Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
As Oscar night leers closer and closer, anticipation and buzz about potential winners grows and grows. While the Best Actor, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress awards are all but decided, the Best Actress category still remains a mystery, a three way race (well, technically five-way) between Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, and Carey Mulligan. After this week's viewings of The Last Station and The Blind Side, I can now accurately weigh in on this female contest. Looking at the nominees, we have old pros Helen Mirren and Streep, lauded in previous years and no longer in need of affirmation, as well as newbies Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe, new faces to the American public in their breakthrough performances. And then there's Sandra Bullock. A longtime movie star, noted for big blockbuster hits (of which The Blind Side is also one), her roles have mostly been centered in the areas of comedy and action (think Speed, Miss Congeniality, and this summer's The Proposal). She lies somewhere between an unknown (this is her first nomination after all) and a bonafide star (with box office receipts to prove it). However, let us not forget her ensemble part in Crash, Best Picture a few years back, where she played Brendan Frasier's uptight, racist wife (a reversal of this year's coifed blond socialite) and was actually quite good. An Oscar would seem to recognize her important place and staying power over the last twenty years, but these awards are meant to herald creative ingenuity, not box office appeal. While I am a big Helen Mirren fan, The Last Station seems in a part a courtesy nomination, based more on her laurels than an exceptional film. Sure, she is fun and captivating in the film (as she always is), but even her star power cannot fix what is a pretty clunky movie. Chronicling Tolstoy's last days, Mirren plays his saucy, lusty wife, the Countess Sofya. While most of the movie posters have featured images of Mirren and Christopher Plummer (who plays Tolstoy, also nominated in Best Supporting Actor category) bloodily starring into each other's eyes, it should really be one of Mirren and Paul Giamatti, who plays the zealot Vladimir Chertkov, a staunch follower of Tolstoy who may have intentions of his own. The fillm's conflict mostly centers around their struggle over Tolstoy's estate, one wanting his works to remain in the family (hers), the other seeking to place them in the public domain. Mirren wears a lot of beautiful clothes, cackles, and throws several fits, but I would not put her as the frontrunner in this year's race. Gabourney Sidibe, who plays the title character in Precious, has impressed and astounded the movie circuit with her surprising trip to stardom and relative poise and bubbly personality, so much the opposite of the character she played. I really enjoyed this film (see its November blog entry) and certainly admire her work in the movie, I don't think she has much of a chance in this category. Much of the buzz around Precious has circled around Mo'Nique, an almost shoe-in for Best Supporting Actress, an award she well deserves for a part she completely embodied. As the film's main pivotal character, Mo'Nique tore through her scenes and dominated when onscreen. As the movie's central character, we see a lot of things happen to Precious, but not a lot of action necessarily on her part. The Oscars tend to like women of action (i.e. Erin Brokovitch, Norma Rae, Mary Poppins or even this year's Blind Side and Julie & Julia). Not to mention, the Academy has only awarded Best Actress to one other woman of color: Halle Berry in Monster's Ball. It took an enormous amount of press and buzz for Ms. Berry to secure that award; Ms. Sidibe has not been so lavished. Though I admire her work and that film very much, I wouldn't put her down in this year's Oscar pool. That leaves Ms. Mulligan, Ms. Streep, and Ms. Bullock. While Streep and Bullock each took Golden Globes in their respective categories (one for Musical/Comedy, one for Drama), Bullock's Blind Side outfoxed Streep's culinary character at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards. And while Ms. Mulligan has received a lot of good press and turned in a really wonderful performance, I think her Oscar race has run of steam, lacking both the star power of her two main contenders and any of the major pre-Oscar awards (if the awards were held in London instead of Hollywood, her chances would be much different). So that leaves Streep or Bullock, Julie & Julia or The Blind Side, a battle of the housewives. Both are big stars, both are big films (The Blind Side has already done well over $100 million, while Julie & Julia came close to that number), while both deserve the award, neither "needs" it. For Ms. Bullock, it would be a cherry on top of what has been a career-best year and affirm her as a true movie star and yes, even an actress. For Streep, it would be her first Oscar in more than 25 years, though she holds more nominations that any other actress, living or deceased. An award for Streep would be a culmination of her huge body of work and truthfully would let the Academy off the hook until she wins her lifetime achievement award. So, while Ms. Bullock's story (and not to mention Ms. Sidibe and Ms. Mulligan's) is intriguing and inspiring, I think the Academy will finally give Ms. Streep her second Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Hollywood royalty triumphing over the unknown (as in last year's Best Actor race). I must say, this year has been filled with an exceptional amount of quality films, strewn with wonderful performances, may we be so lucky next year. For now, there are no sure bets, we will all have to tune in on March 7. May the best woman win!