Six Circuit: Which 2009 Best Actress Hopeful Was ‘Blind Sided’ With a Snub?

Welcome to the thirty-fifth entry in our Six Circuit series.

The Best Actress category usually hands out their awards to a few types of performances. Winners in this category are either ingenues, movie stars or veteran A-list actresses. What does Oscar do when the entire lineup fits one of these categories? The 2009 Best Actress race went through lots of frontrunners and phases, only to opt for the “never nominated” movie-star route. Before we try and figure out who came in sixth place, let’s look at who the nominated five were.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • Sandra Bullock — The Blind Side {“Leigh Anne Tuohy”} (WINNER)
  • Helen Mirren — The Last Station {“Sofya”}
  • Carey Mulligan — An Education {“Jenny”}
  • Gabourey Sidibe — Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire {“Precious”}
  • Meryl Streep — Julie & Julia {“Julia Child”}

OVERALL SUMMARY

The 2009 Best Actress race had many phases, where the top four ladies took turns as frontrunners. Gabourey Sidibe earned rave reviews out of Sundance for “Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire,” with many proclaiming her the frontrunner a year before the ceremony. The newcomer had much of that buzz stolen once Carey Mulligan started winning critics prizes for her role in “An Education.” Both movies were Best Picture nominees that had quite a bit of life throughout the Oscar season.

Once the critics prizes were handed out, a familiar narrative started to play. It was the veteran versus the ingenue. Mulligan traded prizes with Meryl Streep, who many expected to win her long awaited third Oscar for “Julie & Julia,” where she portrays Julia Child. The movie was a late-summer hit and many cited Meryl’s ability to nail Julia Child’s voice and joie de vivre. At this point, the top three looked very secure and it was a matter of filling out the other two slots.

Sandra Bullock had the best year of her career in 2009. In June, “The Proposal” became her highest grossing movie. The rom-com had to relinquish that title shortly after, once “The Blind Side” took the box office by storm. Bullock played Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white woman who takes in a black teenager and trains him to be a professional football player. The movie made tons of money, gave Bullock lots of opportunities to monologue in an accent and became the poster child for the “white savior” narrative. Many wondered if the rom-com Queen would finally earn her first Oscar nomination. Once the buzz got going, Bullock couldn’t be stopped. She kissed Meryl when they tied at the Critics Choice. Then she steamrolled at the SAG and Golden Globe Awards.

As the main four fought for a win, nobody was in agreement on who would be the fifth nominee. When there’s lots of confusion, Oscar sometimes loves to play it safe. Helen Mirren is an Oscar favorite who showed up at the SAG and Golden Globe Awards. “The Last Station” is a movie that, even at the time, few people knew existed. Yet, voters really wanted to reward Christopher Plummer for his role as Tolstoy, and Mirren came along for the ride. Which other actresses could have filled that fifth slot? Let’s find out.

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Sandra Bullock – “The Proposal”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Emily Blunt – “The Young Victoria”
    • Precursors – Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globe Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Art Direction, Costume Design (WINNER), Makeup
  • Marion Cotillard – “Nine”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards, Critics Choice Awards (in Supporting)
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz), Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Song
  • Melanie Laurent – “Inglourious Basterds”
    • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society (WINNER),
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) (WINNER), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
  • Yolande Moreau – “Seraphine”
    • Precursors – Los Angeles Film Critics Association (WINNER), Cesar Awards (WINNER), National Society of Film Critics (WINNER)
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Julia Roberts – “Duplicity”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Saoirse Ronan – “The Lovely Bones”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards, Critics Choice Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Supporting Actor (Stanley Tucci)
  • Meryl Streep – “It’s Complicated”
    • Precursors – Golden Globe Awards
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Zoe Saldana – “Avatar”
    • Precursors – None
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Director, Art Direction (WINNER), Cinematography (WINNER), Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects (WINNER)
  • Tilda Swinton – “Julia”
    • Precursors – Online Film Critics Society
    • Oscar Nominations – None
  • Audrey Tautou – “Coco Before Chanel”
    • Precursors – BAFTA Awards,
    • Oscar Nominations – Best Costume Design

CRITICS PICKS

The critics award phase of Oscar season often floats some interesting names that could get lost in the shuffle. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), in particular, does a great job of picking at least one or two off-the-beaten-path winners. This usually happens in the Best Actress category. In 2009, LAFCA bestowed their Best Actress prize to Yolande Moreau for “Seraphine.” Moreau also received wins from the National Society of Film Critics and Cesar Awards. Having critical consensus can take an underdog performance to the Oscars. However, Moreau’s awards heat stopped after the critics prizes.

