Friday, February 14, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2008

The Contenders:

Angelina Jolie: Changeling
Meryl Streep: Doubt
Melissa Leo: Frozen River
Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet: The Reader (winner)

What’s Missing

2008 appears to be one of those years where the performances I like come from actors in general. It’s either that, or 2008 was a year where many of the movies I like didn’t have a lot of actress performances that were dominant in the film. This would include films like Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Hurt Locker, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Still, there are some improvements that we can make here. Lina Leandersson was barely a teen when she played Eli in Let the Right One In, but it’s a hell of a strong performance in one of the best genre films of the current century. As much as I didn’t love The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I’m a little surprised Cate Blanchett isn’t here. I know genre films never really get a lot of play come Oscar time, but Lisa Houle is great in Pontypool. The criminal miss, though, is Sally Hawkins in the lovely Happy-Go-Lucky.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. 2008’s Best Actress performances are perhaps unique in just how unpleasant most of these characters are. I won’t judge who is the most unpleasant, but the most unpleasant aspect of this Oscar race is that Kate Winslet, so deserving so often, won an Oscar for this awful film that attempts desperately to make an illiterate Nazi sympathetic. It’s a case where it was clearly her turn to win a statue, and this was the role that came up for it. It’s such a shame, because Winslet deserves to be rewarded for much better performances in her career.

4. Anne Hathaway is very good in Rachel Getting Married. It’s again, one of those performances that is unpleasant in a lot of ways because the character is so unpleasant in so many ways, but Hathaway handles the role brilliantly for the most part, playing the rehabbing Kym as someone both deeply troubled and deeply selfish. It’s actually a hard performance to judge in a lot of ways because of how deeply unpleasant it is. Sadly, it’s not a movie I want to revisit, so I may never really shift my opinion on her in it.

3. Of the five roles, it is probably Angelina Jolie who plays the one that is the most sympathetic in a lot of ways. I don’t consider myself a huge Jolie fan; she’s fine, but I don’t really seek her movies out. Of those that I’ve seen, Changeling is almost certainly her best and most accomplished performance. Probably the best praise I can give her is that at no time during the film did I think she didn’t belong in the role. Since she is one of those actors who can very quickly pull me out of the movie (“Hey, that’s Angelina Jolie!”), that’s not insignificant praise.

2. It might well be that Meryl Streep’s character in Doubt is the most unpleasant of all five of the characters nominated. This is a frustrating movie because of just how awful everyone in it is. It’s also one of those rare movies that earned four acting nominations. Of them, Meryl’s is probably the most deserved in a lot of ways. Sister Aloysius is perhaps the embodiment of the worst ideas of nuns. She is what Nurse Ratched would have been had she opted for the habit. As awful as the character is, though, it’s Streep’s genius that really makes her despicable.

1. Frozen River is one of those movies that serves up a series of gut punches and then somehow provides something close to a happy ending. While Misty Upham was certainly snubbed in a supporting role, it is Melissa Leo who grabs this film with both hands and holds on with everything she has. She is so easy to root for in her situation and simultaneously so awful in so many ways; desperation does that to a character. It’s a hard balance to get right, and Leo does it perfectly. Of the five, she’s my choice, but not my choice overall.

My Choice

No, I’m giving this to Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. In the film, Hawkins plays a character who would be easily pegged as a manic pixie dream girl, but Hawkins doesn’t play her that way. In lesser hands, Poppy would be one of the most annoying characters of her decade, but in the graceful hands of Sally Hawkins, Poppy is simply someone hard to take at times, and yet still charming. That comes entirely from Hawkins, who is masterful in this role, and should have been rewarded for it.

Final Analysis


  1. I'd love my choice to be "None of the Above" because none of these performances knocked my socks off. But of all of them the only one I'd even consider nomination worthy is Angelina Jolie in Changeling so I suppose she'd be my winner, but in an open field she's be my fifth place choice at best.

    It wasn't a particularly strong year for women's roles but all the best ones were ignored. I agree about Sally Hawkins being a huge miss even though she wouldn't be my choice for the top spot but she should have been in the running without question. Aside from her there was Kate Beckinsale in Nothing but the Truth, Frances McDormand in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey all of whom were certainly more deserving of inclusion than Kate Winslet (love her, hated that movie and her performance in it). But my choice for the win is Kristin Scott Thomas in the brutal I've Loved You So Long. Her character is not only not terribly likable however but the movie is in French so it's not surprising she didn't make the cut. A pity though, she's brilliant.

    1. As tends to be the case, I haven't seen most of these that you've suggested. An odd year for this category, certainly.

  2. As much as I like Kate Winslet, I really didn't enjoy The Reader as I felt it was way too Oscar-baity for my taste. Personally, I wanted Anne Hathaway to win that year as I thought she knocked it out of the park in a film that I really enjoyed.

    Yet, there's one person I can't believe isn't mentioned and that is Michelle Williams for Wendy & Lucy. That was a performance for the ages and proof of Williams' strength as an actress. It is such a heartbreaking performance to watch. If I was to make a list of the best actress performances that year:

    1. Michelle Williams-Wendy & Lucy
    2. Anne Hathaway-Rachel Getting Married
    3. Lina Leandersson-Let the Right One In
    4. Sally Hawkins-Happy-Go-Lucky
    5. Maria Onetto-The Headless Woman

    Honorable mentions would go to Kristin Scott Thomas for I've Loved You for So Long, Juliette Binoche-Summer Hours, Arta Dobroshi-Lorna's Silence, Keira Knightley-The Duchess, Cate Blanchett-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frances McDormand-Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Kate Winslet-Revolutionary Road, Angelina Jolie-The Changeling, Gwyneth Paltrow-Two Lovers, Meryl Streep for Mamma Mia, and Catherine Deneuve-A Christmas Tale.

    Of course, I would be asked about Melissa Leo for Frozen River but I've never seen the film and I'm often mixed on Leo as I wasn't a fan of her performance in The Fighter and her Oscar campaign was disturbing.

    1. I don't pay any attention to Oscar campaigns, so I have no idea about what happened with Melissa Leo. I can tell you that she's damn good in Frozen River, though, even if it's not an easy film to watch.