It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Actress category:

BRIAN

Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married. Again, I have turned half-circle on this movie, but I think Hathaway was the most surprising performance of the group, and I felt as miserable as her while watching the bourgeois pomposity of her family.

JOHN

This is a fine group but the nominees are all tightly bunched together for me with none of them mind-blowing or standing tall above the rest. Top to bottom my opinions on them are pretty close so there’s a decent chance my preferences will change by Sunday and I would be happy for nearly any of them to win.

Angelina Jolie (Changeling) is good but doesn’t own the movie like I expected. She consistently hits the right notes, however, even when the film doesn’t. I’m ecstatic for Melissa Leo’s nomination, especially since I enjoyed Frozen River a great bit even though my colleagues did not. She doesn’t have to carry her film like the other acting nominee in a slow indie movie, Richard Jenkins, but she’s still quite terrific. I love a good understated performance and this is one with Leo so precisely portraying her character’s quiet desperation.

Meryl Streep is a demanding presence on the screen if there ever was one and she owns Doubt. Perhaps too much since the film doesn’t sell its doubt too well, partially because Streep is so dominant. She manages to make Sister Aloysius both unlikable and sympathetic, but always commanding respect.

There’s no doubt that Kate Winslet got the right nomination in the right category. Revolutionary Road felt bogged down in its Serious Acting but she elevates The Reader past some of its flawed premises. Without her I don’t think it’s even a good film. I liked the way we see the gruff Hannah and the vulnerable Hannah and both play into the film’s themes well. And if the film had given us any reason to care about her dark secret maybe this would have been a virtuosa performance.

The winner for me is Hathaway meaning I’m giving a lot of praise to the actors in a film I only mildly cared for. Maybe I fall into the Oscar bait trap of being attracted to showy portrayals of troubled people, but Hathaway gives an appropriately chaotic performance as Kym, an attention-seeking young woman in turmoil. It’s one of those roles that requires lots of ups and downs: happy to angry to excited to anguish. The film never hung around in my head like I expected it to (see: my failed Rachel Getting Married Index experiment) but I’m still impressed by Hathaway all these months later. She’s always been good but who knew she was this good? And with all this great acting I have to wonder what the film could have been with more coherent directing (and writing and editing…)

Snubs: The sad thing is I can’t really think of any. The presumed next-in-lines (Sally Hawkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Winslet in Revolutionary Road) are all sort of jumbled in the same group. Does EVE from WALL-E qualify?

ADAM

Will Win: ???

    This category is one of the few that is up-in-the-air for me.  Winslet and Streep each have strong chances to win.  Winslet’s chances may be hurt, though, as many people believe her role in The Reader is a supporting one.

I Want to Win: Meryl Streep

    I actually like Kate Winslet much more, but I have to admit that Streep gave a better performance.  Not only that, I believe that Winslet was nominated in the wrong category for this role.  The upside is that Streep actually has a chance to win this award.

Dark Horse: Anne Hathaway

    I will be the first to admit that Rachel Getting Married was not my favorite movie of the year.  However, it would have had few redeeming qualities had not Ms. Hathaway been driving it.  She is a talented actress with surprising range (I also liked her a lot in Get Smart).  While, I do not think she gets the win here, it is only a matter of time.

Random Notes:

    As stated before, I think that the Academy was wrong (what a surprise) in nominating Winslet for Best Actress here.  However, the nomination I feel most strongly about is Melissa Leo for Frozen River.  This was easily the worst movie I watched this year.  It is this year’s La Vie En Rose, except where Marion Cotillard was terrific, Leo was, at best, O.K.  After watching the movie, I am appalled that she was nominated.  This wasn’t a very strong category, but I know there were stronger performances.

JARED

An average year in the Best Actress category, I think.  I would have liked to see Sally Hawkins in there, but it is an OK group.  John’s actually the third person I’ve heard half-jokingly ask if EVE could be nominated, and I’ll be honest, I probably would have voted for her.

To me, Melissa Leo and Angelina Jolie are a bit behind the pack.  I wasn’t particularly fond of Frozen River or Leo’s character, nearly insurmountable obstacles in my eyes.  I can respect the Academy giving a nod to a veteran character actress in a small movie, but I can’t support the decision here.  Angelina Jolie’s character in Changeling was pretty cookie cutter stuff, I thought. The movie would have suffered in the hands of a lesser actress, but I didn’t think the script gave Jolie enough meat

Which leaves two Oscar vets (Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep) and then Anne Hathaway who can lay claim to being in Oscar movies three out of the past four years, something I believe the other two cannot.  I liked The Reader more than my colleagues, but I’m not sure Winslet is what put her over the top.  Her progression from youthful exuberance to cold naivete to just plain sadness was striking and certainly a key to my appreciation of the film.  But I can see how the argument was made that she was a supporting character, and I think it hurts her here.  There are few people as badass as Meryl Streep.  Just needs to be said.  She does rise above Doubt‘s script, but she is starting from so low a starting point that even she couldn’t catch up.  As always, she’s a fine selection.

But for me, this category isn’t particularly close.  Anne Hathaway was nothing short of brilliant in Rachel Getting Married.  She had me on edge nearly the entire movie because she was on edge nearly the entire movie.  Every scene is fascinating because of how she plays her character’s constant craving for attention and inability to fight it.  She’s already held her own against Meryl Streep once, here’s hoping it happens again.

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