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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2001-2002)

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.

2001

Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

Judi Dench, Iris

Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge

Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom

Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones’ Diary

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5. Jennifer Connelly went lead there and supporting here.

BAFTA matched 3/5. No Berry, no Kidman (for this performance, anyway. She was nominated for The Others).

BFCA only had three nominees, and they matched. No Berry, no Dench.

The Globes had 5/5 across both categories.

Berry won SAG, Dench won BAFTA, Spacek won BFCA and Spacek and Kidman split the Globes.

So here was a split year where SAG was the light in the sky. Most people thought Spacek had it on the veteran vote, but looking back, Berry had to be the safe choice. But at the time, I’m not sure that was the safe choice.

Monster’s Ball is a movie more famous for reasons other than the film.

You know, because we’ve all been 13 once.

Billy Bob Thornton is a racist prison guard who’s got a lot of issues. And he starts a relationship with the (black) wife of a man he executed. It’s actually a pretty good film with solid moments.

Halle Berry plays the wife, and she’s good here. This is usually a performance that gets nominated for an Oscar but doesn’t win it. Though given this category, I get how she won. And I’m not even mad. Not sure I take her. She feels like a third choice, possibly a second. Weak category keeps her in it, but I wouldn’t normally take this.

Iris is a biopic of an author I’ve honestly never heard of. It’s a Weinstein special, so it’s got good performances and nominations, but isn’t something most people will love.

It shows author Iris Murdoch at two points in her life: young and falling in love with her husband, and then older and slipping into dementia as her husband dutifully cares for her.

Judi Dench plays older Iris, and she’s great here. A solid performance whose only real drawback is — does she really have all that much to do? It’s a 90 minute movie and half of it is another actress (Kate Winslet, even!) playing her. But she’s solid, and in this category, she might have less drawbacks than everyone else for me. Which seems to be a recurring thing with Judi Dench, as we’ll see over the next decade or so.

Moulin Rouge is Baz Luhrmann. He’s a guy who makes great movies of absolutely no substance whatsoever.

Ewan McGregor is a writer who hangs out at the titular home of debauchery and falls in love with a dying prostitute played by Nicole Kidman. There’s a lot of singing and dancing and fun shit that happens.

Kidman is fine here. But the fact that she was even nominated for this is more than a reward. This shows you they’re itching to give her an award (look at next year if you don’t believe me). This performance rates fifth almost every other year but rates fourth here because at least she sings and dances.

In the Bedroom is a good film. Just really solid all around.

Nick Stahl plays a recent college graduate who starts dating a divorced single mother twenty years older than him. It’s a source of contention for nearly all involved. This culminates in one day where her ex-husband loses his mind and murders Stahl. And the rest of the film is about grief, and how everyone deals with this senseless death. Great performances.

Sissy Spacek plays Stahl’s mother, who at first disapproves of the relationship, and then after her son is killed, withdraws. So a lot of the second half of the film is her laying in bed, not speaking. That sort of thing. And the big scenes for her are the “slap” where she slaps Marisa Tomei, and a big argument with her and Wilkinson. This is a solid performance, but I’ve always felt it’s overrated. I think it’s good enough to be nominated, but I’ve never seen anything strong enough here to make me actually want to vote for it. The narrative makes her sound like a winner. I don’t think the performance is all there, and never have. I have to seriously consider her for the vote though, because the category is just so awful.

Bridget Jones’ Diary is a romantic comedy. And another example of the Academy looking to get an actress an award.

I’m not giving a synopsis for this. It’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Everybody knows this movie. It’s a rom com.

Zellweger is fine here, but why did she need to be nominated? She’s fifth. No other way to slice it. Fifth and not a chance she wins.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Why wasn’t Jennifer Connelly in this category? She’d have won it easily.

Zellweger is an immediate throw out. Kidman gets a moment’s worth of consideration, but gets tossed off second pretty easily.

Berry is okay, but rates third for me most of the time, if not fourth. Spacek usually would rate third and may have to be #1 this year. And Dench, I love, but the role is just pretty good and the film is just okay.

I don’t know what to do here. I don’t like any of them. I almost want to take Kidman because at least she was having fun.

I’m honestly at the point where I’m about to say fuck it and just take Nicole Kidman.

But I’ll just take Judi Dench. Because at least I felt somewhat moved by her performance. Kidman is all about the energy. Spacek is just solid but doesn’t rate enough for me to want to take. That’s just a personal thing. So I’ll just take Dench and shrug and move on.

Why does Judi Dench always end up in these weak categories where she comes up as a solid alternative to a weak (performance-wise) winner? Look at them all. She always ends up this way. Weird.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Judi Dench, Iris
  2. Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball
  3. Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom
  4. Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge
  5. Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’ Diary

Rankings (films):

  1. Moulin Rouge
  2. In the Bedroom
  3. Iris
  4. Monster’s Ball
  5. Bridget Jones’ Diary

My Vote: Judi Dench, Iris

Recommendations:

Moulin Rouge is Baz Luhrmann. And it’s great. And it’s something most people see at some point. So consider it essential. You’ll get looks from a certain amount of people for not having seen this one.

