Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2011: Best Actress in a Lead Role

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.


1. Michelle Williams
Blue Valentine

2. Natalie Portman
Black Swan

3. Annette Bening
The Kids Are All Right

4. Jennifer Lawrence
Winter’s Bone

5. Nicole Kidman
Rabbit Hole

I changed my top two picks at the last second. The realization hit that despite my love of Black Swan, it’s not really at all due to Natalie Portman‘s performance as the paranoid, uber-ambitious ballerina. While I think this is a strong performance for the sprightly Portman, her work in Closer was better. The girl is dedicated, and disciplined (all those ballet lessons! to learn the subtleties of the swan-arm flap!), but she’s also smart, and (overly?) self-aware; you can tell that she over-thinks every movement, every character choice, not unlike her fictional counterpart, Nina. Luckily, she was matched with a director who adores actors and who has a starkly original vision who guided and prodded her to the near-perfect pirouette of a performance.

It’s Annette Bening‘s time. This is her fourth nomination, and after losing the Oscar to Hilary Swank twice (seriously?), we’re all thankful that the Swank has kept her Conviction far, far away this year. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to guarantee this fabulous actress her first win. Competing against all these PYTs (and Nicole), Annette faces the brutal truth that Oscar largely prefers his women wrinkle-free and slightly naive. Because of that, her constantly furrowed forehead; buzzy, disheveled countenance; and the more-than-meaningful silence she owns as her Type A lesbian OB-GYN doesn’t quite fit Oscar’s bill. But like most men, Oscar doesn’t know a good thing when he has it.

Like her co-star John Hawkes, Jennifer Lawrence is quiet, watchful, precise. There is no room for the superlative in her performance; each movement is calculated, n0 ounce of emotion is wasted. Contained and highly-controlled, this is certainly a young actress on the rise. On the other hand of the experience spectrum is the accomplished Nicole Kidman, who offers a similar performance as a woman learning to deal with her immense grief from losing a child. Kidman’s stricken mother reverts into herself; physicalizing the act of closing oneself off the pain of reality, Kidman’s movements are stiff and strained; her eyes not quite dead, but barely flickering with life. This is not the showier Kidman of The Hours (Oh, that nose!); this is a quieter, restrained actress, and because of this, her performance has garnered her an extraordinarily little amount of attention.

But it’s Michelle Williams who once again wears her heartbreak on her sleeve as the victim-perpetrator of a relationship on the rocks, that should take home the Oscar. Nominated five years ago for a similarly sad role (Brokeback Mountain), Williams is quickly cornering the market on the sad-eyed, soulful young women in rural America roles. She lives inside these women; when you watch her, you feel that she must be this person. How else could so precisely articulate the pain, the feelings of entrapment, the desperate longing for what she does not have? Her ability to tap into those depths, that darkness of our worst fears and realities, is what draws us her each time she’s onscreen. While she won’t win this year, we need not worry. She’ll be back.


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This entry was posted on February 25, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Oscar-Nominated.



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