THE CONTENDERS: The Actress

ON

Okay, I admit it. I can never get too excited about the Best Actress category. Supporting Actress, yes. You usually get some interesting and fun choices there. Best Actress…only once in a while. It’s almost always weaker and less interesting than the Best Actor category and I say “almost” because I can’t afford to piss off any more women.

Problem #1: There’s not enough passion. You hardly hear passionate cries of outrage when a particular actress doesn’t get nominated. In other words, there’s usually not a Paul Giamatti. Where was the fury last year when the Academy didn’t recognize Uma Thurman‘s tremendous work in Kill Bill Vol. II? Or Julie Delpy in Before Sunset?

In fact, let’s take a closer look at last year. Liam Neeson looked like an early lock when Kinsey was released. Many critics felt it was his best performance. Tom Cruise got some good early Oscar talk for Collateral. Other critic circles preferred Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside. I heard lock around his name a lot too last year. Of course, cleaning up most of the awards was Paul Giamatti for Sideways and there was even some movie geek support for Jim Carrey‘s solid work in Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. And don’t forget the much talked-about snub of The Passion of The Christ where Jim Caviezal was hung up to dry (Jesus!). Any of these guys could have been nominated with little, if any, complaint.

This leads us to Problem #2: The competition is usually weaker. The Best Actress snubs last year? Well, the two big ones for me (Delpy and Thurman) hardly got any real buzz (Uma’s Golden Globe nod doesn’t count…it’s the freaking Golden Globes). Ashley Judd was good in De-Lovely. Good. Better than most everyone else. But just good. Who else? Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones 2? Wonderful.

Problem #3: We almost always know who’s going to win. This is sometimes the problem with the Best Actor race, but not to the same degree. We all knew Jamie Foxx was winning last year. But the year before it was wide open between Bill Murray, Sean Penn and Johnny Depp (who could have benefited from a Murray and Penn vote split). And who saw Adrien Brody out-kissing Nicholson or Day-Lewis the year before?

In the Best Actress category, it’s usually a one-lady race by the time Oscar night comes plodding along. Sometimes there is a legitimate two-lady race (like Hilary Swank versus Annette Bening in 2000, the last time it really came down to two actresses), but most of the time it’s an imaginary two-lady race drummed up by the media (like Hilary Swank versus Annette Bening in 2005). Now usually, I like a good catfight, but so far this race has been pretty tame with some leaders, but no clear favorite. Maybe that’s a good thing. Hey, I got an idea, let’s talk about this year’s actresses.

At this stage, leading the group of lovely ladies has to be Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line. I loved her in that flick and so did everyone else. Fewer lines were better uttered this year than “Baby! Baby! Baby! Baby!” That makes her lock numero uno. All that noise about her not being able to hold a tune? Forget it, she sounds fine and so does a nomination for Best Actress. The good thing about Reese being the leader of the pack is that this year we just might have ourselves a real race to the finish. Witherspoon is very good in the film. But she isn’t extraordinary. That she is not extraordinary is a good indication she won’t maintain the lead for very long and that could potentially make this a pretty interesting race. Then again, if she pulls the America’s sweetheart act, it may be over for everyone else. Remember how in love everyone was with Gwenyth Paltrow in 1998?

The there’s Joan Allen. Always a bridesmaid. One of the most respected leading ladies working today. She is sexy, funny, bitchy and flawed in The Upside of Anger. Allen’s greatest trick is creating someone who can be so frustratingly unreasonable and yet remains completely likeable because she taps into something real. The sad thing is there is a decent chance she may not even get nominated. She was denied a Golden Globe nomination and given that they nominate anyone, it’s pretty unfortunate. The movie didn’t exactly break box office records and it came out all the way back in spring. That’s like 10 years ago in Academy months. Did enough Academy members see this flick? I’m not sure but if they did, they’d be fools not to include her. It would also be a nice kick in the butt to the Globes. Uh, thanks for those nominations and everything Globes, but we’ll take it from here.

