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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2007-2008)

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.

2007

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Julie Christie, Away from Her

Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Laura Linney, The Savages

Ellen Page, Juno

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5. They had Angelina Jolie for A Mighty Heart instead of Laura Linney.

BAFTA matched 4/5. They had Keira Knightley for Atonement instead of Laura Linney.

BFCA had 4/5. They also missed Linney. In favor of Jolie and (love this) Amy Adams for Enchanted.

The Globes had 4/5 across two categories. No Linney either.

Shit, she came out of nowhere. This was before I was tracking nominations.

She didn’t even get an Indie Spirit nomination. Just critics groups. Damn.

Cotillard won BAFTA and Musical Globe.

Christie won SAG, the other Globe and BFCA.

Dead heat all the way through. Most people had Christie, but I had a hunch (and rooting interest) for Cotillard.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a sequel to Elizabeth.

We saw Cate Blanchett be really good as Elizabeth in 1998. Here… she does it again. Did she need this nomination? No. But she got it. Okay.

I wouldn’t take this because it’s hard to really say she’s the most interesting (or best) performance in this category, which is quite interesting without her. I’ll admit that she is quite good and may even be third best in this category, but I wouldn’t go near taking her. At best she’s a fourth choice for me. It’s way too theatrical for me to like.

Away from Her is Sarah Polley’s directorial debut.

It’s about an older couple whose marriage is tested when the wife starts showing signs of dementia. So the husband puts her in a home so she can be cared for, only one of the conditions is that he stay away for 30 days so she can acclimate to new situation. Only when he comes back 30 days after that, she’s forgotten him and has a “relationship” going with one of the other residents. So now he has to keep coming back to care for his wife, and she doesn’t know who he is. It’s quite heartbreaking.

Julie Christie is incredible here. Most years, she’d probably win this. But here, she’s locked in a dead heat with Marion Cotillard. They’re both worth a vote, and both #1s. It’s just a matter of which one you take. No need to dance around it. They’re both the choices.

La Vie en Rose is a movie that you wouldn’t think would cross over to America and the Oscars, but… Marion Cotillard.

It’s a biopic of Edith Piaf, who sang the title song. And also “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which is the song they use in Inception, for you millennials.

Marion Cotillard is… incredible, in this movie. She’s always very good, but here, she’s something else. This is one of those performances you can’t deny. She almost didn’t win this because not enough people really knew about the performance. But trust me, this is one of those performances that comes around that is a no-brainer. The only thing that makes it close is that Julie Christie is so good. So this is a legit choice to be made, but Marion Cotillard is by far good enough to win.

The Savages is a film that is… actually totally forgotten now, isn’t it?

I remember seeing this movie and going, “Yeah, that’s pretty good,” and then reading the script and thinking it was really great. Which apparently is the case with a lot of indie movies. Great script, okay movie.

Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are siblings. They have to care for their aging father, who is slipping into dementia. And we watch them deal with their own shit and their relative indifference toward their father, with whom both of their relationships are strained.

Linney is fine here. Not something I’d particularly nominate, but she’s usually solid. Someone who rates an occasional nomination but never a win. As of yet, anyway. Fourth choice at best. No shot in this one. Lucky to be nominated.

Juno is a zeitgeist film that probably doesn’t hold up as well now, but was goddamn charming then.

A wisecracking teenage girl gets pregnant, and decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. And we follow that process.

Ellen Page plays the girl, and she’s pretty great in the role. Much of the work is done by the script and she does an adequate job here, but really this nomination is more of a recognition of more than just the performance. She’s fifth in the category, stood no chance here, but I’m fine with the nomination. No one actually votes for her here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This category, while intriguing, ultimately boils down to the same two people every time.

Page is charming, but doesn’t hold up against the top two competitors. Linney is solid but in a weaker film that no one remembers and the nomination is more than the reward. Cate Blanchett is good, but we’ve seen her do this already, and the film/performance is pretty boring as a nominee.

It’s Christie. It’s Cotillard. They’re the two.

You can argue this one all day. You can go back and forth all day and you can take both of them and be right. It’s one of the closest one-two punches I’ve ever seen.

