Welcome to East Village Afternoon... enjoy your pop.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Epic Fails: The Oscar for Best Actress

We're just two weeks away from the 2011 Oscars, and many are wondering if Natalie Portman can hold off a charging Annette Bening for this year's Best Actress win. But as that conversation heats, we'd like to take a look back and explore previous Best Actress races, and the wins that should never have been.

(meryl streep in "sophie's choice")

We'll split our "Failed Best Actress Races" into three categories: 1. The years in which more than one woman should have won, 2. Winners that never should have won, and 3. Actresses that were outright robbed.

.(norma shearer in "marie antoinette")

There were many Oscar years in which the winner for Best Actress deserved to win, but subsequently left another actress sitting in the audience who also deserved the coveted award. You cannot deny the power of the winning performances on this list, but also in those years, at least one other woman definitely deserved to walk home with Oscar.
(diana ross in "lady sings the blues")

In 1938, the winner Bette Davis dazzled in "Jezebel", but where her acting was loud with a lot of over-the-top huffing and puffing, loser Norma Shearer gave one of the most nuanced and understated performances of her career in "Marie Antoinette". The scene where she tells her children goodbye in prison before she goes to her death is truly heartbreaking, even by today's movie standards..

(diane keaton with leonardo
dicaprio in "marvin's room")

In 1972 Liza Minelli won for her iconic portrayal of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret", but minus the singing, her actual acting in the film is fairly lightweight. On the other hand, that year's loser was Diana Ross who not only convincingly sang Billie Holiday's songs in "Lady Sings The Blues", but also ran circles around Liza in the acting category. Ross is stunning in her portrayal of a person slowly losing control of her mind under the influence of drugs and the weight of fame in a hostile world. You can't deny the power of Minelli in "Cabaret", but Ross really should have also taken the award that year in a tie. In 1972, it was almost as if Minelli won for the sheer force of her larger-than-life personality, whereas Ross should have won for digging deeply within herself to create a performance completely from scratch.

(naomi watts in "21 grams")

Many say that comedic performances are never recognized by Oscar, but not in the case of Frances McDormand's 1996 win for "Fargo". McDormand was utterly charming and funny as the no-nonsense North Dakota policewoman, but looking back, there wasn't a lot of heft in her role. Meanwhile, one of the runners-up that year was Diane Keaton in "Marvin's Room" who created something really special. Missing in her performance were many of Keaton's normal annoying tics, instead we watched a Diane Keaton who was more realistic, more subdued, and someone who looked like life had slapped her around the room, and left nothing in its wake but a sad and very lonely woman. Keaton's performance was subtle, patient and heartbreaking. The Oscar that year probably should have gone to Keaton alone, but she at least deserved a tie with the also very good McDormand.

(judi dench with cate
blanchett in "notes on a scandal")

Next up on this list are two years in which there were at least two women who really should have shared the naked golden man. In 2003 Charlize Theron was absolutely breathtaking in "Monster", but so was Naomi Watts in "21 Grams". Both women acted in brutally tough roles and showed a range and set of skills that many actors only dream of. Theron played an angry, life-ravaged murderess, and Watts was a woman lured to self-destruction by personal tragedy. There is just no way to say that either woman's performance that year was better than the other's. The same goes for 2006 in which Helen Mirren won for "The Queen", leaving in her wake one of the scariest performances of all time, that of Judi Dench's in "Notes on a Scandal". Mirren was the epitome of quiet, steely strength, but Dench was a living nightmare. The two roles were polar opposites in temperament, but both women brought something to them which many lesser actresses would have simply turned into parody and farce. Just as Naomi Watts truly should have shared Theron's Oscar, Dench should have also taken the stage that night alongside Mirren..And finally, the last entry on this list, and ultimately the most heartbreaking one, is for the year 1982, in which Meryl Steep won and laid her claim as the greatest actress of the 20th Century with her landmark performance in "Sophie's Choice". There's no use in even discussing whether or not Streep deserved to win for "Sophie's Choice", Streep transcends the importance of awards or even acting itself in this role. To watch Streep in this movie about a Polish Holocaust survivor who struggles to maintain her sanity is to simply be mesmirized. There's only one catch to her win that year. Someone else also turned in the performance of a lifetime, and also maybe one of the greatest of the 20th Century, that of Jessica Lange's in "Frances". In any other year, Lange would have easily cruised to an Oscar win for playing real-life, mentally unbalanced actress Frances Farmer. Lange is shockingly good in a role which required a full range of human emotion, even as those emotions slowly start to betray her and ultimately lead to her self-destruction. Just as with Streep's "Sophie's Choice", it's hard to watch "Frances" very often; it's just too disturbing, and real. If there was ever a year in which two women deserved to tie for the Oscar, it was 1982.
Tomorrow: The Best Actresses Who Really Should Not Have Been!

No comments: