Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Other Best Actress Curse.

Natalie Portman's Best Actress Oscar win was inarguably the highlight of the Oscars; but, as I cheered about her triumph something else struck me. With the assurance that Black Swan would definitely not win the Best Picture award, Natalie was perpetuating a Best Actress curse no one talks about: the Best Actress Oscar is the only award their respective movies get.

Think about it, during the last decade (and we could even go all the way to 1999 when Hilary Swank first defeat Annette Bening) only two movies have won another Oscar besides Best Actress and only one of these movies won Best Picture (Million Dollar Baby).
Compared to the fact that movies that win Best Actor have 8/11 in the "more than one Oscar" statistic, we really might be onto something here, right?

Let's take a year by year look:
(I also noticed Best Actresses like this fabric and color...)

2000 - Best Actress - Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (Wins 1 - Nominations 5)
Best Actor - Russell Crowe for Gladiator (Wins 5 - Nominations 12)
One Best Actress nominee (Ellen Burstyn) was the sole nominee for her film.

2001 - Best Actress - Halle Berry for Monster's Ball (Wins 1 - Nominations 2)
Best Actor - Denzel Washington for Training Day (Wins 1 - Nominations 2)
One Best Actress nominee (Renee Zellweger) was the sole nominee for her film.

2002 - Best Actress - Nicole Kidman for The Hours (Wins 1 - Nominations 9)
Best Actor - Adrien Brody for The Pianist (Wins 3 - Nominations 7)
One Best Actress nominee (Diane Lane) was the sole nomination for her film.

2003 - Best Actress - Charlize Theron for Monster (Wins 1 - Nominations 1)
Best Actor - Sean Penn for Mystic River (Wins 2 - Nominations 6)
Three Best Actress nominees (Keisha Castle Hughes, Diane Keaton and Charlize Theron)
were the sole nominations for their respective movies.

2004 - Best Actress - Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby (Wins 4 - Nominations 7)
Best Actor - Jamie Foxx for Ray (Wins 2 - Nominations 6)
Two Best Actress nominees (Annette Bening and Catalina Sandino Moreno) were the
sole nominations for their respective movies.

2005 - Best Actress - Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (Wins 1 - Nominations 5)
Best Actor - Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (Wins 1 - Nominations 5)
One Best Actress nominee (Felicity Huffman) was the sole nomination for her film.
This is also the only year when all the acting winners were their films' only wins.

2006 - Best Actress - Helen Mirren for The Queen (Wins 1 - Nominations 6)
Best Actor - Forrest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (Wins 1 - Nominations 1)
One Best Actress nominee (Penélope Cruz) was the sole nomination for her film.
Curiously this year four Best Actor nominees were their film's sole nomination.

2007 - Best Actress - Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (Wins 2 - Nominations 3)
Best Actor - Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood (Wins 2 - Nominations 8)
This is the only year when all Best Actress nominees were accompanied by other nominations.

2008 - Best Actress - Kate Winslet for The Reader (Wins 1 - Nominations 5)
Best Actor - Sean Penn for Milk (Wins 2 - Nominations 8)
One Best Actress nominee (Anne Hathaway) was the sole nomination for her film.

2009 - Best Actress - Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (Wins 1 - Nominations 2)
Best Actor - Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart (Wins 2 - Nominations 3)
One Best Actress nominee (Meryl Streep) was the sole nomination for her film.

Which brings us to Natalie Portman. Out of her film's five nominations she was the only one who even stood a chance of winning. After the Academy found ways to not love Black Swan as much as other organizations had (denying it Score, Screenplay and Costume nominations) it became clear that if Portman lost the movie would go empty handed.

This strange phenomenon would be less significant if it wasn't because it establishes something everyone keeps saying to no avail: Hollywood doesn't offer women interesting roles.
7/10 Best Actor winners during the past decade where in Best Picture nominees, with women it was just 5 and as obvious as it is that The Blind Side really didn't need another Oscar, what then about the editing in The Hours? Or Black Swan's breathtaking cinematography?
For that matter was Gladiator a better movie than Erin Brockovich?

The fact that Oscar voters just feel the need to reward one category out of this actresses' films might be saying that they think they were the only worthy thing in their films and that their award will be enough for the whole movie. But again, why wasn't Monster nominated for Best Makeup for example (when at least 70% of Charlize's performance is owed to that).
This would seem less conspicuous when measured against the number of Best Actor wins that often seem to provoke "en masse" vote for other categories.

Speaking of this, out of Meryl Streep's 13 Best Actress nominations, she's been the sole nomination for 5 out of these occasions. What is this really saying about Hollywood? Am I seeint too much into this blockade of opportunities for Actresses? When's the last time a Best Actress carried an entire Best Picture as opposed to having a film about men winning the top prize?

If we examined this we would run into even fewer cases where this happened which would include: Gone With the Wind, Mrs. Miniver, Annie Hall, Terms of Endearment, Driving Miss Daisy, The Silence of the Lambs, Shakespeare in Love and Million Dollar Baby.
Eight out of 83...hmm maybe I'm not being paranoid right?

