Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

Oscar History: 2007

Tonight on the blog – we review the Oscars from 2007, continuing with my series of Oscar History posts. 2007 was a year in which the brilliant Coen Brothers finally received some Academy love. Their critically lauded No Country for Old Men won Best Picture and earned the twosome the Best Director prize. It’s hard to argue with the Academy’s choice of this terrific pic for the top prize.

In my view, There Will Be Blood would’ve been another deserving recipient and it was nominated for Best Picture, along with Joe Wright’s Atonement, Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, and Jason Reitman’s Juno. I likely would’ve left Atonement and Juno off the list and considered David Fincher’s meticulously crafted Zodiac and/or Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.

A running theme of my Oscar posts has been the Academy’s consistent lack of comedy inclusion and, for me, the genre’s 2007 highlight was Superbad, one of the finest raunch-fests in quite some time.

I was also a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ode to B movies, Grindhouse.

There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson was included in the Best Director race along with Gilroy and Reitman. Atonement director Joe Wright was the lone director left out whose film was nominated and Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a bit of a surprise nominee. As mentioned, they all lost to the Coens. I would have certainly included Fincher’s work in Zodiac.

The Best Actor race was over as soon as Daniel Day-Lewis’s work in There Will Be Blood was seen and it would mark his second win after being honored for My Left Foot eighteen years earlier. Other nominees (who truly can say it was just an honor to be nominated after Day-Lewis’s tour de force): George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah, and Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises.

Nobody plays a calculating bad guy better than Denzel Washington and I probably would have found room for him with his turn in American Gangster.

In the Best Actress race, Marion Cotillard would win for La Vie En Rose – beating out Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Julie Christie (Away from Her), Laura Linney (The Savages), and Ellen Page (Juno).

Leaving out Keira Knightley’s work in Atonement was a surprise. For my dark horse contender, Christina Ricci’s fearless work in Black Snake Moan might’ve made my cut.

Like the Best Actor category, the Supporting Actor race was over when audiences and critics saw Javier Bardem’s amazing performance in No Country for Old Men. Other nominees: Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild, and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton.

Paul Dano’s performance in There Will Be Blood certainly should’ve been acknowledged here. Two others to consider: Robert Downey Jr.’s work as a boozy reporter in Zodiac and Kurt Russell’s hilarious and sadistic role in Grindhouse.

The Supporting Actress race belonged to Tilda Swinton as a ruthless attorney in Michael Clayton. She would win over double nominee Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Ruby Dee for American Gangster, Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, and Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone.

I would’ve included Kelly MacDonald as Josh Brolin’s wife in No Country for Old Men.

And there’s my take on the ’07 Oscars, my friends! I’ll have 2008 posted soon.