Academy of One: Best Actress in a Leading Role 2014

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

Only one of the actresses in this category is nominated for a performance in a film that is also nominated for Best Picture. As I’ve noticed in my research, the farther back I go, the more that’s the case.

Is it that the actress’ performance outshines the rest of the film? Maybe. Is it that the Academy members, who skew overwhelmingly male, just mark the ballot with the women who are already considered frontrunners?

Maybe. In fact I think this one’s more likely.

The award show pundits put in hours watching films and dissecting them and they give an easy cheat sheet for Academy members. It’s our obsession with the awards and what is award-worthy or what we determine is a foregone conclusion that makes the race not a race, but a list of names that may shift, but rarely do after about mid-October. It’s maddening.

Especially when the films as a whole are often not talked about with the same reverence even though that performance and that film wouldn’t exist without each other. These performances don’t exist in a vacuum. They come formed and molded by a writer, actress, director, cinematographer, and editor.

And yet, I’m guilty of missing the movie for the performance myself, so let’s get down to business with the list of the nominees as they are.

  • Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night

  • Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

  • Julianne Moore - Still Alice

  • Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl

  • Reese Witherspoon - Wild

This is where I’m usually going through statistics of how many times or how little each of these actresses has been here, but what I really want to says is that all of these actresses have been truly underserved by all acting award bodies.

They’re all terrific, but I think there are some other deserving women as well. I could have written down four or five more actresses, but I wanted very strong performances to go after the very strong performances in this category. Let’s see who, if anyone, will get added to this list.

Here are my picks for additional nominees.

  • Jenny Slate - Obvious Child

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights

Often, the Academy doesn’t think comedy is a viable form of art and I strongly disagree. Jenny Slate is an actress who not only has deft comedic timing, but is able to balance her humor with the pathos of discussing abortion and its affects on people and relationships.

I think by now you realize I love Beyond the Lights and it’s very much due to the incredible performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni, a pop singer who had a career thrust upon her by her mother. Her fears, doubts, and humanity dance across her expressions and in her physicality. It’s a delicate performance that shows the horrors that show business can put to the psyche of a young woman, turning her into a thing and an object to sell a CD.

O.K., I’ve got our contenders and there’s one of them I definitely want to add to the list. So, what difficult conclusion will I come to about five performances I think are great in their own right? Here’s that original list of nominees again.

  • Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night

  • Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

  • Julianne Moore - Still Alice

  • Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl

  • Reese Witherspoon - Wild

All right, the only weak (I strongly hesitate to use that word) link here is Marion Cotillard.

Two Days, One Night is an intriguing French language film and Marion Cotillard shines as the lead, but there just feel like something missing from the performance. As often happens when portraying someone with a mental illness, there’s just not enough or it’s too exaggerated and that’s where Cotillard’sperformance falters a little for me.

Well, was that specious reasoning enough for you? I don’t know that I entirely convinced myself, but maybe the fact that she’s already won an Oscar will convince you? I can’t belabor this point any longer, but just to say that you really should check out Two Days, One Night. It’s relevant in any language and at any place in the world where people struggle to make ends meet with no job security.

Now that I’ve gotten that unpleasantness out of the way, here’s my addition to the field now that there’s an open slot.

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights

Here’s what our field of contenders looks like with my addition.

  • Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights

  • Julianne Moore - Still Alice

  • Rosamond Pike - Gone Girl

  • Reese Witherspoon - Wild

The real question now is can Julianne Moore still win against such an auspicious list of talented actresses? Short answer, yes.

The comments I made about Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of a mental illness do not apply to Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Alice. It helps significantly that Still Alice portrays the progression of Alzheimer’s disease as it occurs in a person younger than the average Alzheimer’s sufferer. This early onset Alzheimer’s gives the story more impact.

The progression of the symptoms is so much more aggressive and so much more terrifying. With an older person suffering from Alzheimer’s there is sympathy and a foregone conclusion, with a younger person we grasp at hope, we look for answers, we think it can’t be like the disease as it strikes older people.

The beauty of Julianne Moore’s portrayal lies in her ability to absolutely capture the helplessness felt by the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. She’s suddenly not a person she remembers and it’s scary.

The scene that pushes the performance over the edge for me is as Alice slips deeper into the disease, she finds a video she made of herself giving instructions on how to commit suicide, but her disease is so advanced, she can’t keep the instructions in her head and she has several attempts to get it right until it disappears from her mind as everything else does.

That heartbreak that we feel that Alice missed her chance to go out on her own terms plays across in the lucid moments Moore has and then as her brain fights her she drops back into the vacant expression she will come to adopt almost all the time.

Moore is so deft at that navigation between human and blank slate. It’s a performance that one can lose themselves in entirely as we can’t tell where Moore ends and Alice begins. Truly stunning.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actress in a Supporting Role nominees of 2014.

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