Of all this year’s major Oscar races, the contest for Best Actress is probably the murkiest; you know the planets are misaligned when the New York Film Critics Circle announces that in its collective opinion, 1998’s master thespian was Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary. But maybe the award makes a perverse kind of sense; after all, at least Diaz’s performance was one of a kind. The rest of this year’s Best Actress contenders come in pairs — the kind of twosomes that tend to cancel each other out.
Let’s start with the Cancer Divas, Susan Sarandon in Stepmom and Meryl Streep in One True Thing. Both are Oscar veterans (they’ve got 15 nominations and 3 statuettes between them) who outshone their younger costars; Streep’s movie got far better reviews, while Sarandon’s found a much bigger audience. Both would be respectable, unsurprising nominees. But Americans don’t have a cinematic monopoly on suffering valiantly through serious illness; this year’s Brit version of the Streep-Sarandon face-off pits The Theory of Flight‘s Helena Bonham Carter (plucky virgin with motor-neuron disease) against Hilary and Jackie‘s Emily Watson (brilliant musician with multiple sclerosis). And all four women will face stiff competition from the Corset Cuties, Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. Blanchett’s is the kind of major arrival performance that won the admiration of even those who didn’t like the movie, while Paltrow, who probably just missed a nomination for 1996’s Emma, is due for her first.
Our hunch is that this year, cancer and corsets have the edge. But there are a few other contenders: Jane Horrocks, whose Little Voice turn comes with an impressive singing-in-tongues gimmick, Ally Sheedy’s grim comeback performance in High Art, and Living Out Loud‘s Holly Hunter and Beloved‘s Oprah Winfrey, who would both be stronger candidates if their movies had had more staying power. Instead, the Academy may reserve a slot for a new (or rather, gloriously used) face, 69-year-old Fernanda Montenegro in the Brazilian Central Station. So, despite the critical kudos, Diaz can probably stay home on Oscar night, comfort herself with Mary’s grosses…and wash her hair.
For Your Consideration
Awkward age? What awkward age? We haven’t seen a child actress blossom so beautifully since Jodie Foster. In the Addams Family movies, Christina Ricci, now 18, wowed us with her cherubic but devilish charm. This year, in The Opposite of Sex, her perfectly calculated performance as a scheming young woman desperate not to be loved proves she’s still got it — along with so much sexy menace that frankly, we’d be scared not to nominate her.