Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Age & (Best) Actressing

Guess what's the most common age to win Best Actress? 29. Guess who's 29 right now? I'll give you one guess.

If Natalie Portman wins Best Actress in February she'll join the ranks of seven previous movie star beauties who won on the cusp of 30 including the immortal Elizabeth Taylor (who won for BUtterfield 8 at 29, pictured above with Portman's Black Swan turn).

Guess which decade of life has the least amount of best actress winners.

Age ain't nuthin but a number. Except when it comes to the Best Actress category.

Plentiful Oscar trivia and a case for Academy ageism await you. 


The Pretentious Know it All said...

If it indeed does come down to Bening vs. Portman, it is heartening that, much like the best actor race of 2008, I'd be happy with either of the two presumptive frontrunners winning. I only wish the respective camps would behave themselves. It's gotten kind of nasty in the span of about a week.

Robert Hamer said...

That has got to be one of the most depressing (but 100% true) articles you've ever written for that site.

It's amazing to me the Oscar conversation on Best Actress this year and how different it is from Best Actor last year. There was such relief and joy from the internet over Jeff Bridges "getting his due" after years of great work, but then when Annette Bening faces a similar possibility, well, fuck that bitch! Who does she think she is?!? Oscars should be about merit, dammit! Suddenly all the good will for veterans disappears when vaginas enter the equation.

Danielle said...

That's a great read, thanks.

I do think it will come down to Bening and Portman (they'll each split most of the major awards), but do you think there's a chance Kidman could upset things by winning the Globe? Now that would be lovely.

Anonymous said...

The number surprised me, but then I wasn't thinking about the popular age but the median age, which is like 35 or 36 or something. I remember in 2008 thinking that if Kate Winslet didn't win it this year, she would never get it. Which is obviously the wrong way of thinking about things.

And that aside, I think 26 is the age when actresses do their best work. Viv as Scarlett, Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, Hathaway as Kym. But that doesn't mean...

Jake D said...

If Natalie doesn't win it now, she'll get a makeup win in ten years. No one wants that. Not saying she can't top Black Swan, I'm sure she can, but...I hope it's her.

Bening...oh well. Everyone knows she should have an Oscar by now. It's almost pointless to give her one.

And hey, Natalie Portman is preemptively tackling that post-Best Actress slump. No Strings Attached AND Thor? Oh yeah.

John T said...

The Pretentious-it always does. Best Actress always becomes a battle between Camp A or Camp B (Cotillard vs. Christie, Streep vs. Bullock, etc). This year, you'll likely be either a Bening or a Portman.

And, I have to say, at this point, I don't see a possible way that Portman loses. This is going to be a mad march to the Oscars-I doubt Bening beats her once in the BFCA, BAFTA, SAG, & AMPAS march.

Bryan said...

@Robert- I totally agree! And, frankly, the same thing is happening this year with Colin Firth. He's going to run away with every award, and 75% of the reasoning will be that he was, admittedly, phenomenal in A Single Man (and a lot of other stuff). Point being: no one is questioning his steamrolling of the (younger), probably more deserving also-rans.

@Okinawaassault- I was also terrified that Kate Winslet would never get it if she lost in '08! I hate to be so crude, but all awards bets are off as soon as an actress begins to lose her f*ckability. [sigh]

cal roth said...

Hepburn won three times over sixty, not only twice.

UncleVanya said...

The Globes should be increasingly derided for the crap they chose to promote, clearly, because they are unabashed starf++ckers. I should think many of these nominees are embarrassed by yesterday's announcements. Johnny Depp in particular. I wonder how he must feel to be nominated twice for middling performances in bad movies? His publicist must have done all the fake-elation work, while he groaned shamefully in some far away cupboard. Why are people like Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas basking in their Globe nominations; do they not think that people much more deserving are being robbed? Do they not care? For them to simply blather on about how wonderful it feels to be in such company, wouldn't it be so revolutionary , honest and fair-minded, for them to admit that others were robbed by the silly nomination process by this irrelevant, celebrity obsessed group of charlatans. I am tempted to think that many people in Hollywood are laughing, while staying 'mum', about the credibility of this bogus body of supposed foreign critics. Disgusting!

Sara said...

"His publicist must have done all the fake-elation work, while he groaned shamefully in some far away cupboard."

