LAMB devours the oscars: best actress

Note: this post was part of an annual feature at the LAMB entitled "LAMB Devours The Oscars". Each day one blogger discussed one category of the Academy Awards. To read more of the entries, click here.

As I've complained ad nauseum on The Center Seat, I've been a very bad film geek this year. I'll spare you the gory details, but life has conspired... and I've actually had to make a conscious effort to see all the 2009 Oscar films. But still, I thought I was doing pretty well... until Fletch assigned me Best Actress, a category in which I had, at that point, seen only one of the nominated films!

Actually, it was a good thing. I got off my booty and went to the theater (and, in one case, Blockbuster), and now I can hold my head up in the LAMB's distinguished company. So, here we go.

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

This was a gripping story about a recently single mother who resorts to border smuggling to pay the bills--and it's the Canadian border. Cool twist, right? We're saturated with Mexico border stories, so this was refreshing. And I have to say... maybe it was the snowy backdrop, or the northern accent, or the raw desperation to keep her head above water, but I saw a lot of people I know in Melissa Leo's character. She's real, frank, unadorned, the anti-glamour-puss. Of course a lot of the credit for that must be shared with the person who created the character: screenwriter Courtney Hunt, who is also nominated.

Leo is fairly unknown; a quick perusal of her IMDB page reveals lots of guest stints on Law & Order and CSI, and roles in various obscure films, perhaps the least obscure of which is Mr. Woodcock. Did you see that one? Yeah, me neither.

I'm actually really cool with Leo's obscurity. How great would it be if relative unknowns were nominated at every Academy Awards? Of course she doesn't have a chance in hell, but it'll be nice to see her there Sunday night.

Meryl Streep - Doubt

Meryl Streep has gotten fifteen Academy Award nominations. Fifteen. That's more than any other actor or actress in the history of the Oscars. I'm sure there's a chair somewhere in the Kodak Theatre with Meryl's ass-print permanently molded onto the seat.

Still, it shouldn't be a surprise. Girlfriend can act. Overall, Doubt was a bit depressing for me (it's the story of a priest who may or may not have misbehaved with one of his school's young male students), but it was one of those movies that seemed custom-built as a showcase for great acting. And, naturally, Streep didn't disappoint. She portrayed a harsh, militant nun who suspected the priest of wrongdoing and did all she could to prove herself right. That character had so much potential to be flat and uncomplicated, but Streep gave her flashes of humanity, with a fleeting look of uncertainty or a slight shaking of the hands. This is one case in which the actress seems to have made the character who she was. But, fairly or not, that's what we've come to expect of Meryl Streep. Anything less than perfection in her would be a disappointment. Kind of a tough place to put her in, huh? Whatever. She's got fifteen Oscar nominations.

Kate Winslet - The Reader

I came to this movie with the distinct disadvantage of having read the book. We all know that books tend to far surpass their movie adaptations. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this movie, with its raw sexuality and complicated morality.

It's hard to think of a more complicated, conflicted character to challenge Kate Winslet. In this movie, she played an illiterate Nazi war criminal who has an affair with a 16-year-old boy. It's kind of Summer of '42-meets-Judgment at Nuremberg-meets-...I don't know... a Lifetime movie about illiteracy. Of course Winslet pulls it off. She is somehow able to portray vulnerability and pride simultaneously, but perhaps her greatest feat is that we forget about Kate Winslet and instead become wholly absorbed in the story. This is a case, in contrast to Doubt, in which the acting is merely a part of the experience of the film.

Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married

This is it. We are officially no longer allowed to dismiss Anne Hathaway as Princess Mia. I think we all suspected she was awesome (how much ass did she kick in Brokeback?) but now, there it is in black and white. She is a contender for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

It wasn't just handed to her either. In a film which was sometimes difficult to watch, Hathaway delivered a stunning performance as a recovering addict trying to fit in with her family upon her return from rehab. She's the classic black sheep, but the issues go deeper than that. In fact, the myriad issues of this textbook dysfunctional family explode at perhaps the worst possible time: the days surrounding the wedding of the "good" sister.

I have never seen Anne Hathaway like this. She knocked me on my ass. Frankly, she would absolutely get my vote for this particular Oscar, if it had not been for the final contender in this category...

Angelina Jolie - Changeling

I get a lot of flak from people I respect (Pistola, I'm talking to you) about my professional regard for Ms. Jolie. In this case, it's sometimes hard to distinguish feelings about Jolie's personal choices from judgment of her acting ability. Many people dismiss her as a skank/homewrecker/baby factory/whatever, and I'm not necessarily arguing with that. But I have always been a fan of Angelina Jolie the actress. From her first major role as a doomed supermodel in Gia, to her Oscar-winning turn as a sociopathic mental patient in Girl, Interrupted, to her heartbreaking portrayal of her own friend Marianne Pearl in A Mighty Heart, to this most recent role as a bereaved mother in Changeling, Angelina Jolie is a devastating actress. Her work speaks for itself.

I was shaking after I saw Changeling... Jolie is heartbreaking as a mother who tirelessly fights to find her lost son, even angering police and being thrown in a mental institution in the process. Of course she's a great actress, but she brought something outstanding to this particular role. We all know, regardless of our personal feelings for her, that she loves her kids. In addition, she lost her own mother shortly before starting filming on Changeling. Perhaps it was this personal experience that allowed her to lay herself open on screen in such a raw way.

I am going to unabashedly throw my full support behind Angelina Jolie for this Oscar. But the truth is, no matter who wins this year, we can't lose. The Academy has nominated five outstanding actresses, and whoever wins will do so because of merit, and not because of pity, or politics, or "it's about time", as in certain previous years (Halle Berry, I'm looking at you.)
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