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Several of her films were critical and commercial disappointments, including Darkman (1990), starring Liam Neeson, The Butcher's Wife (1991),
starring Demi Moore, and Beyond Rangoon (1995), starring Patricia Arquette. She made several acclaimed TV movies, including Crazy in Love (1992), costarring Holly Hunter, and actor Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut, The Good Old Boys (1995).
McDormand won virtually every available critical prize, including an Oscar for Best Actress, for her dead-on, hilarious turn as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant Minnesota policewoman who cracks a decidedly twisted set of crimes in Fargo (1996), written by Joel and Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen. Using a perfect Minnesotan accent—complete with countless "yahs" and "you betchas"—and sporting a huge prosthetic belly, McDormand truly seemed to become Marge, underscoring her unmatched ability as a character actress. That same year, she turned in similarly deft characterizations in John Sayles' low-budget Western Lone Star, and the thriller Primal Fear as a psychiatrist studying a young murder suspect, played by Edward Norton (the film also featured Richard Gere and Laura Linney).
In the months following her triumph at the Oscars, McDormand costarred with Glenn Close in the World War II-era drama Paradise Road (1997), directed by Bruce Beresford, and in the little-seen independent film Talk of Angels (1998). She also played the schoolmistress Miss Clavel in the big screen version of the classic children's book Madeline (1998).
With a pair of skillful supporting performances in 2000, McDormand again generated serious Oscar buzz. The real problem for awards night prophets was choosing between her disapproving mother of budding rock journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) in Almost Famous and her married college chancellor in love with rumpled novelist Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) in Wonder Boys.
In the end, it was her role in Almost Famous, writer-director Cameron Crowe's autobiographical ode to 1970s rock & roll, that earned McDormand her third Oscar nod, for Best Supporting Actress. She shared that distinction with her costar, Kate Hudson, who played the groupie who captures William's heart. McDormand also had a special bond with another of her costars in the film, Billy Crudup, with whom she starred in a 1998 stage adaptation of Oedipus.
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