Glenn Close: Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Viola Davis: The Help
Meryl Streep: The Iron Lady (winner)
Michele Williams: My Week with Marilyn
As is frequently the case with more recent years (although we are talking about six years in the past at this point), there are a lot of movies I haven’t seen, which means there will likely be some suggestions in the comments below. There are a few actresses who I think could belong in this list but were either prevented from a nomination because of the nature of the film or the fact that Oscar still has some issues nominating performances that aren’t in English. I want to mention both Gine Gershon and Juno Temple in Killer Joe even though both are clearly in more supporting roles. Saoirse Ronan was probably denied a nomination because Hanna isn’t really the sort of film that Oscar nominates, and her age at the time didn’t help. The biggest misses for me are Elena Anaya in The Skin I Live In and especially Leila Hatami in A Separation. I haven’t seen We Need to Talk About Kevin yet, so I can’t comment on Tilda Swinton.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It’s difficult for me to parse this particular award because all five of the nominees have aspects I really like. I’m going to put Meryl Streep in fifth for The Iron Lady for a few reasons. There is no doubt that Streep is excellent in this, as she nearly always is. That said, I can’t help but wonder if her win was more or less to give her a number of Oscars (three at this point) more in line with her number of nominations (17 at this point). Streep has undoubtedly deserved to win a truckload of gold statues. I just don’t think she should have won for this.
4. I’d love to see Glenn Close win an Oscar, but I don’t think Albert Nobbs was her best chance for doing it. I think it’s a very good performance, but Close isn’t nearly as interesting as Janet McTeer whenever the two of them are on the screen. When you can’t command the screen from your supporting actor, it’s a problem in winning, at least for me. I also can’t really get beyond the fact that I don’t like Albert that much as a character, and while that’s not entirely Close’s fault, it is her depiction of the character that was nominated.
3. Viola Davis has essentially the same problem in The Help, where she is frequently and constantly upstaged by Octavia Spencer. I give Davis a little more leeway here only because Octavia Spencer is a damn force of nature who is capable of stealing scenes from anyone on the planet, which makes this less Davis’s fault and more just the nature of being in a film with Octavia Spencer. I like Viola Davis, but it’s a problem when the first things you think about in a film where she stars are characters who aren’t her, because Sissy Spacek steals a lot of scenes, too.
2. Rooney Mara got a little bit of attention from The Social Network, but it was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that made her into someone worth watching. I appreciate the fact that she made herself strange and almost otherworldly in appearance for this film. Lisbeth Salander is scary, and that comes entirely from Mara. What’s better is that she makes Lisbeth a real character, someone who has a lot going on behind her eyes that becomes real and visible for the audience. That’s hard to do, and she does it well. I could see her winning, even if she’s not my choice.
1. From the nominees, I’m giving this to Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn for one very specific reason. Williams had the incredibly unenviable task of playing a true icon both in film history and in culture. She had to walk a very fine line between making Marilyn Monroe believable and real and still give us the character that we all thought she might have been. This could have easily dropped into farce or parody and it never does. She makes Marilyn real and human, which might be the most difficult thing to do for someone who has become a legend rather than a human being.
All of that said, I’m still going elsewhere. I wouldn't have been terribly upset if Rooney Mara had won, and I’d have liked to see Michelle Williams cross the stage, but the real winner here is Leila Hatami in A Separation. This is the most emotionally affecting film from 2011, and hers is the most emotionally affecting performance. It’s heartbreaking and real, and to not have her in the list of nominees was simply wrong.