How do I shake out? I just — like Cotillard better. Christie is great, but Cotillard is, as I like to say, a force of nature. She’s really quite impressive in this movie. She fully embodies this woman in a really fantastic way. They’re both worthy, but Cotillard is my choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
  2. Julie Christie, Away from Her
  3. Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  4. Laura Linney, The Savages
  5. Ellen Page, Juno

Rankings (films):

  1. Juno
  2. La Vie en Rose
  3. Away from Her
  4. The Savages
  5. Elizabeth: The Golden Age

My Vote: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Recommendations:

Juno is culturally essential. We’re nearing ten years out on it and it’s not as remembered as it was at the time, but still a fun movie that hit the zeitgeist for a period of time. So let’s just call it essential for film buffs because it’s easier that way.

La Vie en Rose is great. The movie is good and Marion Cotillard is great. Leaving the whole thing very good. Essential for Oscar buffs, high recommend for everyone else because of the performance. Check this out. She’s incredible.

Away from Her is amazing. High recommend, great film, great performances (particularly Gordon Pinsent, who didn’t get nearly the notice that Julie Christie did, and is just as good, if not better). Most film buffs will like this. It’s really good.

The Savages is a pretty good indie. Solid recommend, but not for everyone. Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s all I need to say. If you don’t care about him, then skip it. You’re fine. And if you’re a fan of him, you’ll probably want to see it. Not one of his more essential ones, but I know what it’s like to be a film buff starting out. You go check out your favorite actors’ films, even the lesser ones. That’s what this is.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is okay. If you didn’t care for the first one, you can skip this. If you just liked the first one, you’re still okay without this. It’s not something anyone really needs to ever see. So go by your reaction to the first one. I can’t recommend it really and I can’t tell you to skip it either. It’s just kind of there. Use your judgment.

The Last Word: Cotillard holds up. Christie would have held up on performance, but no one really would have remembered it. Not that anyone particularly remembers Cotillard. Blanchett would have been a terrible winner. Linney would have been a terrible winner. Page would have been a terrible winner. There were two choices, and they were both right. I think they made the better one, but ultimately it’s a coin flip.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2008

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Meryl Streep, Doubt

Kate Winslet, The Reader

Analysis:

This will be a weird one, because Winslet was nominated a bunch for another film in lead and went Supporting for The Reader in a lot of places.

SAG matched 4/5. Winslet for the other film.

BAFTA matched 3/5. Winslet was nominated twice. No Leo or Hathaway.

BFCA matched 4/5. No Winslet at all. She won Supporting for The Reader.

The Globes matched 3/5. Winslet for the other film and no Leo.

Leo was somewhat of a surprise. But looking at the nominations, it was her or Kristin Scott Thomas. And Thomas wasn’t gonna happen. At least people saw Frozen River.

It was always apparent Winslet was going to win this, even though the wins went across the board. Meryl won SAG because Winslet won Supporting there. Kate won BAFTA because she was nominated for this there. Meryl and Hathaway tied BFCA with Kate winning Supporting. And Kate won the Globe for the other performance. She wasn’t losing.

Rachel Getting Married is Jonathan Demme’s first good film in a while. Granted, he only made three between Philadelphia and this, but — Manchurian Candidate, The Truth About Charlie, Beloved… ehh.

Anne Hathaway is a woman in rehab after an arrest. She is let out for her sister’s wedding. We watch as she returns home and has to face her family and what she did. What she did — she was high on pills and driving her little brother home and crashed the car, which resulted in his death. So that’s hanging over everything as well. And we follow her and the family over the weekend, leading up to the wedding.

Hathaway is fantastic here. I loved her work. I voted for her even, five years ago. I thought she was really fantastic. I admittedly haven’t seen this performance in at least four years, if not since I wrote it up, but I still really love this performance and still rate her top two in the category.

Changeling is Clint Eastwood. Same year as Gran Torino. This one had less notice, but might be the better… nah, I still enjoy Gran Torino more. But this is pretty good too.

Angelina Jolie’s son goes missing and is returned to her some months later. Only she says that’s not her son. The cops try to convince her it is her son, but she says it’s not. She makes a fuss about it. So they throw her in a mental institution, because life was so much fun for women in the 1920s.

Jolie is pretty great here. And I remember at the time saying the impressive part about the performance was that Clint only shoots one or two takes, so this wasn’t a performance that was made in the editing. This was a performance that was given on the day. It’s really solid. Not something I vote for, but something I respect. A solid #3 that may end up #4 by happenstance.

Frozen River is a Sundance movie that made it to the Oscars. This began that trend, really. Every Sundance winner, pretty much from 2008 through 2014, ended up getting major Oscar nominations or was a major player throughout the awards season.

