Most years, it seems like the best actress field is a packed one, while the Academy has to stretch it a bit to find five male lead performances to pack the best actor category. But 2007 was just the opposite, yielding a bumper crop of great work from men without as much to praise from their distaff counterparts. That’s not to say that there weren’t some really great female performances, however, and the Oscar nominations reflect some of the year’s best work.
In what’s shaping to be a very grim year thematically, the best actress race offers slightly more levity, if only because “Juno” is such a charming comedy and “The Savages” offers some laughs to go with its familial angst and midlife disappointments. After a steady diet of “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men,” Academy voters will no doubt take their respite where they can get it.
The nominated actresses this year represent an interesting mix of former winners and nominees alongside first-timers, Europeans and North Americans, youngsters and screen legends, real-life characters and fictional ones. In tandem, they represent some of the most exciting performers in contemporary cinema. But only one gets to win.
Predicted winner: Julie Christie
But it’s the work that really matters, and Christie’s moving turn in Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her” is a standout in an already extraordinary career. Playing a Canadian wife losing her memories to Alzheimer’s and dementia, the former It Girl of Swinging London creates poignancy without wallowing in bathos and proves that, more than 40 years after “Doctor Zhivago,” her fragile beauty continues to bewitch movie lovers. While “mental illness” is up there with “crazy prostitute” and “pretty actress in ugly makeup” as catnip for Oscar voters, Christie’s fourth nominated performance is subtle and low-key, and all the more heartbreaking for it.
Meet the Oscar nomineesIt’s Blanchett’s turn in 1998’s “Elizabeth” that resonates strongly, although perhaps this new nomination is the Academy’s way of apologizing for slighting her for Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love.” In the meantime, Blanchett did manage to take home an Oscar for her portrayal of Kate Hepburn in “The Aviator.” Even if she doesn’t snag a best actress trophy this year — and it seems pretty definite that she won’t — Blanchett’s nomination has made her one for the Oscar record books: She’s the first woman to receive two nominations for playing the same character (putting her in the company of Bing Crosby, Peter O’Toole and Al Pacino), and she’s on the short list of performers who received nominations in the lead and supporting categories in the same year.
On top of that, her nominations this year for “E: TGA” and “I’m Not There” (if she wins this year, it will probably be for the latter) mean that four of her five Oscar nods have been for playing real people. All of that should be good for a footnote in Oscar trivia books; let’s just hope that it’s not impetus for another disappointing “Elizabeth” sequel.
Apart from a small role in “Big Fish,” however, Cotillard herself has been an unknown quantity in the U.S., even though she’s worked a lot in her native France. Not getting to accept her Golden Globe on TV may have worked against her, because to see Cotillard in person is to appreciate the total transformation she underwent to play the character. Even though you see Piaf age decades in the film, growing from hard-luck teen to physically devastated diva, the difference between Cotillard in person and Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” is substantial, and heaven knows the Academy appreciates acting you can quantify. That’s why lovelies like Theron and Halle Berry get taken seriously the minute they smudge the dirt on their face; Academy voters can hold their hands apart and say, “She’s acting THIS MUCH.”
The foreign-language hurdle makes it a toughie for Cotillard, however, since the last woman to win a best actress Oscar without speaking English was Sophia Loren, for 1961’s “Two Women.” But even if Cotillard goes home empty-handed on Feb. 24, she’s already attracted the attention of American casting agents who, with any luck, will guide her toward projects that will once again attract the Academy’s attention.
The fact that you can never catch Laura Linney acting probably hasn’t helped her Oscar chances over the years, but she’s scored her third nomination for her trenchantly funny performance as Wendy Savage, a would-be playwright forced to transfer her gaze out of her own navel when she and her brother have to put their aging father into an assisted-living facility. It’s been a good year for Linney, who also turned in a hilarious supporting role as a wicked New York socialite in the disappointing “The Nanny Diaries.”
Since appearing on the cult Canadian sitcom “Trailer Park Boys” in 2001, Page has steadily built a reputation as a young actress to watch, particularly with her breakthrough performance as a teen girl who turns the tables on her would-be internet predator in the overwrought “Hard Candy,” which she followed with a small but attention-getting role in “X-Men 3.” Her appearances in the as-yet-unreleased Sundance films “An American Crime” and “Smart People” seem to indicate that her relatively young career is on an impressive trajectory.
Should have been nominated: Anamaria Marinca
Portraying Otilia, a young college student trying to help a friend secure an illegal abortion during the Ceausescu years, Marinca is the audience’s eyes and ears in a brutal and repressive state where cigarettes and hot showers are a form of currency and every stranger is a potential police informer. Director Cristian Mungiu creates almost unbearable tension with long, static shots, but Marinca’s taciturn exterior in a series of increasingly hostile situations also contributes greatly to the overall sense of dread and danger. Whether she’s negotiating with dismissive hotel clerks, bargaining with the terrifying abortionist, or maintaining a pleasant façade in front of her boyfriend’s family, Marinca expresses volumes with just a facial gesture or a turn of the head. She’s a key player in an exciting new wave of film.
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