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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2009-2010)

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.

2009

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Carey Mulligan, An Education

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Analysis:

SAG matched 5/5.

BAFTA matched 3/5. They had Saoirse Ronan for The Lovely Bones and Audrey Tautou for Coco Before Chanel instead of Bullock and Mirren.

The Globes had 5/5 across two categories.

BFCA matched 4/5. They had Ronan and Emily Blunt for Young Victoria instead of Mirren. (They have six nominees.)

Sandra Bullock won everything but BAFTA, where she wasn’t nominated. Meryl tied BFCA and won the Comedy Globe.

She was always winning this. This was a foregone conclusion throughout the season, for better or worse.

The Blind Side is a weird biopic. It’s about a football player, but kind of about the family that adopted him, and the football player looks kind of like an idiot, and it’s almost a white savior movie… yeah.

Sandra Bullock is a Texas woman who takes in an illiterate black teenager who ends up being a football prodigy. The movie is amusing.

Bullock should not have been nominated for an Oscar, let alone have won one. I do not understand this at all. And she fucking swept everything. I like her, but not for this. This… I might say this is a joke. It’s one of the weakest winning performances of all time.

The Last Station is about the last years of Leo Tolstoy’s life, as his fan club and wife are fighting over his estate. It’s okay.

Helen Mirren plays Tolstoy’s wife. This is a standard performance. She’s always solid, but this is a forgettable movie and a forgettable performance. No one will remember this in ten years. No one remembers this now. This is like Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots. “Oh, she played her. …okay.” That’s what this is. “Okay.” I enjoyed Sandra Bullock more than her, but I can’t say Bullock gave a better performance than her. So there’s that. I guess.

An Education is gonna go down as one of those “How the hell didn’t this person win the Oscar” nominations. If it hasn’t already.

The film is about a girl, about to go to college when she meets a charming older man with whom she begins a relationship.

This is a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan. She is the lead of this film and she carries it incredibly well, and she delivers one of those performances — in a normal year, she’d be the sentimental choice who loses to the more established actress with the also great, but less passionately loved performance. But you can understand it. In a strong year, she’d be the, “Oh, I get that she had no chance but man, was she great and I want to vote for her anyway.” Here, she is the choice. She is easily the best performance in the category. There’s no other choice. I understand why they voted for Sandra Bullock the actress, but I don’t understand why they voted for that performance over this one. That’s one of those choices that makes you not want to respect the Oscars.

Precious is based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire.

(Never gonna get old.)

Overweight black teenager who is pregnant with her second child by her father has a pretty shitty existence. That’s basically the film. I think she might be illiterate too?

Real feel good film.

Gabourey Sidibe plays Precious, and she’s great here. A lot of the work was done for her, but I support the nomination. In most categories she’d be a #4. Here she’s #3 on performance because it’s so weak and might even be my second choice for a vote. Still — not beating Carey Mulligan in this one.

Julie & Julia is half a biopic of Julia Child and half a movie about a pretty awful woman who decides to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes to counteract her home life. The Julia Child part of the movie is the only interesting part.

Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, and 90% of the performance is the spot-on impersonation of her that she does. This was the period where Meryl could get nominated for anything she did. (That period has been in effect since 1985.) She’s good, but this isn’t something I’d want to vote for. She’s good, but she’s always good. Meryl’s on her own scale, like Katherine Hepburn. Sure, she’s nominated again. But do I vote for this over other ones? These come down to how much you like the performance vs. how weak the category is. Here, she’s probably second strongest in terms of performance in a weak category, but I don’t like the performance enough to take it. So I don’t take it.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Carey Mulligan. Sandra Bullock? Really? Does anyone actually watch those five performances and say Sandra Bullock gave the best one? Does Sandra Bullock rate any higher than fourth for most people? I feel like Meryl will get a fair amount of votes, and Sidibe will rate a few, and there will be a handful of Mirren lovers, but most people would undoubtedly agree that Carey Mulligan gave by far the best performance in the category. How could I take anyone else?

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Carey Mulligan, An Education
  2. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
  3. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  4. Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  5. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Rankings (films):

  1. An Education
  2. The Blind Side
  3. Precious
  4. Julie & Julia
  5. The Last Station

My Vote: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Recommendations:

Precious is not essential. It was big culturally and is a very solid recommend (and essential for Oscar buffs), but otherwise not an essential film. It’ll get less essential as time goes on. The Mo’Nique performance is the thing that’ll hold up here.

An Education is a great movie, a high recommend, a must see for people wanting to talk about this category, but otherwise not essential. Definitely check it out though, because it’s really good and Carey Mulligan is incredible in it.

Julie & Julia is half a good movie. The Meryl half. The Amy Adams half is annoying as hell. Only worth it for the Meryl performance. I’m sure your parents watch this on cable and you’ll see it eventually. Otherwise, not essential, just okay.

The Blind Side is only essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise it’s just a movie your parents watch on cable that you see once in a while. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but you have no reason to really ever need to see it.

The Last Station is fine, but not great. Light recommend, but you can easily skip this.

