Lead actress contenders also join interesting group

Posted by · 5:36 pm · May 7th, 2008

As the piece on actors managed to spark some interest and debate, of course I have to explore the women. Though I am studying just the last 20 years, the Best Actress Oscar has often left some of the greatest performances as mere nominees, or in some cases not even that.

Katherine Hepburn, though nominated for “The African Queen,” “Summertime,” and “Long Day’s Journey into the Night,” sat at home while others won; sometimes they were deserving, sometimes they weren’t. Gloria Swanson gave possibly the greatest performance by an actress never to win the award with her seething work in “Sunset Boulevard,” easily among the most iconic portrayals in film history. Shall I even mention poor Judy Garland? Robbed of her Oscar for “A Star is Born?” Into the 60s we have Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” and Jane Fonda’s brilliant turn in “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” — each of them Oscar losers.

Since 1988, there has been an equal amount of questionable winners in the lead actress category, beginning with Jodie Foster’s win for “The Accused” in a year that saw Mery Streep astound audiences in “A Cry in the Dark,” which won the New York Film Critics Circle award. One year later Jessica Tandy won the Oscar for “Driving Miss Daisy,” besting critics fave Michelle Pfeiffer, who won honors from the LA and NYC critics, as well as the National Society of Film Critics. Insiders had stated that Tandy was destined to win the Oscar the moment she was cast, and indeed she responded with the finest work of her career.

Kathy Bates is a wonderfully authentic actress who should have won the Academy Award for supporting actress in 1998 for her huffy, tragic campaign guru in “Primary Colors” rather than for her performance as Annie Wilkes in “Misery,” which was a fine portrayal. I can’t, however, say it was superior to Anjelica Huston’s work in “The Grifters.” Huston was extraordinary as a fire-breathing mobster chick who gets in deeper than she can deal with.

It’s tough to argue Jodie Foster for “The Silence of the Lambs” or Emma Thomson in “Howards End,” and there is no doubt Holly Hunter was the right choice for her astonishing work in “The Piano.” However, in 1994, Jessica Lange in “Blue Sky?” What the hell was that? I mean Sigourney Weaver gave a career-defining performance the very same year in “Death and the Maiden” but was oddly ignored. Jodie Foster had been nominated for “Nell,” which was certainly more deserving than Lange.

I have a hard time disputing Susan Sarandon’s trophy for “Dead Man Walking” a year later, other than to say Penn should have received half that Oscar, just as Elisabeth Shue should have received half of Nicolas Cage’s Best Actor award for “Leaving Las Vegas.” However, all these years later, did Shue impress us because she had never been so raw, so honest before (nor again for that matter)?

Suffice it to say I was horrified that Helen Hunt won for an average performance in “As Good As It Gets” in a year that saw brilliant work from the non-nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Washington Square” or Jodie Foster again in “Contact.” Judi Dench was nominated for “Mrs. Brown,” but any of the three would have been a better choice than Hunt, the queen of earnest acting. And Gwyneth Paltrow for “Shakespeare in Love” over Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth?” ????? Geez, Louise…

Probably the greatest performance not to win an Oscar given by a woman in the last 20 years is Ellen Burstyn for her harrowing portrait of an addict in “Requiem for a Dream,” bested by Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” for a fine performance but hardly a superior one. And shoot me, I liked Halle Berry in “Monsters Ball” and have no argument with Charlize Theron in “Monster” or Hilary Swank’s second Oscar in “Million Dollar Baby.”

Reese Witherspoon has an Oscar and Joan Allen does not. Does that not strike you as odd? Witherspoon was ordinary in and won for “Walk the Line,” despite being quite extraodrinary in “Election” and not even being nominated!!! Allen gave a stunning performance in “The Upside of Anger” and was snubbed. Ouch! And this year, yes, Marion Cotillard was superb in “La Vie En Rose,” but I will never forget Julie Christie in “Away from Her,” one of the most haunting performances I have ever seen.

And that wraps the women…as requested.