Given how many bloated PoTC films he's signed onto just for the money (that he really stopped needing after the first one, or two), I think maybe you're giving him too much credit.

I think part of the reason people have gotten so 'nasty' over the BA nominees is because, imo, people have simply seemed to care more for the actresses this past ten years. There's no male Meryl Streep out there; there veteran chameleon everyone's obsessed over seeing win another Oscar. No male Sandra Bullock; the charming mainstream romcom king everyone thinks has been snubbed by hoity-toity critics for too long. And on and on.

I also think, in this case, it's the two fallback arguments: she's only getting nominated because she's hot and young (foaming-at-the-mouth reviews be damned!) and she's only getting nominated because of favoritism/for being a vet (despite her performance being considered the best she's given). Most of their fans aren't willing to admit they both got nominated for good reasons.

I'm in Portman's camp -- I think she did it better -- but I'd prefer Bening to win.

UncleVanya said...

"I'm in Portman's camp -- I think she did it better -- but I'd prefer Being to win."

I'm completely with you on that statement. But the glaring, jaw-dropping irregularities (and obvious hijinx) that transpired, is nothing less than vomit that could not be suppressed.

UncleVanya said...

Now it is really just a case of who is comfortable with swallowing.

Philip said...

Personally, I'm on the Portman train right now, and it feels more Oscar-y than the Bening train at this moment in time.


Robert -- yeah. it's weird how that plays out. I think it's just an echo of the overall respect that older men get in our culture, too. It's along the same notion as wrinkles on a man are sexy! it's an obvious double standard.

Bryan -- exactly. Is Firth better than Eisenberg & Gosling & Franco? No way. But he has everyone's respect for surviving and doing good work for along while. and for last year.

okinawa -- 26 really? I think (and I base this partially on when they get the best roles 31-34 is when the astonishing magic happens. The performances are too numerous to mention.

Sara --good points. Both women are deserving of nominations. It's just weird that such double standards in thinking. and I guess I'm still pissed that Pfeiffer (young and hot) lost to career sentiment. I understand career sentiment well... but i've never understood how Jessica Tandy got so much of it in 1989 and when she wasn't even really a film actress. it wasn't "oh she's made so many great movies!" so both happenstances -- people winning when they're old (very rare... but always at the expense of someone younger) and people winning when they're young (and at the expense of honoring more consistent careers -- very common) it hurts in both directions


Unknown said...

Devil's advocate: Can't we say that a similar current of ageism -- albeit in reverse -- runs through the best actor category? If only two actors just under thirty have won that trophy, isn't it fair to assume that those same older male Academy members deign to vote for some young, virile, in-his-prime whippersnapper who is perceived to have yet to pay his dues?

As for me, my allegiance always goes with the person I believe gave the best performance. For instance, in 2003 I preferred Diane Keaton over Charlize Theron; in 2004, Bening over Hilary Swank. This year I see I am one of the few people who would take Moore over Bening, but having not seen "Black Swan" yet (darn you, Baltimore theaters!), I can't say if I personally feel that this will be another year that a PYT undeservedly wins over an older veteran.

I can say, though, that I find those best actress stats a tad on the sad side.


troy -- well i think i said as much in the article. No (lead) man has ever won for a debut performance. Five (lead) women have won for debuts. To me that's as clear a sign as any that men are expected to pay their dues, and women are expected to be fresh and hot.

Unknown said...

That's what I get for skimming instead of reading thoroughly.

Question: Who out of our current crop of working Oscar-nodded actresses do you for see possibly falling into the same dreaded predicament as Pfeiffer/Weaver/Turner/et. al?

Peggy Sue said...

Great article on a hideous double standard.

Academy members vote for the prom queen, not for the best performer.


troy -- well anyone is in danger if they're past over in the "right" age range. the "right" age range being 26-35 sothese are your prime suspects (Bear in mind this is only BEST ACTRESS statistics. Best Supporting Actress has slightly wider age factors (i.e. far more forgiving if you're in your 40s... but still hard to win at 50+... just not AS hard as in best actress).

just exited/exiting the most fertile "win" period

currently at the "right" age - i.e. *now or maybe never* ;)

just entered or about to enter the "right" time frame

so there ya go.The difficulty for all of these women is:
A) each other both for roles and wins
B) sustaining career heat -- it ain't easy. tough biz.
C) that hollywood never stops seeking out fresh faces so within another year or two we'll all know new fresher faces
D) the older women who the academy will occassionally deign to honor instead.
E) giving up and moving to television ;)


oh and

F) still more competition from women in their age ranges that have already won Oscars that I didn't list (like Charlize, Marion, Penelope, Kate)

Jonathan said...

