Who the hell was that?

Posted by · 5:36 pm · October 5th, 2009

Meryl Streep in Julie & JuliaCoincidentally enough, the same day that Kris spotlighted the Best Actress race, the category has been on my mind too — as a thought hit me that could factor in what is potentially one of the tightest duels of the season.

Almost every Oscar prognosticator on record has already boiled the Best Actress contest down to Carey Mulligan versus Meryl Streep, and until the precursors arrive to shed some light on the matter, there’s almost nothing in it on paper.

Advantage Mulligan for being in a probable Best Picture nominee. Advantage Streep for playing a prominent real-life figure. Advantage Mulligan for being this year’s hottest ingenue. Advantage Streep for being, well, Meryl Streep. And on it goes, back and forth.

But if there’s one area where Mulligan holds a clear advantage over Streep, it’s with the so-called “BAFTA block” … the British contingent of voters who seemingly make their presence felt more in the Academy voting by the year. (Recent BAFTA-led surges for “The Reader,” Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton are a case in point.)

Of course this may seem obvious, given that Mulligan is a British star in a largely British production. But compounding the advantage is the fact that “Julie & Julia” isn’t playing nearly as well in Britain as it is Stateside — after a month in release, the film is sitting on a modest £2.3 million, roughly half of what “(500) Days of Summer” has grossed in the same period.

The reason? Most British viewers haven’t the faintest idea who Julia Child is. So, star allure aside, the film exerts roughly the same hook that a biopic of Delia Smith (look her up) would in the U.S.

The drawback for Streep is that her performance in “Julie & Julia” is largely dependent for its effect on at least a basic familiarity with the icon she is embodying: without that knowledge, her expert assemblage of Child’s eccentric affectations and vocal mannerisms can be a little alienating. (“That was a real person? Who the hell was that?” was the post-screening response of one friend.) Accordingly, while reviews for the film have been largely sympathetic, Streep’s performance hasn’t drawn quite the same level of gushing from UK critics as from their American counterparts.

This is, admittedly, only a very mild concern: the Oscars will always be a largely American institution, of course, with their own special relationship to the actress. And given the BAFTAs’ slavish Oscar-anticipating tendencies of late, Streep will likely score a nod there anyway, though she won’t win.

Still, I mention it only as an extra factor to consider: if this race really does go to the wire come February, the “who is Julia Child” vote could be the tiny weight that tips the balance in Mulligan’s favor.

Of course, all this is a moot point if people ultimately choose to rally behind, say, Gabourey Sidibe instead, or if my stubborn “It’s Complicated” theory pans out. Such is the silliness of talking about the Oscars in October. But hey, that’s what we’re here for.

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50 responses so far

  • 1 10-05-2009 at 6:01 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I’m sorry, I really liked Julie & Julia and thought Streep was very good, as to be expected, but NO WAY did I think Oscar nomination, let alone a WIN. I mean, to win for J&J over a movie like DOUBT would be INSANE. This race is between Mulligan and Sidibe. End of story. Done and done. If you want to throw Bening in there then fine, but her film, Mother and Child, doesn’t even have a distributor yet. No way Swank gets a third Oscar. I don’t see recent winners Mirren or Cotillard taking the stage again so soon. It’s a 2-woman race and frankly, I think Mulligan is getting more attention from Sidibe because she’s this cute, pixie-like white girl media darling and Sidibe, well, isn’t. Don’t count out Precious. But c’mon, Streep winning an Oscar for playing Julia Child…. gimme a break. Not exactly Sophie’s Choice there.

  • 2 10-05-2009 at 6:04 pm

    The InSneider said...

    Also, I think it was pretty clear that Amy Adams was the lead in J&J. I mean, you could make a case for Streep but if you could only pick one who is THE LEAD, it’s gotta be Adams.

  • 3 10-05-2009 at 6:06 pm

    James D. said...

    I disagree. I felt like Streep was the lead. I don’t have a runtime for each character, but she was the driving force of the film.

  • 4 10-05-2009 at 6:17 pm

    John said...

    I see AN EDUCATION as this year’s ATONEMENT.

