Sunday, January 15, 2006

Best Actress Commonalities

* Well having done Supporting Actress and found it interesting, let's try Lead Actress (Yes, I'm still taking that break from the fb awards --but never fear they'll wrap up soon * a blitz next week* so that the way is clear for Oscar-mania when the nominations are finally announced (January 31st). As always you can see all of my Oscar Predictions here.

The Oscar race for Best Actress seems to be clear. Precursors point to a lineup that reads: Dench, Huffman, Theron, Witherspoon & Zhang. But what of Allen, Knightley, & Linney all of whom have been mentioned in this kudo-happy season if not as frequently? 2003 taught us (happily I might add) that sometimes one has to look beyond the usual suspects since it gave us two very surprising nominations in the category at the time: Samantha Morton, who had only a BFCA and Satellite nomination as precursor help (Joan Allen is in that situation this year) and Keisha Castle-Hughes, who had only a SAG nomination in the supporting category and a BFCA youth prize. So let's look at some meaningless (?) statistics from the past 5 years of Oscar (that's 25 nominees for the math-challenged) to see who most benefits from general trending.

Average age of nominees in this category:
38. The youngest recently was Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider @ 13) and the oldest Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream @ 68). Who is closest to the average age this year? Strangely there is an absence of mid to late 30s folk this year. That's the best age range these days for maximum fame and idolization for the leading ladies (think Kidman, Zellweger, Berry, Watts in the past few years). This year's contestants are either just crossing 30 (Witherspoon & Theron) even younger (Zhang, 26 & Knightley, 20) or in their 40s. There are two women close to the median age that are long shots. There's Laura Linney, 41 (The Squid and the Whale) and Maria Bello, 38 (A History of Violence) both women who have received precursor support in both lead and supporting categories. Category Confusion: Never a good thing.

Three Most Common Roles:
01. Creative types (actors, painters, singers, writers) make up 24% of the nominated roles in this category. But maybe this doesn't really help us in 2005. Reese's June Carter Cash is the only major contender who fits in this role and she's as secure as Fort Knox. If you dig into the longshots, writers and actresses appear: Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale) and Naomi Watts (King Kong) both work this AMPAS friendly angle.
Runner Up: (TIE) Struggling single mothers and grieving mothers who've lost a child make up (when joined together) an impressively common 40% of the nominated roles. The only beneficiary this year of this maternal soft spot for Academy voters? Charlize Theron's poor divorcee in North Country.

What About Love?
The hystrionics surrounding dating, affairs, and marriages is always a big part of films. It's the scenery on which longer shots Linney, Bello, Allen (The Upside of Anger), and Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) all chewed memorably in 2005. But is it a draw for Oscar? It's so frequently there in all films that whether or not it has any natural pull for voters beyond any other elements is difficult to say. But only in 2001 recently was romantic drama a major or the major element of every nominated role in this category.

Does it help to die or be fatally ill?
It helps yes (20% of nominated roles) but it doesn't help anyone this year. [insert video clip of Morticia Addams closing the children's book with disappointment on her face: "Oh, they live."]

Does it help to de-glam
Do I enjoy Oscar night? Don't ask stupid questions.
[Actually, to be fair this doesn't mean much nomination wise. But it definitely helps to win and that's a topic for another day and hopefully another year *crosses fingers -says prayer to the gods of celluloid for this infernal trend to end*]

Commonalities of Snubs?
So, who, in recent years seemed like real contenders (list below indicates precursor support and/or media and critical attention followed by Oscar snub)? And why did they miss out? Which connections can we draw and how might this reflect on this year's race?

2000 Björk, Dancer in the Dark, Renée Zellweger, Nurse Betty, & Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
2001 Tilda Swinton, The Deep End, Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr. & Charlotte Rampling, Under the Sand
2002 Meryl Streep, The Hours, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary & Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher
2003 (ok here we go -crazy year. every which way in precursor season) Nicole Kidman, Cold Mountain, Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Evan Rachel Wood, thirteen, and Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 1
2004 Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol 2.

I'd love to hear your opinion on what connects this grouping and how it might relate to this year's possible snub/s? Are the roles too outré? too sexual for prudish AMPAS? didn't inspire enough passion? not the right time in their careers? competing for same block of voters? etc...

Reminder: My Ballot (If I Had one)
Previously: Supporting Actress Commonalities
because I am always thinking about Oscar. sigh.

17 comments:

John T. said...

Personally, I think the snubs can be explained using a couple of the Academy's oldest prejudices:

1. They hate the comedy-hence Renee Zellwegger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scarlett Johansson losing their nods to Joan Allen, Salma Hayek, and Samantha Morton.

2. Oscar loves to crown Hollywood's Newest Princess-Hayek replacing the already discovered Streep, Kidman and Berry besting Swinton and Watts, Theron taking out the tough-as-nails Thurman. Even last year, Sandino Moreno defeated the already famous Thurman in the battle for the fifth slot.

3. Finally, Oscar likes the familiar as far as roles go: notice that down-on-their-luck women, hookers, and socially aware films score big in this category.

Obviously Oscar has its own flukes (Renee Zellwegger in Bridget Jones was an already-crowned comedic actress who is neither a hooker nor socially aware, but as a whole these trends seem to fit).

So, who do these help/hurt out of those that aren't locks (Dench, Huffman, and Witherspoon) (imo):

1. Help-Zhang Ziyi and especially Charlize Theron-both should gain big in this comedic year.
Hurt-Joan Allen, I think especially (Reese appears to be this year's comedic actress who can do no wrong), and probably Keira Knightley.

2. Help-Keira Knightley-she's the only one of the actors who hasn't really been coronated properly yet.
Hurt-Joan Allen, who has already been noticed.

3. Help-Theron (down on her luck social advocate) and Ziyi (hooker).
Hurt-Knightley (unlucky in love, but that's about all) and Allen (unlucky ex-wife, but that's about all).

So, looking at this, this could explain how Ziyi and Theron will end up the winner's on Oscar nominations morning (though I am still holding out that Knightley bests one of them).

dusty said...

Also worth considering, I think, is the Academy's obvious bias against recent winners. Gwyneth Paltrow fever was rampant in 1998 but nowhere to be found in 2003 (Sylvia) and 2005 (Proof), though those subsequent roles certainly seemed surefire Oscarbait on paper. Nicole Kidman picked up her Oscar in 2002 and was then snubbed in 2003 (Cold Mountain) and 2004 (Birth) despite high-profile projects and solid support from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Similarly snubbed was Mrs. Hollywood herself, Julia Roberts, who was altogether snubbed for Mona Lisa Smile (2003) and Closer (2004). Even Jennifer Connelly, who took the supporting actress category by storm in 2001, couldn't manage a nom in 2003 for a film she carried (House of Sand and Fog). The only exception is, uh, Hilary Swank, who clearly benefitted in 2004 from the Clint machine.

Why does all this matter now? Well, in two words: Charlize Theron. She swept the awards only two years ago with (over)praised mimicry, and considering that, I just cannot bring myself to predict her for North Country. Despite her SAG nomination. If there's a snub in sight, I think (and hope) it's her.

Unless she steals the Globe...

adam k. said...

I think the "hollywood Princess" theory, down-on-luck, socially aware theory, and recent winner theory make lots of sense... clearly the nature of the role is what's got Theron this far, but she could easily be undone by the recent winner bias (only 2 years ago did she win! 2 years!). So Theron is hard to read.
The reason Swank won again was clearly the unstoppable deglam/best pic frontrunner combo, plus the fact that after 3 or 4 years, the "recent winner" tarnish starts to wear off (although yeah, it has stayed with Gwyneth longer, probably because her first win seems dumber in retrospect, whereas Swank's was deserved). It's encouraging, though, that the deglam trend has lost enough steam that now it required a best picture win in tandem in order for the role to win... I think that's a sign that it's finally cracking (go, Reese, go!).