I think Portman has it in the bag. Yes, Bening is due for a "career achievement" win, but i just have a feeling that natalie's performance was too good to ignore. For instance, if you look at the year Kate Winslet won for The Reader, she didn't have any competition that was like OMG She was amazing. Meryl Streep did her thing, as she always did, in Doubt, but no one was saying that her performance was amazing enough to warrant an oscar. Granted, Kate's performance was amazing in The Reader, but some might argue that her performance in Revolutionary Road was even better (i, personally, am torn). People will want to give this award to Natalie because her performance is really acting to the fullest extent, and come oscar time, she will be rewarded.

Regarding your list of women who are currently at the right age, there's no doubt in my mind that Michelle Williams, Emily Blunt, and Anne Hathaway (and i would love to say Rachel McAdams, but thats a whole other story) will get more chances at Oscar. You look at your list of actresses that haven't won (Glenn, Sigourney, Julianne, Michelle, Laura) and its sad that these great actresses never won one. Though, out of all those, Laura is still doing enough quality work that she might still get her chance. Glenn does television, although I feel like she could really do television, and that is, honestly, one of the things that I will never understand. She could easily have a career right now in Hollywood- there's no doubt in my mind that she is getting offered somewhat-quality parts. Yet, she decides not to. I hope she isn't holding her breath for the Sunset Boulevard movie-musical adaptation. No one else is.

James T said...

I don't know the male/female ratio in the Academy but isn't it weird that they so often go for young hot women? I mean, I'm sure there are many non-lesbian women in the Academy who don't find any reason to award an actress mostly because she's hot.

But maybe it's that old men are attracted to young women whereas older women (usually) don't feel the same way about young men so that gives an advantage to young actresses more than it does to young actors.

But really, do we know the ratio? It'd be interesting to have that info.


James -- we don't know the age ratio but as i said in the article, it's substantial. you know, for example, that the director's branch has to be at least 80% male. (and that's probably under what it is... but i happen to know of at least one woman, never nominated, who is a member so there could be a handful of others)

and then when you consider that the bulk of tech people nominated are men... (no female cinematographer has ever been nominated for example) the ratio has to be severe.

the only offscreen categories i can think of off the top of my head where there are famous "craft" women as lauded as any men are editing and costume design.

/3rtfu11 said...

I think we should all think about a Dark Horse 3rd possibility. Vote splitting is very real and explains Field, Foster and Swank being double Best Actress winners. This could very well help Kidman and endear her to a new wave of resentment.

Nathaniel I don’t know how public at the time Tandy’s battle with Cancer was but I’m certain it played on the emotions of voters. Who would have thought Pfeiffer wouldn’t return again to victory?

At least the Academy gives an underdog a break – Kathy Bates was 42!

aclp said...

I never believed ScarJo's age. She looks much much older than she claims to be.

I am not so sure Michelle Williams, as good, talented and competent as she is, will ever win. I think she could become the new "laura linney/glenn close/julianne moore"- excellent, respected, wonderful actress who's just not "cute", warm or mainstream enough.

Michelle is a very very private person, does not play the fashion icon game, does not do comercial crap just to make her name more bankable, is shy, serious and restrained in interviews, goes for depressing, serious, small, non-comercial projects, is hardly ever in magazine covers, doesnt try to be a media princess, doesnt work the glitzy glamourous circuit, is not mainstream enough.

I could see the Oscars going for someone like Anne hathaway- extremely mainstream, comercial, cute, sweet, warm, bubbly, relatable, non threatening,well beheaved, who is on a magazine cover every other day, plays the fashion game, goes to parties,does the "I'm so sweet" routine and sells herself as "Julie Andrews Julia Roberts Audrey Hepburn Meg Ryan Meryl Streep all at once".

Michelle seems very low profile for the Oscars.


