There is always one category that stirs things up in any given year. This year, it’s Best Actress. There is more drama (at least here at AwardsDaily) in this category than even the Bigelow V. Cameron Best Director race. There are several factors at play here. The first is that Meryl Streep has a real shot at finally winning another Lead Actress nod. Articles like this one only help Streep — it isn’t her fault she is so good at what she does. Here is the key thing that makes Meryl Streep different from most of her contemporaries. In the Best Actress race this year, only Helen Mirren is as well schooled in the art of acting as Streep. Mirren trained in theater before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company. Streep went to Yale School Drama before working in Shakespearean theater in New York.
Neither Streep nor Mirren were plucked off a street corner because they had “it.” They did not rise to fame on charisma alone; talent, hard work and a good amount of intelligence were required for these two actresses to get where they are now. Actresses now are thrust into the spotlight with barely a care to their education and training. Maybe they get lucky, and they get a few roles that work for them. At some point, they are taken seriously, and maybe, in a few years they catch on to what really makes a great actor. But that is rare. Usually they kind of fade in and fade out. Once they’re challenged by a difficult part, their vulnerabilities are revealed.
But because they had no training whatsoever does not mean they can’t perform well enough on camera, maybe even deliver a great performance once in a while. The kind of skill Streep has, or Mirren has – that takes a lifetime to acquire and that should never be taken for granted, even in an age when anyone can become famous. So people say, oh that’s just Meryl Streep – she can sneeze and get an Oscar nomination. But to say that is to degrade the level of talent, experience and hard work Streep brings to the game. The other thing to remember is that Streep’s big era was the 1980s. What has happened since that decade? Well trained actresses have given way to celebrities. Actresses are not required anymore to be of such a high caliber. Many view Streep’s kind of training as a waste of time. Moreover, what seems to matter more is box office appeal and good looks.¬† Most of the time, youth is the most valuable commodity of all.
Since there just aren’t that many good parts out there for “real” actresses, Streep and Mirren often get the first crack at the best roles, like Julia Child, for instance. Back in the ’70s, the era from which Streep emerged, actresses were much better prepared for career lengevity than they are now. Chew them up and spit them out is how the profession of actress seems to go these days. So why should anyone waste many of their best years as a hot young thing in college? Well, one good reason is to develop depth. Education is not something that should ever be taken lightly and it can only help an actress.¬† Those who have taken the time to get educated will have a longer career ahead of them, even if they aren’t the latest flavor of the month anymore.
All of this to say that there is a reason Meryl Streep is able to deliver such rich and dense performances. And there is a reason why many of the other actresses in the race are just lucky to be there. They were in the right place at the right time.
Remember, I’m not saying the other actresses don’t deserve to be there. But I am saying that Streep deserves all of the accolades she gets.
I also want to say something about the state of American actresses versus British or European actresses. An English accent, it would seem, is a good temporary substitution for depth and intelligence, or maybe it’s that they educate their young better in Europe than they do over here. Whatever the reason, the Keira Knightleys and the Carey Mulligans and the Kate Winslets will always zoom right to the top of the pile, over more experienced American actresses. Why is this?¬†¬† Only some American actresses can pull off the same feat without an English accent. Gwyneth Paltrow comes to mind. Laura Linney and Joan Allen perhaps.
At any rate, the Best Actress slate for Oscars 2009 will likely look something like this:
1. Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia – Streep has, in her 60s, brought two successful films near the $100 mark. That throws the age thing out the window, and it throws the woman thing out the window. Her work in It’s Complicated only helps her this year – proving she can do both things equally well. Bring the legendary Julia Child to the big screen, and deliver on a mainstream romantic comedy. It’s Complicated, in fact, was up by 27% yesterday. That makes Streep another Queen of the Box Office, along with Sandra Bullock. The Golden Globes will only push this further.
Apologies about the above video. The WB has done a great job keeping clips off of YouTube for embedding purposes.
2. Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side – I will cop to the ugly fact that I have not yet seen The Blind Side. So when you lob criticisms at me for seeming to favor Bullock you’d be wrong as I have nothing to compare it to. What I note about her performance in this film, without having even seen it is that it is a film that speaks to a lot of people. I don’t know if Sandra Bullock can win on this film. I do know that she could win on popularity alone. Not just popularity with her audience, but popularity within the industry. She is beloved for her humility, her unpretentiousness, her work ethic. She is a reliable actress who has made some dogs in her day, but has also made some memorable films. No, she can’t be compared in any way, shape or form to Meryl Streep, but her success this year with The Blind Side and The Proposal makes her a strong contender. The truth is about her is that she will be happy just to get a nomination. She is not expecting to win.
Again, apologies about this clip but these were nearly impossible to find.
3. Gabby Sidibe – if there is one actress who is working the line is Gabby Sidibe. You have to admire her, or I do anyway, for her moxie – getting out there and facing awards crowds, photographers and journalists — all of them a bit shocked to see a woman that big with so much confidence.¬† The best thing she has going for her, other than her charm and graciousness is that voters will want to vote for her character. They will want to see her do well and succeed. Sometimes there is crossover and confusion between who an actress is and the character she plays. Since viewers root for Precious, they will also be rooting for Gabby. In voting for Gabby they might feel like they are voting for Precious. She is a threat, make no mistake about that.
4. Carey Mulligan – Mulligan is a breath of fresh air in An Education. What an incredible performance from an actress who seemed to come out of nowhere. She is briefly glimpsed co-starring alongside Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, but she burst forth a star this year. Since then, she has shown a bit of trepidation on the red carpet, understandably. Mulligan can win on the performance alone. She also has a promising career ahead of her (as long as she doesn’t try to go too mainstream too fast) and doesn’t really need an Oscar right this second. A nomination would suffice. Nonetheless, love for that film, and general admiration of her and that character could result in a surprise win.
And now, the pesky fifth slot. Helen Mirren springs to mind immediately. But Emily Blunt is the real threat. She has a serious campaign mounted for her and they are pulling out the stops to get her some award recognition. That could result in a nod. Mirren, by contrast, has already won her Oscar and thus, a tireless campaign for her would seem a bit pointless. On the other hand, she is clearly one of the standouts of the year. So it comes down to Brit vs. Brit.
We could see some surprises in this category. Could Catalina Saavedra manage a shocker last-minute nod? We have hundreds of readers who would be very pleased if she did. There is Shohreh Aghdashloo for The Stoning of Soraya M. And there is Abbie Cornish, who simply can’t get arrested this year.¬† I really feel like it’s down to Mirren and Blunt in a standoff. Right now I would say Mirren gets it.