The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2011-2012)
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.
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
SAG matched 4/5. They had Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin instead of Rooney Mara.
BAFTA matched 3/5. They had Tilda as well as Berenice Bejo for The Artist (who went Supporting) instead of Mara and Close.
BFCA matched 3/5. They had six nominees. Tilda, Charlize Theron for Young Adult and Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene. No Mara, no Close.
The Globes had 5/5 across both categories. Williams went Comedy, the other four went Drama.
Viola won SAG, BFCA.
Meryl won BAFTA, Globe.
Michelle Williams also won the Globe.
This race was Meryl vs. Viola. And a lot of people figured Viola would take it, but the role for Meryl was just too obvious to lose.
As for the nominees, Rooney Mara was a real surprise nominee. But I was on that train from the start, so I guessed it and was happy. But it sure looked like Tilda Swinton for much of that race.
Albert Nobbs is one of those films — it was a passion project for Glenn Close. She fought for it, and this was a reward for great work all around. So I get it. But… kind of on the nose.
She plays a woman passing as a man in 19th century Britain. Women didn’t have the proper opportunities, so she passes as a man in order to make a living. And that’s mostly the film. There’s more, but — you get why she was nominated.
It’s a woman playing a woman playing a man. For drama. Not like Victor/Victoria. She’s good here, and it’s admirable work, but it’s on the nose and not the best movie. Fifth in the category for me. The nomination is the reward.
The Help is a fun movie. It’s an amusing movie. I’d even wager to say it’s a good movie. But this is a Best Picture nominee and an Oscar winner. Not sure I’m fully there for that one.
Emma Stone is a wannabe journalist in the south. She decides to write a book from the perspective of (insert title here). She talks to all the maids and they tell their stories. And we see a bunch of different plotlines about them as this happens.
Viola Davis plays the main woman whose stories they use. She’s… there. I don’t see a whole lot of an arc here, but it’s a solid performance out of Viola. I think ultimately the material lets her down. I think she’s very powerful in a few key scenes, most notably the last one, but really there’s nothing strong enough here to carry her to a win. I would have felt cheated if she had won for this, because I know she’s capable of so much more. Third choice for me, and that’s only because the category is weak.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the David Fincher remake of the original Swedish film.
Hacker Lisbeth Salander gets involved with Mikhail Blomkvist as he tries to solve the mystery of a missing woman from forty years earlier. It’s great. Both versions are great.
Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth, and it’s one of those roles that is almsot guaranteed to get a nomination like this. Most people thought, “Yeah, she’s good, but whatever.” I thought she was better (different, but I preferred her take) than Noomie Rapace, just because I felt the vulnerability of her version more. In this category, she was my favorite performance. And she was never going to win. That basically takes me out of the running for whoever wins. Makes no difference to me how it turns out.
The Iron Lady is about Meryl Streep, a billionaire genius who makes a suit and fights…
Oh, that’s not what this is?
It’s a biopic of Margaret Thatcher.
Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher.
Did an Oscar win ever make more sense?
Not saying I love the performance enough to have won, but she is very good in it. I think the film undermines her a lot. It’s too light and fluffy and doesn’t feel like it does proper justice to its subject. I’m not opposed to the win, but this isn’t something I would take. It feels too easy.
My Week with Marilyn is the lesser of the two dueling Marilyn Monroe movies that were gonna get made, and was the one that got made first. (Though they just announced the other one is gonna get made, which is exciting.)
It’s about the filming of The Princess and the Showgirl, with Laurence Olivier dealing with Marilyn Monroe and all her neuroses and behaviors and such.
Michelle Williams plays Marilyn.
One of those roles that automatically gets nominated.
The movie’s not great. She’s good in it, but she’d been on a run of great performances and this felt more like an extension of that (and a semi-weak year) than anything.
She’s fine, but in this category, she rates fourth. The movie doesn’t do her any favors.
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The Reconsideration: Not a great category. Two obvious choices, one fine performance that shouldn’t have won (but almost did), one that only got nominated because of veteran/role/passion project reasons. And then the upstart in a remake who never had a chance.
Rooney Mara was the only performance I really liked, so I took her and I still take her. Never would take Williams, Close or Davis. Meryl either, really. Mara’s the only one I’d take.
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- Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
- Viola Davis, The Help
- Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
- Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- The Help
- My Week with Marilyn
- The Iron Lady
- Albert Nobbs
My Vote: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is Fincher. And he’s essential. The original is probably essential too. But see one of them anyway.
The Help is essential for Oscar buffs, just a good movie for everyone else. This is too light to really hold up over time.
My Week with Marilyn is fair. Not great. Only worth it for Michelle Williams. Light recommend for performance alone.
The Iron Lady is essential for Oscar buffs and just a light recommend otherwise. Not a great film. Just Meryl, really.
Albert Nobbs — nah. It’s on the nose. Very light recommend. Can easily skip this. Not something I recommend much.
The Last Word: Don’t care about the outcome. Sure. Get Meryl another Oscar. She’s the best decision because she’s the least bad one. Close would have been terrible as a winner. Williams would have been bad too. Mara wouldn’t have held up. And Davis, would have looked nice, but the performance isn’t there. Meryl helps this one seem okay, even if I think it’s one of the bottom 40% of all-time winners.
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Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
SAG had 3/5. No Riva, no Wallis. They had Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone and Helen Mirren for Hitchcock instead. (That might have been a guild thing.)
BAFTA had 3/5. Same as SAG.
BFCA had 5/5.
The Globes had 3/5 across two categories. Missed Riva, missed Wallis.
