The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 1999-2000)
The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.
I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.
This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.
Annette Bening, American Beauty
Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry
SAG matched 5/5.
BAFTA is basically useless at this point.
BFCA had no nominees.
The Globes had all five across two categories.
Annette Bening won SAG and BAFTA. Swank won BFCA and the Globe. Straight up 50/50 choice and based on how things go now, you’d think Bening went in a big favorite. But this is before my time, so I have no idea.
American Beauty is a movie that pretty much everyone knows.
Kevin Spacey, bored with life, has a mid-life crisis, and it rejuvenates his life and throws everyone else around him into chaos of sorts.
Annette Bening plays his wife, a real estate broker, who has organized her life into a perfectly controlled environment. Which unravels the minute her husband starts acting out of line, so to speak.
She is great here. From the opening scenes of her precisely snipping a rose bush, or the “I will sell this house today” montage, you immediately get a sense of who this woman is. I love the performance. I get why she didn’t win, but I think this performance was certainly good enough to have.
Tumbleweeds is one of the last films I watched (if I remember correctly) on this Quest, and I had low expectations for it. But it was quite surprising how much I liked the performance.
I call this movie Janet Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, because of the obvious parallels between the two films. She and her daughter leave an abusive husband and move around from place to place. Here, McTeer is more eccentric than anything. And the film is about her constant desire to leave places and never settle in one place. And eventually her daughter likes one of the towns and wants to settle down, so McTeer has to — you know… it’s basically Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore meets The Sundowners.
McTeer is good. Really charming. I don’t think the film is strong enough to put her over the top, but she is good enough for the nomination and to rate solidly in this category. I liked this performance way more than I thought I would, and I think the fact that she ends up third for me in this category is the strongest thing I can say about it.
The End of the Affair is a throwback romance film. They made it in 1955. One of those literary adaptations that seemed destined to get Julianne Moore a nomination. Her first, actually. In lead, anyway. I think most people would prefer her to have been nominated for Magnolia in Supporting. But I guess this works.
Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore had an affair prior to the film, and then meet again randomly. And begin the affair again. And we watch in both present and past as this happens.
Julianne Moore is fine here. The movie feels underwhelming to me, and the performances feel underwhelming. It feels too by the numbers. I’m not sure why they nominated her for this instead of Magnolia. But sure. I guess an average lead performance is better than a great supporting performance? Whatever.
I don’t love the film, the performance is okay and at best she’s a fourth choice in this category. She’s been better, and (even though it doesn’t matter here) she’d be better after this.
Music of the Heart is directed by Wes Craven. Show of hands, who knew that off the top of your head?
I love that Wes Craven directed this. It’s a good movie. I mean, yeah, it shouldn’t be here, but it’s Meryl, what are you gonna do? They’d nominate her for drinking a glass of water on screen for 90 minutes.
It’s based on a NY schoolteacher who runs a music program in an inner city school. Stand and Deliver with music.
It’s fine, but you know exactly what all the progressions are and it’s not an adventurous film in any way. Streep is fine, but like the One True Thing performance, this isn’t something that needed to be nominated. She’s fifth in the category. No way you take her here. One of her most forgettable nominations.
Boys Don’t Cry is pretty well known on title alone. Everyone generally knows this story.
It’s based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man. Born a woman, he ends up leaving his hometown after threats when a former girlfriend’s brother finds out about it. He ends up meeting Peter Sarsgaard and his band of hooligans, and falls for Chloe Sevigny. And the film is about a person finding their identity and eventually being (spoiler alert) killed because of it.
The movie is good, and I completely understand why Swank won this. I like her performance, but I don’t know if I vote for her. I go back and watch this every time to see if maybe this is the time I change my mind. I’ll keep the suspense for a minute before I let you know if this is the time, but either way, I think we all can agree this category is between her and Annette Bening.
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The Reconsideration: It’s either Bening or Swank. They’re the only two in this one. This is, in my mind, Streep’s weakest nominated performance. This may also be Julianne Moore’s weakest performance. And then McTeer is nice, but doesn’t rate like the top two. Swank has the role that fits the category 100%. And Bening also works too. It’s close.
