By John H. Foote
And now the ladies!
Did they win because of the sheer genius of their performance, or because they were “due” or for sentimental reasons, or they represented the flavour of the moment? As with the Best Actor choices, posted last week, the correct answer is all of the above when the only reason for winning an Academy Award is that the artist gave a performance for the ages.
As with the Best Actor winners, I do not care who was due, who had won previous, I am here to choose based on the sheer blinding brilliance of their performance, nothing matters to me but the art. Frankly I cringe when I hear so and so is due, or it is their time? Due for what, a baby? Their time, meaning what?
An Oscar should be given to the best, period, and frankly it is not that hard to choose. You can FEEL what the best performance is can you not?
Did Reese Witherspoon give the best performance of 2005? Not even close, and the very best was not even nominated, yeah, it happens. Sarah Polley deserved that Oscar as the damaged young woman in The Secret Lives of Words (2005).
So here are the Oscar winners for Best Actress and who should have won, and why.
2000 – JULIA ROBERTS IN ERIN BROCKOVICH – Some decided Julia Roberts was at long last due for an Oscar, 10 years after her smashing work and first nomination for Best Actress in Pretty Woman. Roberts was terrific in Erin Brockovich and granted it was among her finest and the year’s best performances. Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth would have been a far more worthy winner, but the true Best Actress of 2000 was the great Ellen Burstyn as drug, candy and TV addicted Sara in Requiem for a Dream, one of the most harrowing performances I have ever seen. Try and wipe Sara out of your mind once you see her. THIS is among the finest performances ever given. Sorry Julia.
2001 – HALLE BERRY IN MONSTER’S BALL — Despite the vile attacks that came at Ms. Berry after her Oscar win, she was most deserving and I have no argument with this at all. Brave, remarkable, fearless.
2002 – NICOLE KIDMAN IN THE HOURS — Kidman had quite a run in the early 2000’s, with a nomination for Moulin Rouge (2001), a superb performance in The Others (2001), this win, a remarkable pair of performances in Cold Mountain (2003) and Birth (2004), each deserving of nominations, each snubbed. For her 24 onscreen minutes in The Hours, she won her Oscar. Deserving? No, not at all. Deserving was Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven as a fifties suburban housewife, who discovers her husband is gay, and she has fallen in love with her gentle groundskeeper. Obviously homosexuality was taboo, but to have an affluent white woman fall in love with a black man? Horrifying, yet Moore is sensational as this tortured woman who has happiness right in front of her, but cannot ever have it. Moore had been great before and superb after, but never had she so astonished.
2003 – CHARLIZE THERON IN MONSTER – Miraculous. Gone is Theron, in her place the snarling, abused, hate filled serial killer Aileen Wuornos. A performance for the ages. One of the greatest performances in film history. Simply astounding.
2004 – HILARY SWANK IN MILLION DOLLAR BABY – Having won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1999 for her brilliant work in Boys Don’t Cry, the tough to cast Swank won her second Oscar just five years later as Maggie, the tragic boxer in Eastwood’s mesmerizing film. Truly a great performance, and well deserved. No argument.
2005 – REESE WITHERSPOON IN WALK THE LINE – Gag. We’re they joking handing this performance an Oscar? This person? Not nominated but far more deserving was the luminous haunted performance of Sarah Polley in The Secret Life of Words, a positively shattering performance. A young nurse comes to care for a badly injured man in the middle of the sea on an oil rig, and gradually they reveal themselves to each other. Polley is extraordinary as a war-scarred young woman who has experienced hell, true pain in her life. Startling and astonishing.
2006 – HELEN MIRREN IN THE QUEEN – No argument, Mirren was exceptional, regal, stunning as the very flawed Queen Elizabeth trying to deal with the death of the publicly adored a Princess Diana. Remarkable.
2007 – MARION COTILLARD IN LA VIE EN ROSE – Another one I do not protest. As the gifted Edith Piaf, Cotillard gave a performance for the ages, an astonishing piece of acting in which she inhabits and owns the character.
2008 – KATE WINSLET IN THE READER – Winslet deserved to win the Oscar for 2008, but not for this film. No, Winslet gave a gut wrenching performance in Revolutionary Road, as a married mom, trying to fit in to fifties suburban life. Profoundly brilliant, Winslet should have won, but not for The Reader, which is a supporting performance.
