“Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?”
Last week writer Mark Harris lamented about the “deplorable state” of the Best Actress race this year, arguing that by having a lineup of women who have already won awards (either in lead or supporting), we miss some of the lesser-known, yet still captivating performances by other actresses. He also argued that this could become a trend with Oscars (see last year’s Best Supporting Actor category). Right now the category seems almost a virtual lock, with the following women to be guaranteed a nomination.
1) Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
2) Judi Dench for Philomena
3) Sandra Bullock for Gravity
4) Meryl Streep for August: Osage County
5) Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks
The only slot I could see changing would be Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks. Perhaps Amy Adams will squeeze in and garner her first best actress nomination for David O. Russell’s American Hustle? Harris argues that while this lineup is certainly talented, it is also somewhat predictable with “Academy voters… disinclined to look beyond people they already know can give a nice speech.” He also accurately sums up that these five women have the backings of massive studio promotional campaigns, whereas other actresses such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Bérénice Bejo (The Past) don’t have the kind of studio push that’s needed in this day and age.
And while I agree that there is a larger issue at hand here regarding the promotional power of big studios vs. smaller ones, Harris is slightly overlooking the great notion that all of these women are over 35 and none of them have what the Academy loves in its Best Actress performances, the “babe factor.”
Blanchett is 44, Bullock is 49, Thompson is 54, Streep is 64, and Dench is 78. In yet another film season dominated by blockbusters (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, etc.), it’s refreshing to see that opportunities are still available to some of the industry’s most talented ladies of a certain age, especially when there still remains a tendency for the roles of women these days to simply be the object of the male gaze (I’m looking at you, Scarlett Johansson in Her and Don Juan).
Probably the best example off this list is Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which features the best performance of Sandra Bullock’s career. The film works because of Bullock’s humanity and the audience’s ability to completely empathize with her character and with the “likeable” persona of Bullock herself. She holds the majority of screen time over her co-star George Clooney.
Sadly, Cuaron recently revealed that he was met with some studio opposition over a “female lead” for his sci-fi extravaganza and it’s in his favor the role eventually went to Bullock (who has matured into a fine actress while still maintaining her status as America’s sweetheart) over some of the other notable younger actresses who were originally attached and/or tested for the project (Carey Mulligan, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, and Olivia Wilde). Why begrudge these talented women for already having Oscars when we should be thankful that there are still fascinating parts for older women?