Oscar Justice: Gena Rowlands

Welcome to Season 2 of Oscar Justice, a weekly feature at IceCream4Freaks.  It’s a simple concept: I give an Oscar to someone who rightfully deserved it, then I follow the repercussions down the line until I am satisfied.

This week on Oscar Justice: Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence


1974 Best Actress, A Woman Under the Influence – Lost to Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
1980 Best Actress, Gloria – Lost to Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter


Gena Rowlands began her career on the stage and television. She appeared in 10 separate TV shows before making her film debut in 1958’s The High Cost of Living. Following continued television work, Rowlands teamed up with her husband John Cassavettes, making ten films together starting in 1963 with A Child is Waiting.

Throughout the years, Rowlands and Cassavettes combined for an incredible run of films, including Faces in 1968, A Woman Under the Influence in 1974, Opening Night in 1977, and Gloria in 1980. Rowlands earned two Oscar nominations in that span while Cassavettes earned three, despite neither ever winning.

The couple worked together until Cassavette’s death in 1988, but Rowlands continued on with a steady film and television career which included Something to Talk About, Hope Floats, The Mighty, and Playing by Heart. Modern audiences know her best in The Notebook, directed by her son Nick.

Rowlands has three Emmy awards in eight nominations, two Golden Globes in eight nominations, and an honorary Oscar from 2015. Rowlands is currently retired from acting and is still kicking at 91 years old.


Gena Rowlands defeats Ellen Burstyn at the 1974 Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.


Go watch this performance. Seriously, stop reading and go watch A Woman Under the Influence. Rowlands gives one of the best acting performances in the history of film. Mabel Longetti is a character filled with flaws, but it’s not for a lack of trying to be good.

Mental illness is a tough thing to depict with realism, but Rowlands embodies Mabel with repetitive energy where she attempts to mimic normal behavior, but that just makes it come across as that much stranger to the rest of the world. All she wants to do is be there and happy for her husband and children, but an uncaring world that doesn’t understand her won’t let her do that.

Even her husband, who understands her better than anyone can’t deal with how the rest of the world treats her. This leads to Mabel being institutionalized and robbed of her warmth and energy when she returns to her family.

At no point do you feel like this is an acting performance, but more of a picture of the mental breakdown of this woman. Truly masterful work.


The great thing about awarding this performance is the immediate repercussions are impactful but not devastating. Burstyn is absolutely a performer who deserves an Oscar. Of her five other nominations, you only have to go back one year to 1973 and give her the statue for the horror classic The Exorcist.

If Burstyn wins in 73, Glenda Jackson is deprived of an Oscar, but she already has another one from 1970, so she is down to the one. Everyone has one statue. Easy peezy.


Geena Davis wins Best Actress in 1974 over Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn wins Best Actress in 1973 over Glenda Jackson

That does it for Season 2 of Oscar Justice! We’ll be back with more justice in 2022!

All Oscar Justice category fixes

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