Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Actress

The gynophobic evidence is there and it’s damning.

Julianne Moore
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

That the only nomination for Gone Girl, a critically endorsed box-office smash that sparked a slew of think pieces and also happens to be at its core a film about a woman asserting her sense of agency, came in this category while the year’s most-nominated film forces Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough into a non-sequitur lip lock is both too perfect and sadly telling. Women just can’t catch a break. Even this year, while every observer has seemingly added an extra dash of salt to their beef against the Academy’s retrograde tastes and disinterest in multiculturalism, the argument that Oscar’s notion of excellence continues to center around phalli remains a distant runner-up to pointing out its Caucasian persuasion. At the risk of getting self-righteous, we’ve been on AMPAS’s nuts over this practically as long as we’ve been putting them through the wringer: “Does one have to be a raging feminist to suggest that Capote and Brokeback Mountain aren’t aesthetically superior to North Country and Transamerica? Or that what distinguishes your glorified Lifetime movie of the week from your serious Oscar contender is whether or not the lead character has exterior genitalia?”

But it’s the quality of arguments that counts, not the quantity, and it’s heartening to at least see Oscar’s gender issue pointed out this season in terms both satisfyingly blunt and respectfully nuanced, as by A.O. Scott last week in the New York Times: “Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, as Ms. Strayed and her mother, were both terrific and deserved their nominations for best actress and best supporting actress. But to acknowledge their work and deny the movie consideration in other major categories is to say that Ms. Strayed’s story is intrinsically less important than those of Riggan in ‘Birdman,’ Mason Jr. in ‘Boyhood,’ Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’ and the rest. This is the kind of judgment that is all the more pernicious for being reflexive rather than the result of conscious bias.” (Just as encouraging as it is to see parity creeping in via less predictable ways.)

The gynophobic evidence is there and it’s damning. As reported by Kevin B. Lee in his always insightful Oscar video essays, three of the performances nominated here—Witherspoon’s, Marion Cotillard’s, and Julianne Moore’s—dominate their films to the tune of appearing in roughly 90 percent of their respective running times. And with the exception of Dern’s surprise nod in best supporting actress for Wild, Oscar ignored their films in every other category. The tally of overall nominations for the films represented in best actor? Thirty-three. Adding to the insult is that the only actress representing a best picture nominee, Felicity Jones, plays that most hoary of clichés: the dutiful, supportive wife. (In this case, their free-spirited modern “arrangement” adds a welcome wrinkle to business as usual, but it’s not reflected in Jones’s straight-laced performance.)

Which, at the risk of incriminating myself, isn’t to say that those clamoring for a solution to the problem are any less toxic, diminishing the merits of Moore’s valiant, stricken performance in Still Alice as though it’s a crime against humanity that she’s going to collect her overdue Oscar for a disease-of-the-month melodrama and not for, say, flashing her bush in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or telling Marky Mark where he can put his money shot in Boogie Nights. Many refuse to examine the ways Moore, a dependably controlling performer, wrestles with the material, and how that struggle enriches the plight of her character facing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. And they’re the same ones endorsing Cotillard (perfectly fine in a role that mainly asks her to cry and collapse) simply by virtue of her appearing in a more respectable film, engaging in an equally deleterious practice of equating “best actress” with “any female performer who happens to appear in the movie I’m the least embarrassed to be talking about.”

Will Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Could Win: Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Should Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Eric Henderson

Eric Henderson is the web content manager for WCCO-TV. His writing has also appeared in City Pages.

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