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  • James Kunovski

Tribute to Those Overlooked: Best Actress

Overlooked by the Academy, yet exceptional as ever, the following performers are united by the brilliance with which they convey the spectacle of their characters.


Lupita Nyong’o, Us

The Academy has rarely proven themselves fans of scares, so it is no surprise that one of this year’s most talked about snubs was a lead character from a horror. Nyong’o, who clinched a trophy for her film debut in 12 Years a Slave, balances the tether of ethereal intensity in her dual role as Adelaide Wilson and doppelgänger, Red. Academy voters love when actors change their physique for a performance, because you know, method. As Red, Nyong’o based her vocal temperament on the condition of spasmodic dysphonia and specifically enough, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who suffered from it. Nyong’o is able to push through writer Jordan Peele’s expository monologues, while croaking and stuttering her vocal cords, so extra kudos to her.

Renée Zellweger for Judy won in their eligible year.

“Nyong’o gives a master class in acting in dual roles and is almost unrecognizable as her doppelgänger persona.” – Yolanda Machado, TheWrap.


Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher

You might recognise the name from a few years back. Huppert was actually recognised by the Academy for her lead role in Paul Verhoeven’s revenge-comedy-thriller Elle. Although slightly more common nowadays, it is still a welcome surprise when a non-English-speaking actor snaps up some recognition. Back home in France, Huppert is the César’s (French Oscars) most nominated performer. So, some like to call her the French Meryl Streep. Her five decade-long career includes her riveting turn as a masochistic piano instructor at a Viennese conservatory in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Huppert’s Erika is incredibly destructive yet elusive and vague. It is the type of amalgamation that is so perfectly drawn behind the tempered and austere visage of Huppert.

Nicole Kidman for The Hours won in their eligible year.

“A rich incarnation of a woman we might see on the street and never guess that she contains fires, earthquakes and infernos.” – Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle.


Björk, Dancer in the Dark

The Icelandic singer’s turn at the 2001 Oscars with her illustrious swan dress should have been expanded to presence in the lead actress category. In the case of Lars Von Trier’s polarising Dancer in the Dark, Selma, an immigrant factory worker who escapes her unsettled reality with an array of Hollywood-esque musical numbers was so perfectly attuned to Björk’s ear that she made an exception to never act and took up the role. It is a tour-de-force accomplishment; the type of boldness that can confidently ignite the match on a canvas. Her screen presence is rooted in true emotion and a willingness for experimentation; her non-actor status adding to this sentiment. There is no doubt that Dancer in the Dark is a difficult watch. It has a jarring quality that comes across as amateurish and misguided but make no mistake, the seamlessness of Björk’s capabilities make the film worth the watch.

Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich won in their eligible year.

“Bjork gives what may be the most wrenching performance ever given by someone who has no interest in being an actor.” – David Ansen, Newsweek.


Maggie Cheung, In the Mood for Love

Never mind the brashness of performances that are usually noticed by the Academy, with their booming monologues and contemplative mirror poses abound, rather Cheung delivers a masterclass on the virtuosity of restraint. Director Wong Kar-wai is generous with his close-ups and awareness of time while allowing Cheung to modestly express. She plays Su Li-zhen, a housewife in the rich atmosphere of 1960s Hong Kong, who discovers her husband is having an affair. Her relationship with the neighbour next door, and the stillness of their unrequited interactions form the base of this compelling work. Cheung’s character is imbedded in materialism, for she wears a different cheongsam dress in every scene. Her makeup and hair took five hours each day to apply. On the other hand, Cheung’s presence is simple and exists on the quiet brilliance of what lies beyond appearances.

Halle Berry for Monster's Ball won in their eligible year.

“Cheung doesn’t walk so much as glide, as if driven by some divine internal motor.” – Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve.


Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive

The British-Australian actress formally announced her breakthrough with her dizzying dual portrait of Betty and Diane in David Lynch’s eerie work. Watts conveys broad versatility (that she has continued throughout her career), as she delves into multiple personas of varying Hollywood fame. She is boldly convincing in each portrayal of illusion and identity. Watts masterfully flickers between a naïve, wide-eyed actress with the mannerisms of a contrived golden age star and the embittered aftermath of Hollywood glamour gone sour. The Academy has a tradition of awarding actors who take the 'bold' switch to playing an actor, but the case of Mulholland Drive might have just struck too close to home.

Halle Berry for Monster's Ball won in their eligible year.

“Watts has a quicksilver technical fluency: an ingenue, an actress, and then a has-been.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.


Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday

Most films have an average dialogue speed of 90 words per minute. In the case of His Girl Friday, the double-quick tale of a newspaper editor (Cary Grant) trying to stop his ex-wife reporter from remarrying, clocks in at an average of 240 words a minute. Russell was dissatisfied with her lines, and spurred by director Howard Hawks’ acceptance for spontaneity, hired an advertisement writer to give her a few cunning lines. This approach is indicative of Hildy Johnson, the unflinching ace reporter, who Russell plays.

The four-time Oscar nominee practically ignites the screen with her rapid and flawless prose. Though not the first, she is an indomitable epitome of the ‘Hawksian woman’: able to vocally keep up with her male counterparts, strong-willed and willing to take action to get what she wants. Irrespective of Academy credit, Russell’s characterisation of Hildy Johnson is infinite in its charisma and presence.

Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle won in their eligible year.

“Like Russell’s Shakespearean namesake, she’s an intelligent, witty force of nature blowing through a man’s world.” – Entertainment Weekly.


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