So we’ve covered three of the four acting categories over the past three days. Today, let’s talk about Best Actress. After last year’s banner Oscar lineup, this year was bound to disappoint; and though this year’s lineup does not contain considerably less substantial performances, it leaves us with something more to be desired. What’s more upsetting is the fact that this year offered an even greater number of riveting performances than last year, and the Academy opted to ignore the majority of them. But what makes this category fun to follow is mainly the fact that the potential winner of this race delivered the most interesting performance out of the five nominees. Let’s take a look.
And the nominees are:
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
Who will win? This is the fun part. For several years, many film aficionados and Oscar pundits have demanded Streep’s third Oscar, pending already 29 years. The legendary actress earned her 17th nomination this year for her portrayal of the British politician Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” After years of near-misses, Streep’s chances seem better than ever with a glorified performance. It’s only natural that she gets that long overdue third Oscar, right? But there’s a problem: Viola Davis. Not only has Davis put up a fierce fight this awards season, winning a number of critic prizes and precursor awards, but she’s reached a profound stage in her acting career that make her all the more ripe for a win. The unexpected phenomenal box-office run of “The Help” combined with Davis’s respect in the industry only increase her chances. The two actresses have thus battled it out all season long. Streep won several critic prizes and took home the BAFTA and the Golden Globe (Drama). Davis also claimed several critic prizes as well as the Critics’ Choice Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award. What’s funny is that both actresses have been very close friends since they collaborated together back in 2008’s “Doubt.” So where does that leave us then? Streep once again is aided by a demand to finally break her losing streak that’s been going on for 29 years. However, despite the love for her performance, her film was panned, whereas Davis’s film became an instant success, earning a Best Picture nod. Moreover, Streep has endorsed Davis right from the start. I put my money on Davis, a long-standing character actress finally given a chance to showcase her immense talent in a leading role and delivering a performance that many love, even if they aren’t fans of the film itself.
Potential spoiler: It’s either Streep or Davis. The other three can just enjoy their nominations.
Who should win? Since I heard “Albert Nobbs” was hitting the big screen, I was rooting for Glenn Close to awe us and make a run for that Oscar she’s deserved for a very long time. But when I finally got around to seeing the film, Close’s 30-year effort to transfer the play into the screen felt more commendable than her actual performance. I’m sure if a lesser known or respected actress had delivered this performance, she would’ve been sidelined since the film opened. It’s nothing special, and her performance feels more like a gesture of appreciation for Close than an act to honor her performance. Both Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep offered respectable work, and it’s great to watch them interpret iconic women — Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher — especially from two of the greatest actresses working today. But not only are they sandbagged by uninspiring and mediocre films, their performances are nothing spectacular when compared to their previous work, which offers much worthier performances. Standing much higher than these three are Viola Davis and Rooney Mara. Davis never resists the mediocre film that she’s in, but instead spins gold from straw. She feeds the audience the film it deserves, rejecting the one-dimensional martyrdom the film tries to impose on her character. If Davis wasn’t so detailed and three-dimensional, her story wouldn’t feel so tragic. She transcends her film without seeming cutoff from her costars or the unremarkable script of “The Help.” And Rooney Mara is greatly aided by a much more accomplished film than “The Help.” David Fincher’s version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” proved a much more respectable piece of filmmaking than Davis’s film, and Mara flourished just like Davis does. Fortunately for us, Mara never tries to imitate her predecessor’s work, but instead opts to show us a side of Lisbeth Salander that the book and the Swedish film never really explored. The actress never lends herself to victimization — which she shouldn’t —but instead digs deeper into the role, offering the same ferocity we saw in Noomi Rapace, although with more acting precision and less obvious tactics. She keys into Lisbeth’s vulnerability at crucial junctures in the film. Both she and Davis were wonderful; and I wish I didn’t have to choose between them. But if I must, I’d go with Davis, who has to work with a patchy script, and who accomplishes just as much as Mara does without the aid of a dependable director.
Who got snubbed? This was such a rich year for actresses that no matter which way the Academy swayed, not everyone would have been pleased. Still, it’s disappointing that they didn’t at least try to venture outside their typical realm. The most surprising omission for Oscar pundits was Tilda Swinton, whose unconventional take on motherhood in “We Need To Talk About Kevin” went as far as earning nominations from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the BAFTAs, as well as several major critic awards. Still, she came up short on Oscar nomination morning. If “Jane Eyre” had opened in the fall instead of in March, Mia Wasikowska would probably have earned a very deserving nomination. The French actress Juliette Binoche delivered a performance for the ages in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy.” She more than deserved to be nominated. Also, not even Cannes’ stamp on Kirsten Dunst’s stunning work in “Melancholia” was enough to launch her a campaign. Kristen Wiig’s great comic work was never going to bode well with Oscar, who rarely goes for comedy. Finally, I’m sure that if any other actress with the clout of Kate Winslet or of any other famous British thespian had delivered the same riveting performance that Olivia Colman gives us in “Tyrannosaur,” this race would have been a done deal a long time ago. Other worthy performances: Anna Paquin in “Margaret,” Charlotte Gainsbourg for “Melancholia,” Yun Jeong-hie for “Poetry,” and Charlize Theron for “Young Adult.”
My ballot: Juliette Binoche, “Certified Copy”; Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”; Olivia Colman, “Tyrannosaur”; Viola Davis, “The Help”; and Yun Jeong-hie, “Poetry.”