OSCAR GUIDE: Best Actress

Posted by · 10:22 am · February 24th, 2010

Helen Mirren in The Last StationThis year’s Best Actress race is easily the most debated of the major categories. Though one can’t help but wonder why that is, as the writing has seemingly been on the wall for a number of weeks now, stretching back to before the nominations were announced.

It was also one of the easiest fields to call, pre-nominations, as both lead acting categories had actually coagulated somewhat. The SAG slate was mirrored by the acting branch of the Academy, offering a nice mixture of young starlets and veteran standbys. The winner in the field, however, might be somewhere in the middle of that cross-section.

The nominees are:

Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”

Campaign-wise, it seems most have let off the throttle and allowed this race to take shape in recent weeks. Only one of the contenders has hit the media spotlight as of late, and it will certainly be too little too late for an actress who once seemed primed to steal the prize.

But it really does feel like Sandra Bullock‘s year no matter what the competition does. It started to permeate the air some time around the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which did little to settle matters with a tie featuring Bullock and Meryl Streep. Then Bullock won the drama award at the Golden Globes, which most thought she would take anyway (given the HFPA’s penchant for admiring stars). Meryl won an award that night too, though, for comedy. Then came the SAG awards, which went Bullock’s way a year after Streep won for “Doubt.” Then Bullock really hit her stride as “The Blind Side” landed a Best Picture nomination, which sealed the deal before the momentum picked up further (which it did). Now as everyone tries to call this an actual horse race, I can’t help but chuckle.

The only contender who seems to have no play on the race is Helen Mirren, a worthy nominee for a scenery-chewing performance opposite Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station.” I was at the film’s US bow in Telluride way back in September and it was an audience favorite out of the gate. Mirren is textbook in the film, gracefully harboring an inner storm of love, passion, jealousy, anger and paranoia. She works so splendidly off of co-star Plummer in scenes meant to depict a complex relationship (to say the least), but nevertheless, it’s still a slight surprise the film got the traction it did. The release came and went and there wasn’t much media interest that I can recall. But Sony Classics runs a streamlined ship and did right by the film, landing exactly the notices it set out to get.

There was a time when Carey Mulligan seemed like Meryl Streep’s true competition for her accomplished performance in “An Education.” She seemed like just the sort of young ingenue that gets Academy recognition. But even though the film managed nominations in two other categories, including Best Picture, it is difficult for any effort to survive a haul this long (it premiered at Sundance over a year ago). That early buzz seemed to dwindle throughout the fall awards season as Streep raked in the lion’s share of critics’ awards and Sandra Bullock came on strong at the end, leaving many wondering, “What happened?” An expected BAFTA win likely didn’t move the needle any more than Mulligan’s last minute media surge, but one thing we all know: this won’t be her last trip around the circuit.

In the humble opinion of this movie-goer, the deserving nominee in the category, regardless of the stir created by a perceived top three, is Gabourey Sidibe. In “Precious,” the first-time actress not only held her own opposite Best Supporting Actress steamroller Mo’Nique, but actually gave the more compelling, fully realized performance of the two. And while Sidibe’s physical appearance may have been an asset for the specificity of the role, it wasn’t even half the equation needed to develop a character that would resonate. There remains an outside possibility of Sidibe being an upset in the category. She has plenty of support and, to say the least, her personality has gone a long way toward endearment this season. But the safe money still remains on the two American stars and the British block spoiler.

Which brings us to 16-time nominee (breaking her own record this year) Meryl Streep, who delivered a powerhouse star turn in “Julie & Julia” that never dips too far into impersonation and brought out the best the actress has to offer. She gave a popular icon a personality beyond the outward gestures and passion we’ve come to know on television screens and fleshed out a loving, determined woman of purpose. But with two Oscars under her belt, a sense of immediacy has eluded voters for the largest part of Streep’s career. Is that enough to compel the Academy at large to spring for her third honor this season, or is that logic faulty at best? There isn’t a lot of studio movement, and I wonder how many people look at a ballot and think, “Meryl Streep doesn’t get enough attention.”

Will win: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Could win: Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
Should win: Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”

Should have been here: Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Antichrist”

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Who do you think deserves to win this year’s Oscar for Best Actress? Have your say in the sidebar poll!

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86 responses so far

  • 1 2-24-2010 at 4:00 pm

    Andrew F said...


