The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2003-2004)
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.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider
Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give
Samantha Morton, In America
Charlize Theron, Monster
Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
This one is only interesting to go back to because some of the places had one of the nominees as supporting. The winner was never in question.
SAG matched 4/5. Keisha Castle-Hughes went supporting.
BAFTA matched 1/5. Charlize Theron was nominated in 2004. This is the era when BAFTA was all fucked up.
BFCA matched 4/5 out of six nominees.
The Globes only matched 2/5 across two categories.
Damn. They really had no consensus here whatsoever. But we all knew who was winning anyway. But the fun would have been trying to guess the five.
Whale Rider is about a twelve year old Maori girl who wants to become the head of her tribe. That’s all you need to know. It’s very well done.
Keisha Castle-Hughes is the girl, and she’s fantastic in the film. She was never going to win this, and stood no chance. This is like Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Great anchoring performance in a really liked indie movie, and they nominated her. I really like the performance, but I wouldn’t put her higher than say, third. Maybe. Probably fourth. Respect the performance, wouldn’t vote for it.
Something’s Gotta Give is a comedy. And I really don’t understand the Diane Keaton nomination at all. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I remember her being the “second choice” in this category. Don’t get it.
The film is about Jack Nicholson as an aging lothario (shocker) who is dating a 20-something even though he’s 60, and then he meets her mother. And starts a relationship with her. Because she’s closer to his age. Diane Keaton plays the mother.
Keaton is fine here. Wouldn’t have nominated this at all, and as such, she’s fifth for me in this category. If there weren’t such an obvious choice in the category, there’d be more to talk about, but since there is, she’s my #5 and that’s what it is.
In America is a movie that I love. Not Jim Sheridan’s best movie, but my favorite of his.
An Irish family immigrates into the US. And we follow them. That’s pretty much it. And it’s wonderful.
Samantha Morton plays the mother of the family. It’s basically a “Ma” type role. I love the film and love her, so I’m happy she got nominated. But she doesn’t really have a whole lot to do in this. I’d want to take her second in this category, but that’s just me. Wouldn’t take her, and there’s an obvious #1, so the ratings below that are just window dressing.
Monster is such an easy winner that we barely have to do any work with this one.
Charlize Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who killed a bunch of men and then was executed for it. And it’s not just that Theron “uglied” herself up to play Wuornos. It’s that the performance is jaw-droppingly good. You see this performance and there’s no other alternative. Theron wins this in one of the biggest landslides there has ever been. There’s not even an alternative to vote for (if you’re going on pure performance). She wins this.
21 Grams is Alejandro Inarritu doing a nonlinear ensemble movie. Stop me when you’ve heard that before.
It’s about a bunch of addicts and former addicts and how their lives intersect pretty much as the result of a single car accident.
Naomi Watts plays a recovering addict happily living with a husband and kids. Until they all die in the accident. She starts a relationship with Sean Penn, who got her husband’s heart when he died, and thinks about getting revenge on the guy who was responsible for her family’s death.
She’s good here. I think the film lets her down. This is more a residual nomination from Mulholland Drive. She’s okay here. I’d put her fourth on performance and maybe third for a vote. Wouldn’t take her, and she doesn’t come close to being even slightly in the conversation with Charlize Theron.
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The Reconsideration: Charlize Theron wins this. Not even close.
I can’t even make a case for anyone being a close alternative. She steamrolls the competition, leaving me absolutely nothing else to talk about.
So here we are.
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- Charlize Theron, Monster
- Samantha Morton, In America
- Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
- Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider
- Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give
- In America
- 21 Grams
- Something’s Gotta Give
- Whale Rider
My Vote: Charlize Theron, Monster
In America is an incredible film that I cannot recommend highly enough. I consider it essential, but objectively, it isn’t. It’s just awesome and most people will love it.
Monster is essential for Oscar buffs and features an incredible lead performance. High recommend for most and a solid film. The performance is the thing, and that’s why you see this.
21 Grams is Alejandro Inarritu, and if you consider him an essential filmmaker, then you should see it. (Plus, the cast.) On its own, it’s just a solid recommend and not much more. But when you factor in cast and director, that adds up to a film you probably want to check out.
Whale Rider is pretty awesome. Solid recommend, but not essential.
Something’s Gotta Give is Nancy Meyers. Go by how you feel about her movies. Not something I recommend except lightly. I don’t love this, but I do enjoy her movies, by and large. It’s fine.
The Last Word: This was one of the better decisions of all time. She’s so good here it makes us ignore how pedestrian the rest of the category is. She’s the only choice here. The only choice.
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Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Santina Moreno, Maria Full of Grave
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
SAG matched 5/5.
BAFTA matched 2/5. Though their voting was weird here.
BFCA matched 5/5 out of six nominees.
The Globes matched 4/5, missing Moreno.
Swank won everything but BAFTA, where she wasn’t nominated. Staunton won that.
There was really no doubt who was winning this Oscar, even though I, as someone only interested in the Oscars and not versed in them, thought it was more wide open.
Being Julia is the Academy looking to try to get Annette Bening an Oscar after the American Beauty snub. And guess what — here’s Hilary Swank again.
Bening plays an aging stage actress starting to realize the end of the line is near, and she starts an affair with a younger man. Then when the younger man falls for a woman his own age, Bening sets out to ruin the girl.
