Friday, January 10, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong: Best Actress 2004

The Contenders:

Annette Bening: Being Julia
Kate Winslet: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Catalina Sandino Moreno: Maria Full of Grace
Hilary Swank: Million Dollar Baby (winner)
Imelda Staunton: Vera Drake

What’s Missing

As tends to be the case with these Oscar posts, as I look at the year and category in question, there are some changes I’d really like to make. For instance, it’s likely my personal love for Audrey Tautou that has me mention her in A Very Long Engagement. That’s absolutely the case for Hellboy and Selma Blair, who might be more supporting, but could probably fit in this category. Her past life probably doomed the chances of Sibel Kekilli in Head-On; for as good as she is in the film, I’m guessing Oscar could never live down the shame of her past. For Lee Seung-yeon, it may well have been the case that she speaks almost no words in her role. The biggest miss for me is Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’ll be the first to admit that Annette Bening is going into this with a few strikes against her. While I like her in American Beauty and The Grifters, for some reason I have never really warmed to her as an actor. Compound that with the fact that just about everybody in Being Julia is the sort of person I hate spending time around and she was pretty much doomed to come in fifth place for me. The last third of the film is better than the first two-thirds, but honestly, it was too little, too late by the time I got there..

4. I do not understand the career of Hilary Swank. She killed it in Boys Don’t Cry and she holds her own against Pacino and Robin Williams in Insomnia, and then she does crap like The Core and The Reaping. Admittedly, Million Dollar Baby is more the first type of film than the second type, but it also feels really forced. It’s the sort of film where nothing really good happens to anyone we care about, and that’s what’s supposed to make it great art. I’ve never had the desire to watch it a second time, good Swank performance or no.

3. I like Imelda Staunton quite a bit, so I’m happy to see her nominated for Vera Drake. This is another film I haven’t thought to watch a second time, but Staunton has nothing to do with that at all. Her work in this film—and it’s a difficult film to do well—is impeccable and I don’t really have a word to say against her. I can’t put her higher than third, though, because the other two nominated performances are simply better than hers in a lot of ways. I’d love to see her holding an Oscar, but not for this performance.

2. Kate Winslet is always compelling. While I’m sure she’s made a couple of bad movies and had a few lackluster performances, I don’t know that I’ve seen one. She’s on the top of her game in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a woman who is perhaps manic and possibly pixyish but is nobody’s dream girl. It’s a demanding role and she nails it, and she matches up to Jim Carrey, who is pretty much always interesting in dramatic roles. In a different year, this would be hers from me without question, but not for 2004.

My Choice

1. My winner is Catalina Sandino Moreno, who is one of those rare people nominated for her first-ever role and one of the rarer people who should have won for it. Moreno is riveting in this film, and it’s a difficult film to watch and a brutally difficult role to play. In so much of the film, she is forced to have a neutral expression and yet still communicate to the audience what is going on behind her eyes, and there’s never a moment where her inner thoughts aren’t being transmitted to us. It’s a masterful performance and staggering that it was her first film. This should have been her Oscar.

Final Analysis


  1. Oscars totally got it wrong. I personally think it should've gone to Julie Delpy.

    1. I'd like to see Delpy in the list of nominees, but Moreno is my winner in a walk.

  2. If, for painful fun, you want to catch up with some of Winslet's misfires, check out Movie 43 (2013) or Collateral Damage (2016). Or not.

    1. I'm not really a "bad movies are fun" kind of guy without Mike or Joel and the 'bots.

  3. This is a pretty strong lineup even if I didn't like a couple of the films that feature the outstanding performances selected.

    I'd cut both Swank and Annette Bening but retain the other three.

    I hated Eternal Sunshine with a passion which I know is not the majority opinion and usually manic pixie girls equally as much but when it's Kate Winslet not as much. I thought she did as much as was possible with a character I barely tolerated.

    Maria Full of Grace at least for me isn't a film that you enjoy but I admired her work. Particularly for a first timer she was extraordinary.

    But I would have handed this to Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake, again a film I found little enjoyment in but she was just phenomenal. Without flash she makes Vera an indentifiable woman who you feel for throughout the film.

    As to who I'd fill those two empty slots with, it sure as hell wouldn't be Julie Delpy an actress whose appeal has always eluded me as has any fondness for any of the Sunrise/Sunset movies which I found insufferable bores.

    Instead I'd go with Jena Malone's sly work in the comedy/drama Saved! and Elizabeth Banks in the indie Heights. That was one of my favorite pictures of this year, it should be better known.

    1. I think my top three here could be argued back and forth, and depending on day and mood could move. But Moreno is so good in this role, and it's such a difficult role...and it's her first time out that I find it extraordinary. I think she's probably always my winner, with Winslet and Staunton flip-flopping in second and third.

      You feel about Julie Delpy the way I feel about a few others.

  4. What hurt most of these contenders is that their box office wasn't very brisk. Personally, horror was overlooked once again as Shawnee Smith was denied a nod for her performance in the first of several "Saw" films. Other than Jigsaw, she stood out in a bloody-good way and helped start a franchise that just won't die. We'll see if Chris Rock has what it takes next.

    1. While I'd love to see more horror movies in the Oscars, I'm not sure Shawnee Smith rates a Best Actress nom here. The role is clearly supporting.