OFF THE CARPET: The year of the woman, take two?

Posted by · 9:11 am · September 13th, 2010

It wasn’t by coincidence that the three photos decorating the season’s introductory installment of this column two weeks ago represented lead actress contenders in the 2010 Oscar race. After all the talk of 2009 being “the year of the woman,” owing much to the number of female directors who found themselves in the mix (and inevitably leading to Kathryn Bigelow’s history-making moment at the Kodak), I’m sensing an even better argument for 2010 as a singular season for the fairer sex.

Let’s start with the performances. By my count, there are already eight nominatable offerings from lead actresses this year (which contrasts drastically with a dearth of supporting hopefuls).  This is just going by what I’ve seen, mind you.

For starters, Natalie Portman has dazzled the early festival season with her work in “Black Swan.” Lesley Manville, meanwhile (should she remain a lead focus), sets a high bar in “Another Year.” Despite my feelings on the film, Carey Mulligan really settles into a next-level groove in “Never Let Me Go,” and Jennifer Lawrence, of course (like Mulligan last year), has already become the year’s star-in-the-making story in “Winter’s Bone.”

Dovetailing with the performances themselves, there are also films that seem to reflect the theme in narrative. In “Secretariat,” for instance, Diane Lane capably (if a bit histrionically) portrays headstrong Penny Chenery, a woman of virtue in an era when she was expected to keep her head down and clean house. Similarly, Sally Hawkins absolutely kills as the Norma Rae-ish Rita O’Grady in “Made in Dagenham,” fighting for equal pay in a similar time (and she’s likely to be joined in the hunt by co-star Miranda Richardson for a fiery supporting turn). And we can’t forget the palpable feminism apparent in summer indie “The Kids Are All Right,” where Annette Bening and Julianne Moore both bring their “A” game.

Segueing to the nine possible contenders from films I haven’t yet seen, Hilary Swank keeps the theme going as a woman putting herself through law school to help her wrongfully accused brother get out of jail in “Conviction.” Helen Mirren, meanwhile, tries on Shakespeare in Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest,” flipping the theatre’s Prospero into Prospera.

Then just generally speaking to round things out, Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams have been spotlighted for their work on the festival circuit so far in “Fair Game” and “Blue Valentine” respectively.  We’re all waiting to see what Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie have to offer in “Love & Other Drugs” and “The Tourist.” (We’ll know more about the latter when the trailer launches Wednesday morning.)  And there are still fringe considerations that include Freida Pinto in Julian Schnabel’s “Miral” (which, like Taymor’s film, received a few jabs in Venice), Robin Wright Penn in the distributorless (for now) “The Conspirator,” Gwyneth Paltrow in the familiar “Country Strong” and Emma Stone in the considerably lighter “Easy A” (which could just be an HFPA play along with Paltrow).

And there are still a handful of possibilities lingering beyond that, as well as some that I imagine may not even be on the radar quite yet.  But 18 examples is a deep enough field to state the obvious: this is the strongest lead actress race for years.  And that a feminine strength dynamic has carried over into the stories unfolding on screen makes all the more intriguing.

This was all nicely laid bare in Venice over the weekend where Sofia Coppola took down the Golden Lion for her latest film “Somewhere” and Helen Mirren had the following to say regarding her role in Taymor’s debuting film:

Women have been punished for being in power, for being powerful for many centuries and I thought that was the remarkable thing about making Prospero into Prospera…You can bring in that history of female struggle, and certainly in Shakespeare’s day and for many centuries before and after women of knowledge were punished for that knowledge…We can see now in the extreme fundamentalist states, whatever religion they are, that they want to exclude women from education…because an educated woman is a dangerous thing.

And a well-written female character is as powerful as ever on the big screen.  It’ll be interesting to see how the class of 2010 represents this field.

On to the updates.  I was going to hold off on polishing up the predictions until later this afternoon, as I’m seeing a pair of films that may tip the scales this way or that.  (One of those films, by the way, will see web reviews hit throughout the day, and I can only hope, given the outlets planning to run, that it’s not “Inception” all over again, leaving traditional media types sharpening their knives and irritated at the inevitable wave of praise.)  But I figured I’d just get everything off my plate sooner rather than later.  So I’ve run a comb through the Contenders section and once again updated the predictions.  Toronto will inevitably lead to more changes next week.

In the meantime, feel free to discuss the exceptionally strong year for female leads in the comments section below.

[Photos: Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics, Associated Press]

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65 responses so far

  • 1 9-13-2010 at 2:39 pm

    AdamL said...

    The year of the women thing is trotted out every few years but the Best Actress slate usually looks pretty thin when all is said and done. Sometimes you get a decent 5 but it’s rare that anyone great gets shafted (unless you’re Kristin Scott Thomas.) The Best Actor slate is nearly always much stronger.

  • 2 9-13-2010 at 2:39 pm

    Sean C. said...

    People have been speculating about Julianne Moore going for a Supporting nod for TKAAR; would the Academy go for that (they bumped Winslet up)? I only saw that movie once, but it seemed like she had more screentime than Benning (and her character’s actions drove the plot).

  • 3 9-13-2010 at 2:50 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I want Fox Searchlight to mount a campaign for Marisa Tomei as BSA for Cyrus.

  • 4 9-13-2010 at 3:43 pm

    j said...

    Hey your T2 for Supp Actress are Rita Skeeter & Bellatrix Lestrange. Probs says something about the depth of talent in the Potter films.

  • 5 9-13-2010 at 4:24 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Tomei was amazing!

  • 6 9-13-2010 at 4:52 pm

    j said...

    Also of the 60 actors listed as contenders, the ones in films already released are the 3 most acclaimed live-action narratives of the year, + Get Low.
    While the BP contenders released are the 3 most acclaimed narratives, + Inception.

  • 7 9-13-2010 at 5:08 pm

    m1 said...

    Avatar = Pocahontas in Space
    Inception = Alice in Dreamland

  • 8 9-13-2010 at 9:06 pm

    David Lindsey said...

    Noomi Rapace?

  • 9 9-13-2010 at 10:40 pm

    Josh said...

    Great article Kris. Looks like things will only get crazier with the great things being said about Rachel Weisz and Nicole Kidman’s performances out of Toronto.

  • 10 9-14-2010 at 2:42 pm

    m1 said...

    54-McGonagall, Voldemort, and Slughorn have been honored before as well.

  • 11 9-14-2010 at 3:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Man, it makes me feel old that some of you guys think of Miranda Richardson and Helena Bonham-Carter first as Harry Potter stars.

  • 12 9-14-2010 at 10:41 pm

    SJG said...

    Duh, Guy, there not Harry Potter stars… they’re the stars of NBC/Hallmark’s “Merlin”!

    Seriously, that’s where I was introduced to both of them, and thank God I was!

  • 13 9-14-2010 at 10:41 pm

    SJG said...


  • 14 9-21-2010 at 3:46 am

    chocho said...

    I can’t believe you MISSED Kidman.

    Because she’ll be there.

  • 15 8-05-2014 at 8:18 am

    Milica said...

    Andrew Haha, I read your review eaielrr and have been trying to think of a good response. :-) It is hard to see why Leo stands out in The Fighter because she is playing a role she perfected gritty, unlikeable women. In a way I do think she is being awarded for her stellar but underrated career. That is I’m not too keen on Leo winning. This is a thought I had eaielrr HBC and Adams are splitting the votes and then votes for Leo are slipping in Do you see that happening?Candice To me, not liking Frozen River is blasphemous. I just don’t understand how you can’t love that movie.