But anyway... unfortunately the trend that sticks out immediately to me, as snubs go, is that the VERY BEST performances in this category get snubbed every single year. Every. single. year. Dating back at least to '98.

1998: Hunter AND Sheedy, both snubbed.
1999: Winslet, snubbed.
2000: Bjork, snubbed.
2001: Watts, snubbed (also Rampling, but she was nowhere close).
2002: Huppert, snubbed.
2003: Thurman AND Wood, both snubbed.
2004: Thurman snubbed AGAIN.

See the real pattern? The greatest or at least arguably greatest lead female perf is always snubbed. I think this is mainly because with actresses in particular, the greatest roles tend to be either dark, weird, foreign, or in obscure auteurist films, often more than one of the above. Though 2003 was a special case, I think... unfortunately there were FOUR highly regarded dark, disturbing perfs that year (Theron, Thurman, Watts, Wood) and they weren't about to have an entire lineup filled with dark, violent insanity, so Theron and Watts prevailed (Theron working the deglam/every other oscar bait trick known to man angle, Watts working the "you-owe-me from 2001" angle) while Thurman was undone by genre and Wood by youth (AMPAS of course flocked to their old standby, heartwarming drama, to fill out the lineup, hence Morton & Keisha).

Wow, too much info there, but so much fun.

Anyway, translation:
BAD news for Allen (greatest perf = snub)
mixed for Theron
kind of good for Ziyi (sigh)
hard to read for Keira

Tough all four are very possible.

adam k. said...

Oh also, Zellweger didn't lose her nom to Allen. She lost it to Binoche, who she beat at the globes, because:

Nurse Betty = weird
Chocolate = happy and friendly

It's that simple.

andy said...

Do you think this is too much of a dream lineup?

Bello
Dench
Huffman
Linney
Witherspoon

?

Kamikaze Camel said...

Yeah, Joan totally deserved that spot in 2000.

Things that will help Allen - She's a single ALCOHOLIC mother trying to date again (with comedic and dramatic results). Plus, they like here - they really like here. Three nods! For some reason, I feel that female AMPAS members could rate this perf highly and get her in the mix.

But what would I know?

Kamikaze Camel said...
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Kamikaze Camel said...
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Kamikaze Camel said...

Oh, by the way - Joan Allen has won at Chicago, San Diego, Iowa and nominations from Online Film Critics Society, Broadcast Film Critics and the Satellites. I hadn't realised how impressive her list was.

And can I just make a point that on IMDb's pages for both The Contender and The Upside of Anger their trivia pages mention that each film's respective writer/director wrote the roles Joan played specifically for her. What is it about Joan and makes people wanna do that? (I am thankful, however)

adam k. said...

Iowa gives critics' awards? When did that happen?

It should be noted, however obvious, that Allen and Keira have something Zhang and Theron don't. Theron and Zhang's films were generally considered to be failures in some regard or, at most, just mediocre films. Whereas Allen's film and especially Keira's film were considered successes.

And really, the reason I doubt Theron is... who exactly will be putting her at #1 on their ballot? I mean really, who? And Zhang either, for that matter.

Allen will be getting #1 on lots of ballots.

John T. said...

Perhaps Theron herself?

Kamikaze Camel said...

lol, and Frances! And Sissy! Er... and if Woody Harrelson is an AMPAS member, then him.

And, I agree on that. They might make up a portion of the #4-#5 spots but it seems that performances like Allen's have more passionate support than Theron's.

It was really disappointing to see Ebert give his "Academy, please remember..." slot to Charlize. Blah.

NATHANIEL R said...

Maybe he likes Theron's rack better than Allen's.

adam k. said...

HA. The hilarious thing about Ebert is that he seems to have no awareness of his unconscious bias toward actresses he finds hot.

Kamikaze Camel said...

scary thing is - all of his annual causes make it into the mix.

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