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13 responses so far

  • 1 5-07-2008 at 8:00 pm

    Mr. F said...

    excellent article. I agree with you in Paltrow vs. Blanchett and Cotillard Vs Chrstie, two of the greatest performances in recnet years snubbed for young, up-and-coming actresses (although Cotillard was superb). Also, Felicity Huffman deserved to win over Resse Witherspoon.

  • 2 5-07-2008 at 8:14 pm

    Blake Rutherford said...


    You don’t mention Annette Bening by name, although you were pleased with Hillary Swank’s win in Million Dollar Baby. As you know both Swank victories were (if we were counting second place votes) over Bening.

    What do you think about Bening, who, like Joan Allen, doesn’t have a statue?

    100% on Christie. Amazing.


  • 3 5-07-2008 at 10:02 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m going to throw it out there: Annette Bening is a terrible actress. There, I said it. HOWEVER, what most people feel to be her worst work (“Running with Scissors”), I found to be her greatest achievement.

    Go figure.

  • 4 5-08-2008 at 3:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Hilary Swank is an odd one, isn’t she? I can’t say she’s the most gifted actress out there, yet she has two (in my opinion) wholly deserved Oscars – both simply cases of the right person connecting with the right role. Sometimes it’s just a matter of alchemy.

    Nonetheless, it still slightly pains me that she has two leading-role Oscars and Cate Blanchett none. (Speaking of whom, Blanchett’s turn in Heaven might just be the greatest performance of recent years not to garner so much as a single nomination anywhere.)

  • 5 5-08-2008 at 9:44 am

    Bernardo S said...

    In the past 10 years…

    1998.- I have seen Paltrow, Montenegro and Blanchett. The finest is definetely Montenegro in a heart-felt performance. I am not a big fan of Blanchett’s Elizabeth and can even say I preferred Paltrow’s bubbly turn.

    1999.- I have seen Bening, Swank and Streep. Streep’s was an ordinary performance. Bening and Swank were both fantastic, but I think I prefer Annette. Snubbed: Reese Witherspoon in Election.

    2000.- I have seen all 5 nominees. Julia Roberts and Laura Linney delivered pretty good performances. Joan Allen and Juliette Binoche delivered good performances, though nothing extraordinary. Ellen Burstyn gave a fantastic portrayal, though it’s definetely not the best performance in the past 20 years. All 5 of these actresses stop shining as soon as you compare them to the 2 snubs of the year: the extraordinary, fantastic, amazing Bjork in Dancer in the Dark. And the best performance in a comedy of the decade: Renée Zellweger in Nurse Betty.

    2001.- Nicole Kidman was the finest of the nominees. Period. She sang and captured Satine to perfection. Sissy Spacek and Halle Berry played very obvious characters, and Berry was a bit on the overacting side. Renée Zellweger was brilliant as Bridget Jones, but the role was not difficult enough for a win. Judi Dench delivered a fantastic performance as Iris Murdoch. However, Naomi Watts was snubbed for her incredible performance in Mulholland Dr. Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love was also great.

    2002.- Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore were both fantastic here. A win by any of them would have been (and was) great. Extraordinary performances. Salma Hayek was good, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Renée Zellweger lacked the charisma necessary for the role. I haven’t seen Diane Lane. Snubbed: Meryl Streep for The Hours.

    2003.- Charlize Theron was good, but not as great as she is said to be. Samantha Morton gave the best of the nominated performances, providing a full gradient of emotions in a very difficult role. Keisha Castle-Hughes was very good in Whale Rider. I wish her career surfaces, as she is definetely better than all the Dakotas of the world. Diane Keaton was very funny and played a wonderful role along The Jack. I haven’t seen Naomi. However, Scarlett Johansson was snubbed for both Girl with a Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation, two unique and beautiful performances, any of which deserved the win.

    2004.- The best year for actresses of the decade. Imelda Staunton was extraordinary in Vera Drake and deserved the win. However, Hilary Swank and Annette Bening were also fantastic that year and any of the 3 were deserving. Kate Winslet gave one of her best performances as Clementine (and I’m a big Winslet fan). Catalina Sandino Moreno was good but the slot should have gone to one of the snubs which were fantastic: Nicole Kidman in Birth and Dogville delivered two of the best works of her career and got snubbed almost all-around. Julie Delpy was fantastic in Before Sunset in a very natural performance. Bryce Dallas Howard was perfect for The Village.

