Don & Vinny,
Now that the SAG awards are over and done with, the Oscar race has really been kicked into high gear. It’s true that the smart money was on George Clooney for Best Lead Actor since aside from his “career best” performance in The Descendants (which I found great but I still think he’s capable of more–Syriana showed us that), he’s ultimately one of the most likable actors in Hollywood. Fellow actors love him, as do stellar directors like frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh. What a marvelous mini-upset then that Jean Dujardin followed his Golden Globe triumph with a SAG statuette to really make us all wonder who Oscar will favor in February.
Admittedly, I threw both my arms up in absolute joy that Viola Davis won for Best Lead Actress for her work in The Help. While I know that ultimately, the film is an ensemble and each of the cast members was given ample time to shine in their respective roles, there’s no question that Davis is a severely talented actress who has more than paid her dues in the industry. And when you think of the recent Best Actress winners, say from the 2000s, a majority of the characters that they portrayed were dark mirrors of the human condition. In fact, from 2000 to 2011, only four of the eleven Best Actress winners played characters who were “likable”–Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, and even Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. They presented portraits of women who fought for respect in their chosen paths, and stood up for the people they loved, and what they believed in. The rest of the characters portrayed by Best Actress Oscar winners, from Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball to Natalie Portman in Black Swan, were characters of a questionable moral fibre. Cold, complex women like Helen Mirren in The Queen or Kate Winslet in The Reader, or dark and brooding figures like Nicole Kidman in The Hours and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose. Those are the kind of performances by women that Oscar falls in love with more often. I would love to see Viola Davis win for a role that at its core, represents the great power of female perseverance and dignity.
I agree with you Vinny about the predilection of the Academy for honoring male-centrism in cinema, but I think that’s an established order that has been in place ever since Hollywood was, well, Hollywoodland. There just isn’t enough material out there that is green-lit that happens to deal with more rounded female characters, without also making the male characters seem merely incidental to the story as a result. One gender will always suffer more than the other in every film. I find it hard to think of any film that deftly represented a balanced portrait of each gender’s roles in the progression of a story, but I have yet to see A Separation. In the end, I believe that films of any kind struggle with this problem because you can only do so much in the limited running time that most of them are equipped with.
The industry is, for the most part, geared towards catering to the white male perspective, and a lot of people in the industry seem to understand this: