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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actress, 2013-2014)

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.

2013

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Judi Dench, Philomena

Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5, missing Amy Adams in favor of Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks.

BAFTA matched 4/5, missing Meryl in favor of Emma Thompson.

BFCA matched 4/5, missing Adams in favor of Thompson and Brie Larson for Short Term 12 (who would have been a real welcome inclusion here).

The Globes had all five stretched out over two categories.

Cate Blanchett swept them all and it was the same situation we’d have with Julianne Moore the year after this. She was overdue, and she wasn’t losing.

Emma Thompson was really the only other choice here. People held out hope for Brie Larson, but she never got any support (though that did help her win for Room in 2015). Thompson had the numbers, but Adams had the bigger film and more fervent support. So it makes sense.

American Hustle is David O. Russell’s Goodfellas. For better or worse.

A con artist and his wife (or girlfriend. And sort of his wife) get pulled into an FBI scam of corrupt congressman that was known as Abscam. That’s the plot. The movie is so much more than that.

Amy Adams plays the girlfriend, who becomes part of his scams and loves him. And she ends up being the one who helps seduce the FBI agent — honestly it’s hard to explain exactly what she did here in terms of an arc, but she is very good in the part. I originally had her fifth here, but I think in the end, I may put her third. Since I think she does do a lot with the part and I think she shows a lot of complexity to this woman and really does a better job with it than I originally believed. She might still be a fifth, but this category is so lacking in a real choice for me that it doesn’t really matter.

Blue Jasmine is a Woody Allen movie that’s just as tired as all his recent work. Though it’s one I’m okay with, mostly because of the supporting work.

Cate Blanchett is a woman who is so wrapped up in her own world. We see her in both present and future. Her husband was Alec Baldwin. And he was rich, gave her everything she wanted… and also cheated on her. And eventually he was caught stealing money and hung himself in prison. Now she’s basically out of money, living in this fantasy in her head — it’s Woody Allen doing a semi-comic Streetcar Named Desire.

I’ve never loved this performance and don’t think she needed to have won for it. But the category is pretty weak and she was overdue, so I get the win. But I wouldn’t take her. Though granted, given the category, she probably rates second choice for me. Which says something.

Gravity is a film that I’m real curious to see if it holds up in ten years. Because it’s such a simple film that’s all about the experience that it might get real dated real fast.

Sandra Bullock is in space to fix a telescope. Through a freak occurrence, she ends up untethered and free-floating into space. And the film is about her fight for survival. Simple.

She’s one of two actors who are ever on screen for the entire film and she has to carry the bulk of it on her own. The nomination makes complete sense. Do I think she was good enough to win here? Absolutely not. But I think she was definitely worth the nomination. Carrying a film like that counts for a lot, but not all.

Philomena is a film that I love.

Judi Dench plays a woman who, when she was younger, got pregnant and had a child out of wedlock. She went to the only place she could, the church. And the nuns took the child from her, made her work there, kept her from the child, and then sold the child to an American couple. Now, fifty years later, she’s trying to find her son. And her daughter (who she had later) goes to Steve Coogan, an investigative journalist, to have him help find the child. So the movie is him and Judi Dench looking for her son.

Judi is wonderful, heartbreaking, and so utterly enjoyable all the way through. This is my vote by a mile. Now, some might see this as on the nose (as Weinstein Oscar movies tend to me), but I think this is the choice in the category. Totally fine with those who want to take Blanchett, but Dench is my vote. Easily.

August: Osage County is a big actorly film based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play. A southern family gets together when their patriarch goes missing (and… dies. Spoiler alert) and all their issues and grievances play out.

Meryl plays the matriarch. She’s got cancer and is just a horrible, abrasive woman. It’s — Meryl. The role was written for someone of her caliber and she acts the shit out of it. Though — and maybe it’s just me — the older she gets, the more I see her acting. I watch this performance and am aware that she’s putting on a good performance. She’s definitely putting in the work here, and it’s solid. But maybe fourth choice. I wouldn’t take her at all. Though objectively this is a better performance than The Iron Lady.

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The Reconsideration: The fact that Cate Blanchett made second for me tells you everything you need to know about this category and how much of a lock she was. But I thought Dench was better and I take her. Blanchett still deserved it and all, and I am somewhat bitter that it had to happen for such on-the-nose Woody Allen writing, but it is what it is. Judi Dench is my vote. Love that performance. Also kudos to Amy Adams, that performance works way better over time.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Judi Dench, Philomena
  2. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  3. Amy Adams, American Hustle
  4. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
  5. Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Rankings (films):

  1. Gravity
  2. American Hustle
  3. Philomena
  4. August: Osage County
  5. Blue Jasmine

My Vote: Judi Dench, Philomena

Recommendations:

American Hustle is the film that’ll hold up best over time. It’s David O. Russell, this cast — right now, it’s essential. We’ll see in five years what it’s at.

Right now, Gravity is essential, though I’m sure that’ll fade over time. Not sure that’s a movie that holds up in ten years, but now, must see.

Philomena is wonderful, and while not essential, is a very high recommend. Wonderful movie.