    2005.- The worst year for actresses of the decade. Keira Knightley was my favourite of the nominated performances, delivering a strong performance. Judi Dench was also pretty good in Mrs. Henderson Presents. However, it was not even close to her great performances. Witherspoon and Huffman were rather ordinary in both their movies. I haven’t seen North COuntry. Snubs: The award this year belonged to Joan Allen. However, if her film had come a year earlier, she wouldn’t have been in my Top 7… Claire Danes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Radha Mitchell also deserved nominations in this painfully weak year.

    2006.- Judi Dench delivers her best performance to date…and loses. Oh, well! I also liked Mirren’s performance very much. Meryl Streep did one of the finest comic turns in a long time. Kate Winslet was good. I was not a fan of Penélope’s Volver. Among the snubs I can mention Bryce Dallas Howard in Manderlay, Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil. However, none of them as good as Dench, Mirren and Streep.

    2007.- I personally did not like Cotillard’s performance. Why? I saw her acting all the time. Oh! It’s Marion Cotillard doing Edith Piaf to perfection. But she never let me stop thinking she was an actress doing Piaf. Blanchett was kinda ridiculous in The Golden Age. Julie Christie was the best out of the nominees in a very tender and beautiful performance. Ellen Page was good as Juno. Laura Linney was pretty good in The Savages. However, this was a very strong year for actresses and the Academy didn’t do the right choices in their Top 5. Out of the nominees, only Christie is in my Top 5 (at number 2). Angelina Jolie delivered her best performance, and was the best leading lady of the year in a powerful and tender performance…but little did they care. Amy Adams was extraordinary in Enchanted (number 3). Anamaria Marinca took an exceedingly difficult role and made it her own (number 4) and Keri Russell made Waitress the great film it is. (number 5).

  • 6 5-08-2008 at 3:40 pm

    Walter Hollmann said...

    Did anyone else see Bug? Ashley Judd is fantastic, absolutely deserving of at least a nomination. Between her and Angelina Jolie, how the hell did Cate Blanchett get a nom for her histrionics in Elizabeth: The Golden Age???

  • 7 5-08-2008 at 6:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I was rather impressed by “Bug.” Jud’s chemistry with Michael Shannon (and his own wild portrayal) was a shot in the arm during some downtime that year, I felt. Wish I had caught the play.

    Sadly it was never positioned as awards material by Lionsgate, and one can’t blame them. Easier to make a buck by marketing it as a horror film “from the director of William Friedkin” than a new level of psychological torment in cinema.

  • 8 5-11-2008 at 9:05 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    My perceptions:

    2007: Strong line up to actress. Beside the hauting and beloved performance by Julie Christie, I’m very glad for Marion Cotillard, for me she gaves one of the best performances I even seen in years. I’m sorry Christie lovers, but I think the AMPAS took the right choice to give that very deserved Oscar to the superb french actress. She’s perfect as Edith Piaf. The obvious snub was Angelina Jolie…

    2006: An intersting lineup. All the five deserves the nomination (Maybe I choose Meryl Streep instead Gretchen Mol or Maggie Gyllenhaal). I think too Judi Dench deserves that Oscar

    2005: One word to describe that year: AWFUL!!!!!!!!!. The ordinary performance by Reese Witherspoon won that Oscar. I watched her and she’s forced and put the same faces and emotions from “Legally Blonde”… Felicity Huffman, Joan Allen, Connie Nielsen “Brothers”, Naomi Watts “king Kong” and even Keira Knightley (I hate her in Atonement but I love her in Pride & Prejudice) deserves more that Oscar…

    2004: Wonderful lineup. All the five deserves the nomination. catalina Sandino Moreno was heartbreaking and wonderful in her debut (I’m mexican and I’m glad for her-She’s colombian). But Nicole Kidman is also fantastic in Dogville.