In the Bedroom is a very solid film and solid to high recommend. Really well done. Not wholly remembered, but definitely worth a watch. Most people will like this.

Monster’s Ball is a solid film with a solid performance that’s only essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise it’s good and worth seeing and most boys will spend a fair amount of time with part of this movie when they reach a certain age. Not so much essential as — we’ve all been there. (Also, to people around my age — remember Swordfish? Yeah…)

Iris is an okay film with good performances. Moderate recommend but only for the performances. It won for one, so it’s essential for Oscar buffs, otherwise not something most people need to really seek out.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is probably the second best diary movie there is. Next to Anne Frank. So that’s a pretty good thing, I guess. As a film, light recommend, definitely not essential, but culturally known. So there’s that.

The Last Word: Berry holds up by sheer virtue of a terrible category. Spacek holds up on the veteran aspect, but not much else. She’s not particularly any better than Berry. Zellweger would have been an awful winner, and as much as people would like to say otherwise, Kidman would have been a bad winner too. Dench — ehh. 50/50. The film doesn’t hold up, but she might have been okay. I think Berry, all things considered, comes out best of the five. Plus, how can you argue with that heartfelt speech?

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2002

Salma Hayek, Frida

Nicole Kidman, The Hours

Diane Lane, Unfaithful

Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven

Renee Zellweger, Chicago

Analysis:

SAG matched 5/5.

BAFTA matched 3/5. Meryl went lead instead of supporting there. They missed Moore, who only got nominated Supporting for them, and Lane.

BFCA went 4/4, with Zellweger being the omission.

The Globes had all five across both categories.

Zellweger won SAG, Kidman won BAFTA, they split the Globes, and Julianne Moore won BFCA for good measure.

This was a 50/50 chance all the way to the wire.

Frida is a biopic of Frida Kahlo. Directed by Julie Taymor.

Salma Hayek plays Frida.

She’s good here. Not great, but good. The nomination is more than the reward. Easy fifth in the category. Maybe if you like her she can make fourth. Not a chance I take her.

The Hours is a movie about women. Which is a miracle in its own right. The worst thing that happened to this movie and this performance is (and I’ll say this again in a minute) that it did so well at the Oscars.

There are three stories in the film. We’re only gonna deal with one of them, since that’s the only one Nicole Kidman is in.

She plays Virginia Woolf. The opening scene of the film is her drowning herself in the river. Then we flash back to her, in the midst of being bipolar and having had a couple of breakdowns, in her house, basically being terrified of those around her. She feels stifled by their constant watching of her, but it’s all because they’re worried she’s gonna kill herself.

Kidman is good here. A lot of people will simplify the performance by saying the fake nose did all the work. That’s not entirely true. But the one knock against the performance that is true is that she’s not a lead. This is a pure ensemble piece, and if anyone in this movie is going to be considered a lead, it’s Julianne Moore, who quantifiably has more screen time than Kidman does! That’s the reason I wouldn’t vote for this. She’s good, but she’s not a lead. And sure, that didn’t stop me from wanting to take Patricia Neal in Hud, since the performance is in whatever category they put it in. But it does lessen it for me, since now she drops to third, whereas in Supporting, she would have been higher and might have even been the vote.

Unfaithful is a Fatal Attraction, sex thriller. Directed by the same guy who did Fatal Attraction. Go figure. It’s also very strange that he hasn’t worked since this movie. Wonder what happened there. But anyway…

Richard Gere and Diane Lane’s marriage is fading. One day, she meets a handsome stranger and begins an affair with him. She feels excited but guilty at the same time. One day, she decides to end the affair. And, through circumstance, just after she does, Gere shows up to confront the guy about the affair, and ends up killing him. And now he’s the one with all the guilt. And very slowly, their marriage crumbles.

Lane is good here. A lot of people went nuts for this performance and said she should have won. She feels like one of those people who is in that stage Julianne Moore was in until a few years ago. That Michelle Pfeiffer and Joan Allen are in. Where people love them and want them to be nominated and win, but they never seem to hit that sweet spot. I get it. Diane Lane is usually very good.

Here, I never saw a whole lot out of the performance. I haven’t watched it in five years, admittedly. But I know that I wouldn’t have taken it now regardless. Next time I’ll give her more of a chance to make some headway in this category. Still, I cant’ see her going higher than third for me. And that’s only if I pull the “she’s a lead and Kidman is not” card. To each his own, but I don’t consider her someone I’d vote for.

Far from Heaven is a great movie. It’s Todd Haynes (who made Carol, which seemed to be the one people latched onto over this one) basically making a modern day Douglas Sirk movie. The entire plot has Sirk (specifically All That Heaven Allows) all over it.

