Monday, March 2, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2009

The Contenders:

Sandra Bullock: The Blind Side (winner)
Carey Mulligan: An Education
Meryl Streep: Julie & Julia
Helen Mirren: The Last Station
Gabourey Sidibe: Precious

What’s Missing

2009 is a strange year for Best Actress for me, because it’s one of those years where I haven’t seen a lot of performances that really excite me that much. I mean, I love Zombieland as much as the next guy, but should Emma Stone really be in this conversation? Along the same lines, concerning Oscar’s “never nominate from this genre” films, we have Melissa George in the upsetting Triangle and Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil. I was underwhelmed by the screenplay of Jennifer’s Body and the Academy certainly doesn’t have much of an opinion of Megan Fox, but I can’t deny that she is absolutely the part of that film worth watching. Everyone likes Fish Tank more than I do, so I’ll put Katie Jarvis out there despite the fact that I genuinely disliked the film. The same is true about Lily Cole in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. I’d love to mention both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, but both were rightly nominated for supporting roles.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. This is so frustrating for me, because I don’t really like any of my choices that much. I’m going to put Sandra Bullock at the bottom. I don’t hate The Blind Side, but I also don’t like it very much. Bullock was a safe choice, having done good work in the past and having not been rewarded to this point. I don’t much like this role or character, though, and while Sandra Bullock is likable as an actress, likability shouldn’t be enough for a win. This Oscar feels like an Academy cop out to me, and that’s always disappointing.

4. Of these five movies, The Last Station is almost certainly the one I like the least. It’s a well-acted movie, of course. Most things that feature Helen Mirren in a leading role are going to be well-acted, but it’s also terribly dull. A wonderful cast has been assembled here for two hours of people talking at each other and not much happening. I don’t know that I can completely object to Mirren’s nomination in a year with so little for me to choose from, but as a movie, I found this entirely forgettable.

3. My guess is that the consensus pick is going to be Carey Mulligan in An Education, but much like Fish Tank, this is a movie that everyone else on the planet seems to like a lot more than I do. Nothing against Mulligan here, who is good in a role that I don’t like much, but for as much as everyone else seems to love this film, I found everything about it, including all of the performances, kind of derivative of other things. Go ahead and attack me in the comments below, because I know y’all want to.

My Choice

2. There are few acting debuts as good as Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, and I could probably be argued into giving her the Oscar. While the movie itself is one that, in my mind, becomes lesser and lesser over the years, Sidibe is genuinely good in a difficult role. It may be the fact that this movie is one of those misery parfait films that seem to aggravate me when I come across them, but there is something that holds me back a little from putting her at the top. As I said, I’ll hear arguments for it, and in a lot of other years, she’d be an easy pick.

1. What stops me from giving this to Sidibe is the absolute mastery of Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. Once again, this is a movie I didn’t like that much in large part because of just how unpleasant I found Julie to be as a character. The only thing that saves the movie for me at all is just how much of a joy Streep is as Julia Child. She inhabits this role so beautifully and completely and perfectly that I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Streep has had tons of Oscar success in her lifetime, not all of it deserved (I’m looking at you, Iron Lady), but this is a case where she was robbed.

Final Analysis


  1. "An Education... is a movie that everyone else on the planet seems to like a lot more than I do."

    I'll stand alongside you on this one. I felt this story gave us an overlong buildup to what was, at heart, a succinctly expressible moral. It was well acted, to be sure, but not very substantive, morally speaking.

    1. My problem with it is that it follows the standard coming-of-age pattern. For boys, the traditional coming of age story is about death and coming to grips with our eventual mortality. For girls, and in this case, young women, it's about sex, and frequently about sex with an inappropriate partner. I'm just tired of those stories.

  2. Well while I agree on your take of An Education on the whole I don't on Carey Mulligan. She would be my winner out of any lineup. Outside of that I'd agree with your ranking of what we have to work with. Streep is ridiculously over nominated (LOVE the shade thrown at that pile Iron Lady!) but she is excellent in this instance. Along with Carey she'd be my only carry over were I to do the choosing.

    I'd replace the other three slots with Patricia Clarkson in Cairo Time, Romola Garai in Glorious 39 (not a great picture but she's very good) and Tilda Swinton in I Am Love.

    1. As tends to be the case, I haven't seen your other mentions.

      Streep is over-nominated. It seems like often she gets nominated because it's expected.

  3. Wow... I can't believe no one is mentioning Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist. Yes, it's a divisive film but that performance is one for the ages and certainly intense. 2009 was definitely an incredible year for actresses but the Oscars didn't choose the right ones. Here is my top 5:

    1. Charlotte Gainsbourg-Antichrist
    2. Kim Hye-ja-Mother
    3. Abbie Cornish-Bright Star
    4. Katie Jarvis-Fish Tank
    5. Kim Ok-bin-Thirst

    Honorable mentions: Gabourey Sidibe-Precious, Carey Mulligan-An Education, Meryl Streep-Julie & Julia, Penelope Cruz-Broken Embraces, Anne Dorval-I Killed My Mother, Paulina Gaitan-Sin Nombre, Ellen Page-Whip It, Emily Blunt-The Young Victoria, Isabelle Carre-Le Refuge, Zooey Deschanel-(500) Days of Summer, Audrey Tautou-Coco Before Chanel, and Sabine Azema-Wild Grass.

    I really disliked The Blind Side as that just one of those Oscar-bait films that hasn't aged well as did Bullock's performance which was so unoriginal and so typical of what the Oscars wanted. I haven't seen The Last Station so I have no opinion of it.

    1. I didn't mention Antichrist because I haven't seen it, and it does feel a little dishonest on my part to throw a performance out that I haven't seen.

      You're missing nothing having not seen The Last Station.