Oscar Justice: Lily Tomlin

Welcome to Season 3 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: Lily Tomlin in Nashville


1975 Best Supporting Actress, Nashville – Lost to Lee Grant, Shampoo


Lily Tomlin began her career in the stand-up comedy circuit. Following a few short stints on television, she joined the cast of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. She became an instant success at the age of 30. Her bevy of characters and commitment endeared her to the television world.

She made her film debut in Robert Altman’s 1975 ensemble opus Nashville. Tomlin was able to break through the host of characters and earned her first (and unfortunately only) Oscar nomination. She continued with a string of commercial and critical hits including The Late Show and the smash-hit 9 to 5.

Tomlin’s 80s and 90s showed no signs of slowing down with successful roles in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, All of Me, Big Business, Short Cuts, and Flirting with Disaster. She continued her success into the 21st century with roles in I Heart Huckabees, A Prairie Home Companion, and Grandma, which she earned a Golden Globe nomination.

These days, Tomlin can be seen on the long-running Netflix series Gracie and Frankie with her 9 to 5 co-star Jane Fonda. Tomlin has a 1986 Tony Award, a 1972 Grammy, and six Emmy awards. Only the Oscar eludes her.


Lily Tomlin defeats Lee Grant at the 1975 Oscars for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.


Tomlin’s brilliance isn’t in what she says (though, that is also brilliant), it’s in what she doesn’t say. Her standout scene involves her character Linnea soaking in Tom’s (Keith Carradine) performance of ‘I’m Easy” in a Nashville bar. Tomlin is portraying this woman as morally conflicted but completely concealed. Her uneasiness is evident as she situates herself in the back of the bar. As the song progresses, her shoulders begin to relax and her fortitude is solidified.

It doesn’t mean that Tomlin isn’t able to flex her considerable comedic muscles. Her motormouth persona is on full display post-coitus with Tom. She is polite but detached and leaves without noticing Tom’s attempts to make her jealous. Linnea has gotten what she wanted and will move on with her life. It helps that her husband (a sleaze ball Ned Beatty) was trying his own attempts at philandering.

Tomlin also puts Linnea’s heart on display. During a dinner scene with her deaf children, Linnea gives them almost undivided attention and communication. Her care towards the kids (and her general apathy towards her husband) immediately endear the audience to her plight. Why shouldn’t she sleep with the handsome folk singer? She got what she wanted, we should be happy. In lesser hands, Linnea could have been wildly unsympathetic, but Tomlin gets the wavelength of what director Robert Altman wants and absolutely nails it.


I’m not one of those people who want to minimize the fact that Lee Grant is the 21st century’s greatest Twitter account. She has given a multitude of great performances and I’m not about to deny her the Oscar win she has, but the options are limited. She was first nominated in 1951 for Detective Story, but I’m not going to take the Oscar away from Kim Hunter for A Streetcar Named Desire. She was also nominated in 1976 for Voyage of the Damned, but I already gave that Oscar to Jodie Foster.

1970 is ripe for the taking. I have already established how much I love to share the wealth, and Helen Hayes won her second Oscar for her performance in Airport. It’s an odd category featuring four performers without a statue (at the time), but the Academy decided to give Hayes her second. Grant gets the nod for her nervy, boozed-up work in The Landlord. I’m more than happy to let Hayes keep her Oscar from 1931’s The Sin of Madelon Claudet. It’s an underseen gem that I really enjoyed.


Lily Tomlin wins Best Supporting Actress in 1975 over Lee Grant
Lee Grant wins Best Supporting Actress in 1970 over Helen Hayes

Next time on Oscar Justice

For the first time in this series, a previous Oscar Justice episode affects a new winner (because he retroactively has an Oscar already). 2021 implications!

All Oscar Justice category fixes

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