Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best Actress Quandary

Just a quickly as Sandra Bullock won the best actress Oscar for The Blind Side, I began to struggle to hold it together. How could I find logic with a major award going to a performance that I didn't quite admire in a film I out and out didn't like. And then it dawned on me-- the Academy has been doing this sort of thing with this sort of category since it's history. It's hard, really really hard to find the last time that the Academy and myself have agreed on best actress. The oddity, of course, it that it's probably my favorite category. There always seems to be more drama involved, so more investment for me. The last time Oscar and me agreed was likely in 1996 when Frances McDormand won for Fargo, a win that still shocks me to this day. She was the best that year, and think it's hard to disagree with that. That past decade in best actress land was:

2000: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
2001: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball
2002: Nicole Kidman, The Hours
2003: Charlize Theron, Monster
2004: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
2005: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
2006: Helen Mirren, The Queen
2007: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
2008: Kate Winslet, The Reader
2009: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

The most satisfying win on my part was likely Roberts in Erin Brockovich. Not that I would've voted for her necessarily-- my vote would have been for Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream, or on another given day perhaps Laura Linney for You Can Count on Me, but Roberts was sublime in the Soderbergh docudrama, in a nicely crafted pure movie star performance, which done right (like Nicole Kidman did in Moulin Rouge! and the un-nominated The Others) is a thing of gold, and Oscars. And while I don't intend to be distasteful because none of those ten women were detestable, or even embarrassing choices on the Academy standpoint, they just weren't the pantheon of riches it could and should be. For example, on the flipside, the Oscar choices for best actor and my personal taste often overlap; I'm never really disappointed or nearly as passionate up in arms about it-- Sean Penn winning for Milk or Daniel Day-Lewis winning for There Will Be Blood-- how can I argue with that kind of unparralled greatness.

Another thing that kind of does sicken me about some of these choices (especially the winners of 2001-2004) was that pretty ladies Berry, Kidman, Theron and Swank were deemed Oscar-able for "de-glamming" a part of which I never liked. One could judge these four performances till the end of time (I don't think any of them are bad, nor great), but it was distasteful from my perspective that an actress had to "ugly" themselves up to be taken seriously for their craft. Fortunately, the winners after that, to varying degress, were allowed to pretty on screen, even sexualized in the case of Kate Winslet in The Reader.

But I do find it dismaying that in practically ever other award the Academy provides there's a greater meeting of their eyes and mine, except this one. I do realize that my taste differ slightly (and sometimes largely) from the Academy. I tend to champion smaller, little seen fare a bit more. I tend to like films that may be a bit too challenging for the Academy's taste. I heartily agree. But I also think that the girls are given more a chance to showcase themselves in smaller films, and foreign films for that, than in big Hollywood. This is hardly a new arguement, there's always been rampart sexism in the industry, and pretty much everything on the subject has already been said. But I want to know why the best actress divide is so dominant when I fully admire, or at least appreciate the other acting winners: Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz, and Mo'Nique were all exquiste choices, if predicatable, no complaints. That's my point!

My choices for best actress this decade:

2000: Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream (nominated\lost)
2001: Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive (not nominated)
2002: Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven (nominated\lost)
2003: Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen (not nominated)
2004: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (nominated\lost)
2005: Joan Allen, The Upside of Anger (not nominated)
2006: Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal (nominated\lost)
2007: Laura Linney, The Savages (nominated\lst)
2008: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (not nominated)
2009: Tilda Swinton, Julia (not nominated)

I get that the Oscars are really a popularity contest, and perhaps I'll close with that. The aggraviting thing about Sandra Bullock's win is really that I want to be outraged and disillusioned by it, but her speech was so clever and wonderful. The damn warmth of that woman making me come across evil while she wittily begrudges George Clooney for throwing her in a pool, and calling Meryl Streep her lover. The speech was more Oscarable in my book than the corny performance, but I can't hate on her too much more now can I. I am, like a trained seal, required to watch in horror whoever wins my favorite award next year.

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