Oscar 2011: Best Actress

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Unlike the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, there is real suspense for both of the lead categories. In the Best Actress race, it’s all about Streep v. Davis. Viola Davis, as the maid who tells her story in The Help, has won the Online Critics and the SAG. Meryl Streep, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.

I think Davis will win. Though the film was somewhat polarizing, everyone agreed that Davis was a standout, and if I had a vote I’d cast it for her on that alone. Although it is something of a racial insult to call an African American “dignified,” in a movie, as if it were a surprise, Davis’ performance drips with it, keeping her dignity in an untenable situation, while also understanding the precariousness of her place in society.

I suspect that Academy voters are keen to give Streep a third Oscar–she hasn’t won in almost thirty years, and she’s been doing these chameleon performances all this time, and gamely showing up for the ceremony each and every time (I loved Robert De Niro’s quip at the Kennedy Center Honors: “Meryl has been nominated for sixteen Academy Awards, which means she has attended the Academy Awards sixteen times”). The Academy had a great chance to honor for her Julie and Julia, but lost their collective minds and gave an Oscar to Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. Streep very well may win, but will an overwhelmingly liberal organization choose to honor a performance as Thatcher? It’s instructive that Streep won the BAFTA, where Thatcher is hated more than she is in America.

The other three performers here can dispense writing speeches. Glenn Close, as the woman pretending to be a man in Albert Nobbs, must certainly feel snake bit. She was nominated five times in seven years in the ’80s but came up empty. Now, twenty-three years after her last nomination, she’s back in the game but there’s no room this year for the sentiment it would take for her to win.

Michelle Williams is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood, and gets her third nomination at only 31 years old as one of the most enduring icons in film history, Marilyn Monroe, in My Week With Marilyn. Given the Academy’s penchant for honoring performers playing real people, and their love for anything Hollywood related, this might be a winning performance in weaker years.

Finally, Rooney Mara is nominated for her performance as another icon, albeit one from fiction and one very recent, Lisabeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I liked her performance, and thought she brought to it shading that was not in the novel, but she’s a newcomer and stands the least chance of cracking through the veterans ahead of her. What will be interesting to see in the coming years is it she can establish a career beyond the “Girl” films.

Will win: Viola Davis
Could win: Meryl Streep
Should win: Viola Davis
Should have been nominated: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

One response »

  1. Agreed that Davis should win, because she’s the only performance in this category that I think is really worth a damn.

    In addition to Davis and Dunst, who I agree ought to have been nominated, I would have nominated Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene, Brit Marling for Another Earth, and Michelle Williams for Meek’s Cutoff. That would have given us a very strong slate of nominees.

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