2009 – SANDRA BULLOCK IN THE BLIND SIDE – Someone decided that for her hellion spitfire Bullock was “due”, whatever that means. I like Bullock but her finest work was in Gravity (2013), not this, a performance she had given before and since. Meryl Streep gave an incredible performance channeling soul of Julia Childs in Julie and Julia, the towering American who taught herself to cook and wrote a huge best seller about cooking French cuisine. Streep brings all the bizarre eccentricities of Child to her work, wildly fun and entertaining to watch. The New York Film Critics certainly thought so, awarding Streep their award for Best Actress.
2010 – NATALIE PORTMAN IN BLACK SWAN – Intensely gifted as an actress, I cannot believe she had not won before. But I felt Hailee Stanfield in True Grit was the more deserving winner for her confident, perfectly sensational work as Mattie Ross. Portman was brilliant in Black Swan, no question, but Stanfield walked away with the Coen film, and though nominated for Supporting Actress, she belonged in the lead category where she should have won.
2011 – MERYL STREEP IN THE IRON LADY – The greatest actress in the history of the cinema portrayed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and after 29 years Streep won her second Oscar for Best Actress. She should have won long ago, and more than once so this one felt like a cheat. Especially when Tilda Swinton was electrifying in We Need to Talk About Kevin, portraying the bewildered mother of a young mass murderer. Exhausted, haunted, angry, finally broken, Swinton is quietly intensely perfect and should have had the Oscar for it. I love Meryl, love her, but only liked her as Thatcher. This one was Tilda.
2012 – JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – Lawrence was immensely likeable as a volatile young widow falling in love again in this film. She was the darling of the awards season in 2012, moving from awards show to awards show winning for her performance. However the New York Film Critics, Golden Globe Best Actress for Drama and Screen Actors Guild honoured Jessica Chastain as the focus CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty. As Maya, Chastain was electrifying as the wildly intelligent agent who searched for and found Osama Bin Laden. Focused, alarming in her intensity, Chastain was superb.
2013 – CATE BLANCHETT IN BLUE JASMINE – No argument, Blanchett was superb in Woody Allen’s superb film, and deserved every award given to her.
2014 – JULIANNE MOORE IN STILL ALICE – Moore was fine as a young Alzheimer’s patient struggling with this terrible disease. Whoever decides who is due, decided it was Moore’s year which meant Rosamund Pike’s fierce, ferocious Amy in Gone Girl could not win the Oscar she deserved. Pike was superb as cartoonist Amazing Amy, who runs out on her husband and frames him for her own murder. But when things get complicated, she kills for him and returns to him, leaving him terrified of her. Pike is downright terrifying as Amy, who gives Ben Affleck such a look of baleful contempt, I would not go near her. Ever. She is astounding.
2015 – BRIE LARSON IN ROOM – Portraying the abused kidnapping victim living in a garden shed with her son, born while she was captive, Larson was superb. Outshone from time to time by her co-star Jacob Tremblay, she brought something powerfully fragile to the film, and after saving her son believes she can die now. He thinks very differently. I admired the hell out of Larson but thought the winner should have been the exquisite Saoirse Ronan as the Irish lass come to New York and finds love in Brooklyn. Ronan was mysterious, uncanny and luminous throughout the film, yet it was her character’s honesty we admired most. Superb.
2016 – EMMA STONE IN LA LAND — Over Natalie Portman in Jackie? No, never. Portman’s damaged First Lady, hours, days, weeks after JFK’s Assassination is a stunning performance showing the juxtaposition of fragility and steely resolve in protecting her husband’s legacy. I understand why Stone won, she was terrific, but Portman was on another level.
2017 – FRANCES McDORMAND IN THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI — Yes, she is great, but how often have we seen this sort of work from McDormand? Bull headed, fearless, straight in your face ballsy, it is a signature performance. Young Brooklynn Prince deserved to win as the free spirited five-year-old restless child in The Florida Project. Watch her, focus on her authenticity through the film, the joy she takes in using her imagination to make better her life. And that emotional meltdown to her friend at the end? Shattering, heartbreaking, galvanizing. She was revelatory.
2018 – OLIVIA COLMAN IN THE FAVOURITE — A surprise winner for her daffy (possibly insane) Queen Anne, Colman was a worthy winner, but I think the wrong performance in the film won the Oscar. Emma Stone as the toxic, whip smart lady who seduces the crazy Queen to rise in court was splendid and would have been my choice. Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born gave a triumphant performance also more deserving than Colman, and poor Glenn Close in The Wife, the front runner going in, went home an also ran … again.
2019 – RENEE ZELLWEGER IN JUDY — No was more surprised than me that Zellweger captured every nuance of Garland in one of the most acclaimed and mesmerizing performances of the last 20 years. No argument from me, Zellweger WAS Judy Garland, in body and soul. It was uncanny.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.