Julianne Moore is a housewife who finds her husband, Dennis Quaid, having an affair… with another man. This causes her whole delicately strung together social life to crumble. This is the 50s, by the way. And she then strikes up a friendship with her African American gardener. And then begins an affair with him. Which of course cannot endure. It’s a wonderful film. More appreciated by those who know Sirk films, but still great all around.

Moore is wonderful here and is my vote. I don’t make any bones about this and think this was a bad choice by them, to not give her an Oscar for two performances that outright are worth taking. Here and in Supporting Actress. You may prefer Zellweger, you may even prefer Kidman, but Moore is also right there, worth taking, and is going to be my vote.

Chicago is a really inventive and fun musical whose biggest flaw is that it won Best Picture. It just doesn’t hold up. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Famous story, was originally a play and a movie from the 40s that Bob Fosse turned into a musical. Roxie Hart is a showgirl who kills her lover and is the defendant in a circus trial.

Renee Zellweger plays Roxie Hart. And — it’s not that she delivers the goods. And that this is a performance that can’t be ignored. She’s fine in it. The key with this — she’s putting in work. She’s really going all out here, and it shows. If there was ever a Renée Zellweger performance that deserved an Oscar, it was this one, because you can tell she stepped her game up for it. And the fact that she didn’t win and they wanted to give her one showed the year after this when they basically handed her an Oscar for nothing in Cold Mountain.

I wouldn’t take her, but I do feel like she’d be worth taking, if that makes sense. She’s probably a solid second for me in this one. I still prefer Julianne Moore. But I can definitely see taking Renee. That wouldn’t be a horrendous choice to make.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: One actress goes one way, one actress goes another way and I’m like “Hey, why not go for someone else?”

That’s this category in a nutshell.

For everyone at the time it was Kidman or Zellweger. And why? Because they really wanted to get them awards. They were nominated for Bridget Jones’s Diary and Moulin Rouge last year! And Zellweger would win the year after this for one of the most egregious performances to ever win an Oscar. This is all about the Academy and not about the actual performances. That said, they are fine in their roles. Not to take away from that.

Hayek is lucky to be here and rates an easy fifth. It’s been years since I saw the Lane performance, but from what I remember, I wouldn’t take her. But a lot of people say she’s the sneaky #1 choice here. But it’s not loud enough for me to believe it. So in five years, I’ll watch her again and really rerate this one.

Zellweger is good and is clearly putting in work, but I don’t think she has enough to do or really rates strongly enough to be the vote. She disappears from her own movie at a certain point.

Kidman is great, but she’s supporting. That’s the only way around that. Julianne Moore, who actually was nominated for supporting for the same movie, actually has more screen time than Kidman. That said, category fraud has happened in the past, so that won’t completely rule her out. That said, I still prefer Zellweger to her and wouldn’t take Zellweger, so they’re both out.

I think Julianne Moore wins this in an easy landslide. Not even just when you factor in the Hours performance on top of this one. This performance wins on its own. And I don’t get how she lost. She’s my vote. Not even close.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
  2. Renée Zellweger, Chicago
  3. Nicole Kidman, The Hours
  4. Diane Lane, Unfaithful
  5. Salma Hayek, Frida

Rankings (films):

  1. Chicago
  2. Far from Heaven
  3. The Hours
  4. Frida
  5. Unfaithful

My Vote: Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven

Recommendations:

Chicago is probably essential? I mean, Best Picture winners tend to be essential just because they won. And this one is especially worth seeing because it won an acting Oscar and is one of the more divisive winners of the past 20 years. And it’s also a really entertaining musical. So there’s really no reason not to see it as a film buff. So consider it essential and just get it out of the way.

The Hours is a good film and essential for Oscar buffs and those wanting to talk 2002 at the Oscars. As a film it’s just a high recommend because it’s good. We’re not that far out to say this isn’t essential, and it doesn’t feel like it’s totally essential either. So, erring on the side of caution, let’s call this essential. Better to see it than not.

Far from Heaven is incredible. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Not essential, but highly recommended. Especially if you love Douglas Sirk movies. Big fan of this movie, and I think film buffs definitely need to see this one.

Frida is a good film. Worth a watch. Julie Taymor movies are always of interest. Moderate recommend.

Unfaithful is a good film. Probably a solid recommend. I give it a moderate recommend. It’s good. Don’t love it, but worth a watch.

The Last Word: Kidman — ehh. I don’t think she holds up. But I also don’t think she disturbed the universe by having won either. Moore would win one eventually for a performance just as good, if not better (though more on the nose, admittedly). Zellweger got a makeup Oscar that’s terrible, but given that category, it’s not that egregious. And Hayek and Lane wouldn’t have been good choices or held up anyway. So, overall, not awful, but Kidman is not a lead and that part doesn’t hold up at all. I consider this a weak winner historically, though the performance is solid. I think there were better choices to be had and that it’s not that great a decision, but I’m also not pissed about it like I used to be. Just disappointed, and I think it’s pretty bad when you hold it up next to the performances she beat.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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