Amanda -- i think you could very well be right on MIchelle Williams.

aclp said...

I'm not so sure Keira will ever win as well. She does have things going on for her- iconic beauty, that extremely beautiful face with jaw dropping bone structure, a face that will age beautifully- Keira will be one of those people such as Julie Christie, Audrey Hepburn and Helen Mirren that will still be extremely beautiful when they are way in to their sixteis- has good taste and hardly ever does crap.

But she comes off as cold, distant, non relatable and aloof.

I think as important as being young is the "homecoming queen" factor. You have to be a media darling. A likeable princess. You have to be sweet, wear a beautiful gown and cry on stage- I dont see Michelle as the weepy type. You have to be cute, sell magazines, be aproachable,relatable,warm, a media It girl- something Michelle, for example, isnt. You hava to know how to play the princess game.

Orion said...

Liz looks a lot older than 29 in that photo. Or maybe Natalie still looks really young to me. They don't make 'em like Liz anymore though. It's like she was born looking glamorous and aged from the beginning.

Gary C. said...

I wasn't so rah-rah about Jeff Bridges getting his career Oscar. It should always be about the performance nominated alone, but it's never about that at the Oscars. Love Bridges and the Dude and most of his iconic roles, but "Crazy Heart"? That's what finally gets him his Oscar? Okay, whatever, but my money was on Colin Firth and "A Single Man." Firth will get his due this year, so it's all good, but yeah, between Bening and Portman, I'm team Portman. I'd hate to see her lose, b/c I don't think she's going to ever top that. And I just liked "Black Swan" more than "The Kids Are All Right." It happens. If that's taken as a grand slight against Annette Bening, so be it. I want to see her win an Oscar one of these days too, but not for "The Kids Are All Right."

aclp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aclp said...

Natalie has all those things going for her right now- One of the most beautiful faces on the planet- what kind of genetic miracle creates a face as perfect as hers?-looks like a greek sculpture, very well behaved, Ivy league graduated, sweet,nice girl, has been working forever, has never been on a lohan-like scandal, is a clothes horse, is always on magazine covers, tries to be sweet and cute on interviews (even though she comes off as a bit of a know it all sometimes, a little full of herself, even though she sometimes comes off as vapid for someone who goes on and on about her harvard diploma), is the new face of Dior, plays the fashion game, attends parties, has advertisement endorsements, has been on a major franchise and will be on Thor, is cute, nice, likeable, non threatening, mainstream, will probably cry on stage and make the audience feel good about themselves.

aclp said...

Orion, I think the "sex bombs" always look older than their age. Its the same with Scar Jo, Blake Lively (I cant believe she is 23. She looks 35), Megan Fox (who looks 12 years older than she claims to be), even Angelina Jolie, being the beauty goddess that she is, looks older than her years.

aclp said...

WOW, wait......kate beckinsale is 37??????? Wow, there's one who looks much younger than she is.

Anonymous said...

True, Nat. Ingrid, Diane, Kate, Cate and Marion's best yet are from their early early thirties. But some girls do get lucky. I think my 26 theory is more true when you look at the 'classic' era, especially the 50's when movies were hungry for young blood i.e. Grace, Kim, Marilyn who did their best work in their mid 20's.

Robert said...

Actresses in their 20s and 30s are always going to have more "baity" or transformative roles than actresses in their late 40s, 50s and so on. That puts older actresses at a disadvantage as far as the Oscars go.

I love both Bening and Portman in their respective films, but in terms of the Oscars, voters are going to fall into several different categories:

Camp A: Those who thought Portman was superb and transformative whereas Bening was too subtle.

Camp B: Those who responded to Bening more with her realistic portrayal and who also admired her in Mother and Child.

Camp C: Those who find Black Swan to be too polarizing, and don't know what to make of it, thus throwing votes Bening's way.

Camp D: Those who feel Bening is due and also vote for her because she is on the Academy's Board of Directors.

So, both Bening and and Portman have points going for them.


Gary C -- i hear ya. I really have no issue with people preferring Portman (i'm still weighing about 7 performances myself) but i just think it's interesting that it always shakes out this way and the younger woman always wins. Or 95% of the time at least. No matter what we feel about Natalie Portman (even if we feel that she ABSOLUTELY DESERVES IT... ) the fact that the statistics so obviously point to this means that she probably isn't going to win because SHE ABSOLUTELY DESERVES IT but because she's super hot and young.

you know?

