Oscar contenders come and go, and before long they’ve reached a point where it seems like nothing they can or will ever do will give them the win. For women it’s worse than it is for men. Of course, for minorities it’s near impossible. The endless celebration of the talents of Jennifer Lawrence say everything about how Hollywood views successful actresses now. Bring them up as quickly as possible, earn every last dollar you can from them, throw roses at their feet. Women have the best chance to win in their 30s, second best in their 20s but by their 40s and 50s things drop considerably. If you are Katharine Hepburn you’ve won three Oscars after you hit the age of 60, incredibly. Meryl Streep also won in her 60s. By the time they hit 40, their chances for winning Oscars drops — partly because there are fewer and fewer good parts for them and partly because the Oscar celebration itself, for women anyway, always tends to lean younger.
How many wonderful actresses have we seen come and go and miss that window of opportunity for no other reason except age, and timing? Michelle Pfeiffer, to name one. Glenn Close to name another. Sure, there is always the chance they can break into the race and win at a much older age, like Jessica Tandy, for instance. But you can count the times that has happened on one hand. Julianne Moore seems to defy many of these rules. Is there any other actress in her 50s, working today, who continues to take the kinds of risks Moore does? Sure, it must be said that she still looks like she’s in her 20s — that bone structure, that skin, that hair. She’s a timeless beauty, through and through. But there is more to her and much of that is her willingness to get naked — physically and emotionally — but mostly emotionally. She is limited only by the boundaries others set for her, not by those she has set for herself.
Julianne Moore has been nominated twice for lead, The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven, and twice for supporting, in The Hours and Boogie Nights. She was not nominated for Safe, Short Cuts, Children of Men, The Kids Are All Right, or The Big Lebowski (Do you like sex Mr. Lebowski?).
The only reason Moore has not won the Oscar is because she is far too humble, too gracious and has never really gone after it in that ferocious way a winning campaign requires. Moore has seemed to really be in it for the work. Now she’ll have another chance to be recognized with her latest role in David Cronenberg’s extraordinary Maps to the Stars. Moore gives another brave, even shameless performance as, ironically, the one thing she hasn’t become: a desperate, aging actress clinging to the tiny window of fame that is still left available to her. Moore knows that place, of course, because all actresses do — hell, all women do — but the character she plays lives in that place at the expense of every other aspect of her life. Of course, now Moore will be up against the old likability factor.
Everyone loves her but will they love her character? They will fear her character, probably loathe her. It will hit most of them in places they can’t even to bear to admit are there. This will be one where there will be the famed “Academy walkouts.” The brilliant Bruce Wagner pulls no punches, and Cronenberg doesn’t feel like pulling them either. They therefore needed actors who were willing to take a walk on the wild side and they found them in Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and the exceptional Evan Bird. Journalists will talk about it the way some parents talk to their kids about drugs. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
But if they’re grownups, if they take their jobs seriously as artists, they will not flinch at the kind of truths this film tells. But there will be no doubt what an expertly built portrayal it is. Moore will be going up against other actresses who have already won — like maybe Hilary Swank, like maybe Reese Witherspoon. She’ll also go up against formidable performances of non-winners, like Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl or Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, and then there’s Jessica Chastain who will deliver, once again, three performances in a year. That is some mighty competition for Moore.
Still, heading into the race she probably remains the most overdue among them all. She’s in her 50s now, which statistically puts her lower on the list for potential winners. It’s worth noting, however, that any year where Julianne Moore has turned in yet another brilliant performance is a good year for actresses overall, a good year for storytellers, and a good year for audiences.