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Oscarwatch: Best Actress Heats Up

There probably isn’t a better actress working in Hollywood who hasn’t yet won an Oscar than Glenn Close.  Charlize Theron, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Hudson, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Bullock have all collected their Oscars.  So to say that Close’s Oscar worthy role in Albert Nobbs is a long time overdue is to spotlight the obvious.  Oscar voters like to think that they vote for the most deserving in a given year with little regard to whether they’ve won before or not.  However, their voting history, upon closer inspection, reveals their preferences year in and year out.  What does winning an Oscar really mean? It means that, in any given year, the Academy “liked” the actress, the character she plays or in some cases their actual performance itself enough to vote for them.  It is an anonymous vote with no consequences attached.  No one is ever accountable for their choices because it is THEIR club.  But few actresses have done more to earn a place in that club than Glenn Close, which is why it seems odd that so far an Oscar win has eluded her.   It’s hard to not cry foul when you look at the performances she’s turned in – one brilliant, expressive performance after the next.

It’s almost as though they liked her when she was the soft, sweet feminine wife/mother in films like The Big Chill.  But once she started delving into darker territory, something not a single one of her peers has done, she became too dark, too dangerous for Oscar; you see, unlike Meryl Streep, Close does not shy away from playing unlikable characters.  Though this has earned her a great deal of respect from the industry, and will surely make her one of the most memorable actresses of our time, she doesn’t play the warm fuzzies that Oscar likes from women.  Put it this way, that Mo’Nique managed to win an Oscar playing an unlikable character is practically a miracle.  Even when they’re muddied and uglied up (Theron, Halle Berry) they are vulnerable and likable at their cores.  But no one has ever gone as dark as Close.

She was nominated three times for playing the warm fuzzy character – The Big Chill, The World According to Garp and The Natural.  Academy voters were all about honoring this new love interest of theirs.  But then things turned.  She got only two more nominations after that – for Dangerous Liaisons and Fatal Attraction.   Now the love affair was over as she was utterly ignored for one of the most challenging performances of not only her career but of any actresses career – her portrayal of Sonny Von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune.  Watch that movie and see her go from vibrant young woman to broken down, vacant drug addict — then to a woman in a coma.  Close played Von Bulow as herself and herself as imagined through her husband’s eyes. It is such an intelligent depiction – to think that this Academy, that supposedly votes on the best performances of the year, ignored that performance? How could anyone take them seriously ever again?

Fatal Attraction was/is one of the all-time best performances by a man or a woman, Cher won instead of playing a woman who falls in love with a younger man — more importantly, a likable character.
She probably should have won for Dangerous Liaisons, Jodie Foster won for The Accused.  It was a great turn by Foster but, more importantly, a LIKABLE character.

Glenn Close’s last Oscar nomination was in 1989.  22 years ago.

Now Close is back with Albert Nobbs.  It is once again a dark and somewhat disturbing portrayal.  It is not particularly warm and fuzzy — it’s hard to watch, deeply painful, but wholly brilliant and well drawn.  The only reason people think she won’t win this year is because the character, despite being someone you deeply feel sorry for is not, you guessed it, particularly likable – why, because she (as a he) keeps everything inside.  The reason for this is an intelligent one: she has trained himself to keep it all pent up.  There is never that explosive scene where she lets it all out.  So Oscar voters won’t quite know what to do with themselves.  However, if they have any decency in their hearts, any regrets for the dumb mistakes they’ve made in the past, they will do what is required of them and award Close not just for her uncompromising work in Albert Nobbs, but for her work throughout her brilliant career.

But again, they vote privately and in the dark. They vote for what they like.  The trick is not minding.

But let’s look over the unprecedented array of great female performances so far this year.  They really do sort of trump the Best Actors this year, which is a cause for celebration in and of itself.

I’m going to quote our reader Phantom’s list of actresses.  This is how he sees the race right now:

1. Glenn Close(Albert Nobbs) – I still think she will win. Her individual work will be praised, so unless the critics will hate the film spectacularly (under50 MC score), it is hers to lose in my opinion.
2. Viola Davis(The Help) – Strong contender but the co-lead thing might hurt her in the long run. On the other hand, if she goes supporting, she will probably win.
3. Tilda Swinton(We need to talk about Kevin) – The Academy owes her big time after Julia and I am Love, so hopefully she will get her long-overdue second nomination this year.
4. Keira Knightley(A Dangerous Method) – She got strong reviews but it would help her a lot if the film became a bp-nominee.
5. Elizabeth Olsen(Martha Marcy May Marlene) – This year’s Lawrence or this year’s Cornish ?

