Oscars 2006: Best Actress
5. Kate Winslet as 'Sarah Pierce', Little Children
I've yet to see The Holiday, but, after my frenzy of excitement at having four Kate Winslet movies in the space of three months, I was incredibly disappointed to see that all of them are distressingly worthless. Believe me, I'm just as distressed to see my favourite modern actress all the way at the bottom here. Her turn as alienated housewife Sarah Pierce is far better than her choppy role in All the King's Men, and there's not much wrong with it at all to be honest- it's merely proficient work, demonstrating Winslet's professional and committed work ethic, but the role itself is what's limiting here- like the others, Sarah is essentially destroyed in the awful climax, and there is literally nothing Winslet could have done to prevent it. Only a scene in a book group meeting gives Winslet the chance to shine as bright as she has done before.
Likelihood of win: 2%
4. Meryl Streep as 'Miranda Priestly', The Devil Wears Prada
Streep is on glacial form here, as cold as an Antarctic night, yet bitterly funny too, yet it's hardly one of her best performances. Of course, with Streep there's always an extremely tough curve to grade on, given her multitudinous superb performances, and Miranda Priestly just isn't one of her best roles. I'd happily sit through this film again, and again, if just for superb Emily Blunt, but many of Streep's caustic readings are hilarious too- and it is nice to see a bit of true comedy amongst this otherwise rather serious line-up (Cruz excepted).
Likelihood of win: 2%
3. Helen Mirren as 'Queen Elizabeth II', The Queen
I think, being a Brit, the experience of watching The Queen was rather different for me than the rest of the world, given that this is my monarch in my country presiding over me. The day- or rather, the morning after Diana died is one of my most distinct memories from an otherwise hazy time- I remember waking early on that August morning, turning on the tv and seeing my morning programmes interrupted by the news. Even at the age of nine, I was shocked and saddened. So The Queen, for me, was a fascinating look behind the scenes of a landmark memory, the political scene behind my childhood. And Mirren is, indeed, superb, and I have no qualms with her inevitable Oscar win- I just wasn't blown away by this work, as I was by numbers 1 and 2.
Likelihood of win: 90%
2. Judi Dench as 'Barbara Covett', Notes on a Scandal
I only saw Notes last week, and I think a performance as complex as Dench's needs some time to settle into my head, and so take this placement with a pinch of salt. Dench applies so much to what could have easily been a slim, villainized role- Patrick Marber's script paints with an exceedingly thin brush, and Dench, unlike co-star Cate Blanchett, totally eschews what Marber has given her to create a full, multi-layered character. Barbara does misguided, even cruel things, yet Dench recognises the deep loneliness and pain behind these actions, and every moment is driven by this. She realizes that Barbara is not really attracted to Sheba, but is so lonely she convinces herself of it. Every moment of this performance is filled with rich detail- the judgmental looks at her co-workers, the fiddling with her handbag strap, the movement of her pen. This is the best Dench has been in years.
Likelihood of win: 5%
1. Penelope Cruz as 'Raimunda', Volver
Penelope Cruz has reigned supreme at the top of this list for several months, until of course I finally saw Dench and started to err. But Cruz's performance is superb- her movie-star wattage finally mixed with her native language, allowing her to shine in both senses of the word. Assisted by push-up bras and posterior-padding, Raimunda is a sexpot, sure, but she's also a mother, and she's not really after men, at least consciously. Of course, the moment in Volver that sticks in most people's minds is the scene where Penelope lipsynchs to the title song, and, indeed, that is the moment of this performance that has haunted me the most- I love that, even though it's evident that she is mouthing, Cruz is utterly devoted to the moment, her mouth moving passionately and tears flooding from her eyes. It's a beautiful, perhaps transcendent moment, and the one that epitomizes this superb, unexpected performance.
Likelihood of win: 1%