Some also championed Tilda Swinton in “Julia,” where she plays a drunk who gets involved in a kidnapping plot. Swinton won an Oscar for “Michael Clayton” two years earlier and many thought she could still be an Oscar player. Unfortunately, the movie was too niche for Oscar voters. Over the past twelve years, Swinton still has not been nominated for a second Oscar. It’ll be interesting to see what project brings her back to the awards.

OUR LADIES OF UNFORTUNATE CATEGORY CONFUSION

Two Weinstein movies had particular trouble deciding between Lead and Supporting. Quentin Tarantino’s Best Picture nominee “Inglourious Basterds” couldn’t figure out where to put Melanie Laurent, who played Soshanna, a Jewish woman hellbent on taking down Nazism. Initially she was campaigned in supporting, but started to pop up more as a lead once fellow co-star Diane Kruger earned a SAG nomination in Supporting Actress. Had they made a push for lead earlier on, Laurent could have cracked the Best Actress lineup.

Few ensembles were more star-studded than the cast of “Nine.” The “8 1/2”-inspired musical featured six previous Oscar winners singing and dancing. Though the movie flopped, it was still able to earn nominations, including Penelope Cruz in Supporting Actress. Though her screen time was limited, Marion Cotillard still has the largest female role in the film and could have gone lead. She was nominated in lead at the Golden Globes and supporting at the Critics Choice Awards. Since Cruz had all the supporting buzz, it would have made the most sense for Cotillard to go in lead.

There wasn’t necessarily category confusion for Zoe Saldana. Everyone agreed that she was the lead of “Avatar,” James Cameron’s record-breaking, action-adventure film. Instead, her performance brought up an age old question within the Academy. Is it time to honor a motion capture performance? Should they be in a separate category specific to those types of performances? Can’t we just give them a Visual Effects Oscar and be done with it? Though “Avatar” did not earn any acting nominations, many critics singled out Saldana with praise for her work as Neytiri, the Nav’i that falls in love with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). If Saldana had been a major precursor force, we could’ve seen her make history as the first motion capture performance nominated for an Oscar.

MOVIE STAR PERFORMANCES

This year’s Oscars had no shortage of star wattage. In fact, many of their nominated stars had more than one role that got precursor attention. We talked earlier about Sandra Bullock‘s stellar 2009. In addition to “The Blind Side,” Bullock also earned a Golden Globe nomination for “The Proposal,” her summer rom-com hit. Additionally, Meryl Streep also earned two Golden Globe nominations this year. She won Best Actress in a Comedy for “Julie & Julia,” but was also nominated in that category for “It’s Complicated” by Nancy Meyers. Both “The Proposal” and “It’s Complicated” were likely never going to be Oscar nominees. Yet, they helped their leading ladies with their Oscar narratives for other performances.

The Golden Globes also threw a nomination to Julia Roberts for her role in “Duplicity,” a comedic spy thriller from March of that year. While Roberts is good, this nomination feels more like an invitation to the show, rather than actual awards buzz. Still, one can never discount movie stars like Julia Roberts in an awards race.

TELEVISED PRECURSOR NOMINEES

What do we have to do to get Emily Blunt an Oscar nomination? She has Golden Globe and SAG wins and a filmography of many great performances. In 2009, some thought “The Young Victoria” would be the perfect vehicle to get Blunt to the Oscars. The Oscars love period pieces and Blunt’s work as Queen Victoria fits within their interests. She earned nominations from the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards. Yet, the snub at the BAFTA Awards speaks volumes. Both of her precursors came from groups that have more than five nominees for Lead Actress and no overlap with Oscar voters. The BAFTAs instead went with Audrey Tautou for “Coco Before Chanel,” a Coco Chanel biopic that earned a Costume Design nomination, but little else.

The other major precursor candidate was Saoirse Ronan for “The Lovely Bones,” Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the hit novel. The movie received mixed to negative reviews and struggled at the box office at the very end of the year. Still, Stanley Tucci earned a Supporting Actor nomination, despite having a prominent role in the more awards-friendly “Julie & Julia” too. Ronan, who already had one nomination (“Atonement” in 2007), racked up Critics Choice and BAFTA nominations. The only thing Oscar loves more than royalty is literary adaptations. If they were rewarding Tucci for “The Lovely Bones” over “Julie & Julia,” they were obviously watching the film. Ronan could have easily made the lineup if the movie had better buzz.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 2009 BEST ACTRESS WAS:

Saoirse Ronan – “The Lovely Bones”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2009 Best Actress race? Share with us in the comments below.

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