in Love Story, Sarah Miles in Ryan’s Daughter and Carrie Snodgrass in Diary of a Mad Housewife.
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2. 1971 Best Actress – Jane Fonda in ‘Klute’

Warner Bros.
The first in Alan J. Pukula’s so-called paranoia trilogy, Klute starred Donald Sutherland as a wet-behind-the-ears private eye investigating the disappearance of a friend (Robert Mill). But it was Jane Fonda’s performance as the unabashed Bree Daniels, a high-class prostitute being stalked by one of her clients, that elevated this stylish counterculture film noir. Despite her Vietnam War activism – but before her notorious “Hanoi Jane” incident – Fonda won her first Academy Award, beating out fellow nominees Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Glenda Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday, Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots and Janet Suzman in Nicholas and Alexandra.
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3. 1972 Best Actress – Liza Minnelli in ‘Cabaret’

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
As the overtly sexual Sally Bowles, whose unrelenting promiscuity inside a debouched Berlin club comes under threat from encroaching Nazism, Liza Minnelli was far and away the Best Actress that year. Bob Fosse’s adaptation of the Broadway musical featured stylish musical numbers – including Minnelli’s iconic song, “Mein Herr,” where she does interesting things with a chair – and earned 10 nominations, winning eight. But it was Minnelli who received the lion’s share of praise, easily the favorite over Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues, Maggie Smith in Travels with My Aunt, Cicely Tyson in Sounder and Liv Ullmann in The Emigrants.
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4. 1973 Best Actress – Glenda Jackson in ‘A Touch of Class’

Arrow Films
After losing Oscar to Fonda’s performance in Klute, Jackson won her second Oscar of the decade for her depiction of a British dress designer whose affair with a married American insurance adjuster (George Segal) goes totally and comically awry. This romantic comedy from Melvin Frank became a sleeper hit and showed of Jackson’s surprising comedic skills, as she coasted to victory over fellow nominees Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty, Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were and Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.
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5. 1974 Best Actress – Ellen Burstyn in ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’

Warner Bros.
Burstyn returned to contention the following year for her winning performance as a newly widowed woman who pursues her long-held dreams of becoming a singer, only to fall into waitressing while facing the prospect of renewed domesticity upon meeting a divorced rancher (Kris Kristofferson). Directed by Martin Scorsese, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was a small, but effective film that was both criticized and praised for its feminist message. Burstyn’s turn as the conflicted Alice brought home Oscar, while the movie was later adapted into the noted sitcom, Alice, starring Linda Lavin.
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6. 1975 Best Actress – Louise Fletcher in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

HBO Home Video
Louise Fletcher reached the height of her career playing the ruthless Nurse Ratched, whose tight-fisted control over a psychiatric ward is temporarily loosened by an anti-authoritarian criminal (Jack Nicholson) faking mental illness to avoid hard prison time. Fletcher’s performance as the icy Ratched earned her a statue in the only nomination of her career, beating out Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H., Ann-Margaret in the rock opera Tommy, Glenda Jackson as the titular Hedda and Carol Kane in Hester Street.
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7. 1976 Best Actress – Faye Dunaway in ‘Network’

MGM Home Entertainment
Helping to usher in the second golden age with her iconic leading role in Bonnie and Clyde, Faye Dunaway became New Hollywood’s top actress with The Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown and Three Days of the Condor. Nominated twice before in 1967 and 1974, Dunaway finally took home Oscar for playing the manipulative television executive Diana Christensen, who turns mad-as-hell news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) into a ratings juggernaut in Sidney Lumet’s prescient satire Network. Dunaway won out over fellow nominees Marie-Christine Barrault in Cousin, cousine, Talia Shire in Rocky, Sissy Spacek in Carrie and Liv Ullmann in Face to Face.
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8. 1977 Best Actress – Diane Keaton in ‘Annie Hall’

MGM Home Entertainment
Dubbed everybody’s favorite Woody Allen film, Annie Hall starred Diane Keaton as the titular, high-strung singer who’s relentlessly romanced by comedy writer, Alvy Singer (Allen), constantly philosophizing on the idea of love. Keaton’s performance earned her the Best Actress Oscar over Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point, Jane Fonda in Julia, Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point, and Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl. The actress also triggered an unexpected fashion trend: tight bell-bottoms and form-fitting tube tops were thrown out in favor of Keaton’s more androgynous rumpled menswear.
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9. 1978 Best Actress – Jane Fonda in ‘Coming Home’

MGM Home Entertainment
Fonda’s best decade of her career was capped with her second Academy Award. In Coming Home, she gave a touching performance as a V.A. hospital volunteer whose love and companionship help rehabilitate a bitter veteran (Jon Voight) returned home from the war a paraplegic. Directed by Hal Ashby, Coming Home was a labor of love for the actress, who began developing the project in 1972 for her production company, IPC Films. The hard work paid off, as Fonda won Best Actress over Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata, Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year, Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman and Geraldine Page in Interiors.
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10. 1979 Best Actress – Sally Field in ‘Norma Rae’

20th Century Fox
The casting of girl-next-door Sally Field in the titular role of Norma Rae was a revelation. Previously, Field had been known to audiences as TV’s Gidget and Burt Reynold’s love interest in Smokey and the Bandit. Few were prepared for America’s sweetheart to turn in an uncharacteristically assertive performance that became the very symbol of union strife and feminist empowerment. Of course, most remember Field’s rather ignominious acceptance speech, where she declared that “you really like me.” But that speech was for a powerful turn that bested the likes of Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over, Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome, Marsha Mason Chapter Two, and Bette Midler in The Rose.
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