Oscar Breakdown: Best Actress

By  · Published on March 7th, 2010

This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.

This year has been a strange one for acting performances. In a big way, the only category to fully reflect the new diversity that the Academy seems to be going for is the Best Actress category in which we see a Southern mom, a famous author’s wife, a young girl finding her purpose, a young girl finding her purpose through intense hardship, and a former spy who wants to take cooking lessons.

Somehow, with each entry, they’ve showcased several different mindsets, each fighting against and for one another. For example, Meryl Streep as Julia Child is both a standard choice and a choice that resonates with the public. Sandra Bullock might be the ultimate popular choice, but she also delivered a strong performance as the right actor in the right role at the right time. Gabourey Sidibe is a brand new nominee altogether.

With a dearth of strong female characters this year, and thus, a dearth of strong female performances, we’ll get to see tomorrow who pull ahead out of a very tight, unpredictable race.

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Say what you will, but Bullock puts on a hell of a show. It’s not the hand-wringing, desperate drama that the awards are used to, but I’d challenge you to find a more honest portrayal of a modern Southern woman. What that means is that, no matter how popular or mainstream a choice she is, she still delivers on exactly what the character demands. She, at every moment on screen, disappears into that character. It may not be the deepest of characters, or at least Leah Anne isn’t portrayed that way for the sake of tone, but Bullock has her fair share of tough moments.to cry through and triumphs to revel in. So be surprised if she wins, but don’t be surprised if she wins.

Helen Mirren, The Last Station

Probably the quietest rumbling is for Mirren’s performance ‐ which seems like a nomination out of habit at this time. If anything, it’s this role that should be celebrated, but no one in the country has seen the film. She, like Streep and Bullock, is playing a real life person, and she is showcased in equal measure against Christopher Plummer. There hasn’t been much buzz for it ‐ perhaps because there isn’t much buzz for the film itself ‐ but Mirren is old hat at this game, and seems to effortlessly nail down an Award-worthy performance at least once or twice a year.

Carey Mulligan, An Education

[Should Win] After seeing An Education, I fully realize and understand why everyone has fallen in love with Mulligan. She is a smile in a sea of grimaces compared to some of the other actors being celebrated this year. Jenny is a difficult role ‐ maybe the most difficult ‐ if only because she has to be a hundred different things. She’s a young woman being pushed in every direction, and almost none of them are the way she wants to go. Capturing that tumultuous state of being alongside a lack of definition (who knows who they are at that age?) must have been like carrying an egg on a spoon through a mind field, but Mulligan does it with grace and authority.

Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

What do you even say about an even more difficult role? Precious has the same lack of definition in her young life multiplied by an outrageous amount of truly disturbing situations. She’s illiterate, twice pregnant by her father, abused by her mother, and morbidly obese. And then there’s the other stuff. Yet if Sidibe earned her spot anywhere it’s in the moments on screen where Precious fantasizes about another life. All of the sudden we get to see a glimpse of the actor stretching her wings and rising above the quiet anger of the rest of the film.

Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

[Will Win] Streep becomes another person in her film. That’s a strong accomplishment, even if that person happens to be larger than life to begin with. I don’t believe she turned in the best performance of the year, but hers is probably the most watchable, the most enjoyable. Her playing Julia Child is amazing, the actress is able to transform herself so completely that she begins using someone else’s mannerisms to emote. Her win would be two things ‐ a celebration of a veteran actor who is phenomenal in almost everything she does and a turnabout from handing gold to whoever can cry the hardest.

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