Oscars stories and the Best Actress “curse”

Last weekend was the 80-something Oscars and, well I’m a bit of a sucker for following the movies award season. I don’t usually watch any of the shows but I read about it voraciously. This year was interesting for me; right as some of my favourite actors looked set to win, I had to give in to something I had long suspected but tried not pay attention to: the Oscars are often not about the year’s best movies so much as the “campaign” . I’ve heard of campaigning to sway the votes of the 6000-strong academy, but I didn’t realise how hard-core and expected it is.

I read a great New York Times feature “The Red Carpet Campaign” that brought this realisation home (I highly recommend it if you have an interest in silly things like Hollywood awards). Turns out that awards campaigning is all about stories (another thing I love). I learned that there are a number of narratives that get used every year. For films there’s The Movie That Speaks to This Moment (this year filled by recession-themed Up in the Air), The Chance to Make History (this year’s Hurt Locker), The Big Gamble That Paid Off (Jame’s Cameron’s specialty) and the well-worn Little Movie that Could (last year’s winner Slumdog Millionaire and, before that, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno). For actors and directors there’s The Kid With a Future, The Comeback and the particularly bulletproof It’s Time. That last one’s reserved for those who have “paid their dues” or been nominated loads of time without winning. That was Sean Penn who, criminally beat out Lost in Translation’s Bill Murray in 2003, it was Kate Winslet last year and it was Jeff “The Dude” Bridges this year.

There’s another narrative that wasn’t mentioned in the feature but that I’ve always suspected: This May Never Happen Again. I think this one is reserved for actors who are hugely successful but haven’t garnered any or many nominations. So when they do get nominated the Academy pounces on an opportunity that may never present itself again – to Oscar mint a big-deal star. The most heinous example of This May Never Happen Again was Gwyneth Paltrow’s ’99 win for Shakespeare in Love. It was a fun movie, great even, but Gwyneth Paltrow was certainly not the best actress in the movie, let alone of the year. That year a bone fide future star, Cate Blanchett, should totally have won for her amazing performance in Elizabeth. There was Julia Roberts’ win for an OK performance in Erin Brokovich. She was nominated (twice I think) early in her career but then nothing… for yeeaars. “She may never be nominated again! And she’s a real Hollywood legend. This may never happen again!“. Sandra Bullock ran a self deprecating campaign constantly insisting it was Meryl Streep’s Time (it has been over 20 years since she last won). As much as I loved Sandra Bullock in high school and excited at the idea of winning her the Oscar no-one ever imagined she would win, I got the feeling her win was another This may never happen again (Disclaimer: I have yet to watch The Blind Side, so I may change my mind). The NY Times feature thinks it was a Who’da thunk it story, after all Bullock has famously never been one to seek out awards.

Two award reactions really struck me this year. Mo’nique winning an Oscar was something I would never ever have imagined happening. The only movie I’ve ever seen of hers is Phat Girlz which was some scary shiz, I’m pretty sure Luisa and I couldn’t even finish watching it. Anyways, Monique took a lot of heat from the media for skipping out on some award season events (she was working on her talk show). I love that when she did win she thanked the Academy for opting to vote for performance over politics and then in her press room interview told reporters off for writing articles encouraging voters to “teach her lesson” for daring to not schmooze by the campaign rules:

“… I’m sure some of you are sitting in this room right now — some reporters wrote, ‘Someone needs to teach Mo’Nique a lesson. Someone needs to tell her how this game is played.’ And I am very proud to be part of an Academy that says, ‘We will not play that game. We will judge her on her performance and not on how many dinners she attended and how many pictures she took. It’s on the screen.”


Then there was Kathryn Bigelow, first women to win Best Director. While everyone focused on the fact that she was a woman she said she hoped that one day people wouldn’t feel the need to specify:

“I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point.”

And to end off on something more low-brow – the whisperings about the “Best Actress Ocsar Curse” (cue spooky music). Apparently many Best Actress winners experience a bust-up in their personal relationships “shortly” after winning. And with Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes announcing their divorce almost exactly a year after she won last year, the curse has gained publicity again:

Over the past 12 years, eight of the best-actress champs busted up with their lovers after winning: Kate Winslet (won for 2008), Reese Witherspoon (2005), Hilary Swank (1999, 2005), Charlize Theron (2003), Halle Berry (2001), Julia Roberts (2000), Gwyneth Paltrow (1998), Helen Hunt (1997). Five of the splits occurred less than a year after their Oscar triumphs (Winslet from hubby Mendes, Witherspoon from hubby Ryan Phillippe, Swank from hubby Chad Lowe, Paltrow from boyfriend Ben Affleck, Roberts from boyfriend Benjamin Bratt). Berry’s break-up with Eric Benet occurred 18 months after winning; Hunt split with Hank Azaria less than two years later.

The evidence is kind of compelling but we are dealing with a biased sample of people (Hollywood people) who have ridiculously high rates of breakups as it is. But then, THEN news started surfacing about trouble in Sandra Bullock’s marriage to Jesse James less than a week after she won the Oscar for The Blind Side. A seemingly odd match (she is America’s comedic sweetheart and he is a tattooed, hog building, hard-core stunt man and blue collar hero) they’ve emerged as pretty solid, fun and awesome pairing. And he was so sweetly by her side all awards season long as she gushed over him in acceptance speeches saying things like her work got better when she met him because she had never known what it was like to have someone have a her back and he was all teary while she gave her Oscar’s speech *sigh*. First Sandra B pulled out the London premier of The Blind Side, which is a rather big deal, citing mysterious “unforeseen personal reasons”. At the same time that a trashy gossip rag publishes claims of Jesse J’s infidelity with a scary tattooed lady *while* Sandra B was shooting The Blind Side. Next Sandra B has moved out of their home and is nowhere to be found while he has issued a vague public apology. This was not the romantic ending I think America had in mind for Sandra Bullock who has been one of the public’s best liked stars for a good 15 years now. It sucks that there are so many recent gushy quotes from both about their marriage and step children. Boo, and Ouch. All this basically a week after her winning the Oscar – ok it is a little creepy!

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2 Responses to “Oscars stories and the Best Actress “curse””

  1. Emma Lee Says:

    Loved this post – was a welcome break from my dissertation writing …

    • ildarabbit Says:

      awesome 🙂 writing it was a welcome break from some writing of my own – keep going with the dissertation!!

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