Contenders who did receive raves BUT might have peaked too early :
6. Kirsten Dunst(Melancholia) – She won in Cannes and no buzz ever since, I might be wrong, but for now Olsen seems slightly stronger. Melancholia just simply seems too divisive.
7. Jodie Foster(Carnage) – Her turn is apparently great but probably not “big” enough…we’ll see. She IS “Two-time Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster” after all…
8. Mia Wasikowska(Jane Eyre) – She received rave reviews for her performace, critics loved the film, as well…IF Focus gives it a proper campaign…IF.
9. Saoirse Ronan(Hanna) – Ditto, although critics were more mixed on the film AND the early release date/genre film combination might be fatal in this case. She needs a few critics awards to get back into the race…
10. Maria Bello(Beautiful Boy) – Just like Rachel Weisz (The Whistleblower), her film is also probably too small and too early for Oscar recognition.

And the (mostly) unseen, potential late-entry frontrunners :
11. Meryl Streep(The Iron Lady) – Meryl playing an iconic political figure with the Weinsteins in her corner ? WOW, talk about a strong Oscar-concept…
12. Michelle Williams(My Week with Marilyn) – Another iconic role from The Weinstein Company. As someone said earlier this year, if the Weinsteins could secure a nod for Williams last year when she played a depressing nobody, they will probably get her in this year when she is playing one of the greatest icons of American Cinema.
13. Rooney Mara(The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – Might be too edgy/violent for the Academy, but if it is really such a brilliant turn, voters should come around in the end.
14. Charlize Theron (Young Adult) – Reitman’s last two leads (Clooney, Page) got in…and with all due respect, Theron is better than both. The question is : will the material be good enough ?
15. Jane Fonda(Peace, Love and Misunderstanding) – Great early word from Toronto suggests a potential Oscar-comeback but WHERE ? The hippie grandmother sounds like a typical scene-stealing SUPPORTING campaign to me….

His list is interesting but I’d write off Hanna, Jane Eyre, Carnage and Melancholia.  Not going to happen for any of those.  For me, the realistic contenders are:

1. Glenn Close – as explained above.
2. Viola Davis – I still think they could put her in supporting — but hers is a performance to fear because she’s overdue and because her character is so extremely likable, exactly the way the Academy defines likable.  Also, The Help is a major box office success and they reward the money too.
3. Tilda Swinton – one of the very best performances of her career and of the year.  Swinton digs down deep, strips bare and lays it out.  Like Close’s Nobbs, Swinton’s mother figure here is not a stereotypical template of what a mother should be.  Director Lynn Ramsay doesn’t give us an easy out.  And here, finally, is a complex female lead for thinking people, not just women.  But for we women, how refreshing to actually have a character with this kind of depth.
4. Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady – because she’s Meryl Streep.  But I maintain that Streep is going to have get really old or top her work in Sophie’s Choice to ever win another Oscar: she’s won two.  So crowing about her being undeserving feels a little nuts to me. But if she deserves it this year she could win it.
5. Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I wouldn’t have thought it unless I’d seen it with my own eyes.  In that eight minutes what came through most resoundingly for me was Mara’s performance.  Again, thank you David Fincher for giving us this kind of lead in a film.

As of now, those are my five. If Davis is bumped to supporting,  I’d put in Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene.  

Next up:
Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method – although this will be a hard one for Academy members to sit through and they are Cronenberg-averse.
Vera Farmiga – Higher Ground – not only a really great performance but she directed it too.
Charlize Theron, Young Adult – I only have her down the list so far because no one has yet seen Young Adult, although there is some buzz (manufactured or otherwise) that it’s her best ever performance.  I’m not sure the Academy is ready to welcome back the Reitman/Cody collaboration just yet, but let’s see how it goes.
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn, still sort of an unknown here. Word has it Take This Waltz won’t be in contention this year.

Are there any more performances on the horizon and can those performances break through as we start heading downhill fast towards nominations?