    It will get good reviews, but not be the buzzed movie.

    In a year of “5”, it may not have made the cut. But I think it will in this Top 10 situation.

    And I think Mulligan & the writing team (particularly) may get benefitted from the BAFTA-bloc, or BRIT-bloc.

    ATONEMENT, a film I loved, defffiinnitteelly benefited in all aspects from the BRIT-bloc the year it was nominated.

  • 5 10-05-2009 at 6:18 pm

    Derek said...

    Another question that could tip the scale in Streeps favor:

    Who the hell is Carey Mulligan?

  • 6 10-05-2009 at 6:22 pm

    Lance said...

    I’m in the crowd that feels Meryl is a Lock for the WIN and from the reviews, I read, on RT it looks like Gabourey Sidibe will be more likely be Meryl’s competition, not Carey Mulligan. Carey’s reviews are very good but Gabourey’s are outstanding. Further reviews may change that of course.

    Also, Gabourey is also much more interesting of a nominee. Just from the previews, I want to give her a big hug! The talk shows will love her too and I can already see the two-part Oprah episode devoted to “Precious” with the big “O” gushing over Gabourey.

    “Precious” also looks like a sure-fire hit and “An Education” will have an uphill battle at the box-office.

  • 7 10-05-2009 at 6:31 pm

    James D. said...

    While I think Sidibe gets nominated, how likely is it that the Academy awards a fat, ugly black woman? I hate to sound crass, but the only black woman was the very attractive, and light skinned, Halle Berry.

  • 8 10-05-2009 at 6:32 pm

    Lance said...

    With Meryl, there was so much media coverage, last year, about her loosing streak since her last win. What do you think it will be like this year? It will be like when Susan Lucci hadn’t won an Emmy – a cute story to cover and people love to follow those sorts of things.

    The voters will feel so much pressure to vote for her, even the British.

  • 9 10-05-2009 at 6:35 pm

    Lance said...

    Many voters will treat Gabourey and Carey, (if nominated) as if their nomination was enough of an acknowledgment.

  • 10 10-05-2009 at 6:41 pm

    markus said...

    Streep has the advantage of momentum, body of work, sentiment – way past due, etc. All of this tells me advantage Streep. Plus, she nailed Julia Child and she received raves – give the damn Oscar to Streep already!!!

  • 11 10-05-2009 at 6:51 pm

    markus said...

    I don’t see An Education earining almost $100 million in the U.S. like Julie & Julia has done.
    Advantage Streep.

  • 12 10-05-2009 at 7:01 pm

    Tessa said...

    Let’s not forget, Streep has another performance coming out right at Christmas. If that film is a hit, and she gets more great reviews, she will have that one-two punch that novices will not be able to fend off. Winslet was overdue, but Mulligan, Sibidie are not.

  • 13 10-05-2009 at 7:02 pm

    markus said...

    Good old boy Guy Lodge,

    Another narrative in an endless stream of articles that rain on Streep’s parade. Well, at least he remains consistent…

  • 14 10-05-2009 at 7:08 pm

    Gustavo H.R. said...

    Tessa has a good point.

  • 15 10-05-2009 at 7:13 pm

    Ryan said...

    Not saying that this is related or anything, but what is the #1 movie of all time in the UK and who starring in said film?

  • 16 10-05-2009 at 7:17 pm

    Jim T said...

    I don’t have any statistics but I assume a lot of the British Academy’s members are also members of AMPAS. Especially actors since British actors are very respected in the USA. (And the world for what it’s worth)

    So I guess Baftas do have an influence for this reason or another.

    On the other hand, they chose Cotillard over their own Julie Christie. But they knew Piaf better than Child.

  • 17 10-05-2009 at 7:19 pm

    Bryan said...

    That’s very interesting. I grew up watching Child on PBS (no cable) but I went to the film with some friends (20 year olds) who had not. They didn’t know who Child was and found the Adams (bless her but she can’t hold that candle) story more compelling, which really surprised me. But in the end, the Academy is not made up of 20 somethings; I think the demographic is still in Streep’s favor.

