Friday, July 29, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2005

The Contenders:

Judi Dench: Mrs. Henderson Presents
Charlize Theron: North Country
Keira Knightley: Pride & Prejudice
Felicity Huffman: Transamerica
Reese Witherspoon: Walk the Line (winner)

What’s Missing

Since I’ve started this project, I haven’t missed a Friday and I won’t start now, even if my regular blogging will be down to one or two movies per week. It seems like 2005 is one of those years where the Academy had to stretch a little to fill the nominations. I genuinely like only a couple of these as potential winners, but there’s not a ton of actress performances I would think about adding. I might consider Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener at least as a performance I like better than one or two of the nominations, but she won in a supporting role. I love Catherine Keener in Capote, but she was rightly nominated in a supporting role. The other movies from 2005 that I like (Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck as examples) are male-dominated and feature good female roles, but not in leading parts.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I don’t deny that Keira Knightly was good in Pride & Prejudice, but I also think that the entire movie is really carried by Judi Dench, Donald Sutherland, and Brenda Blethyn. The truth is that it’s probably Knightley as good as she’s ever been on the screen, and while I don’t dislike her, I also don’t tend to think of her as much of an actress of note. Perhaps her doing something good enough to notice in a good way is enough here. I guess putting her fifth in a year where I really can’t think of another nomination might be all I can do. I’d listen to arguments that move her up a space or two.

4. I think kind of the same thing about Reese Witherspoon and Walk the Line. It’s a good performance, but I don’t really see her as a winner. Again, I don’t really object to the nomination. I don’t know enough about June Carter Cash to know how accurate she is to the real person, but it’s a convincing performance. I guess I don’t object to her being on the list, but I genuinely don’t see how she won against a few of the other nominations here. Good shouldn’t be good enough to walk away with a statue.

3. I love me some Judi Dench and I enjoyed Mrs. Henderson Presents, but for the third time, I don’t see this as an Oscar-winning film. Dench is pretty much always worth watching, and I think in a lot of cases, when she’s in the movie someone is thinking that it’s nomination-worthy. There’s an earthiness to her performance and character here that comes across as natural, and that says a lot for Dench’s performance. I can’t put her above third, though, even though I’ll watch Judi Dench make spaghetti and consider myself entertained. Still, she’s not better than third.

2. Charlize Theron has rightly been nominated for a couple of Oscars and probably should have been nominated for a few more. North Country is not the sort of movie I would want to sit down and watch again any time soon, but Theron carries a great deal of it on her shoulders. She gets a lot of help from a very good supporting cast, but the story is hers and she handles it perfectly. Were it not for the last nomination here, I would hand this to Theron in a heartbeat, and she would be my choice in a few other years. It’s a genuinely great performance, but not quite good enough to win for this year.

My Choice

1. Bluntly, Felicity Huffman got robbed. She is transcendent in Transamerica and this is even more surprising because it seems to come out of nowhere. I was more familiar with her in the television show Sports Night, and she’s generally better-known for Desperate Housewives. So where the hell did this performance come from? No matter where it did, Huffman’s portrayal of a pre- and post-operative transgendered woman is one of the truly great performances of its decade and the best single performance of its year. She should have won this in a walk with virtually no competition.

Final Analysis


  1. I'll offer up three other candidates who may have deserved nominations:

    Maria Bello was quite brilliant in A History of Violence. I'm not sure why and how the Academy missed nominating her.

    Both Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman were strong in Prime (not that Streep needs any more nominations!) The film is relatively unknown, but it's a highly enjoyable, out-of-the-box rom com (and maybe the genre sunk it).

    1. A History of Violence is still on my to-watch list. Prime is one I don't know at all.

      I think anyone might have a hard time topping Huffman, though. It's my favorite performance of its year in general, and 2005 is hardly a weak year over all.

  2. By looking at the list of nominees it would appear to be a thin year but I don't think so, I think the wrong work got nominated in the wrong places or not at all.

    I love this version of Pride & Prejudice and Keira Knightley's performance in it. I think she's fully engaged with who Elizabeth Bennett is, I do agree however about Sutherland (what does that poor man have to do to get a freaking nomination!) and Blethyn being a joint force in the film.

    Love Reese, Charlize and Judi but none of their performances knocked me out. It wasn't Charlize's fault but during the entirety of North Country I kept thinking "I've already seen Norma Rae why am I wasting my time on this?"

    Of these five Felicity Huffman should have been the winner in a walk. But looking at the large field of available performances I'm not sure she'd even make my list.

    First of all I'm glad Rachel Weisz won an Oscar for her brilliance in The Constant Gardener but it was in the wrong category! There was no way she was supporting in that film, hers is the story that made the film run. I thought she gave the best female performance of the year and should have taken the Actress prize thereby allowing the very deserving Michelle Williams to receive the supporting award.

    Aside from Rachel Weisz there was another snub that seems incredible now, Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger. A truly brilliant turn. I'd also consider Joan Plowright in Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale and Julianne Moore in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (though I didn't like the film much she was excellent in it)

    1. I haven't seen most of those you mention. For me, Huffman is perfect in a difficult role, and a role that could easily become farce if not handled perfectly. It's my favorite of the year by far.