This performance is like if Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were the same person. The middle aged actress realizes the young girl is after her part and then connives her way into fucking her over. It’s all played for comedy. She’s big and broad and over the top and theatrical — kind of like Dianne Wiest in Bullets Over Broadway. She’s a big emotive stage actress, and she plays it as such. I was amused, but this isn’t something I vote for. She might be fourth on entertainment value, but this feels like a #5 all around.
Maria Full of Grave is a really nice indie movie with a first time actress who got nominated.
Catalina Sandino Moreno plays a young girl who, in order to help her family, agrees to be a drug mule. So she swallows a bunch of capsules with drugs in them and takes them across the border. The film is pretty good and the performance is very strong for a first timer.
She’s very understated and does a great job conveying who this woman is by doing very little. It makes the performance all the more effective. Objectively, she’s probably fifth, but I did really like what she did, so even though she stood no shot at winning, I’d probably give her fourth here. No chance for a vote, but I liked what she did.
Vera Drake is Mike Leigh. I think we get what he does by this point.
Imelda Staunton plays a family woman who is poor, but happy. She cares for her family and those around her. She’s a lovely woman around town and everyone feels affection for her. She also secretly works as an abortionist for the women around town.
This was one of those performances that, at the time, was the “acting” performance of 2004. On pure acting, everyone thought she’d win the Oscar. But then she won only BAFTA and stood almost no shot. As Mike Leigh actors tend to do at the Oscars.
Staunton is pretty great here. If I liked the film more, I might consider a vote here. She’s a solid #2 in the category, though I think the parts people remember are few and far between. But that’s just me. I almost have to take her here, but I don’t know if I ultimately will. We’ll see.
Million Dollar Baby is a divisive movie, but we all have to admit how much we liked it when it first came out.
Clint Eastwood is a grizzled boxing trainer who runs a fairly run down gym. Hilary Swank is a thirty year old woman who wants to be a boxer. Eastwood tells her she’s crazy. She’s too old, too undisciplined, and he don’t train girls. And of course her tenacity wins him over and he trains her. And she starts winning. She gets great. And she ends up as a championship contender. Until something happens that pretty much changes everything, including the trajectory of the film. It’s a great film. It’s cliche as hell, but goddamnit if it doesn’t tug at the heartstrings.
As a role, this wins Best Actress. And honestly, I get Swank winning this and would wholly support it… had she not already won. But even so — this performance is just okay. The role does most of the work for her. She doesn’t have a whole lot to really do here. I think she won this because the category was so weak. Put her in 2003, she doesn’t win. Or if she does, it looks real bad. Here, it looks fine. Not sure I take this, because I don’t see a whole lot in the performance, but I’m cool with her being nominated (and even winning, to an extent).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is Charlie Kaufman. The first was a cult movie that people loved and it got some acclaim. The second was a movie that a lot of people loved that didn’t quite get universal appeal. This one hit everything.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet break up. He finds out she went through a new procedure that can erase all memories of a person from the brain and now no longer remembers him. He decides to go through the process and do the same. And it’s perfect.
Kate Winslet plays Clementine, and she’s basically a manic pixie dream girl. But there’s so much stuff going on in this movie, she’s giving almost four different performances at once. (The hair color gives it away.) She’s quite good here. I understand why she didn’t win, but I don’t understand why I wouldn’t take her in a category as middle of the road as this one. There’s nothing else I like enough to take, and I love Kate Winslet and I love this movie.
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The Reconsideration: Bening is a no. Moreno as a “good job, but no.” Swank is solid, but I wouldn’t take her. Staunton gives a great performance, but I don’t like the film. The only reason I take her over Swank is because Swank had one already. And Winslet I love in the film and I love the film. So, having no other recourse, I’m just taking Kate. That’s the easiest option for me and one I feel okay about. There are choices here, but since I don’t like most of them, I’m going with my favorite.
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- Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
- Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
- Catalina Santina Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
- Annette Bening, Being Julia
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Million Dollar Baby
- Being Julia
- Maria Full of Grave
- Vera Drake
My Vote: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is so essential that if you haven’t seen this, you’re probably not doing particularly great at being a film buff. (Psst, 99% of people have seen it before reading this page.)
Million Dollar Baby is probably an essential film. Won Best Picture, culturally pretty big, well made, well liked, great cast — no reason not to see this as a film buff.
Being Julia is whatever. It’s okay. Not much of a recommend, but not a bad movie either. Most people see it for the category or don’t see it. It’s not bad though.
Maria Full of Grace is a solid film. Light recommend. Strong film, but not essential. Worth a watch.
Vera Drake is Mike Leigh. Go by how you feel about his films. Not essential. So if you love Mike Leigh, see it. If you hate Mike Leigh, you’re probably okay without it unless you’re talking this category. If you can go either way on Mike Leigh, this is probably… I’d say it’s one worth seeing than one worth skipping.
The Last Word: Swank holds up. The role holds up. Bening and Moreno would have been terrible winners. Winslet wouldn’t have been that great a winner for this film, as much as we’d like to think so. Staunton would have held up on performance but the film would have been (and has been) forgotten. So it would have felt empty. Swank holds up. The blemish is giving her two for what adds up to one win worth of performance between the two. Oh well.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)