Why should you care about the Academy Awards? In a sense, the Oscars are just as contrived as any other of the dozen awards handed out in the preceding months. However, somewhere amongst the glitz, glamour and incest the show has created, the awards have grown into something more. Win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and forever your DVD is plastered with a “BEST PICTURE” slogan. Win an Academy Award, and your movie (or your role) becomes canonized.
Last year, the Best Actress race was over in November, as critics and guild groups alike both fell in love with Helen Mirren’s portrayal of “The Queen”. It was a good decision, but I also loved Kate Winslet and Judi Dench’s performances, as well as (less notably) Naomi Watts in “The Painted Veil”. This year, some have called the Best Actress race the best of the season. Before we get to the competitors, let’s look at those that have taken the last ten.
Helen Hunt (“As Good As It Gets”), Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”), Hillary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Julia Roberts (“Erin Brockovich”), Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”), Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”), Charlize Theron (“Monster”), Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”), Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”), Helen Mirren (“The Queen”).
Only twice during that span did the Best Actress winner work in the movie that won Best Picture, those being Paltrow and Swank’s second victory. I think men will sadly have a better correlation, and unless “Juno” has the ultimate shock on Oscar night, that trend should continue this year. With the exception of Mirren, these are very well known actresses, and with the exception again of Mirren, all with similar ages in the peak of their careers. This year, the Best Actress race is of three horses. The Academy would save us time to just nominate three, but since we know that won’t happen, we’ll finish by looking at the two who might earn the final slot.
I already mentioned “Juno”, so we should probably start with Ellen Page, the 20-year-old Canadian actress that burst on screen bringing Diablo Cody’s script to life. Page comes across in interviews as a very dedicated actress, and it will be hard to find a female that was on screen for a greater percentage of the movie. Some might say the movie lacks the emotional resonance or physicality of her competitors, but I disagree. I count just twice in the last ten years that a sub-25 actress was nominated for Best Actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) in 2003 and Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”) in 2004. Neither had as real a shot to win as Page this year.
Standing in Ellen’s way is a fantastic actress, a legend in Julie Christie who will surely earn her fourth Oscar nomination. Her first came along with a win 42 years ago, as she was one of the few sub-25 Oscar winners in Best Actress history for her work in “Darling”. Like Day-Lewis, Christie’s 2007 work may represent her best, as “Away From Her” is as heart-breaking a tale as was found last year. Christie doesn’t have the screen time of the others, but the role is packed in emotional resonance and it might be the most transcending work of the year. She will be considered the favorite entering Oscar night.
From 1973 until Nicole Kidman won in 2002, only once (Emma Thompson) did the Academy recognize a non-American actress with the Oscar. Since Page is Canadian and Christie British, it will happen for the fourth time in six years this year, as the third actress is Marion Cotillard, a french actress that turned in a fantastic portrayal of Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”. The movie has been heralded as a triumph in make-up and sound, as Cotillard completely disguises herself and did the actual singing in the movie. Reese Witherspoon was awarded for singing in “Walk the Line”, so the Academy has shown they like that already. However, with a clear trend in the importance of visibility, I think Cotillard will struggle to get the win.
As for the losers, I see the final two spots as a fight between five actresses:
— I saw somewhere that Angelina Jolie was a favorite to gain a nomination on star power alone, but that’s not fair. Jolie was stunning at Mariane Pearl, and certainly stood out in an otherwise flawed movie. She will deserve her nomination.
— Keira Knightley was considered the favorite in the weeks before “Atonement”, as the buzz grew concerning the picture and Knightley was the movie’s most visible actor. She was good, but not as good as James McAvoy, and still, neither was on-screen enough to gain nominations in a loaded year.
— I haven’t seen the three performances that are also gaining steam, and one of them I won’t. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” is supposed to be an absolutely horrible movie, but like the last “Elizabeth”, some see Cate Blanchett‘s performance as Oscar-worthy. It’s certainly her role. While that would seem an odd movie to gain an Oscar nomination, “Enchanted” may be an even more atypical Academy choice. Nonetheless, given its box office success, some see Amy Adams‘ endearing performance for the fifth slot. Myself? I haven’t seen “The Savages”, but as the feel-good, struggling family movie of the year, I think Laura Linney might get the nomination. Some have called it the performance of her career.
Handicapping the Race
Julie Christie, Away From Her (2:3)
Ellen Page, Juno (3:2)
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose (5:2)
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart (15:1)
Laura Linney, The Savages (40:1)
Keira Knightley, Atonement (50:1)
Amy Adams, Enchanted (100:1)
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (150:1)
Jodie Foster, The Brave One (250:1)
Marketa Irglova, Once (300:1)
The WHAP Award Goes To: Ellen Page, “Juno”.