This week we throw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome, arm then with cudgels and see who among them has the fortitude to grab blood-smeared victory. Of course I meant metaphorically, but am I the only one sporting chub right now? And speaking of boners, were this category decided by the turgidity of my cervix-hammer alone it would be a “hard” choice to make. Because unlike some of last year’s nominees (*cough* Gabourey Sibide), our 2011 contenders, oiled-up and bikini clad, would make for a fine Maxim spread. You’ve got Grade-A Kosher Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and her bodacious bod, barely legal babe Jennifer Lawrence, MILFerific Nicole Kidman, and rounding things out in the cougar category, Annette Bening. Though my loins love them equally, on Oscar night there can be only one winner.
Pro: Hype is certainly on her side, and not undeservedly. As I stated in last week’s column, Black Swan was the performance of Natalie Portman’s career… although frankly, that ain’t saying a lot. Yeah, she’s nice to look at, but her previous actressing turns have run the gamut from “decent for a movie-of-the-week” to outright embarrassing. I have no idea how she managed to become leading lady du jour for many of today’s “serious” directors (at least when Scarlett Johansson wasn’t available); she acts about as well as ScarJo sings. However with Black Swan, Portman finally earned some credibility and proved that she’s ready to be taken seriously.
Con: She’s pregnant, and no one is more loathed than a pregnant woman. Men hate them because they’ve been tainted by another man’s seed. Women hate them because of jealousy and because they wish they could have babies too. Also: If she wins, there’s the risk that she’ll laugh again like at the Golden Globes. I’d rather hear the death rattle of my own child than that hideous cackle.
Pro: The other half of our Sapphic showdown. In The Kids Are All Right, Bening took a decidedly more realistic approach in her portrayal of a lesbian character, looking like someone you’d actually see at an Indigo Girls concert (whereas Portman’s bi-curious ballerina was the sort of lesbian that exists only in my Jergen’s fueled three-way fantasies). Bening is a seasoned veteran and an excellent lesbian thespian. In the scene where her character discovers her partner’s infidelity, Bening showed more range with subtle facial expressions than Portman has shown with an entire career of overacting.
Con: The Kids Are All Right’s strength was its ensemble cast, and to give an award to Bening and not Julianne Moore (who didn’t even get nominated) or Mark Ruffalo (who’s a long shot going up against Batman Bateman) would be a slight to her co-stars. Also: I know it was what you were going for, Annette, but couldn’t you have prettied it up just a little? At first I thought I was watching a Chuck Klosterman biopic.
Pro: Underrated, underutilized, underappreciated… these words apply not just to Michelle Williams’ breasts but to Williams herself. She’s an incredibly talented young woman who’s capable of showing her prodigious skills without getting all up in your face with it (like Portman).
Con: People often confuse her with Brian Williams. And for all the controversy, the sex scene that earned Blue Valentine its NC-17 rating was about as hot as scrambled Skinemax softcore. My penis was not pleased.
Pro: This Oscar veteran already has a shiny gold dude on her mantle. The Academy knows she can handle Oscar glory.
Con: Unfortunately, Kidman’s actressing has been seriously hampered by the large amounts of Botox that have virtually eliminated her facial expressions. In The Rabbit Hole she looks like she’s wearing a Nicole Kidman Halloween mask. Also: No one saw Rabbit Hole.
Pro: The Academy does love their ingénues. Think Anna Paquin, Tatum O’Neil, Jean Benet Ramsey… they’re like dancing monkeys. Dance little monkey!
Con: Hailee Steinfeld is already a lock for the Junior Achievers category. And Steinfeld is only 14; which means that at age 20 Jennifer is practically over-the-hill. But the good is she’s bang-legal. In your face, Chris Hansen!
ADVANTAGE: Natalie Portman