Monday, January 27, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2006

The Contenders:

Meryl Streep: The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet: Little Children
Judi Dench: Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren: The Queen (winner)
Penelope Cruz: Volver

What’s Missing

2006 was a surprisingly decent year for horror movies, not that Oscar tends to take notice. While Slither was never on anyone’s Oscar radar, I like Elizabeth Banks in it quite a bit. That said, the best horror performance of the year for an actress was Ashley Judd in Bug, a movie that still evokes the creeps in me when I think about it. Foreign language films from this year include Pan’s Labyrinth and the odd-but-endearing I’m a Cyborg, but That’s Okay. Since Oscar doesn’t always love promoting non-English performances, this leaves out both Ivana Baquero and Im Soo-jung. Someone is going to bring up The Fountain and Rachel Weisz, so I’ll bring it up and say I don’t love the film. That’s also true of Venus, but Jodie Whittaker is awfully good in it. The big miss? Julie Christie in Away from Her, but she was nominated the following year.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s perhaps not fair of me to judge the performance by the movie, but I really disliked just about everything about Little Children. I like Kate Winslet a great deal and I think most of her nominations are warranted, but I’m not sure this one was. It’s a decent performance because it’s Kate Winslet, but beyond that it’s not that special. She’s been a lot better and she’s been in a lot better movies. I said in my review I probably wouldn’t nominate her in this and that opinion hasn’t changed.

4. Everything I said about Kate Winslet above I could pretty much say about Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. I disliked every character in this movie to an insane degree. More than that, I think the ideas and values put forth in this film are downright dangerous. Meryl is great because of course she is; she’s Meryl Streep and she’s pretty much great in everything she touches. That said, this does feel like one of those moments where it’s not a set of Oscar nominations unless she’s a part of it. She’s here because she’s expected, not because the role or performance specifically merited it.

3. Her participation in Cats notwithstanding, I like Judi Dench a great deal. She seems like someone it would be fun to hang around with, to go grab some dinner and do a few tequila shots with and listen to her talk about things she’s done. I like her because she doesn’t shy away from fun roles and being badass, but she also doesn’t shy away from difficult films like Notes on a Scandal. I like this performance a lot, and both she and Cate Blanchett are great in the film. So, I like this nomination, but not for the win.

2. The biggest problems I had with Volver come from the screenplay. They certainly don’t come from the performance of Penelope Cruz, an actress I would happily watch fold laundry. Cruz is one of the things that makes Volver work at all, and while she is given a great deal of support from Blanca Portillo, it is Cruz who makes the movie work. I think she could be argued for the win, and I’d be willing to hear arguments for her. I’d put her in a virtual tie, but on this blog, ties go to the Academy.

My Choice

1. That means this is a case where I’m saying Oscar got it right. I didn’t expect a great deal of The Queen going in, but Helen Mirren plays it exactly as it needs to be played. That’s not as easy as it sounds when dealing with someone who is still alive and known around the world. Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II as someone human and real, with a tough exterior because it needs to be tough but who is hurt underneath that public persona. It’s a brilliant performance, and one that will stand for some time as one of Oscar’s better choices. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong below.

Final Analysis


  1. Personally, I would've gone with Penelope Cruz for Volver but I have no problem with Dame Helen Mirren winning the Oscar as she deserved it. I really did like Meryl Streep's performance in The Devil Wears Prada as she was just so evil and fun to watch as I think that was the film and performance that introduced her to a new generation and I'm still waiting for Meryl to be in some action movie franchise.

    Other performances I wanted for consideration are Kate Dickie for Red Road, Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby, Kirsten Dunst for Marie Antoinette, Ashley Judd for Bug, Elizabeth Banks for Slither, Julie Christie for Away from Her, Im Soo-Jung for I'm a Cyborg but That's OK, and Laura Dern for Inland Empire.

    1. I love Ashley Judd in Bug. It's such a brutal performance and she sticks the landing. If Oscar had any respect for genre films, she'd have been in the running.

      While I'd love to see Julie Christie here, since she was nominated the following year, it's hard to complain too much.

  2. I thoroughly detested both Little Children and Notes from a Scandal. I wouldn't have included Kate Winslet but despite my revulsion at her character Judi Dench did give an excellent account of the role.

    I'd also include Penelope for Volver and maybe Meryl for Prada (she's certainly leagues better in it than in that awful Iron Lady that she won again for.) but even though by the time she won there was zero surprise since she took every other prize that year of the nominees Helen Mirren was the right winner. By necessity its a very internal performance and she nails it.

    Away from Her must have had some sort of wacky release schedule, I know it played the festival circuit before going to theatres which is probably why Julie Christie wasn't nominated until the next year. Had she been she would be my choice over Helen Mirren.

    My only other alternate and my choice had she been nominated is Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil. She's an actress I often think is good but rarely more than that but she really connected with Kitty Fane and gave a richly textured performance.

    1. No shock on your choice to put Julie Christie in first, had she been here. I know your love of all things Julie Christie. That, incidentally, is a passion you share with one of my brothers.

      I disliked Little Children intensely. I didn't dislike Notes on a Scandal despite not liking the characters. That's a fine line to draw, but an important one.

      I wouldn't hate Penelope Cruz winning (just as Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy are my classic movie girlfriends, Cruz is my modern-day movie girlfriend), but this is a case where I think Mirren hit everyting exactly as she needed to to be both believable and believably human in a difficult role.