Friday, July 28, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2001

The Contenders:

Renee Zellweger: Bridget Jones’s Diary
Sissy Spacek: In the Bedroom
Judi Dench: Iris
Halle Berry: Monster’s Ball (winner)
Nicole Kidman: Moulin Rouge!

What’s Missing

This is one of those years where it feels like I could make a complete new set of nominees that would be better top to bottom than the actual nominees we got. Let’s start with the fact that Nicole Kidman should have been nominated for The Others rather than for Moulin Rouge! On the foreign front, we’ve got a solid trio: Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, Vasundhara Das in Monsoon Wedding, and most especially Audrey Tautou in Amelie. Mulholland Drive was probably too crazy to earn Naomi Watts a spot, though she probably deserved it. And what about Thora Birch in Ghost World? I might also mention Carrie Anne Moss in Memento, although that’s much more a supporting role, so probably doesn’t qualify.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. In truth, Nicole Kidman probably doesn’t belong in fifth place, but I genuinely dislike Moulin Rouge! intensely. The movie feels like an assault on all of my senses at a constant clip. I’m putting her in fifth, though, because she really should have been nominated for The Others. It’s a better role and a harder role, and she is far better and more memorable in it. This is evidence of Oscar’s constant bias against almost anything remotely scary, and Kidman ends up paying the price for it.

4. It’s kind of the same situation with Halle Berry and Monster’s Ball. Berry isn’t bad in the role, but it’s not a role that I think is that great, a performance I think is that exceptional, or a film that I enjoyed watching in the least. Once again, this is a case where I simply don’t understand the nomination given the other performances that were available. My guess is that a lot of people will put her fifth. I can’t really say I disagree completely.

3. I have a mental block when it comes to Renee Zellweger, and it’s one that I have consciously tried to get over. I actually like her in Bridget Jones’s Diary, but this is one of those cases where I wonder if she wasn’t at least slightly miscast. They couldn’t find a British actress to handle the role? Zellweger isn’t bad in this, and it’s clear that my objection to her is entirely personal, but once again, I’m not fully sure I understand the nomination. She’s fine in the role, but Best Actress worthy? I don’t really see it.

2. When Judi Dench is nominated, she’s always a competitor. With Iris, she had the challenge of playing a woman slowly descending into Alzheimer’s, and she had to pull this off without descending into melodrama or being maudlin. She manages this as well as you might expect from Dame Judi. This isn’t a happy movie, but it’s a damn fine one, and this is the first of the nominations I actually understand.

1. In the Bedroom is one of those movies that absolutely knocked me sideways. I watched it expecting nothing more than a checked box and discovered a movie of surprising depth and excellent performances all the way around. While Sissy Spacek isn’t the heart of the drama, she is in many ways the emotional heart of the film, a woman who has had her world turned terribly upside down. It’s a brutal performance and one of her best. She’s my choice of the nominees, but not my actual choice.

My Choice

There are simply too many great performances this year for me to stick with any of the nominees. In a perfect world, Nicole Kidman would have been nominated for The Others, and if she had, I think she’d be my choice. There’s so much nuance in what she does, so much that she has to deal with mentally and show only to the audience; I think it’s her best performance in her career. My heart, though, sides with Audrey Tautou for a performance that makes virtually everyone who sees the film fall in love with her just a little. Either would be a better choice than any of the five we’ve been given.

Final Analysis


  1. We’re in agreement to a point. Two of those bottom three actresses, Kidman and Zellweger are also two of my least favorite current performers so I may be biased but I don’t think either should have come within a mile of consideration. I will grant that The Others contains the one standout performance I’ve ever seen Kidman give and had she been nominated for that I wouldn’t have carped. As far as Zellweger and Bridget Jones…was Kate Winslet busy? She doesn’t belong in something so quintessentially British and did nothing special in the film.

    I’m indifferent to Halle Berry, she can be very good as she was in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge but usually she’s bland to average which she was in Monster’s Ball.

    While Judi Dench was customarily good in Iris I recalled more of Kate Winslet’s work than hers afterwards which doesn’t make me lean her way.

    So Sissy Spacek would be my choice, I was terribly disappointed when she didn’t win since she had been the frontrunner. This is the point where we divide, no matter who else could have possibly been nominated she would be my winner. Ruth was such a unique performance for her, when you think of Earth Mother it wouldn’t be surprising to have Sissy pop into your head but there was none of that in Ruth. From conversations between other characters even before the tragedy that closes her off completely it’s clear she’s a frosty remote woman and Sissy exudes none of the warmth that seems inherent in her. So when she explodes it really makes an impact. It’s a great piece of work.

    As to who else should have been in place of the others I’m one of those who was not particularly enchanted by Amelie nor Audrey Tautou but she was better than the bottom trio. I didn’t like Mulholland Drive but wouldn’t squaw at a Naomi Watts nomination she was much better than the film. And Huppert should have made it in. Two others that I’d add are Glenn Close as the grieving mother in the fractured The Safety of Objects and the irresistible Reese Witherspoon’s very clever comic turn in Legally Blonde. She owns Elle’s surface superficiality but never defines her with it it’s simply a facet of who she is, a person of many parts.

    1. Kate Winslet would have been a fine choice for Bridget Jones. That's exactly what I'm talking about with it--there was no need for an American actress to play a role that was that British. Zellweger was fine, but, as you say, nothing special.

      I wouldn't have a problem with Sissy Spacek winning here, even if she wouldn't be my choice in a clear field. She's the best of the nominees by some distance, and since Dench is always Judi Dench, that's saying something.

      As for Kidman, I agree she's hit or miss and I find her mostly miss. But she is the absolute heart of The Others, and I think she's also great in The Hours the following year. It's frustrating because those films suggest that there is someone capable of a truly great performance lurking somewhere inside her that apparently refuses to come out that often.

      I'm a little surprised at no mention of Isabelle Huppert. I think she'd be in my list of five despite the fact that she excels mainly at playing such unpleasant characters.

  2. I suppose I'm in a tiny minority when I suggest Fay Masterson or Jennifer Blaire for The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.


    1. I'm guessing you might be unique in that position.

  3. My god, what a great year for performances by actresses! Especially the almost-made-it list. So many great ones to choose from. Nicole Kidman is a good pick with two career high-points in one year.
    Kidman, Huppert, Tautou, Watts, Birch would be in my line-up, couldn't say who I prefer of those five. Haven't seen In the Bedroom though.

    1. Oh, you need to track down In the Bedroom. It's not an enjoyable film in any way, but it's a masterclass in acting from everyone involved.

      It's another of those years that is far better than its nominations.

  4. As always, your What’s Missing picks are right on point. I’d would’ve found room for Tautou, Huppert and Watts (Watts would’ve been my winner). But of the nominated performances, Spacek wins for me as well. Of course I get why Berry won (she is very strong in the film), but Spacek is so quietly arresting.

    1. I don't take any real issue with Watts as a potential winner. It's a really strong year, and it's one of those years where I think I could argue multiple winners depending on my mood.

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