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365 Days of Oscar: Don’t Forget Christine Dunford

Here’s why the Oscars should exist: to forever preserve the sterling film work that might otherwise be forgotten over time. This is why I get mad when exorbitant star campaigns win out over worthy performances by lesser-known actors in smaller films: because people will forget them. And I’ve always feared that that would be the case with the great Christine Dunford, who shone in the 1997 indie Ulee’s Gold.

Dunford is Helen, the drug-addicted daughter-in-law of the title character (played by Peter Fonda). Over the course of the film, her character goes through an enormity of physical and emotional changes, especially as she goes straight and tests the newly reformed bonds with her daughters. It’s quite a performance to remember. Alas, no money, no campaign, and a more famous co-star (Home Improvement‘s Patricia Richardson) meant that no one took notice. Fonda would receive a Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination himself, and while the film fared well at the 1998 Independent Spirit Awards, the Supporting Actress nomination went to Richardson. It was a real shame.

I don’t know where you can find Ulee’s Gold, but it’s worth the watch if you can.

This article is part of a special year-long series of anecdotes, reflections and thoughts about the Academy Awards.