If so what can this mean for filmmakers making movies about women? Let's be honest, in other years films like The Blind Side, Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right and to a lesser degree Black Swan would've never factored in the Best Picture race and movies about women competing for the main prize would be out of the question.
So young filmmakers of the world if you want to win a Best Picture Oscar make biopics about disabled men! Stay away from Amelia Earhart! Oh wait, that already happened...

What do you think about this? Do you think actresses will eventually be leading forces behind Oscar winning movies? If Meryl hasn't been able to do it, what are the chances of less beloved actresses ever achieving this?


Jason H. said...

I don't think you're reading too much into it at all. I've never noticed this myself, but that is a disturbing trend. And I think you're right: it is evidence of the sexism that dominates the film industry, whether people want to acknowledge it or not.

I do think, though, that with more and more women entering the industry every day, we'll see more actress-driven Oscar winning movies in the future. At least, I pray that happens.

Anonymous said...

It is a very strange phenomenon, some of my favorite movies are about women, but most people seem to think of them as lesser films. Perhaps, films with female protagonists are usually more thoughtful and emotional than they are physically intense, and that "bores" people (I'm convinced that a movie is only boring if the filmmaker does not know how to engage his subject - not because it's a boring topic)

Robert said...

Wow, what a fascinating observation! And somewhat unsettling. I never realized this on my own but your facts can't be denied...

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Love this post. Whenever I think of Oscar and Best Actress I always think how completely odd it is that Katharine Hepburn (Oscar biggest victor, acting wise) never managed to star in a film that won Best Picture - although, like a third of them won Screenplay.

The amount of things I agree with you on here, though. Most of all, why didn't The Hours and Erin Brokcovich win more recognition?

Films with women often get that knee-jerk "womanish" moniker given to them, so if they're nominated (The Philadelphia Story, Dangerous Liaisons, Julia) they have no chance of winning.)

Candice Frederick said...

you're right. i am a little worried about what else she has coming up because she is sch a good actress. but her upcoming movies look sooo dumb and so beneath her.

Amir said...

i always think about this too, although sort of from the reverse perspective, meaning that i always wonder why female centric films never get nominated for best picture.
i wonder which way the relationship is. are women not in good film because there are not enough good roles for them, or is the academy just biased against female centric films, even when they are high quality?
i think it's a bit of both.

Jose said...

Jason: I'll join your prayer. I've had enough of movies about testosterone winning all the big awards.

Samuel: I think the industry doesn't feel comfortable rewarding feminine movies because they don't like acknowledging how affected they are by them.

Robert: thanks! I'm enjoying the comment turnout for this post. I like the discussion we're forming so do tell us more about why you think this might be happening.

Andrew: exactly! And when Meryl's movie won it wasn't even because of her.
I think Kate is a perfect example of that, in 68 her movie should've defeated the competition without hesitation.

Candice: yup.

Amir: I think 2010 was a good year for women-led movies at the Oscars. What with Winter's Bone, Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right all getting Best Pic nods. However this rarely happens. Hmmm however compiling that list might take us a while huh?

Castor said...

@ Candice: Don't they? It's like the curse is real ahah. Look at Reese Witherspoon completely fading off the big screen. Her latest film was probably the biggest box office bust of 2010.

Luke said...

Oh gosh you took the words right out of my mouth - as soon as I saw that The Hours lost 8 Oscars (WHAT?!), my instant thought was, how can a film that has some of the best editing put to screen walk away without that prize at least?? This is VERY troubling, but a VERY good read. :)

Simon said...

Another reason the Oscars are depressing. Great.

Lucas Dantas said...

and u limited your analysis to the best actress race. when i think a little bit deeper about the 8 movies listed, from those i saw only "shakespeare in love" is a purely girl power movie. because:

- in "million dollar baby" and "the silence of the lambs" their protagonists were manly women. swank actually is famous for having her oscars for playing men;

- in "annie hall" we constantly have the woodsman figure being as crazy as keaton's annie hence justifying her craziness and eventual unlikeability [is that word correct? lol];

- maybe "gone with the wind" could be considered a solely feminist movie, cos hey it was 1949 and that scarlett o'hara woman did all those stuff - but she did sustain and endorse the fragile woman who needs a man image. and even if WE know she did it to keep herself on the top, the idea that women should tone down their power - and portray an over-femininity - so their men won't feel emasculated is total sexist...

so they might have prized those womanly films but if we look deep into them they're not purely feminist as films like "the hours", for example. or even "moulin rouge" that could be all kinds of sexist considering the protagonist is prostitute and the film is all glitzy and romantic - but in that case it's more a case of homophobia because baz luhrman's masterpiece is more gay than girly. and hey "black swan" is ALL ABOUT POWER OF THE FEMALE!

wanna get even more depressing? kathryn bigelow's "the hurt locker" won best picture last year and she made history by being the first female director to win an oscar. but let's be brutally honest: where in that movie can we find a string of femininity?

sure we can find it by deep analysis, cos of course bigelow is a woman and she wouldn't stop being even if she changed sex like cher's daughter. but i, as pessimist when it comes to the academy, don't think those old american alpha male cared to look deeply into "the hurt locker" that way; i believe the academy was more mesmerized by the fact bigelow - a woman - did a marvelously executed male-movie.

we've got a long way to go darlings. because the academy IS american and, even if i'm generalizing, americans might have contributed a great lot to social and feminine evolution during the 20th century but in general american society is still very conservative.

and as i broaden the discussion to the academy's conservativeness, i remember an angry tweet by the lovely owner of this blog [yes you hosie!], about "the king's speech" win at the SAGs: "what's the point of nominating [and pretending to celebrate] groundbreaking cinema when in the end you'll award the stupid conservative british movie?"

okay, those weren't your exact words but you know i won't go through all your tweets to quote it here correctly. lol

Lucas Dantas said...