I go back and watch Hilary Swank’s performance every time I go over this category, thinking this will be the time I take her over Annette Bening. And you know what…
It’s still not the time. I like the role, and I want to want to vote for this performance. But I just don’t like it enough to take it. I like Annette Bening’s performance more. So again, I take Annette Bening.
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Rankings (category and films):
- Annette Bening, American Beauty
- Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry
- Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
- Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
- Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
My Vote: Annette Bening, American Beauty
American Beauty is 100% essential. This is one of those movies that everyone loves. You can tell because the way everyone starts liking movies is they go and use the IMDB Top 250 to find stuff to watch. And this — I can’t say for sure because I haven’t looked at that list in like 7 years, but it’s probably still in the top 50. That part is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit what that list says. The point is, this is a movie that everyone loves, everyone sees, and it won Best Picture and a bunch of Oscars. It’s essential all around.
Boys Don’t Cry is essential because of the win, worth seeing because it’s good, and also because of the subject matter. I’d consider it essential just to see it. It’s good. If it’s not essential, I’d call it a solid to high recommend. It’s a good movie, even though it’s very indie. And it won. Just consider it essential. It’s easier that way.
Tumbleweeds is not essential, not remembered, and actually decent. Gavin O’Connor directed this. He did Miracle, Warrior and The Accountant. Most people don’t know he also did this. That might make it worth seeing. Moderate recommend. It’s indie, but it’s not bad. Very not essential, but worth a watch.
The End of the Affair is okay. Moderate recommend. Not something you need to see, and if you do, that’s fine. I doubt you’d need to see it more than once. It’s just okay. Not essential.
Music of the Heart is actually not terrible. I like that Wes Craven directed it, and it’s a nice little oddity on his resume and a perfectly 90s kind of teacher movie. Moderate recommend. It’s decent. Not essential, but worth a watch once.
The Last Word: Swank holds up on the role. I think Bening gives the better performance, but she’d hold up about the same as Swank at best. Not better. So either one was a good choice. And Swank certainly looks good on paper. So they did fine. I don’t dislike this one, even though I’d have gone another way.
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Joan Allen, The Contender
Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
SAG matched 5/5.
BAFTA matched 3/5. They had Hilary Swank from last year on there. No Linney or Burstyn.
BFCA had no nominees, just a winner.
The Globes had all five across both categories.
Julia Roberts won everything. One of the least surprising results of the past thirty years.
The Contender is about the first female vice presidential nominee.
The vice president dies and the president decides to appoint Joan Allen as the nominee. And the republicans put her through the ringer during the nominations process. So she has to suffer attacks on her character, her personal life, everything. It’s a really great political film.
Allen is always good, and she’s very good here. I’m not sure the film does anything to put her over the top, as it’s a very progressive subject matter that never feels like it goes all the way. The whole thing being about a sex act she had in college feels both John Grisham-y and in a way, all too realistic, because of course that’s what would happen in real life. I like Joan Allen, and I so wanted this to be the performance I voted for in this category, since I’m not wholly sold on Julia Roberts. But I honestly can’t put this that high. I don’t like it enough to take it, even though I’d like to be able to.
Chocolat is a pure Weinstein movie. Only he’d get this all the way through to Best Picture and Best Actress.
Juliette Binoche is a single mother who opens a chocolate shop in a small town that’s run by the church. And she turns the town upside down. The movie’s good and entertaining.
I have no idea how Juliette Binoche got nominated for this movie. She’s just charming. That’s it. There’s nothing really required of her as an actress here. She’s an easy #5 here. There’s nothing that makes me want to take her over any of the other nominees.
Requiem for a Dream is Darren Aronofsky’s calling card. A harrowing movie about drug addiction.
It follows a couple of different stories of people addicted to various drugs. We’re only dealing with one in particular.
Ellen Burstyn is an older lady (whose son is a heroin addict) who gets a call saying she has the chance to be on a TV game show. She wants to go on there in her prized red dress, which she last wore during her son’s graduation. She can’t fit into it anymore and wants to lose weight. After trying various diets, she can’t handle the lack of food intake. So she starts taking amphetamines and becomes addicted to them. She starts to hallucinate, leading to her being committed and getting electroshock therapy.
