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: 2008

The 2008 Oscars will likely go down as the final year when only five films would compete in the granddaddy category of them all, Best Picture. The following year, the Academy would change it to ten and a couple years after that, developed a formula where anywhere from 5-10 movies could be recognized.

Many believe the reason is 2008’s exclusion of the critically lauded superhero sequel The Dark Knight, which had become the year’s highest grossing feature and was considered a major milestone in the burgeoning genre. Yet with the exception of its acclaimed Joker, Knight was shut out in the major categories.

Best Picture instead went to a true “little movie that could” – Danny Boyle’s out of nowhere critical and audience pleaser Slumdog Millionaire.

It would win out over David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader. It is a bit surprising that Oscar voters left out Knight and I would put forth that a decent argument could also be made for Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, which also stands as a creative high point in the comic book canon of movies.

In the Best Director category, it was a rare example of the five nominated auteurs matching the Picture nominees and Boyle would take home the gold over Fincher, Daldry, Van Sant, and Howard. Once again, Christopher Nolan would be on the outside looking in for his Knight direction.

Sean Penn would win his second Best Actor statue (2003’s Mystic River being the first) for playing gay activist Harvey Milk in Milk.

Other nominees: Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, and Mickey Rourke in a career comeback role as The Wrestler.

Certainly Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man could have been considered along with Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and the Slumdog Millionaire himself Dev Patel.

After a number of nominations with no victories, Kate Winslet would win Best Actress for The Reader, beating out Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married). Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and the omnipresent Meryl Streep (Doubt).

It was a bit surprising to see Cate Blanchett’s work in Benjamin Button go unrecognized.

The Dark Knight would win its Oscar with the late Heath Ledger taking Supporting Actor as the Joker. Other nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road).

While it was refreshing to see the Academy nominate a comedic performance like Downey’s in Tropic Thunder, an equally good argument could have been made for Tom Cruise’s role in that picture. Same goes for James Franco’s exemplary work as a stoner in Pineapple Express.

Woody Allen has directed several actresses to Supporting Actress wins and he did it again with Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona.

She would be victorious over Amy Adams in Doubt, Viola Davis – also for Doubt, Taraji P. Henson in Benjamin Button, and Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler.

I might’ve found room for Frances McDormand in the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading.

And that’s all for now on the Oscar History front! I’ll be back with 2009 in the near future…