My vote - Best Actress 2001
It was my honest desire to see again all of these 5 films – with the exception of Bridget Jones, I hadn’t seen any of them in about 15 years. The results were mixed, as somehaven’t aged that well. But in the end it completed the purpose of this blog series: figuring out what performance I prefer. It was a really tight 3-way race, but I will follow my instinct.
Of course, Halle won the Oscar and it was historical (first black actress to win in this category) and maybe I would’ve voted for her as well, but let’s not kid ourselves. I would say that the performances are remarkable as a group, but Halle is not the best of them.
Here’s my ranking:
The role: Nicole plays Satine, a beautiful courtesan who falls in love with a young writer, in this musical / doomed love story.
The film: It’s basically a nice musical on steroids. Using familiar songs helps a lot and, when it’s not very tiring, the colourful nature makes it really special.
The performance: When you can’t make up your mind on what performance was the best, always go with the actress who had the most difficult task. Nicole did. Choosing her as my #1 is as surprising to me. I looked down on this performance for many years saying it’s a mix of silly comedy and some singing and some good looks – and while all of these still stand, there’s more. While the film lacks depth and subtlety, and so does this role on paper, Nicole elevates it by a) checking the boxes for all the superficial elements: looks, voice, dance, having fun with the “comedic” seduction scenes and b) nailing it and killing it towards the end when it came to tears, tragedy and death. The role isn’t much, but it takes a versatile and talented actress to go from absurd playing-around to heart-breaking with such ease and with such dedication. Though not visible at first, I was charmed and surprised by the lack of vanity (I mean that!) and the level of commitment Nicole displays here, where no scene is too small to be taken seriously and she’s really putting in the work.
The role: Renee plays Bridget, a single woman in her 30s, dealing with family and career and especially with finding the right guy.
The film: I LOVE it!! It’s such a funny romantic comedy, well-acted all around (great ensemble!), well written and just special.
The performance: Of course my entire being was telling me to choose Renee, because I adore the film and the role so much. :) But I stepped back (it’s all about hard choices here!) and figured she gets plenty of help from the wonderful screenplay (something Nicole doesn’t benefit from). This is a really fun and romantic and charming (!!) and lovable and sweet performance and I love the Academy for nominating her, since they rarely go for this genre in lead. The line readings are perfect, the emotional scenes are balanced just right – she understands the tone of the film and carries it with dedication and also having fun, which you can tell. It’s the sunny optimistic performance that brings a smile to my face.
The role: Sissy plays Ruth, a music teacher who must deal with grief and anger following the death of her only son.
The film: It’s a strong drama about loss, anger and revenge. I had no problem with the slow parts, since it’s so well directed.
The performance: Here is another performance that could’ve also been my winner. Such is the subtlety of Sissy Spacek that I actually wished she would’ve pushed harder and a bit flashier on the drama side and give us juuuuust a bit more especially in a key confrontation scene with her husband. That would’ve gained my win, but let’s be clear: it’s a solid performance about grief that is not whinny (clearly the director didn’t want that) and is not looking to make a statement. It’s just solid work from an experienced actress that deeply understands the character, respects its moral and personality boundaries and delivers her work to what is a very interesting, successful film.
The role: Judi plays writer Iris Murdoch, a famous British novelist whose health deteriorates after getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
The film: It’s kind of boring at times, but luckily it’s not too long and Winslet’s charisma pulls it through, though there isn’t much happening.
The performance: The dullness of the film contaminates the performance. While Judi is always remarkable, there is little diversity in the performance; and this comes mostly from the screenplay. The best parts are when the disease starts crippling in and we are served plenty of close-ups where Judi does her best to expose the internal struggle of her character. As expected, she makes the right choices in the technical aspects of the performance and there aren’t any false notes. But beyond the sadness (or blankness) in her eyes, what is there to get excited from an acting perspective? An intelligent performance, but not remarkable.
The role: Halle plays Leticia, a woman whose husband gets executed and must deal with additional tragedy but also with an unexpected romance.
The film: I liked less than I did 15 years ago. It has some unnecessary nudity, some unusual editing, but it works better towards the end.
The performance: The ups and downs in the performance are most visible when the director is stubborn enough to choose very long shots that require emotional depth plus contextual work (playing drunk) PLUS sexual choreography. Confronted with all these demands, Halle gets lost a couple of times. The highs are high (we know she’s a great crier) and the lows are not that low but mediocre enough (scenes where she makes it either too obvious, playing too much for the camera or not sure on the emotional context of the character). I applaud the risks she took in accepting the role itself, but the competition was high that year.
Conclusion: I explained in Nicole’s segment why she was my choice. Renee and Sissy were right behind and indeed they felt like the front-runners in terms of my love and devotion.
How the Oscar voting went: I trust the voting was decisively in favour of Halle, despite the film being small and quite controversial. The story of her win had to happen. Normally I would say Nicole was 2nd, but no love from BAFTA and SAG confuses me deeply; she barely got nominated for the Oscars it seems. But she was Nicole Kidman (and also benefitted from some love for The Others) and had a lot of buzz also in her personal life (Nicole is single! Who is Nicole dating? Look how pretty Nicole is!) that maybe she was 2nd indeed in terms of chances of winning. From then on, I’d say Sissy was 3rd. And Renee and Judi distant 4th and 5th.
Actresses that almost got nominated: I immediately go to Naomi Watts for Mulholland Drive (who would’ve probably ended up being my winner) and Audrey Tautou for Amelie (yes, I believe she really was that close – the BAFTA nomination says a lot). Nicole was competing against herself for The Others (but the film didn’t land with the Oscars) and maybe Tilda Swinton also got a few votes for The Deep End.
For previous Best Actress years/rankings, just look over on the right, for a column with various years.