I like this film and I like Ellen Burstyn, but I’m about to say something that’s sacrilege to most (since everyone says she should have won this category): I think the performance is overrated. I think she’s good, but I don’t see what she does here that’s not the result of the film and editing. She sits in a chair and looks horrified as all these crazy hallucinations go on around her.
I honestly would have her third at the highest here, if not straight up fourth. I never was a huge fan of this performance as an Oscar winner. That’s just how I feel.
You Can Count on Me is a Kenneth Lonnergan film. That may not mean much to most people, but after Margaret (which is one of the most underrated films of the decade) and Manchester by the Sea, which will be out next month, people will take notice when his name is on something.
Laura Linney is a single woman in a small town with independent movie people problems whose brother comes into town and throws her life into chaos.
Linney’s good here. She’s always solid. Here, she rates as solidly as #2, potentially. Don’t think I take her, but I think she’s usually very good and is very good here. Though there’s a big roadblock standing in her way, and that’s…
Erin Brockovich is a biopic/legal movie that is Julia Roberts pretty much reaching the height of her fame. This is one of those instances where role and actress met up perfectly at the right time.
(Insert title here) is a single mother trying to raise her kids and get a job. She gets into a car accident one day and goes to a lawyer, who promises her a settlement. She ends up having an outburst in court and losing. She goes to the lawyer’s office and basically forces him to hire her. While working there, she ends up helping out on a class action lawsuit against a company that poisoned an entire town with toxic emissions and caused pretty much all the residents to develop cancer.
The movie’s very good (Soderbergh) and Roberts is really good and really charming. In most years, she might fight for a #2 spot and be in the conversation for the vote. Here, I don’t think there’s really any other choice. Aside from being perfect timing (she was going to win anyway. They like when actresses have “their time”), she might actually be the best performance in the category. I don’t see much else to take outside of her in this one.
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The Reconsideration: It’s Julia. It’s too perfect a situation to not take. Linney and Allen fight it out for second. Burstyn is a fourth for me. Not sold on that performance. And Binoche is rewarded by being nominated. Roberts carries her movie on acting and star power, is really good in it, and it’s the absolute peak of her fame. This is a great all around situation and I’m just gonna go with it because there’s no one else I really like any better.
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- Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
- Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me
- Joan Allen, The Contender
- Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
- Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
- Erin Brockovich
- Requiem for a Dream
- The Contender
- You Can Count on Me
My Vote: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Requiem for a Dream is probably essential. It’s a film buff favorite, which means the IMDB crowd will get all up in your shit if you haven’t seen it. Plus it’s Darren Aronofsky, and hasn’t he proven himself to be an essential filmmaker? So just consider it essential.
Erin Brockovich is essential. It’s not as objectively essential as Requiem for a Dream is, but this is one of those movies I feel safe calling essential because a lot of people won’t have seen it because they assume they know what it is. But then when they see it, they realize it’s actually really good. Trust Soderbergh. That’s my motto. Plus Julia Roberts won for it — just see it. It’s really entertaining. No reason no to see this.
Chocolat is a solid recommend and a very entertaining movie. Not essential, but definitely worth a watch and something most people will enjoy. This feels like the kind of movie your mother would watch a lot of and turn you onto before you get into movies. Either way, it’s entertaining and worth seeing.
The Contender is a great subject matter and just a pretty good film. The performances are great and it’s really engaging. So I give it a solid to high recommend. I like it a lot. Not a perfect film, but very thought provoking and the subject matter is really strong. I like movies like this because I can be entertained by them and think about how it could have been done differently to have a stronger impact and be a better film. I imagine a lot of film buffs are the same. So you should check this out. I really like this one.
You Can Count on Me is Kenneth Lonnergan and a really great movie. An indie, but it’s really good. Solid recommend. Definitely worth seeing. Throw it in the queue. You’ll probably like it.
The Last Word: Julia Roberts holds up as the best choice here. Allen might have been better as a Supporting Actress nominee (which she almost counts as, given how the film deals with so many different storylines) winner. Linney wouldn’t have held up over Roberts. Burstyn wouldn’t have either. I know people say otherwise, but she wouldn’t have held up. And Binoche really wouldn’t have held up. Julia Roberts was the best choice all around and this decision makes even more sense over time, because she actually looks like she gave the best performance in the category on top of everything else.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)