For years I had stayed away from Boys Don’t Cry, fearing that the drama level is gonna make it really uncomfortable to watch. As I was contemplating what year from the 1990s to select, this felt attractive, as I hadn’t seen any of the films in a long time. I knew it wasn’t gonna be an excellent year, but that it had easy films to go through (other than Boys).
So the mostly unknown Hilary Swank won for a very independent film, beating out what would’ve been the safe choice: Annette Bening, the more experienced, Hollywood based actress, pregnant while campaigning, married to Warren Beatty and acting in the Best Picture winner. I think I also chose ’99 to prove that my love for Meryl Streep is objective enough in order to call her out for her worst Oscar-nominated performance.
Here is how I would have voted:
The role: Hilary plays Brandon Teena, a female-born transgender trying to find love as a man and risking his life by hanging around with the wrong kind of people.
The film: It’s important, but selective in what it decides to show, heavily dramatized and a bit exploitive.
The performance: People have been building up this performance as being something amazing and a game changer for this category. I don’t know if it came down to expectations, but I found it to be great and strong, yet not mind-blowing. While you can’t deny Hilary’s commitment and dedication to the role, my first problem was the believability: to me there was no way Brandon would’ve passed as a man. Putting this technical issue aside, I didn’t always connect with the character or understand his actions. It wasn’t until the more dramatic scenes that I found the richness of the performance: the police interrogation scene is strong and Hilary’s acting in the medical checkup scene is heartbreaking. While the performance has difficulty in finding a balance between trying too hard and unconvincing moments, it’s impossible to deny A) the extreme difficulty level and B) that she mostly pulls it out. A performance I can respect and support, but not love.
The role: Julianne plays Sarah Miles, a married woman who has a passionate affair with a possessive writer, but chooses to suddenly end the romance.
The film: It takes itself a bit too seriously. It’s very watchable and I loved the subtle twist, but not a film I could care too much about.
The performance: I am not objective enough as to not give bonus points for the coolness of the performance. Never had Julianne looked better on screen: she is sensual, sexual and eventually a tragic figure. There are scenes where she just looks away silently and I am mesmerized and a bit fascinated, just like the jealous lover. The emotional scenes are properly played and sold to the viewers, but as I hinted it’s mostly about the mood her acting and her presence create. The performance is believable despite the lack of a real backstory and she is the only touch of interesting in quite of a boring film. I approved.
The role: Annette plays Carolyn Burnham, a highly ambitious real-estate agent with professional problems and an unhappy marriage.
The film: I was a bit doubtful about watching it again after 15+ years, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. The screenplay does the job and it’s beautifully directed.
The performance: It’s no easy task playing the bad cop in a relationship, especially when the film is focused on your male co-star. Adding to the problem, the character is quite uncool, uptight and not very likeable. So while I can’t love the performance, I like the comedic route that Annette is going for – sure, there are dramatic facts and scenes to care about, and they’re played quite well, but what I appreciated the most were the unintentional comedic tones she chose for the character, that it all fits the film’s requirements and that it’s quite the solid work. But this is not a scene-stealing performance and her co-star steals the spotlight.
The role: Janet plays Mary Jo Walker, a woman going from one town and bad relationship to another, bringing her teenage daughter along the way.
The film: Very simple, very basic, kind of forgettable. Not much to it beyond the leading performance.
The performance: There’s at least half a star bonus for the fact that Janet, an English actress, is playing the most distinctive type of American: a Southern woman; who’s also a bit trashy – so as far from Shakespeare as it gets. I had no problem in finding the performance to be convincing, but was put off a bit by the quality of the film and the lack of too many meaningful scenes. Specifically, there is just one scene (when the daughter runs away) that justifies the ranking, which happens to be one of the least loud of the character’s, but it’s one where I could find an emotional connection to Mary Jo. The overall loudness of the character didn’t bother me, it’s just something that I expected. An almost 3.
The role: Meryl plays Roberta Guaspari, a single mother who starts teaching violin to children from a rough neighborhood.
The film: It’s totally boring and predictable. You’d think that if Wes Craven finally directed a family film, it would have some edge to it.
The performance: It’s one of the few situations where one could say I am sorry they cast Meryl Streep in this, and not Madonna, as originally intended. No one is immune to my critique, not even Meryl, who is quite bad in this. First, there’s the questionable casting, with 49 year old Meryl playing an early 30s Roberta for half of the film. Even beyond the age, it truly feels like a bad call – Meryl is too pompous, too precious, too loud here for the part. And it ends up with a fake feel to it. It’s where Meryl’s overacting doesn’t work the right way – every reaction, every look she gives is SO dramatic, so obvious, so overcooked. The intention of youthful energy translates as the edge of hysterical. Sad to report it’s one of the worst 2’s I’ve ever given. We can’t hand out nominations for just learning the violin.
Conclusion: The race for my #1 was closer than I expected, but I tried to stay objective. I thought Hilary would win by a landslide, but hard not to get lost in Julianne’s looks and sensibility. From then on, it was quite clear.
How the voting went: I am sure Annette gave Hilary quite a run for it. I am also convinced that the two of them gathered about 80% of the votes and there was no real chance for any of the other three to win.
Funny enough, the only actress who stole some critics’ awards from Hilary was Reese Witherspoon, whose performance in Election must’ve been too young-ish in tone for the Academy to nominate. But undoubtedly she was 6th.
What’s next: Not fully decided yet. Maybe 2004. I haven’t seen Maria Full of Cocaine… I mean Grace.