    James brings up a really good tid-bit there. So let’s think about this:

    Yes, Hollywood actors love their Sandra, the friendly girl next door; but the Academy isn’t made up of just actors. How much of an impact is she going to have on the rest of the Academy, especially considering the merits of her performance? Does anyone *actually* think her performance was the best of the year, or are people voting for her because she’s a nice lady? Now, will the techs have this bias? I’m not so sure. If the Baftas show us that the Brits like Mulligan more than Streep, I can’t help but wonder just how close that vote was.

    So, what do we have? Probably a much, much closer race than we may think. I for one am not buying the Bullock win. My previous comment was jokey, but my gut is telling me that we’re gonna have some major vote splitting going on here… just the kind of atmosphere that gives birth to “upsets”. I’m taking a chance, and I’m guessing that Sidibe slides in for a much deserving win.

  • 2 2-24-2010 at 4:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    So much of all of that is based on your own views of the performance, Andrew. “Does anyone *actually* think her performance was the best of the year.” Well, apparently plenty thought her film was one of the best of the year.

    I think all this circular logic is making you all dizzy.

    Also, I think a number of people don’t understand what vote splitting is and what triggers it…

  • 3 2-24-2010 at 4:20 pm

    The Z said...


    Does anyone actually need to win an Oscar? It helps one’s career, yes, but saying need seems kind of… exagerated isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.

  • 4 2-24-2010 at 4:51 pm

    ryan13 said...

    don’t wanna be disrespectful, but sometimes i feel like if kris hadn’t liked his interview with Sandra – he said it was one of the best experiences he’s had all year, which i think is possible, she’s a really nice lady – he would be on full-time campaign expressing his thoughts and dislike and dissapointment over a Bullock win.

    Kris, you’re a passionate write, which I admire. But your biased as hell. Again if it was a film/performance you absolutely loathed, or was dismayed by, you’d be on the other side of the fence.

    To say you wouldn’t…well, you’d only be lying to yourself.

  • 5 2-24-2010 at 5:30 pm

    Me. said...

    While I haven’t seen “The Last Station” yet, I would definately vote for Gabourey Sidibe. While I have a LOT of problems with “Precious” and I thought the directing was mediocre, I think Gabby deserves the Oscar because she completely made me believe that she had gone through all those kinds of abuse. For such an over-the-top character, she was able to make Precious look like a real person, going through real problems and facing real emotions. On the other hand, Mulligan was really good but nothing to go crazy for, Streep was alright even if her portrayal of Julia Child looked more like an imitation rather than a flesh and blood performance and Bullock just sucked in a lame role in a lame film (She will win an Oscar for being able to memorize lines and walk! Let’s all congratulate her!). While Bullock looks like a great person, she did NOT give a good performance, and she didn’t even deserve to have buzz in the first place (let alone a nomination and near-locked win).

    Abbie Cornish, Penélope Cruz and Audrey Tautou deserved to be nominated.

  • 6 2-24-2010 at 6:00 pm

    P-Dawg said...

    The Wildcat will win, whether she deserves it or not.

  • 7 2-24-2010 at 6:19 pm

    ScreenSavour said...

    Kris, I’m interested in your thoughts regarding the frequency of SAG Awards/Academy Award crossovers and what that could do to the race. The best I can tell, they’ve gone 4/4 only twice — SAG 1998 (honoring 1997; when supporting actress was actually a tie between Kim Basinger and Gloria Stuart) and SAG 2005 (honoring 2004).

    Statistically speaking, a betting individual would have to pause as he regards the odds of Academy Awards going 4/4 with SAG this season. If that’s the case, do you see Best Actress the “likeliest” category for an upset? Most reasonable watchers would say Waltz and Mo’Nique are safe, and maybe Colin Firth could give Jeff Bridges some competition (but I think the desire to “finally give” Bridges an Oscar will outweigh that). But it seems that Bullock v. Streep v. Mulligan/Sidibe is providing the liveliest debate among watchers, bloggers, and voters.

  • 8 2-24-2010 at 6:45 pm

    Raffi said...

    I know the tide is in favor of Sandra Bullock. I know the odds are with her, but I’m still going to predict Meryl Streep even if it’s just in the off-chance I can get a leg-up on Oscar pool games.

    Aside from the media, there isn’t surmountable evidence that Sandra has this in the bag; quite the opposite, actually. The biggest wins Sandra had was a tie at the Critics Choice (which did surprise me) and a win at SAG.

