It’s been awhile, but it’s time to return to my analysis of the Oscar race so far. I’ve done Best Picture and Best Actor. Now it’s time for the distaffs: Best Actress. I’ll do this in two parts.
This year is what is known as a “weak year” for performances by women. Now, it’s important to understand what the phrase means. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an actual dearth of qualified performances by actresses. Even in other years where the term “weak year” was used in this context, I had little problem coming up with more than enough candidates for my top five list, with overflow. Of course, I tend to have end of the year lists made up of films that none of my friends have ever heard of (at least, that’s what they tell me).
“Weak” here refers to the type of role that is considered the type that Oscar voters would consider worthy of a nomination. That’s very vague. Possibly even a tautology. But generally speaking, performances in foreign films from countries that many Academy members never realized made films (unless the film broke out in some over the top way—or Cinema Francé as they’re more commonly known); very small indie films (unless there is a break out of some kind); and unknown names or newcomers (unless there is…, etc., etc.). And this year, acne has had a better chance of breaking out than movies with female leads
If this sounds somewhat misogynistic, you’re wrong. It’s extremely misogynistic and just goes to show how shabbily actresses are treated by the filmmaking community ever since the studio system fell and the summer blockbusters became de rigueur. Before this, more movies were made with female leads if, for no other reason, than that they were under contract and the studios couldn’t just let them sit around doing nothing.
And if you still don’t believe me, when was the last time you heard that it was a “weak” year for men.
There are two signs that suggest that this is a very “weak” year for actresses. The first is that more actresses than usual are trying to decide whether they can move from pushing for a supporting nomination to pushing for a lead nomination. These include Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty); Helen Mirren (Hitchcock); and Helen Hunt (Sessions). In a strong year, all (except maybe Mirren) would probably vie in the supporting category where their large and important roles would have a better chance of getting a nom. I understand that Chastain has already broken ranks and decided to go for the gold, which I think (as I will point out later), is quite possibly a misstep.
Note: Whether an actor ends up in supporting or lead categories doesn’t always have anything to do with whether that person is truly lead or supporting. William H. Macy had more screen time than Frances McDormand in Fargo, but Macy was supporting and McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress. This happens more often than you might think.
Note 2: it doesn’t always work. Kate Winslet pushed for lead for Revolutionary Road and supporting for The Reader. The Academy shut out Revolutionary Road and put Winslet in the lead category for The Reader (though she was really supporting). It all had a happy ending, though, as Winslet won that year.
Note 3: the Golden Globes make the choice of category for you. There Winslet got a nom for Best Actress for Revolutionary Road and Best Supporting for The Reader.
The second reason you can tell this is a “weak” year is that an eight year old and two actresses from foreign language films are very likely to be nominated. This will be the youngest nominee for best actress and the first time since 1977 (which, I believe, is the only time) when two people from foreign language films got nominated in the same year in the same acting category (Marie-Christine Barrault for Cousin cousine and Liv Ullman for Face to Face).
Next entry: my list of nominees.