This category makes me sad for what it exposes about the way Academy Award winners are made and potentially set up for embarrassing falls. Years ago, when it felt as if I was the only person who was bothered by American Idol’s countless insults against humanity, I had a soft sport for the sassy and soulful Jennifer Hudson. But now Hudson is branching out, singing splendidly and playing the part of the underdog but not thesping very well. She is not to blame for this, because what does Bill Condon’s vacuous tinker-toy musical Dreamgirls give the girl to do other than spit out a few bitchy one-liners in-between pandering to aficionados of musical theater? The girl’s got pipes, no doubt, but they’re in service of some pretty paltry songs, and though I have my theories as to why Dreamgirls was given the cold shoulder in the Best Picture race, I’ll stay on point and say that Hudson won this award as soon as Oscar shills and fans of the original Broadway musical started buzzing about the film early last year—you know, before it even wrapped production. Never has a movie’s ostensible pleasures been fed to us so forcibly, and never have so many bought into this hype so sheepishly. But don’t confuse my ill-will for the Dreamgirls machine as contempt for Hudson, who may not deserve to win this award but who has been so gracious throughout the entire Oscar season that I imagine people who don’t even like the movie are still going to vote for her anyway. I fear, though, that the same people who bought into the soulless spectacle of Dreamgirls are going to callously turn against Hudson with her next movie—assuming there is no singing to distract from her acting. This would be tragic, because even though it will be the Dreamgirls base that will be exposing how Hudson’s musical talent blindsided their critical faculties, it is the singer who will feel all the pain. And it is then that “I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” will gain a new, profoundly ironic resonance.
Will Win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Should Win: Adriana Barraza, Babel
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.