He Said/She Said: Lisa Schwarzbaum says she nose who should be awarded the Best Actress Oscar, but Owen Gleiberman favors an affair that he wants the Academy to remember

By Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 17, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum
Credit: He Said She Said Illustration by Eric Palma

EW’s critics debate the Best Actress Oscar race

Owen Gleiberman
March 12, 2003 3:28 PM
I know well, Lisa — because you told me just the other day! — that handicapping the Oscars is not exactly your favorite sport. It’s not what you think critics should be doing, and on that score, believe me, I’m pretty much with you. Yet the horse-race aspect of the Academy Awards looms larger every day (it’s so OUT THERE it’s kind of hard to ignore), and I have to say, I feel I’d be derelict in my duty if I plunged into a conversation about this year’s slate of Best Actress nominees and overlooked the most pressing question on the agenda. No, not will Nicole Kidman win by a nose — but, rather, will Nicole Kidman win FOR a nose?

I really think that’s what it could come down to. Not that Kidman’s performance in ”The Hours” is in any way ”unworthy.” She plays Virginia Woolf with just the right pale fire, and to the exent that her current status as an Oscar favorite seems to be following on the explosion of her stock over the last few years, beginning with ”Eyes Wide Shut” and culminating in her acclaimed double whammy with ”The Others” and ”Moulin Rouge” — well, all of that is in line with classic industry pattern. Having said that, I can’t resist the idea that just as Meryl Streep, in the 1980s, came to symbolize Great Acting because of the literal-mindedness of her gift for transformation, Kidman, in ”The Hours,” has done a kind of visual version of one of Streep’s fabled accents. Appearing onscreen beneath all of that Woolf makeup, she in effect martyrs her own beauty and turns herself into Pure Actress.

I have several problems with this. First of all, the makeup job is TERRIBLE! She doesn’t look like, or even possess the visual aura of, Virginia Woolf, who had an extremely severe patrician beauty. Kidman, in ”The Hours,” looks like a morosely homely Radcliffe lit major from 1952 — and, what’s more, since it’s hard to watch the movie without knowing, deep down, that one of the most gorgeous actresses in the world is actually in there underneath all that putty, the ugly prosthetic nose seems to end up signifying nothing less than…the source of her misery! You watch ”The Hours” and think, Poor Virginia Woolf — if only she could have looked like Nicole Kidman!

The grand irony is, it’s precisely an era like ours, obsessed with the in-style glamorousness of an actress like Kidman, with her perfect nose and cheekbones, that would choose to honor her for the ”bravery” of hiding those assets. It is, I think, a form of perverse collective vanity.