    2003: an surprising and crazy race. For first time in years, we have same contenders in that category like Best Actor (This is strange, because we have more male contenders that female ones). Beside I support Charlize’s Oscar I love Naomi Watts. Principal snubs: Scarlett Johansson “lost in Traslation”, Jennifer Connelly “House of Sand and Fog” and Evan Rachel Wood “Thirteen”.

    2002: Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore are the top of the five. Beside I love more Julianne’s performance I prefer Kidman’s movie… only one snub instead Hayek- Cate Blanchett in “Heaven” (Underracted performance and film)…

    2001: The other great snub: Naomi Watts “Mulholland Drive”. I think too Nicole Kidman is the winner in this year. I hate “moulin Roughe!” but I love the performances (Jim Broadbent should won for this film instead Iris and Ewan McGregor deserves that nomination). Halle Berry was a little bit Overracted and I prefer Thornton and Ledger’s performances in that film instead her. Zellweger was my third favorite performance… Dench and Spacey are just fine.

    2000: Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Connelly in “Requiem for a Dream were two of the top five best female performances in that year. Beside I love Juliette Binoche I chance her instead Bjork for “Dancer in the Dark”

    1999: My consideraction for snub in this year was the argentine Cecilia Roth for “All about my mother”. She deserves that nomination instead some of the others contenders: Janet McTeer, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Reese Witherspoon.

    1998-1997: Instersting contenders but criminal choices for winners… only because they’re blond AMERICANS… Helen Hunt’s simple and a lot of overracted performance instead Kate Winslet, Judi Dench and Helena Bonham Carter (My choice for winner) . She’s the same in that film like “MAd about You”. AWFUL!!!!. Gwyneth “Daddy’s little Girl” Paltrow gaves a fine performance in “Shakespeare in love” but her performance is nothing against the four other contenders. My preference:

    1. Cate Blanchett: That Oscar belongs to her. She gaves a fantastic portrait like Queen Elizabeth I…
    2. Fernanda Montenegro: Second best in my opinion. La señora Montenegro gaves the most heartbreaking and beloved performance of the year. The only obstacle: The role is in portuguese
    3. Tie between Emily Watson and Meryl Streep

  • 9 5-11-2008 at 9:19 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    I forgot about 1994, Jessica Lange is a good actress, but I think she deserves that Oscar for “Music Box” instead the horrified “Blue Sky” with an overracted performance, and the worst part, like 2005, that 1994 was awful lineup, only Jodie Foster and Miranda Richardson deserves the nomination… Where are Jennifer Jason Leigh for “mrs. parker and the vicious circle”, Sigourney Weaver for “Death and the madness”, Irene Jacob for “Three Colors: Rouge” (Like in 1993 Juliette Binoche’s outstading performance in “Three Colors: Blue” was snubbed, Why???!!!), Kate Winslet in “heavenly Creatures” and even, if the company would chance that release date to a year before in USA, Toni Collette for “muriel’s wedding”?

  • 10 12-20-2008 at 5:34 pm

    David said...

    Harrison Ford in Witness. He is honest, simple and understated in a well-crafted role. He never had shown this before in any movie before that.

  • 11 7-16-2009 at 4:13 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    John: “I have a hard time disputing Susan Sarandon’s trophy for “Dead Man Walking” a year later…”

    I don’t. Admirable, to be sure, but the work of Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia, Julianne Moore in [SAFE], and Nicole Kidman in To Die For smoked her performance that year.

    Xavi: “Jessica Lange is a good actress, but I think she deserves that Oscar for ‘Music Box’ instead the horrified ‘Blue Sky'”

    But…Music Box sucked.

  • 12 1-05-2010 at 12:13 am

    salma said...

    Julie Christie’s was a lazy, overrated, Oscar begging performance! Thank God for Marion, she saved us from another undeserved winner.

  • 13 9-25-2011 at 3:38 am

    David G said...

    Hilary Swank winning for Million Dollar Baby is one of the biggest oscar mistakes ever. Imelda and Kate delivered superior performances. She only won because it was the Clint Eastwood movie. Did you see it got all the important awards?