Robert -- true. It might be a landslide for Portman but the signs points there.

Henry said...

Plus, Natalie has this in her favor: She's already done the "Oscar nomination test" period with her nod in 2004 and Closer. She didn't get it that year because it was presumed she could get an award in due time. AND she'd be up for a higher status award since 2004's nomination was for Best Supporting Actress.

I'm rooting for Natalie. I saw Black Swan on Saturday and just saw The Kids Are All Right last night. Natalie's better, although Bening should give her a run for her money. I couldn't think of who was a standout in Kids Are All Right (a testament to how good both the film and the overall cast was), while it's arguable that Natalie was the centerpiece of and the best thing in Black Swan.

Klemen said...

I think Barrymore and Cameron Diaz could get Oscars Sandra Bullock style. Before last year I would say no,but now it seems totally possible to me.Out of the rest Adams and Gylenhaal will probably win-and in supporting.Maybe Farmiga too.Portman probably this year.Hathaway for sure.Blunt maybe.Mulligan maybe.I thought Keira also for sure, but the fact that she's not willing too act too 'cute' might indeed hurt.I hope it doesn't cuz I think she's really good.Maybe Rebecca Hall.I wish Kirsten Dunst could at least get nominated at some point but who knows.The others...not that likely from where we stand, but it could change. I agree Williams probably doesn't win-she's terrific but stuff like Wendy and Lucy(she was phenomenal)and Meek's Cuttof(from what i hear,she's great there too)doesn't win Oscars.McAdams and Johansson don't seem too interestd in chasing the Oscar,at least not at the moment.

Danielle said...

Knightley may have a "career defining" performance (a la Portman's Black Swan) next year in A Dangerous Method. I sure hope she nails it and is also willing to work the awards circuit.

TB said...

Bening has the misfortune of being in a great movie filled with great performances that her own performance bolsters and grows off of. She is the best of many wonderful things, and not in a way that highlights how good she is, just in a way that benefits the movie as much as possible.

Portman has the advantage of being in a great movie as the singular performance holding the whole film together. It doesn't matter how good anyone else was in that movie, if she had given a poor performance, the movie would have fallen apart. It's a huge role, both physically and mentally, and she did a fantastic job with it.

My bet is on Bening for the SAG award, Portman for the Oscar. This is going down 2007 style, I'm calling it now.

Robert said...

Based on reasons I gave above, i think the winner will be based purely on relatability. Some will relate to Bening's character; others to Portman's. I liked both of their performances, although Bening's (I thought she stood out most in the movie) is the type of performance I prefer. Portman has a lot on her side, though.

Peggy Sue said...

I think here in Europe they do just the opposite thing. They will always vote for the older actress and I think there's a sense of poetic justice in that...

aclp said...

Klemen, Michelle should have been nominated for sure for "Wendy and Lucy". She was superb in it, just brilliant.

Aaron said...

I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, but you guys do realize that there are other women in the race for best actress? I agree that Portman and Bening are probably the favorites right now, but I'm not naive enough to think that if an Academy member doesn't like Portman, for example, that they're automatically going to vote for Bening.

Jennifer Lawrence and Nicole Kidman are two very strong competitors, in my opinion. Not only has Lawrence garnered outstanding reviews, but her film is doing very, very well in the precursors. And Kidman has gotten easily her strongest reviews since The Hours, so I wouldn't just mark her off the list just yet...I've always seen Kidman as a two-time winner, but maybe I'm being a bit idealistic...

...and I thought the comment about Michelle Williams mentioned previously was interesting. Yes, she's a very private person and she doesn't play the "fame" game, per se, which can be a big downfall when it comes to Oscar campaigning (and let's face it...you have to campaign)...so I understand why she might be Oscar-less for awhile. Regardless, I don't think there's another actress of her caliber working in movies today. She's a fascinating actress and her perf in Blue Valentine is nothing short of astonishing. Her choice in films are Nicole Kidman-esque (minus the Bewitched and Stepford Wives disasters), since they both are drawn toward auteur filmmakers. Okay, sorry I'll end now!