Friday, January 20, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 1999

The Contenders:

Annette Bening: American Beauty
Hilary Swank: Boys Don’t Cry (winner)
Julianne Moore: The End of the Affair
Meryl Streep: Music of the Heart
Janet McTeer: Tumbleweeds

What’s Missing

Would Helena Bonham Carter be considered a supporting role for Fight Club? Probably, which might explain her lack of a nomination here, but it’s a hell of a good performance. That’s not the case with Cecilia Roth in All About My Mother, but it might well be the case with Kathryn Erbe in Stir of Echoes, another film I like. It’s definitely the case with Illeana Douglas in the same film and with Olivia Williams in Rushmore. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone brought up Reese Witherspoon for Election. Linda Fiorentino didn’t have a shot for Dogma. Same for Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest. Sad to say, it’s kind of a weak year for actresses in lead performances, at least in terms of those not nominated.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I really like Julianne Moore and I’m happy that she’s won an Oscar in her career, but I’m equally fine with her not winning one for The End of the Affair. This is a movie that plays very much like The English Patient on a much smaller scale. The real problem here for me is that I’m having a lot of trouble actually remembering the movie at all and remembering Moore in it. Sure, I go back to my reviews, but it doesn’t speak well of a nomination when I seem to have no memory of it at all.

4. I’m a Meryl Streep fan, too, so I’m sad to put her in fourth. I love the fact that I live in a world where Wes Craven directed someone in an Oscar-nominated role, but I also don’t see this as a huge stretch for Streep. It may well be that she is being punished here for high expectations on my part. I expect her to be transcendent, and she’s not here. She’s good. She’s really good, in fact, but she’s Meryl Streep and I expect that of her. Okay, she learned to at least fake playing the violin. Still, beyond that, it’s just Meryl being Meryl.

3. We’re three out of three here—I like Janet McTeer a lot, and I think third is where she belongs, although I could argue for her to be up a notch. I didn’t really love Tumbleweeds as a movie, but I though McTeer and her co-star Kimberly J. Brown managed to develop a real chemistry on the screen. They acted like a real mother-daughter pair, and that’s not easy to do. I believed her in the role. I just didn’t like the role or the movie that much, and that does sometimes give me problems with awards like this one.

2. Oddly, I don’t love Annette Bening, but there are times when she’s really, really good. She’s really, really good in American Beauty, even if I think this might be the most controversial placement of these five nominees. Bening’s problem is that her angry and frustrated performance is overshadowed by Kevin Spacey’s. She was rightfully nominated, though, and if you can work your way past Kevin Spacey giving a master class in dripping contempt, you’ll see a woman who can’t understand why her life is falling apart and why things have happened the way they did. She’s not likable, but she’s very real.

My Choice

1. I do not understand the career of Hilary Swank. On the one hand, she does completely shit movies like The Core and The Reaping, and on the other hand, she is capable of being absolutely mesmerizing when given the right material to work with. In Boys Don’t Cry, she is as good as she ever has been. Actually, she’s better than she’s been in anything else. It might simply be that she got lucky on this film, but she made the most of it and did everything she could with it. She’s great in it, and I don’t take issue with her winning.

Final Analysis


  1. We're on the same page with this one. Swank is great, has never been better, and is better than anybody else was that year.

    1. I can't say that I like Hilary Swank, but when she's good, she's really good. In Boys Don't Cry, she's about perfect.

  2. Out of these five nominees I'm in complete agreement to your placements.

    I too am a big fan of Moore and Streep but I hated The End of the Affair which I think is the fault of the screenplay because I also hated the original version with another actress I love, Deborah Kerr. As far as Music of the Heart, it was a nice film with a good performance by Meryl but hardly outstanding in any way and that shouldn't win awards.

    I'm not overly familiar with Janet McTeer's other work but she's good in Tumbleweeds but neither she nor the film knocked me out.

    I wouldn't have been upset if Annette Bening had won this year. Her character is an unpleasant woman but she doesn't settle for just making her a bitch adding layers to make her more than that.

    Swank, who I think is a limited actress who when cast to her specific strengths excels and otherwise is mediocre, is definitely playing to them in Boys Don't Cry and is extraordinary.

    As to who is missing I'd add Diane Lane in A Walk on the Moon, Frances O'Connor in Mansfield Park, Joan Plowright in Tea with Mussolini and one that you already mentioned Reese Witherspoon in Election, who if she had been in the lineup would have been my choice for winner. Any of the four belonged in the running more than Streep, Moore or McTeer.

    1. I actually haven't seen Election, which is why I didn't fully endorse her in the first paragraph. It's one I need to get to one of these days.

  3. No arguments at all with Hilary Swank winning this year, with Bening a close second.
    Other lead actress performances worth checking out from 1999 include Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides, Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut and Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted.

    1. I'm actually a little surprised at the Annette Bening love. I guess I thought I was in the minority with her in this role.

      Nicole Kidman is interesting in Eyes Wide Shut, but it's a case where I don't like the movie a lot, so I'm not sure I'd see the nomination.