    SAG just awarded Streep last year for the first time (since SAG has only been handing out awards for 15 years), so to spread the love and not give it to Meryl twice in a row (no actress has yet won two SAGs, mind you – so there may be some politics going on there too), they gave it to Sandra.

    To me, that doesn’t spell Oscar. However, the timing of the two important wins combined with how the media ran with Bullock is what really shuttled her to the front-runner status and what may sway voters.

    Regardless, I’ll be predicting Meryl up until the envelope is read. =)

  • 9 2-24-2010 at 6:52 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Will win: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
    Could win: Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
    Should win: Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
    Should have been here: Maya Rudolph, “Away We Go”
    Commentary: I haven’t seen Helen Mirren in “The Last Station,” so I can’t say either way. Carey Mulligan was transcendent in “An Education,” but the real breakthrough was Gabourey Sidibe’s heartwrenching debut performance that is easily the best of the nominees. Meryl Streep was transformative in easily one of her finest roles, but the film itself was only amusing and not a groundbreaker; plus, Amy Adams easily held her ground with Streep the whole way. Sandra Bullock was fine but really kind of uninteresting and plagued with a borderline-flawless character–the kind that get on your nerves with how “perfect” they seem.

  • 10 2-24-2010 at 7:15 pm

    JJ said...

    But that’s just it. Other than the SAG win (where Meryl was probably very close), there’s absolutely no indication that AMPAS is going to vote for Sandra Bullock as the win.

    And I don’t ‘completely’ buy into the “Oh, well, TBS made it into Top 10 Best Picture, so she has the win automatically”.

    Last year, The Reader squeaked into Top 5, and I’m sure Doubt was lined up in the 6-10 range. I bet Meryl almost won last year, but Kate had the “omg omg omg omg omg, Kate has to finally win” going for her – which Sandra has none of.

    Compound that with what “Me.” said of Sandra’s performance: Sure, she looks pretty. She says her lines clearly and with some conviction. She stomps around in her heels. Puts on a pained face, at times. And that’s supposed to win over an onslaught of performances this year that stretched some female actresses to their limit???

    Whether or not Meryl or Sandra win/lose, I don’t think Meryl gave a ‘clear-cut’ Oscar winning performance this year. And Sandra Bullock CERTAINLY didn’t, either.

    I love Sandra Bullock. She seems like an awesome person. She’s a great comedienne. I’ve really liked most of her movies. I’ve seen her do great work in A Time to Kill, Crash, & Infamous.

    And if she wins on 3/7, I’ll be very happy for her (may cry), … and coincidingly dumfounded if more than 1,200 AMPAS voters thought she was the best.

    I know, I know, it’s not about who’s best, is it?

  • 11 2-24-2010 at 7:47 pm

    SoSueMe said...

    Please let the gods bestow the academy award to Gabby Sidibe. Gabby’s performance has it all… a whole lotta drama and consistent flashes of comedy as well.
    I’m pleasantly surprised Gabby has so much support on this message board.
    I agree with MovieMan above – Amy Adams did hold her own in Julie and Julia. I thought actors got praise for daring to be unlikable (although I happened to like the character). Apparently, not Amy. She was unnecessarily attacked by the critics.

  • 12 2-24-2010 at 9:04 pm

    seren said...

    I truly hope, when everything’s over, you analize what really caused that much momentum around Sandra Bullock. Could just being love by people inside the industry have caused that? Even to win the Critics Choice, Golden Globes and SAG?

    I live in a country where most of the nominated movies yet to be released unfortunately, so I can’t really compare. One of my earlier guess was that among those contenders in the Best Actress race, there was nobody who really stood out, like Mo’nique in the supporting role. So, when Sandra who has been well-liked by her peers showed something that she had never before, they just flocked over to support her. That was what I guessed. But as I read, it seems like Gabby’s performance really stands out right? Then why that strong momemtum around Sandra?

  • 13 2-24-2010 at 9:09 pm

    Silencio said...

    I second the Gainesbourg mention. She’s my personal winner this year.

  • 14 2-24-2010 at 9:13 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “Does anyone actually need to win an Oscar? It helps one’s career, yes, but saying need seems kind of… exagerated isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.”

    I’d be lying to say I felt the Oscars were just meaningless awards. Inside is an actor hungry for public recognition.

  • 15 2-24-2010 at 9:29 pm

    Jake D said...

    I wish Tilda and Sidibe were the two fighting it out for the awards this year.

