Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2010: Best Actor + Actress in a Leading Role

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to least accomplished, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners appear in orange.


1. Helen Mirren
The Last Station

1. Sandra Bullock
The Blind Side

3. Carey Mulligan
An Education

4. Meryl Streep
Julie and Julia

5. Gabourey Sidibe

This is a surprisingly difficult category for me to order, as all of these women are tremendous. The slight one exception is Gabourey Sidibe as Precious, the severely obese and abused Harlem teen. With a face so round and full that her eyes always form unintentional slits difficult to read, Sidibe, while certainly impressive as a first-time actor, left me slightly underwhelmed in the wake of Mo’Nique’s insanely powerful performance.

I’m not sure one can argue “it’s time” for Sandra Bullock, but I’m happy to go along with it, as I’ve always possessed a great deal of affection for the down-to-earth and warm comedic actress. Sandy has of course shown us her dramatic chops before, if only in the smallest of roles (Crash), but The Blind Side is the perfect showcase for both her humor and dramatic capabilities as the no-nonsense, loving wealthy suburban mom who nurtures a troubled African American teen. Voters love the underdog, and let’s face it: if Julia Roberts can walk away with the biggie for Erin Brokovich, Sandy’s pretty much got this one in the bag.

Of course Bullock’s major competition is Meryl Streep, and the media has certainly made a huge to-do about these two women going head-to-head. No one compares to The Streep, but the formidable actress is always sensational, and while she goes above and beyond a simple imitation of the iconic cook in Julie and Julia, her Julia Childs is surely not amongst her most impressive performances.

That leaves just Mulligan and Mirren: the ingénue and the ol’ pro. Carey Mulligan plays a young schoolgirl seduced by a charming and much older man, and she does it with striking maturity and self-awareness, so strongly holding her own with accomplished actors Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard, that you actually can’t fathom that this is her first major role. We’ve come to expect amazing self-assuredness and brilliance at every turn from the superfluously talented Helen Mirren, and she has absolutely no problem delivering in the romantic historical drama, The Last Station. As the self-ostracized and comically paranoid wife of famous literary icon, Leo Tolstoy, Mirren carefully reveals the heartbreak behind the bombast, fully engaging all of her character’s complexities, no matter how unattractive, vulnerable, or harsh. Her brightest moments are the smallest: in an intimate scene, she carefully unveils Sofya Tolstoy’s strong love for her husband as as she quietly coerces him into bed with delightfully silly pet names and amorous humor. That the performance doesn’t delve into complete hysteria (as it so easily could have) is due to Mirren’s sensitive portrayal of a woman who feels profoundly abandoned by the man she most intensely worships, respects, and adores. Mirren manages to channel our own agonizing heartbreaks within Sofya’s, and as she passionately loves and bitterly detests, and then finally, grieves for her love, so do we.


1. Jeff Bridges
Crazy Heart

2. Colin Firth
A Single Man

3. Jeremy Renner
The Hurt Locker

4. Morgan Freeman

5. George Clooney
Up in the Air

Of all the categories, this contains the year’s most solid – and entirely worthy – set of nominees, and quite frankly, I adore them all: newcomer Jeremy Renner mixes a dangerous amount of self-confidence and precision in his performance as the adrenaline-junkie bomb defuser in The Hurt Locker; Morgan Freeman’s natural calm and grace perfectly suits South African president Nelson Mandela; and while George Clooney’s restlessly affable corporate terminator is too subtle and nuanced to make him a frontrunner, the seeming effortlessness of the performance is precisely why he was nominated in the first place.

And then there’s Colin Firth. Known primarily for a penchant for British romantic comedies, Firth’s quiet and delicate performance as a gay man in the ‘60s grieving his lover’s sudden death is a surprising choice for the actor. But what’s not surprising is the talented Firth’s refined and delicate portrayal of a man fully and painfully aware in every moment of every day – you can see it in the small tremor of his hand, even, as he removes his glasses – that nothing – nothing – will be good, ever again. The Academy could certainly do worse than surprise us all by rewarding this heartrending and essentially perfect performance.

But let’s be honest: if it’s Sandy’s time, it’d damned well better be Jeff Bridges’s. With four previous nominations under his belt and the love of critics and audiences alike, Bridges will finally go home with that golden statue that most agree should’ve been The Dude’s twelve years ago. But this isn’t simply a “let’s make up for past mistakes” vote (ie Denzel Washington in Training Day); Bridges actually deserves the Oscar for this performance. As the scruffy boozehound of a country-western bad boy singer, Bad Blake, Bridges’s gravelly voice and hangdog demeanor charms even as it repels, and we can’t help but root for his uderdog to make the comeback we’re not sure he deserves. As for Bridges – well, that’s one we’re sure about.

Next up: Best Director and Best Picture


3 comments on “Oscars 2010: Best Actor + Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Aaron
    March 7, 2010

    Yay Colin Firth! A Single Man is one of my absolute favorite films of the year. I loved him! I totally agree with you on Mirren, too. Although I think the film is really uneven, her performance is superb and just as nuanced as you say.


    • Julie
      March 7, 2010

      I really loved The Last Station, though I totally agree with you in its erraticism.

      I’m not sure if I was just having an emotional day or what, but I wept through practically all of the film. Every moment seemed so touching and heartbreaking. Those last 30 minutes? Forget about it; I was a mess.


      • Aaron
        March 7, 2010

        I was a big ol’ mess at the end, too. And Mirren is MASTERFUL in that deathbed scene. MASTERFUL.


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This entry was posted on March 7, 2010 by in Award Predictions, Oscar-Nominated and tagged , .



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