Friday, July 24, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2003

The Contenders:

Naomi Watts: 21 Grams
Samantha Morton: In America
Charlize Theron: Monster (winner)
Diane Keaton: Something’s Gotta Give
Keisha Castle-Hughes: Whale Rider

What’s Missing

Sometimes you get those years where it seems like all of the performances I really like are either Best Actor or supporting roles. This is very much the case with 2003. I have suggestions, of course, but many of them are the sort that would never really track for Oscar. For instance, I love Patricia Clarkson and I love her specifically in The Station Agent, but there’s no way that her performance would be anything other than supporting. Sonia Bergamasco from The Best of Youth would be an interesting choice, but it premiered on Italian television, so almost certainly wasn’t considered an option. Scarlett Johansson had two possible nominations from 2003. I wouldn’t nominate her for The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and Lost in Translation was probably supporting (but who knows with category fraud). Nicole Kidman might be worth considering for Cold Mountain. I’d be much more likely to want to bring in Jennifer Connelly in The House of Sand and Fog. My choice for a foreign language nomination would be Marina Golbahari in Osama. And, while the movie has problems and is absolutely the wrong genre, Cecile de France is great in High Tension. And before someone suggests it below, I hated Kill Bill Vol. 1, and Uma Thurman would not cross my radar here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely disliked Something’s Gotta Give, and while I typically enjoy Diane Keaton, I disliked this film intently. This is a movie that works against its own main premise, putting up an idea that it wants to champion and then, for the rest of the movie, taking that idea out and shooting it in the head. This is yet another movie where we’re going to be told that life is pointless unless you have the right sex partner, and it’s a story I’m genuinely tired of watching. Keaton and the rest of the cast are better than this.

4. I might also be punishing Naomi Watts for the movie that she is in rather than the performance she gives. 21 Grams is a film where it was evidently decided to take the footage, toss it up in the air, and splice it together in whatever order those pieces were picked up in. What we get, then, is a film that gives away its secrets far too early and far too easily. It works against Watts’s performance, since we know how she is going to react in a number of situations because we’ve seen the aftermath. She’s a victim of capricious editing.

3. This brings us to Samantha Morton in In America. Morten has the unenviable task of being the least appealing member of her family on screen and of being the person on screen the least. And here’s the thing: she’s good in the role. But that’s just it—she’s just good in the role and not great. Something better than good is necessary for an Oscar, and the fact that she’s made it to third place for me says a great deal about this category in this year. In a stronger year, she wouldn’t sniff a nomination, and yet here we are.

2. With Keisha Castle-Hughes and her performance in Whale Rider, we’ve finally reached a performance that I think is genuinely deserving of a nomination. The entire movie turns on her performance. If we don’t buy her as Paikea, the entire film fails on its face. That it never does, that at this young age Castle-Hughes is able to put this film on her back and carry it (admittedly with a great supporting cast) says a great deal about her. In a year without a career performance, she’d be an easy choice.

My Choice

1. Oscar’s track record isn’t that great, but sometimes, the right performance wins. For 2003, that was absolutely Charlize Theron and Monster. That she is playing someone so terrible, so undeserving of pity and still manages to be this magnetic says a great deal for her and what she did on camera. Theron is not good because of the role she is in here; she is good in spite of it. It’s difficult to play someone so reprehensible and be lauded for it, but Theron managed it in the performance of a lifetime. She was the right winner.

Final Analysis


  1. I have no problem w/ Charlize winning the Oscar as she definitely killed it that year. Still, part of me wishes that Scar-Jo 3:16 got nominated instead of... Diane Keaton. I didn't really think that performance was great. Sure, I didn't mind seeing her naked (and she looked good by the way) but it was so over-the-top while Scar-Jo 3:16 took her first steps into greatness with not one but 2 performances that proved that she would be the one to watch out for and soon... she will win that Oscar and lay a can of whoop-ass on everyone. Why, cause Scar-Jo 3:16 says so bitch! *glass breaks*

    1. She'd be in my list of nominations. She wouldn't win over Charlize Theron, but I'd want her in the mix along with Jennifer Connolly and my top two. I'm undecided on my fifth.

  2. In general this is an UGH list but the topper is that it doesn't really matter who else was in the running because this was Charlize's rightful Oscar from the moment the film came out. I agree with everything you say about the character, who is reprehensible to the nth degree. As far as the film it was something I endured to see the performance rather than something I wanted to see and it was worth it but never again.

    Other than her I'd cut the entire list and add Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog (another suffocating viewing experience loaded with outstanding work), Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, Charlotte Rampling in Swimming Pool and Emma Thompson in Love, Actually. But even with them it would still be Charlize Theron who would win but at least there would be some competition.

    1. I think "never again" is pretty much where I was with it. It's almost a shame the performance is so overwhelming--she overshadows an extremely good and Oscar-ignored performance from Christina Ricci.

  3. I need to put "Monster" on my queue. I keep thinking that, then not doing it.

    1. It's an ugly movie, but Theron is worth seeing, as is Christina Ricci.

  4. No doubt Theron was the clear and deserved winner. Other overlooked performances were hidden here:

    Maria Bello (The Cooler)
    Meg Ryan (In The Cut)
    Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me)
    Rachel Weisz (Runaway Jury)

    (And yes, Uma Thurman would easily make my short list!)

    1. I don't think I've seen any of your alternates.

  5. Theron is definitely the right choice. No argument from me. Glad to see you give de France a shout. She is fantastic in High Tension.

    Another non-English horror performance I would love to see get some love is Su-jeong Lim in A Tale of Two Sisters.

    More up the Academy's alley, Hope Davis was also great in American Splendor. She's probably supporting, though.

    And yeah, I'm one of those people who would nom Uma Thurman.

    1. I really need to catecp on A Tale of Two Sisters.

      I'd agree with you on Hope Davis--she's absolutely supporting, but she's a great call for that award.