  • 18 10-05-2009 at 7:22 pm

    JAB said...

    Ryan, we don’t speak of such atrocities.

  • 19 10-05-2009 at 7:26 pm

    Jim T said...

    markus, Guy didn’t say it would be fair if it happened and he certainly knows he has no influence on the Academy so I don’t see how this post could be considered an attempt to hurt Meryl’s chances.

  • 20 10-05-2009 at 7:47 pm

    snowballa said...

    What year did Streep lose that she deserved to win hence the “long over due” meme? Certainly it wasn’t last year (Melissa Leo should’ve won). Neither was it in 1999 (Hilary Swank) or 1998 (Cate Blanchett should’ve won) and going on and going on.

    Streep did not win in those years because she did not have the best female performance period. It’s sad that this is somehow translated into “long after due”. How about the Academy start giving awards to the best performances instead of best campaigns? It just cheapens the award and the recipient (read: Winslet, Scorcese, Pacino, Freeman) and often ends with the older actors/actresses beating younger ones for no good reason other than the fact of their prestige.

    I guess Noah Cross was right “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” Add actors to that list.

  • 21 10-05-2009 at 7:47 pm

    Erik said...

    I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: Streep is NOT too lightweight in Julie and Julia to win, no matter what her past performances or this year’s competition. The academy likes to feel good.

    You want proof? Look at the winners for 1998:

    Best Actress:
    Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth
    Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love
    Emily Watson – Hillary and Jackie
    Meryl Streep – One True Thing
    Fernanda Montenegro – Central Station

    Best Actor:
    Edward Norton – American History X
    Ian McKellen – Gods and Monsters
    Nick Nolte – Affliction
    Roberto Begnini – Life is Beautiful
    Tom Hanks – Saving Private Ryan

    I count 8 pretty heavy dramatic roles, and 2 fluffy lightweight feelgood things. Guess which ones won. (Actually, vote splitting might have worked here. If Streep goes up against 4 heavy dramatic performances those might split to her advantage).

  • 22 10-05-2009 at 8:05 pm

    markus said...

    Jim T.

    You missed the point of my post. It was to point out that all of Guy’s Meryl narratives have a negative tone. Geezzzz – get a clue…

  • 23 10-05-2009 at 8:17 pm

    markus said...

    Streep should have won for the Deer Hunter, A Cry in the Dark, Adaptation, Postcards from the Edge, Silkwood, Bridges of Madison County, Ironweed and on and on….Does that answer your question Snowballa?

  • 24 10-05-2009 at 9:36 pm

    Nicky said...

    Boiling down best actress to Streep vs. Culligan at this point seems a little premature. Both gave great performances, but we still haven’t seen Swank in Amelia, Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones. We have seen Gabourey Sadibe in Precious. Marion Cotillard in Nine? I mean, there’s a lot out there and I feel like there’s plenty to choose from before we lock this thing up. :)

  • 25 10-05-2009 at 9:51 pm

    snowballa said...

    you can say with a straight face that she gave the top female performance of each of those years. sorry markus, that’s a no go.

  • 26 10-05-2009 at 10:10 pm

    Walter said...

    Sneider –

    Julie & Julia isn’t up against Doubt this year. It’d be up against It’s Complicated. I hate when people say “Oh, why did they win for THIS film instead of THAT film?” You know why? Because they were up against different movies.

  • 27 10-05-2009 at 10:18 pm

    James D. said...

    Also, her performance in Julie and Julia is a captivating portrayal of an icon, while in Doubt she was a silly caricature.

  • 28 10-05-2009 at 10:23 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I’m not saying it is Walter, but I am saying that if they didn’t give her #3 for DOUBT, she ain’t getting it for J&J and you can quote me on that after the big show.

  • 29 10-05-2009 at 10:24 pm

    The InSneider said...

    And for the record, I thought she should’ve won last year. She wasn’t a silly caricature, James D. I thought she was brilliant. And no, I didn’t see Cherry Jones in the play.

  • 30 10-05-2009 at 10:38 pm

    Alex said...

    Abbie Cornish!

  • 31 10-06-2009 at 12:14 am

    Colin said...