The Dame. There’s a rule in Hollywood. If Judi Dench so much as farts, you better believe she’s getting nominated. You know you’re good when you not only get nominated for being in a movie for ten minutes, but also win! Hey, not even Alec Baldwin‘s Glengarry Glenn Ross greatness pulled off that trick. And you know what? She deserved it. She really is that good, that entertaining on screen. I haven’t seen her yet in Mrs. Henderson Presents but you can write this one down now. Expect the Weinsteins to make a heavy push when the nominations are announced. Wait, are those guys still alive?

Charlize Theron may have been a real frontrunner if North Country had made any bank. She hasn’t much of a shot at winning this year, but she will be nominated for her strong turn here. And how about Charlize Theron? She is a fierce actress who more and more is reminding me of a hotter Meryl Streep. Is Theron the hottest best actress ever? Is she the best hottest actress ever? It may be time to talk.

I’m naturally having trouble picking the final slot. Let’s go down the list. Unless The Family Stone really takes off, Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t have a shot. She has a tough little cookie of a role and manages it well and kudos to her. But this is the type of movie that needs audience support to get its actors recognition.

Toni Collette seemed primed earlier in the year for In Her Shoes but the movie never caught on. If anybody gets nominated out of that film it will be Shirley MacLaine. Same thing goes for Gwenyth Paltrow in Proof. She got some good reviews but the movie was mixed at best. The attitude towards Keira Knightley for Pride and Prejudice seems to be, “Look, you’re beautiful, we really like you…but not yet.”

Poor Zhang Ziyi. All her beauty and soul cannot save her from mixed reception and the surprisingly outnumbering bad press Memoirs of a Geisha has received. Since we’re on the topic of young beauties, I can’t forget Q’Orianka Kilcher in The New World, a film I’m really looking forward to. If I had a dark horse surprise pick it might be her. But I don’t expect The New World to be much of a player this year.

Then we have a set of performances where the Academy may not be able to make up their minds on whether or not they are a leading performance or a supporting performance. The beautiful and brave Maria Bello is getting nominated this year. That is simply just. Her film, A History of Violence, has been picking up some serious steam in the last few weeks as it makes its way to the top of many top ten lists. This helps the Best Actress cause. At the same time, she hasn’t gotten as much praise as she deserves. This could go either way, but I’d venture to guess she ends up with the Supporting Actress nod because it is her safest shot. The same goes for Match Point‘s Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale.

Do you hear the buzz on Natasha Richardson for The White Countess? Me neither. Radha Mitchell in Melinda and Melinda? Sorry, Scarlett is the Woody girl this year. All that early Rene Zellweger talk for Cinderella Man? Wind. Owl hoot. Tumbleweed.

As you savvy awards-watchers may have guessed, the final slot for Best Actress will belong to a man, baby! The response to Felicity Huffman‘s performance in Transamerica has critics throwing out words like “courageous” and “heartfelt”. She isn’t the leader of the pack right now, but my beer-belly gut tells me she makes a very big move to the top of the heap when nominations are announced in late January.

So Reese and The Dame are locks for the nomination. Theron and Huffman are right there, but not completely out of the woods. Joan Allen is my Spidey senses choice. So who could steal it from one of these ladies? Out of the actresses previously mentioned, I can only see Maria Bello upsetting and moving Joan Allen out of contention. But there is one more face that demands consideration. Naomi Watts is wonderful in King Kong. It isn’t just the big ape who has fallen in love this year, you know.

As for the one-lady, two-lady race? I can’t see Reese being the leader for very long. Theron had her year already. I can’t see The Dame winning for a movie most American audiences won’t see. I’d normally say the same for Transamerica but Felicity Huffman at least has some crappy TV show cred and her role is coverage-gold. I see respectable praise for Joan Allen and nothing else. Given everything here, the only thing that makes sense to me is Felicity Huffman builds to a lead and is a favorite come Oscar night. There will be some phony Felicity versus Reese or Felicity versus Allen talk but that will all be a bunch of crap. Then again, the nominations can change everything. The buzz changes everything. If only it were the movies themselves.

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Weekend: Nov. 15, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018

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