@ Amir: i think that blaming women for not being in good movies is the easy way out of the discussion, and probably the excuse the academy's old mfuckers would give.

cos let's take what jose said about the 2010 movies: a film like "winter's bone" is [in my opinion] 10 times better than "the [boring] king's speech"!!

and if the problem is that they think female centric movies are boring like samuel noted, what about "black swan"?! natalie portman and darren aronofsky accomplished what clint eastwood and hilary swank didn't: portray strong and emotionally stressed out women that still ARE WOMEN and live in a feminine world!

nina sayers' trials and tribulations are way more cruel than maggie fitzgerald's androgyny-fetish ball: nina was a woman being a woman in a world where men go to mentally masturbate themselves watching feminity - because men who love ballet are either gay or sexually repressed intellectuals [freud can explain]; while maggie was a woman playing a man in a man's world, therefore gaining their attention [and not exactly their respect considering how she chose the male-warrior decision at the end].

HA! i could go on aaaaaaaaaaall day... i fact i think i'll post about it. in portuguese hosie, so you better comment more than "galinha pretas" and "picas". lol

Runs Like A Gay said...

Fascinating analysis. I would argue that this is even more a consequence of the membership rules than the perceived bias towards baity films that has been presented.

I would imagine that the Academy is largely made up of men, and therefore the majority of the Academy will be drawn to male centric plots (even subconciously). There is also an bias against "woman's pictures" in the box office currently which means there is a smaller pot of female centric movies for the Academy members to pick from.

That said this isn't a good enough excuse - progress is never made if every points to another area of the environment.

Maybe this year is beginning to see the change of the tide, but until there is equal representation of women in the both the membership and the box office I doubt we'll see the end of this shocking mysogyny.

Lucas Dantas said...

we oughta remember something: women also have a share on society's mysogyny. it's a not a "simple" battle of the sexes situation; i hope things do change, but i don't believe they will in a year or two, although we already see changes. bigelow's win last year, in spite of what i said above, was great evolution!

however women from academy must not only campaign but also DO female centric movies. and i'm not saying to do girl movies - sophia coppolla is an example of a director who does feminine movies without doing girly movies. "lost in translation" has feminine soul and sensibility and all of her work [except "somewhere" which i haven't seen yet] has it.

that's what i'm talking about. we don't need female versions of "the hangover". women doing the same things men do is a type of feminism so old and failed that we're [in most fields] as sexist as our parents society.

Jason H. said...

@Lucas Yes! You took the words right out of my mouth. I can't stand the notion that women have to be more like men to be taken seriously; sacrificing one's femininity is the opposite of progress. And I'm glad you used Coppola as an example: I'd add Jane Campion as another example of a director who's films are not completely girly but without-a-doubt feminine.

Jose said...

Luke: yes! Of course the flashier editing won that year but "The Hours" is almost seamless, it's a stunning work of editing. Kudos to the editor's patience.

Simon: you said it best.

Ho: right! I commented your blog too and I didn't mention picas! ;)

Runs: true but also this means that the women within the Academy take this male centric point of view as their own.
Could it be perhaps gender envy? You know, other women see actresses and filmmakers doing great stuff, feel left out and vote for the typical male stuff?
Seeing interviews with female voters this year, none of them chose "Black Swan" as their Best Picture for example.
They all loved Natalie but that was it. Even if in a way, Natalie IS "Black Swan" so it would make sense for them to vote for the movie too right?
Dunno, this gives room to plenty of discussion. Thanks for taking the time to read :)

Ho: I fully agree. However when Coppola makes movies they get trashed for being TOO female and sensitive. It was disgusting to listen to critics call out how "Somewhere" was the tale of a spoiled rich woman bragging about her privileged life and complaining about being a celebrity. When a man does something like that it's called revolutionary and heartfelt (because men showing feelings is ALWAYS more special then women doing the know they have their periods all the time and are hormonal lunatics...)
Even when we got a female version of "The Hangover" with "Sex and the City 2" they were called "selfish bitches" who disrespected tradition and slept their way through the world. Worst part is even female critics who loved "The Hangover" said this about SATC2.

Jason: Jane Campion is another perfect example. But take "Bright Star" for example, because it was more about Abbie Cornish than Ben Whishaw (who played a very sensitive, almost "feminine" role) the movie was completely ignored by AMPAS.