    @The InSneider: Your tastes are not the Academy’s. This is not a judgement on either’s tastes (although the “Meryl was good in Doubt” thing makes me question both), but that you can’t use your taste to prognosticate what the Academy will like. You can only use the Academy’s history of its own taste for that, and you haven’t.

  • 32 10-06-2009 at 1:42 am

    Scott said...

    Bright Star was terrible! I HATED it! Abbie Cornish was decent, especially strong during her cry scene at the end, but who is going to be able to sit through the rest of the garbage film? Get over the “if Streep didn’t win for Doubt, she aint winning for J&J”. You never heard of a make up Oscar? The writing is so on the way for Streep to win this year. All the young actresses against a veteran???Is this a no brainer? Swank is out! Even if nominated she will NEVER win a third Oscar. Mirren just won, so no gold for her. I am telling you. J&J will make the Top 10, Streep is in and Tucci will get in for J&J not Lovely Bones.

  • 33 10-06-2009 at 3:46 am

    Stéphane said...

    My personal view is that Meryl will be nominated, deserving or not, and that Mulligan will win, just like Cotillard won two years ago. And when you’re compared to a legend like Audrey Hepburn, you know you’re on the right track to enticing votes from the geezers… What I wonder about though, is who will be nominated next to Streep, Mulligan and Sidibe?

  • 34 10-06-2009 at 4:19 am

    RJNeb2 said...

    While my personal view is that the Academy will be fearful of a lynching if they don’t give Streep her Oscar. Admittedly, they don’t often respond well to being told by all the precursors which way they should be going (“Crash” v “Brokeback Mountain”) but the recent block wins for Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet suggest that they do occasionally follow a consensus.

    And, frankly, the one thing that can’t be ignored over this whole Streep issue is the woman’s enormous good grace in being a 15 time loser. She makes for a charming interview, and, in that respect, is a great ambassador for the Academy. Give her her freakin’ Oscar already!!

  • 35 10-06-2009 at 5:09 am

    slayton said...

    I think this is a legitimate issue that Streep could face. I’m 18, born to American parents in America but raised since infancy in New Zealand, and I’d never heard of Julia Child until this film was announced. I’m sure that a lot of Americans my age wouldn’t know who she is, either, and non-American voters almost certainly wouldn’t know. I think her voting bloc is simply composed of people who want to see Streep get a 3rd (I don’t think this number is as high as some people think) and people of a certain age who knew Julia Child’s public persona well.

    I actually kind of resent all the talk about Streep being “due”. She has two Oscars, for God’s sake! You don’t get much less due than that.

  • 36 10-06-2009 at 5:48 am

    voland said...

    I don’t see a possibility for Culligan to beat Streep with her first nomination, not to mention the fact that she was almost unknown before “An Education”. It’s a shame Tautou probably won’t get a nom, her performance was wonderful.

  • 37 10-06-2009 at 7:36 am

    Lance said...

    Has anyone cruched the numbers on how many actors have won for playing real life people? Lately, it seems like that’s been the key to a win – Meryl should also benefit from that.

    The academy also wants to give Meryl more Oscars, because most of them believe she is the best actress of all time. In order for them to validate their feelings, they need to give her more Oscars than the four Katherine Hepburn received.

  • 38 10-06-2009 at 9:01 am

    John said...

    Scott, you thought Bright Star was terrible garbage? I’ve heard too quiet, I’ve heard straightforward (unlike Campion). I’ve yet to hear ‘garbage’. Cornsh was wonderful, in my opinion. Though, I also think she’s on the bubble of making the top 5.

  • 39 10-06-2009 at 9:32 am

    KL said...

    voland: You mean Mulligan? (not Culligan)

    I’m 19 and I’ve heard of Julia Child before. Meryl was perfect for the role…and though I love Carey Mulligan, I think Streep has it.

  • 40 10-06-2009 at 9:54 am

    Lance said...

    I just looked it up – Since 1999, seven out of the eleven winning best actresses have played real life people. That has to say something, right?

    Okay, this might be crazy but I think when the title of movie uses the character’s name it also helps – it makes the character and that actor seem bigger and more important.

