Someone who actually gets this year’s lead actress field

Posted by · 9:27 am · November 18th, 2009

Charlize Theron in The Burning PlainLeave it to a woman to understand the virtues of leading ladies on screen this year.

Yesterday we linked to Steven Zeitchik’s join-the-misguided-masses piece on the “thin” Best Actress race.  I just got into this debate Monday night with another proponent of the theory (who has been similarly rebuffed here in the past).

The point I keep coming to is that, yeah, if everything is seen through the prism of what makes an Oscar contender (which is, frankly, such a manipulative pursuit it shouldn’t be the gauge), then yeah, maybe a case can be made for a “weak” year for lead actresses.  But that does not necessarily translate to a dearth of quality work that isn’t destined to be recognized during the awards season.

Of course I’ve made this point emphatically and in black and white before.  But it’s oh so nice to read Women & Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein catching the point as well.

Writes Silverstein:

[Zeitchik’s] piece goes on to say that there are many men jostling for those top five slots and if there were 10 nominations some would still be left out.

No shit.  Most movies, even the awards movies are made by guys for guys…

But what this story reminded me of is all the strong female Oscar worthy performances that don’t ever make it onto the Oscar radar screen because they don’t have wide enough distribution or get killed by the mostly male critical establishment.  Movies that star guys get distributed wider than movies by and about women.  So it makes sense to look beyond all the films getting the buzz to some who can’t afford to mount Oscar campaigns or maybe even send out screeners.

Just because a film or a performance doesn’t get included in the “buzz” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

Silverstein goes on to rattle off 12 performances that deserve the fair shake they won’t receive, including a few that weren’t even on my brief item a few weeks ago.

Of course, this perception of a “weak” Best Actress field has already led to a couple of dubious stabs at the field from studios that smell blood.  First it was (almost) Vera Farmiga, then Maggie Gyllenhaal, and now, as Guy told you this morning, Melanie Laurent.

At this rate of exodus, it’ll soon be the Best Supporting Actress race that is suddenly “weak.”

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

11 responses so far

  • 1 11-18-2009 at 11:08 am

    Encore Entertainment said...

    The races aren’t weak, but the conventional contenders are just blase. Take 2005, everyone calls that a weak year and yet the wonderful Joan Allen [The Upside of Anger] is snubbed, Maria Bello [History of Violence] and Laura Linney [Squid & the Whale] leading or supporting depending on how you view it are also snubbed. Precursors don’t have to balls to change the score and it seems monotonous and everyone calls the race weak. Fallacy.

  • 2 11-18-2009 at 11:30 am

    PJ said...

    one of the few things I’ve noticed about the academy decisions is that voters tend to reward young (and hot) actresses.

    In the course of the decade the best actress winners were (with the remarkable exception of Helen Mirren) between 30-35 years old.

    This year though (considering your predictions Kris) the frontrunners are two veteran actresses, two debutantes in their mid-twenties plus a teenager!
    I realise this is not a usual year, but since no actress from the academy’s favorite age group can be found in sight it’s a fair assumption to consider it weak…

    …or should we take a closer look to the “elidgible” trio (Cottilard, Monaghan, Gyllenhaal)?

  • 3 11-18-2009 at 12:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No, it’s not a fair assumption. Just because the Academy is full of horn-dog males doesn’t make a given year “weak.”

  • 4 11-18-2009 at 12:18 pm

    Maxim said...

    I think EE has a point. It’s not a weak year, it’s just a relatively weak one. I happen to think that nominations should reward performances that aren’t merely good but are extraodinary. From this perspective it is difficult for me to believe that every performance that was mentioned on the above lists are truly award worthy. In fact in some of the cases, I have a slightly more negative take on their worth.

    I will say, however, that the same applies to many of the male perfomances as well though I don’t really want to make to go through any names.

    This is one case where I think feminism prevents Ms. Silverstein from thinking completely objectively. It’s almost as if she feels like she needs to defend the reputation of hre female actresses as the whole.

  • 5 11-18-2009 at 12:20 pm

    Maxim said...

    And I say all this as someone who felt that there were a number of great female perfomances that were overlooked, notably Rebecca Hall who I feel gave the best performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

  • 6 11-18-2009 at 1:41 pm

    Andrew said...

    I agree with Maxim. Penelope Cruz wasn’t that good in VCB, considering the competition [Davis or Adams should have won that IMO].

    The year isn’t weak at all. What bothers me is that some outstanding films will get snubbed because of the campaigns. 500 Days of Summer being one. Gordon-Levitt should get a Best Actor nom and Deschanel could easily get one for Best Supporting Actress. Those would be inspiring nominations but they were not made to win Oscars [unlike Nine or Invictus, films made to get awards].

    Returning to the Best Actress discussion, I think the only two that have a secure nomination are Streep and Mulligan. I would give the win to the former. What about Sibide? Well, call me a racist if you want, but I think Precious is a film that manipulates audiences with its characters’ race. If they would have made that film with white people, Precious would be an average movie.

  • 7 11-18-2009 at 2:43 pm

    m1 said...

    Andrew, Zooey Deschanel is LEADING!

  • 8 11-18-2009 at 3:39 pm

    Maxim said...

    Andrew, I just want to point out that I wasn’t badmouthing Cruz. She was very well cast and became a great presence in the movie. It’s just that to me, VCB was Hall’s movie and I think she was the one who gave the best performance in it.

    I will reserve my opinion on Precious until after I had seen it.

  • 9 11-18-2009 at 4:36 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    I’d actually campaign Deschanel Supporting, personally, because the focus and perspective is COMPLETELY on Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Scenes are either Tom with Summer or Tom without Summer.

  • 10 11-19-2009 at 1:34 am

    Andrew said...

    Deschanel’s character could easily be leading or supporting, depending on how you see the story, but it would be easier to get a BSA nom for her than a leading actress slot. She should get it.

    What bothered me about Cruz performance was that her character was a complete cliché. Yes, she was sassy and funny, but not original.

  • 11 11-20-2009 at 12:09 am

    Maxim said...

    I disagree with that take, Andrew. Yes, she plays a seductive heroine and cerain beats in her character’s behaviour seem recognizable but how many characters like Cristina can you name? I can’t think of too many and I also think that she was sufficiently unpredictable (crazy?) to remain interesting.

    I would not call her a cliche any more than I would call any of Eric Rohmer’s character’s cliches.