I wish I was as savvy then as I am now. I knew at the time that Mirren had no chance, and Cotillard was a shaky proposition at best. Now I’d have known for sure to use BAFTA and BFCA for those others.
Chastain + Lawrence split the Globes.
Riva won BAFTA.
Chastain won BFCA.
Lawrence won SAG.
This was Jennifer Lawrence’s pretty much all the way. People thought Chastain was there, but it was always gonna be Lawrence.
Zero Dark Thirty is about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, focused through a single character played by Jessica Chastain.
I have a weird history with this movie. At first I liked it but had reasons to dislike it. Then I liked it as a movie but didn’t love it. Now, I respect it a lot and like it a lot, and also think she’s very, very good in it.
Still wouldn’t take her though. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t feel fully right in the role. But she is great, and the final scene is terrific. Still… second choice at best for me.
Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell. It’s a weird choice for a film, because it should not work as well as it does. You can’t even really explain this one. It sounds bad on paper.
A guy comes out of a mental institution after a breakdown after his marriage falls apart. He goes back to live with his parents. He meets a recent widow and strikes up a friendship with her and the two plan to enter a dance competition. Seriously, that’s the film. And it’s great.
Jennifer Lawrence plays the widower, and this is one of those performances — she jumps on screen and commands it. She absolutely bowls over everyone else in the film and gives one of those performances that wows you so much you don’t even think about how little she really had to do in this, acting-wise.
Here’s how I shake out on this — sure, not technically great acting by any stretch. But man, isn’t that scene where she bursts into the house and tells off the entire family pretty great? Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Amour is a beautiful film. I hated all the attention it got at the time, but I’m glad it got that attention, because it’s really quite good.
A couple in their 80s lives a simple but happy life, until one day the wife has a stroke and is laid up in bed. And the rest of the film is about the husband trying to care for her. It’s — yeah. One of those movies you should just see and not read about. You can’t do it justice on paper, and the more you read, the more it might get overrated and built up for you.
Emmanuelle Riva plays the wife. A lot of people said she should have won. I looked at it as — yes, she’s very good, but it’s just a solid veteran nomination who stands no chance at a win. Most years, she’d be fourth. A weak year, she’d be Ida Kaminska, second choice against an automatic winner. Here, she’s a solid third I take fourth because I like someone else better. Wouldn’t take her, but really respect the performance.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautiful film. I had such problems with it at first, but that was personal shit that didn’t allow me to give the film a chance. I disliked it at first, saw it a second time, liked it more, and then watched it a third time and loved it. Still love it.
It’s about a girl who lives with her father in a part of Louisiana known as the “Bathtub,” because one day, it will be underwater. Everyone else has evacuated, and they’re still there. All poor, all happy. And that’s life.
Quvenzhané Wallis plays the girl. I can’t say she really did a whole lot to be nominated. But knowing how weak this year was for actresses, I’m totally cool with the nomination. She’s easily #5 here and would never be the vote, but this nomination is a vote for the film, and I support that.
The Impossible is one of my absolute favorite movies of 2012 that nobody knows about. I’m still talking this up to people who’ve never heard of it. How is that possible this slipped under the radar so much?
A family is on vacation in Indonesia and a tsunami hits. That’s it. That’s the film. At least twenty minutes of it is disaster and the rest is the family separated trying to find one another. It’s GREAT. Full stop. Great.
Naomi Watts plays the mother. And man, does she go through a lot during this movie. I loved her performance, and would have taken her second in this category four years ago. All things being equal, she’s probably fourth in the category, but I’d take her third over Riva. I think, all things considered, she’s worth a vote over Riva for me. Still take Lawrence and Chastain over her though.
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The Reconsideration: The theme of this category for me is “sometimes it’s that simple.” I’m not gonna overanalyze it. I saw the performances, and the only one I came out saying “wow” about was Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, she’s not technically great. But sometimes it’s not just about technical acting. Sometimes it’s about impact of performance. And for me, she had the greatest impact. So she’s the vote. I don’t care if the purists consider her a weak winner. I take her. Chastain is great, Watts is Great and Riva is very good. I still take Lawrence.
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- Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
- Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
- Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
- Naomi Watts, The Impossible
- Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Silver Linings Playbook
- The Impossible
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
My Vote: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
We’re so close to this — they’re all essential now.
Silver Linings Playbook — David O. Russell film. Best Actress winner. You see those no matter who you are. Plus it’s great. Must see.
Zero Dark Thirty — currently essential. Maybe in ten years it slips to very high recommend. But we’re not there yet. So as a film buff, you see this.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an incredible film that film buffs should see because it will make them better film buffs.
The Impossible is essential because you haven’t heard of it and you’re going to love it. If you respect my opinion at all — this is one of my top ten films of 2012 and I honestly like it better than The Dark Knight Rises.
Amour is essential because it’s great, it’s beautiful, and it’s one of those films you should see at multiple ages because it will mean something different each time you watch it. This is a treat for film buffs and they should not scoff at something like that.
The Last Word: I’ve gone back to see this performances numerous times. Wallis wouldn’t have held up. Riva honestly wouldn’t have held up. Watts would hold up on performance okay but the film isn’t remembered at all so that would have been a knock against her, historically. Chastain would have held up okay, and Lawrence seems to be holding up just fine. Maybe Chastain comes out over time as the best choice, but we’re not there yet. For now, two nominees good enough to be considered solid winners, and they chose one of them. So as of now, it looks perfectly fine to me. But we’re too close to it to really do any true analysis of it.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)