    Meryl is helped by both of those factors.

  • 41 10-06-2009 at 11:37 am

    Fitz said...

    I’m sorry but An Education looks like a show based on January Jones’s Mad Men character as a teenger.

    Spoiled, narcissistic and a bit of a ditz.

  • 42 10-06-2009 at 3:17 pm

    Tessa said...

    New trailer for IT’S COMPLICATED…this may turn out to be Streep’s Oscar vehicle.


  • 43 10-06-2009 at 7:54 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    You make a VERY astute point. Take away ones knowledge of Julia Child and much of our appreciation for Meryl in the film is lost. And it should not be so…A good biopic performance is not mimicry. Not to knock Meryl but the performance is appealing only for the similarity factor, there doesn’t seem to be any realistic human nature to her Julia Child…

    And I see people are already going on about AMPAS being racist. I’m black but I hardly think if Sidibe doesn’t win it will because she’s black. I mean I’m sure she’s good but not because her character is sympathetic means it’s better than a darker character.

  • 44 10-06-2009 at 9:45 pm

    Ed S. of WEHO said...

    It will be an insult to Meryl Streep if she
    will not win this year for 2 outstanding performances: J&J & It’s Complicated. She is Kate Winslet for 2009. What does she need to do to win it? eat fire, go on a flying trapeze? Geesh…. Believe me, she will never stop til she gets her 3rd statue.
    Meryl Streep is now a sure winner, Sibide, Mulligan, Swank, Cornish? Who are these new comers? They have not proven themselves yet, except for Swank (who always tackle masculine roles to win, can you give us something else)

    BEST ACTRESS for Golden Globes, SAG, and definite OSCAR: MERYL STREEP. I rest my case! That’s all.

  • 45 10-06-2009 at 10:13 pm

    Kate Winslet said...

    I remain convinced that the Academy will not make Meryl Streep lose again next year. She has lost more than anyone, and was last recognized in 1984 (25 years ago!). No one knows yet how some of these films will play with audiences, but “Julie & Julia” has already made over $90 million in the U.S. (and will cross $100 million easily with foreign markets). I don’t give a shit what BAFTA does, the Academy will not give an unknown British actress an Oscar next year. It took me several years, and what, they are going to give to her on her first try? Give me a fucking break. It’s going to Meryl and you will be surprised that some very big names will campaign for her to win again.

  • 46 10-06-2009 at 10:27 pm

    James D. said...

    Well, Kate has more experience than most of us. I am sold on Streep.

  • 47 10-07-2009 at 2:04 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ed S: Have you seen “It’s Complicated?”

  • 48 10-07-2009 at 3:29 am

    tae said...

    guys!! winning best actress is not about being a LEGEND, POPULAR or being the BEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME or not winning many times OR NOT NOMINATED BEFORE… it’s JUST about giving the best performance of the year.. people always say meryl streep should win BECAUSE SHE IS NOMINATED MANY TIMES AND NOT WON SINCE 1982… and some say because she’s THE BEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME… yeah I AGREE, SHE’S THE BEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME but WAIT just ask this QUESTION to yourself ” DID SHE GAVE THE BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR..?”

    See AN EDUCATION, BRIGHT STAR, first before you start rooting for GOAT MERYL… PERIOD…

  • 49 10-07-2009 at 9:13 am

    matsunaga said...

    I don’t know much of Julia Child since J&J came…

    And I must say, Meryl did a very good job playing the role….

    I think she should have won for “Doubt” against Kate Winslet…

    Yes, Julia Child might be a lighter performance than Sis. Aloysius, but hey, the point is among the possible nominees this year, I think her performance in J&J is better… Add her performance in It’s Complicated and she’s a shoe in for her 3rd….

  • 50 10-07-2009 at 1:10 pm

    Joe said...

    Something Mulligan might have going against her is the campaigning of her and Streep. Streep’s studio for her movie is the parent company for Mulligan and her’s. The biggest studio for Streep could, and I think, will be a factor in this, also with Scott Rudin in the mix for Meryl.