Melissa Leo plays a woman struggling to eke out a living with two kids. She ends up bringing people over the U.S./Canadian border for money. It’s good.

Leo is good here. This is one of those Winter’s Bone type performances where they’re recognizing a heretofore unrecognized actor for exemplary indie work. She never stood a chance in this category and is fifth for me. But it’s a solid entrance into the awards game for her.

Doubt is a great film. Pulitzer Prize winner with four amazing actors at the center of the cast.

Amy Adams is a new nun at a parish. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a charismatic young priest who everyone loves because he’s unconventional. Meryl Streep is the nun who’s been there for years and is traditional and very set in her ways. She immediately takes a disliking to Hoffman, while he looks at her as a relic who can’t adapt to the times. Adams notices a weird closeness with Hoffman and one of the boys, who is the only black student in the school who is mercilessly picked on by the other boys. She thinks there may be some improprieties going on there. And Streep, looking for anything to get Hoffman, immediately takes this as guilt and basically does all she can to smear his name and get him fired. It’s such a great film.

Meryl is great here. This is, in my mind, Meryl’s best nominated work in 25 years. If she was gonna win for anything, this was the one. Had Kate Winslet not been so overdue and with two performances worthy of nominations, Meryl probably would have won this. She’s that good. I don’t know if I take her, but she is very good. I have more to say about this, but I’ll wait until the end.

The Reader is Kate Winslet finally winning her Oscar. I’ve made fun of this movie for years, but actually it’s a solid film.

A young boy ends up meeting Kate Winslet one day. I forget how. I think he’s sick or something and she nurses him back to health. And then they start fucking. As you do. And then a relationship grows and he ends up teaching her how to read (she’s illiterate). And then later on she disappears. He finds her years later as she’s been arrested. Turns out, she was a concentration camp guard. And being illiterate, they made her sign all these papers that incriminate her like crazy. And he’s the only one who knows the real reason for this, but she refuses to have him help because she doesn’t want people to know she’s illiterate, plus I think there’s the whole… guilt for not doing anything about the atrocities thing. There’s a good film here, but it’ too easy to make fun of it for being the movie where “he teaches her to learn how to read and then she kills herself.”

Winslet is good here. It’s borderline supporting, but I can accept her having won for it. At best she’s a fourth choice here for me on performance and a third on vote. I put her third because she also had Revolutionary Road this year, and could push her to second because Meryl had Oscars and didn’t necessarily need one, while Kate was so overdue. But…

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Here’s what I got for this one…

Leo is a no. Jolie is a no, but honorable mention.

Winslet is a no for this performance. If it’s Revolutionary Road, I probably take her. But for this, as much as she’s overdue, I’d be lying if I voted for her and said this was my favorite performance.

Between her and Meryl, Meryl gives the better performance, but I don’t need to see Meryl win. I’d rather see Kate win. So I’d probably take Kate over Meryl.

That said — I still like the Hathaway performance over Kate’s. Maybe if I watched it again I wouldn’t like it as much, but having seen the Winslet performance in the past five years and having seen the Meryl performance at least twice in that time, I know enough about those to say that my recollection of the Hathaway performance is enough for me to continue taking her here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
  2. Meryl Streep, Doubt
  3. Kate Winslet, The Reader
  4. Angelina Jolie, Changeling
  5. Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Rankings (films):

  1. Doubt
  2. Rachel Getting Married
  3. Changeling
  4. The Reader
  5. Frozen River

My Vote: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Recommendations:

Doubt is an essential film. And if it’s not, then what kind of film buff are you that you don’t want to see a movie with this cast?

Rachel Getting Married is awesome. High recommend. Great indie. There’s a scene in the middle of this movie that I constantly bring up as a brilliant example of drastic tone shifts.

Changeling is a solid Clint Eastwood movie. Definitely recommend it, but not something you need to rush out to see. Good though.

The Reader is essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise just a moderate recommend for everyone else. It’s good, but not something that’ll hold up particularly well. Just Oscar bait that won.

Frozen River is good. Recommend it. But not even close to essential. Just a good indie worth seeking out eventually.

The Last Word: It holds up fine. Kate had two great performances and while she won for the (in my mind) weaker of the two, she holds up fine as a winner. Meryl would have held up okay. Hathaway probably wouldn’t have held up. But that’s one of those things where you’d only know if it happened. Jolie wouldn’t have held up and Leo definitely wouldn’t have held up. They made the right choice. I think we can all agree that Kate had earned this.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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