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Oscar Politics and Predictions

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As award season settles upon us, both the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes have released their list of nominees, and while there are no guarantees that those nominated will also receive Academy Award nominations, history suggests that, more often than not, a consistent nomination for the first two translates into a nod for a chance to take home the gold on Oscar night.

While Oscar nominations won’t be announced until January 24th, the pool of contenders for Best Actress seems deeper than it has in recent years. Some of the early favorites are Michelle Williams, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Tilda Swinton. Admittedly, none of these are set in stone, and personally, I would like nothing more than a bit of chaos at the awards, so maybe we could hope for a dark horse like tyro Elizabeth Olsen to get a nod for Martha Marcy May Marlene, or Adepero Oduye to sneak in for her performance in the limited-released Pariah. However, the initial five will probably fill out the category.

That said, history often also plays a role in who takes home the twelve-inch statuette. That’s not to say that merit doesn’t ever earn an award. It does. Sometimes. And, if it does this year, then Davis, who brought consistently believable emotion to The Help; Williams, who completely carried My Week With Marilyn; and Swinton, the mother of a seemingly nefarious boy in We Need to Talk About Kevin will be the front runners. All three have been nominated in the past, and Swinton took home a Supporting Actress Oscar for Michael Clayton, which may take her out of the running given that her victory came only a few years ago.

At the same time, one cannot discount Streep. Her performance as Margaret Thatcher is lauded as the highlight of a film that looks more like a farcical biopic than a serious narrative. If Streep wins and her performance is as good as people say, she will deserve it, but this is why she has a solid shot no matter what: she’s deserved it many times over. As the most nominated actress in history, and, by many accounts, the best living American actress, Streep has maintained a career of consistently solid performances that range from the ultra-dramatic (A Cry in the Dark, Doubt, Sophie’s Choice, or Deer Hunter) to the mordantly comical (The Devil Wears Prada or Julie and Julia). Despite her range and her talents, thrice in the last decade, she’s seen the Oscar go to someone else. Admittedly, in 2007, Helen Mirren won an Oscar that Streep rightly deserved for The Queen; however, Sandra Bullock received more votes for her performance in The Blind Side (2010), and Kate Winslet snagged a statue in 2009 for The Reader.

Albeit surprising, there’s nothing wrong with Bullock winning an Oscar. She’s had some fine moments in her career, and she deserves the accolades. At the same time, the film was a feel-good farce that showcased very little range and kindled more hype on the shoulders of white-guilt than anything else – kind of a reverse Monster’s Ball, for which Halle Berry took home a statuette.

Kate Winslet also deserves an Oscar, and her four previous nominations might just be the reason why she won for The Reader, a film that was nearly as melodramatic and overdone as the book on which it is based. Regardless, The Reader had two things going for it: one, it’s about relations in Nazi Germany, which makes the film difficult to deride; two, Winslet already had four fingers of a handful of nominations already. Winslet is a great actress and has been throughout her career; however, historically, those with four punches on their nomination card often take home a statue on their fifth time at the counter. While this can also be seen in the case of Susan Sarandon, it’s not solely inherent to actresses; the same phenomena can be seen in Jeff Bridges’ win for Crazy Heart and Martin Scorsese’s win for The Departed. Both films were decent, but hardly the best of each one’s career – or their respective years for that matter.

Coincidentally, the same theoretical reason why Winslet won in 2009 is the same hypothetical reason Streep could lose in 2011. Glenn Close will most certainly be nominated for Albert Nobbs, a film in which she plays a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. First off, this film imagines a woman playing a man in an abject patriarchy, so the trope of gender-bending makes the narrative exotic – as does her seeming attraction, as depicted in the previews, to Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska), which similarly opens the door to “straight-guilt” – as opposed to the “white-guilt” we see in The Blind Side. Perhaps more importantly, Close has been nominated five previous times, most notably for her turn as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, a film in which the consequence of a woman scorned is a poached bunny.

Does this guarantee her a victory in February? Certainly not. But if history is any judge of the future, then the most-often overlooked might walk away with the honors while Davis and Williams wait their turns.

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