Meryl Streep no more deserves an Oscar for playing Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s Julia & Julia than Miranda Sings merits a Grammy for her latest Lady Gaga pantomime, but let’s give her another one already, if only because it will put an end to the perennial hemming and hawing over the allegedly inhumane ratio between the actress’s number of nominations (16 and counting) to her number of wins (only two!). Perhaps no one has felt the ire of Streep’s more serpent-tongued fans more than her fellow actresses, and none more viciously than Hilary Swank, whose name continues to be invoked because she has one more Best Actress trophy to her name—and none, by the way, for The Next Karate Kid or The Affair of the Necklace. That Streep made mincemeat of worthier competition—Tilda Swinton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and fellow nominees Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan—this award season can only be explained as a brazen attempt on the part of critics to steer AMPAS not so much in the right direction, but in a merciful one.
No one should doubt the Academy’s devotion to Streep, who continues to be nominated for performances both good (The Devil Wears Prada) and bad (Doubt), but Oscar history tells us that few actresses win here for playing cartoon characters, however mannered the portrayal. Though at the start of the award season it seemed as if Mulligan and Sidibe, the two actresses most likely to benefit from this award, stood a chance despite some pretty sizeable handicaps, after the conversation turned to how The Blind Side was the first movie headlined by a female actress to gross more than $200 million and how it’s to Sandra Bullock what Erin Brockovich was to yesterday’s America’s sweetheart, Julia Roberts, both the Golden Globes and SAG took the bait and we had a new undisputed frontrunner. And because we know how this bogus award show’s winners are pretty much predetermined by how slavishly the media talks them up, we really can’t see this going to anyone at this point but Bullock.
This is said with no ill will toward Bullock. The Paulinistas—Armond White and Stephanie Zacharek among them—have done a fine job outlining the more interesting nuances of Bullock’s performance. Honestly, Bullock’s thesping no more rocks my world than recent, undeserving Oscar-winning turns by Helen Mirren and Reese Witherspoon, but it’s as if Bullock’s naysayers haven’t even seen the corny but good-hearted Blind Side, or the ones who have seen it never bothered to grapple with its provocative bookends (or that calculated but key scene in which Leigh Anne Tuohy’s friends question her “white guilt”). If they had, they may marvel at the way Bullock works in fascinating, face-saving ways to subvert what has been not unrightfully dismissed as just another white-dogooder melodrama. If Bullock’s Leigh Anne deserves any comparison to Julia Roberts’s Erin Brockovich it’s because both actresses cannily chart and proclaim how their character’s sense of decency is fiercely grounded in a righteous selflessness that’s not to be confused with self-righteousness.
And none of that was meant as a vote in Bullock’s favor so much as a means of putting out there a little something to counter the negativity that will no doubt be flung at the actress for years to come by the most compulsive and inexplicably resentful of Oscar hounds in this business, who won’t feel satiated until her career, like Helen Hunt’s before her, has been successfully sidelined. We can look at a win for Bullock, like one for Streep, for what it is: a gesture of People’s Choice-ism—a reward for an actress who has defied expectations by showing her box office might when Hollywood typically has no more use for women her age. That’s not the worst reason in the world to win an award, especially from a chauvinistic group that has always been, always will be nothing more than a popularity contest.
Will Win: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Should Win: Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Nightmare Rush Limbaugh Had Last Night About the Public Option) or Carey Mulligan (An Education)