The Last Word: It’s Mulligan. Bullock is one of the worst winners of all time on performance. On her stature as an actress, she’s fine, but who cares if she has an Oscar? Carey Mulligan was the choice here for me. Hopefully she’ll get one in time and make up for this egregious loss. Bullock only holds up because the category is weak. And that’s only in name only. The performance is legitimately bottom five Best Actress for all time. I can make an argument it might be the actual bottom.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2010

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5. They missed Michelle Williams and had Hilary Swank for Conviction. (Which everyone remembers, I’m sure.)

BAFTA matched 2/5. They had Hailee Steinfeld in lead instead of Supporting. They had Julianne Moore also with Bening. And Noomi Rapace for Dragon Tattoo. Only Portman and Bening made it.

BFCA had 5/5.

The Globes had 5/5 across two categories.

Guess who won every single one of those awards?

The Kids Are All Right. Are they, though?

It’s about a lesbian couple whose kids want to know who their biological father is. So they find him, and then he shows up and starts fucking one of the moms.

You know, just like life.

Annette Bening plays one of the mothers. She’s fine here, but I always felt this film was overrated. I never much saw what was so great about her work here. It felt like Annette Bening putting in good work like she usually does. Not something strong enough to be considered second choice and runner-up in this category. This is a performance that easily is fifth for me and is something I’d never vote for under any circumstance. Especially in this category, where even the number four choice is actually quite solid.

Rabbit Hole. Speaking of number four.

This is based on a (Pulitzer, I think. If not, highly regarded, anyway) play, and it’s about a couple whose son is killed in a car accident and how their lives unravel after that.

Nicole Kidman plays the mother, and she’s quite good here. One of the few nominations of hers where I think she actually does good work. (And by that I mean, of the three — Moulin Rouge is what it is, and she won for The Hours even though she was in the wrong category. This is actually the best of her leading nominated performances.) Wouldn’t take her, and she’s a fourth choice, but I remember watching this performance and going, “Wow, she’s actually quite good in this.” Which is something.

Winter’s Bone is Jennifer Lawrence’s star-making role.

She plays a girl whose father goes missing just as the family home is about to be foreclosed on. So she goes out to find out what happened to her father and has to care for her siblings.

It’s a great performance. Like I said, star-making. Still wouldn’t take her here. She’s probably fourth on pure performance, the nomination is the reward, and I probably take her third just because I like her. I think Kidman gives an overall better performance, but I’d vote for Lawrence over her. Either way, no shot at a vote.

Black Swan is one of those films that you wonder how the hell it got made. And yet, thank god it did.

Natalie Portman is a ballerina whose sole existence is to be “perfect” at what she does. She fights to get the lead role in Swan Lake, even though she’s much more suited to play the white swan and not the black swan. She’s pure and innocent and lacks the wild abandon to pull off the other half. And as she starts training for the part, she begins to lose her grip on reality. And it’s great.

I don’t think anyone would argue with her winning this category. She delivers a powerhouse performance that can’t be denied, even by those who don’t think Natalie Portman is a great actress. She wins this.

Blue Valentine is a film that I saw very late in 2010 and flat out loved. It’s an incredible piece of filmmaking.

It’s about a relationship. We cut back and forth between the early days when they’re happy and the later days when they’re miserable.

Michelle Williams plays the woman, and I remember being so incredibly happy when she was nominated, because it was not a sure thing (though it was likely). She’s really great here. But even though I love her and love the film, I still take Natalie Portman in this one. Shame, but sometimes that happens.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Natalie Portman’s category. She’s the winner. One of the easiest winners of all time. Michelle Williams also rates worthy of a vote for me. No one else comes close.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  2. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  4. Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  5. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Rankings (films):

  1. Black Swan
  2. Blue Valentine
  3. Winter’s Bone
  4. The Kids Are All Right
  5. Rabbit Hole

My Vote: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Recommendations:

Black Swan is an essential movie. Great, Best Actress winner, Darren Aronofsky film — must see for all film buffs.

Blue Valentine is incredible. I want to say this is essential, but I’m not sure it’s there yet. I’ll call it essential though, because film buffs ought to see this. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Winter’s Bone is not essential, but solid. Worth a watch. Great performances by Lawrence and Hawkes.

The Kids Are All Right is amusing. Good actors, enjoyable enough. Light recommend mostly for the cast.

Rabbit Hole is okay. Not great. But good performances. Light recommend.

The Last Word: This is one of the better (if not best) choices of all time. Actress, performance, film — they hit the jackpot with this one. Lawrence would get hers later for a better performance, Kidman had one and was a “I can still act” nomination. Neither would have held up. Bening is weaker here than in previous nominations. Would have been a terrible winner. And Williams would have been good on performance and actress, but wouldn’t have held up as well as Portman has. This was an easy choice that was the best choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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2 responses

  1. Oh yes, I can indeed deny the so-called “greatness” of Portman’s performance in Black Swan. She won unjustly…what has she done there? I cannot see anything spectacular. She has done more in V for Vendetta or Leon. Her double in Black Swan did all the hard work for her – including all the ballet. I haven’t seen anything like this before. What a “dirty” win. I didn’t believe a minute in her white, innocent swan. Btw, I am 100% behind you about Mulligan in An Education, a great performance.

    October 8, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    • A

      Just, STOP.

      August 8, 2017 at 7:59 am

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