Blue Jasmine is only essential for Oscar buffs and Woody Allen buffs. Light recommend, and a decent Woody Allen film, as far as his stuff goes.

August: Osage County is worth seeing for the cast. It’s a solid movie, though very dark with a lot of unlikable characters. Might be tough for some. But it’s good. Solid recommend.

The Last Word: Blanchett is fine. The category’s not strong enough to say it was a bad choice. But I take Judi Dench. I think those are the two that come out of here worth the vote. But ultimately this will end up as a middle of the road choice with a deserving actress getting her due.

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2014

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Analysis:

This year, SAG matched 4/5, missing Marion Cotillard in favor of Jennifer Aniston for Cake, which would have been a truly horrendous nomination.

BAFTA matched 4/5, missing Cotillard in favor of Amy Adams for Big Eyes.

BFCA matched all five, out of their six nominees.

The Globes matched 4/5, also missing Cotillard in favor of Aniston.

Guess who won every single one of those awards?

This was a completely non-surprising year, and I remember going into nominations thinking there were only six total choices, and being pretty sure Aniston wasn’t going to get it. So that left us with the category we got. And Julianne Moore wasn’t losing from the jump.

Two Days, One Night is a Dardenne brothers film that pretty much no one saw. And it’s quite good, actually.

Marion Cotillard finds out that she’s going to be fired from her job. They can’t afford to keep everyone on and pay out year-end bonuses. She cuts a bargain where, if she can get the entire staff to agree to forego their bonuses, she will keep her job. And she has to do this over a weekend. Hence the title.

Cotillard is fantastic here. In a stronger year, I’m not sure I nominate her, but honestly, yeah, here she totally deserves it. Doesn’t crack top two for me, but I could see making a case for her third.

The Theory of Everything is the Stephen Hawking biopic. Solid film. Not sure it gets remembered over time, but as a film it’s very well made and well acted.

Felicity Jones plays Hawking’s wife. It’s the strong, supporting wife role. There’s not a whole lot of complexity to it, but Jones plays it well. I remember really liking her in this and thinking she did a great job. Most would put her fourth in this category, but I’d have her third. I think she’s solid, though she doesn’t rate a vote.

Still Alice is about as Oscar bait as you can get. Julianne Moore lucked out that this came in a year where she could walk away with the Oscar.

She plays a college professor who gets early onset Alzheimer’s. We watch from the initial stages until the disease progresses to a point where she just cannot function anymore. She’s great here, and she’s easily the best performance in the category. No real way to go elsewhere here. She’s the one, and her being “overdue” only helped it.

Gone Girl is such an awesome movie. It’s a B level thriller of a novel that’s elevated by David Fincher directing it.

Simple story (not really) — Ben Affleck’s wife goes missing, and it sure seems like he did it. And we watch everything unfold, into… yeah. Into some stuff. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out.

Rosamund Pike plays the wife. And she’s just wonderful in this movie. I can’t get too deep into the performance without spoiling the movie — like, a lot of the movie — but she was my absolute favorite female performance of 2014. Do I think she gave the best performance in the category? No. But it was my favorite. She never stood a chance here past the nomination, but damn, did I love what she did with it.

Wild is part vanity project part Oscar bait, all “you gotta be fucking kidding me.”

It’s not that bad a movie, but also — it kind of is.

It’s based on the memoirs of a woman who, after a divorce, decides to cleanse herself by hiking a Pacific trail all on her own. And… yeah. She does that. And along the way fucks some dudes, takes heroin, shit like that.

Reese Witherspoon plays the woman, and I honestly have no idea why this was nominated on a performance level. On a political level, totally get it. She campaigned for this, it was a weak year — this was one of those spots that was

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Julianne Moore. I could take Rosamund Pike (as I did on Oscar night), but that’s because it was understood that Moore was winning and because Pike was my favorite performance. Moore gave the best performance and is all around the choice here.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  3. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  4. Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  5. Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Rankings (films):

  1. Gone Girl
  2. The Theory of Everything
  3. Stil Alice
  4. Two Days One Night
  5. Wild

My Vote: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Recommendations:

Gone Girl is David Fincher, and that makes it essential. Curious to see where this is in five years.

The Theory of Everything is close to essential, but not essential unless you’re into the Oscars. Doubt this holds up that well, but we’ll see. We’re too close to say. Right now, you should see it because the performances are strong.

Still Alice is only gonna be essential for Oscar buffs because of the Julianne Moore win. Otherwise just a decent film that’s a solid recommend.

Two Days, One Night is the Dardennes. If you like their stuff, you’ll like this. Otherwise, you probably won’t. Solid recommend, but not something anyone really needs to see.

Wild is not a movie I like. It’s enjoyable enough if you’re watching cable and it happens to be on, but otherwise it’s not particularly greath. Ehh.

The Last Word: Including everything about this category, this is one of the best decisons of all time. Not that this is one of the best Best Actress winning performances of all time. I’m saying that given the performance being very strong, Julianne Moore being who she is as an actress and her track record with the Academy, and the year being so weak, this is about as perfect a storm as you can get. Hard to really call this a bad decision given the category that we had to work with.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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