    Bullock’s win is going to be just silly. Does anyone actually think it’s the best performance? Does anyone think her career actually merits this kind of recognition? Really?

  • 16 2-24-2010 at 9:35 pm

    DC Remmert said...

    Kris- Im quite curious how these actress races are going to pan out. I really hope against hope that Gabby Sidibe wins… becomes the second african american woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. Beats Sandra. Beats Meryl. Poses on the cover of Vanity Fair ALONE! That and I would LOVE to see Anna Kendrick win. Monique isnt playing the Oscar game, and is MoNique. Ive been very open for the past year how much I DONT want her to win. Any other actress in this category is more accomplished and more deserving. I for one think Maggie G will upset… giving Crazy Heart a clean sweep!

  • 17 2-24-2010 at 10:16 pm

    A.J said...

    I just have a feeling Sidibe will end up winning. Can I be put on the record?

  • 18 2-24-2010 at 10:25 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ A.J. – You already have.

    @ DC Remmert – Yeah, because god forbid Mo’Nique actually wins the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress because she, you know, DESERVES IT.

  • 19 2-24-2010 at 11:39 pm

    Ali E. said...

    My personal favorite among the nominees is Sidibe. She gave the most naturalistic and moving performance for me. Bullock has the buzz, momentum and such, but she’s just not good enough. It will be a shame if she wins. I still have hopes for a Streep upset.

  • 20 2-24-2010 at 11:53 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Should have been there: Rachel Weisz, THE BROTHERS BLOOM. Or go Supporting if you like.

  • 21 2-25-2010 at 12:27 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    ryan: You’re incredibly full of shit. First and foremost, I never said anything of the sort when it came to that Bullock interview. I wrote up an annual WB awards event at Il Cielo (they did the same thing for Dark Knight last year) as I would any other. And yeah, I liked her.

    I’m totally apathetic about Bullock’s performance. I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think it’s bad. So I don’t have a place of passion from which to write about it. All I’m doing in THIS space, however, is pointing out how ridiculous it is that anyone thinks she’s not going to win. That has nothing to do with my opinion of her work and everything to do with the fact that I know how to call an Oscar race.

  • 22 2-25-2010 at 12:35 am

    Leighton said...

    Of the 5, I have to go with Sidibe’s performance, as well. Her performance is quietly impressive and probably the most fully realized character of the 5. I’m not saying that she’s a better actress than someone like Meryl Streep, I just feel the naivete she brought to acting, in general, rolled over into an honest and graceful performance. Even though she’s never acted before, I feel like we really lose her inside her character – an amazing feat for a first-time actor.

    I hate to see the Sandra train keep rolling, because while I feel she’s a good actress, she’s not great and this is not a great performance. There is no reason to be giving her this. Yes, they seemed to do the same with Kate Winslet last year (“it’s her year”), but think of The Reader and think of The Blind Side and now what do you consider a weak Best Actress winning performance? I’ll keep hoping for an upset. (By the way, if it was Meryl Streep in Doubt this year, I think her third Oscar would be coming to her.)

    Personally I am sad that two performances did not make it in this year: Tilda Swinton who is masterful and mesmerizing in Julia and Abbie Cornish who is heartbreaking in Bright Star and proved to be the driving force behind the film.

  • 23 2-25-2010 at 3:57 am

    Caleb Roth said...

    Kris, I’m all for Carey Mulligan winning, since she was my favorite.

    I’d like to chat about the future of the nominees in case of a win.

    Mirren: won’t, but a win would be seen as overrewarding.
    Bullock: this day will be seen as a day of shame.
    Carey Mulligan: Gives the best performance, but people don’t like winners that young. It’d destroy her career.
    Gabourey: I don’t think she is gonna have a career unless she pulls a Peter Jackson. Hollywood is still full of prejudices. May return later as a supporting player.
    Streep: Everybody knows this is not her best performance, but people a win will not age bad. She’s not robbing anyone who gives an undeniable performance. May win a fourth.

  • 24 2-25-2010 at 5:13 am

    matsunaga said...

    Gabby sibide oesn’t deserve to win IMO because she was overshadowed by Mo’nique and her saving grace was the “No one loves me” scene… Only that…

    Carey Mulligan didn’t gave the best performance but her performance was Oscar nod-worthy.

    I really hoped it was Marion Cotillard for “Nine” or Saoirse Ronan for “The Lovely Bones”. They were discriminated for not having a well-critically acclaimed films. They should have been there instead of the at least two nominees.

    Meryl Streep did a well portrayed performance as Julia Child… Though I hope she should have won last year for “Doubt”… It was a best performance for me compared to her Julia Child.

    And as for Sandra Bullock? She was just lucky to be nominated. I really liked “The Proposal”… She and Ryan Reynolds had a very good chemistry and I must admit, I was wondering why “The Blind Side” was a BP nominee… and even if the media is saying that she will win, I’m hoping for a well deserved upset by Meryl Streep. Marion Cotillard made it for La Vie en Rose over Julie Christie and I know she can also pull it with her performance…

  • 25 2-25-2010 at 7:45 am

    Colorado said...

    Despite her name, Gabby Sidibe is American!!! Just like Streep (one of my favs) her parents aren’t American.

  • 26 2-25-2010 at 7:50 am

    Colorado said...

    Mo’Nique isn’t playing the Oscar game?! What a laugh!!! However, she did play the great acting game, can you say that about Anna Kendrick, I think not….

  • 27 2-25-2010 at 8:14 am

    JJ said...

    “All I’m doing in THIS space, however, is pointing out how ridiculous it is that anyone thinks she’s not going to win. That has nothing to do with my opinion of her work and everything to do with the fact that I know how to call an Oscar race.”

    Kris, I’m just curious (and I’m TOTALLY not using an instigatory or sarcastic tone here, at all. Please consider that. Love your site, love your articles, yadayada.), but when is the last time you were so dead sure about something in an Oscar race and were wrong?

  • 28 2-25-2010 at 9:02 am

    Ross said...

    Many Oscar voters know that Meryl has been robbed of Oscars in the past. And they know she deserves it this year. And I believe that she will win a la Sean Penn last year

  • 29 2-25-2010 at 12:12 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Look to the Oscar ceremony in February 1941 for the precedent for this year’s Best Actress winner. ;-)

  • 30 2-25-2010 at 2:41 pm

    Jessica said...

    everything to do with the fact that I know how to call an Oscar race.

    That’s awfully presumptuous of you. I don’t recall you having a perfect prediction rate (100%) for the past ten years.

  • 31 2-25-2010 at 3:19 pm

    med said...

    Mr. Kris Perfect knows how to call an Oscar race. What a pompous fool…

  • 32 2-25-2010 at 7:35 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    Kris, totally agreeing with you. Sidibe really touched me in her performance as Precious. Her transformation from this mute little mouse to this woman is amazing. *spoiler* and when we learn that she is HIV+, my heart just breaks for her……
    my top 5
    the Maid actress (sorry about not remembering their names)

    Thirst actress
    Tilda Swinton in Julia (she’s freakng fantastic in this movie, I loved the first half of the movie too)
    and probably a tie betwen Meryl and Mulligan

  • 33 2-25-2010 at 7:36 pm

    Duke said...

    I believe Gabourey has the second easiest role of the 5, Bullock’s was the easiest to act.

    Meryl’s Julia and specially Carey’s Jenny were much more complex and challenging for the actress.

    My favorite is Carey, but I’d love to see Meryl winning.

  • 34 2-25-2010 at 10:19 pm

    Ed said...

    Meryl Streep will win it this year. That’s a fact!

  • 35 2-26-2010 at 8:10 pm

    KarlaT. said...

    I would really be dissapointed of the Academy if they award Sandra Bullock, I mean it would be a real joke if you look at the other performances, really Academy, get some respect and Award Meryl Streep, or in the worst case any other actress but Sandra, she is lovely but she DOESN NOT DESERVES IT

  • 36 2-27-2010 at 11:09 am

    Dave B said...

    It shouldn’t matter if Meryl has won 2 or 20, it should go to the best…but, of course, this is the Oscars and it doesn’t always work out that way. Sandra Bullock gave a good performance, and played fesity very well, but the performance lacked an emotional depth that maybe other actresses such as Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon would have brought to it. I personally don’t feel she belongs in the top 5, but can understand her nomination.

    Meryl’s uncanny portrayal is the year’s best. Can you imagine any other actress doing that part? Certainly no one would have done it better.

    Unfortunately, it looks like it’ll be Sandra up there, and yet another bonehead move by the Academy. This will be the most undeserving win since Crash (gee, another Sandra film) winning Best Pic, and the biggest head-scratcher since Don Ameche won for Cocoon.

    We’re pulling for ya Meryl!