By Mary McNamara
February 4, 2009
Certainly, she is one of the finest actors of her generation. Over the years, she has made many brave -- and a few misguided -- choices, but no matter the venue, her performance was invariably terrific.
In fact, if you ever need to sum up the strange and arbitrary nature of the Oscar process, or indeed any awards system, the fact that Hilary Swank has two Oscars and Winslet has none should do it.
Not for a lack of interest. Winslet is one of those rare performers who is not shy about voicing her desire for an Oscar. Not only did she appear in an episode of "Extras" as herself starring in a Holocaust movie because she believed that is what it would take for her to bring a statue home, she then went and starred in a Holocaust movie! Which earned her an Oscar nomination!
So you would think the signs were good that Winslet will finally break her five-time losing streak. And yet . . .
"Revolutionary Road," her pet project with beloved costar and friend Leonardo DiCaprio and husband-director Sam Mendes, and the film for which she won a Golden Globe for lead actress in a drama, was utterly ignored by the academy. Instead, her lead actress nomination came for " The Reader," in which she plays not only a former Nazi, but an unrepentant former Nazi who has an affair with a callow high school student. Not exactly the type of role the academy usually goes for, but then you can never underestimate the persuasive power of Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. released the film.
It's a wonderful performance, of course, but then that's the only kind of performance Winslet knows how to deliver, and that may be her undoing. Everyone in the academy knows she'll be nominated again. And again. And again. So, some may feel like there's still plenty of time to give Winslet her Oscar. Maybe for a character who is not a Nazi.
Meanwhile, she is not the only nominee with special considerations. The lead actress category this year is chockablock with the sort of emotional back stories and tangled Industry threads that so often influence the outcome.
There's the lovely Anne Hathaway, who had such a bad year, what with her ex-boyfriend being convicted of fraud and all. Hollywood has been looking for a new Julia Roberts for a while now and Hathaway is certainly a front-runner; an Oscar would solidify her potential as a serious dramatic actress. Angelina Jolie should never be underestimated under any circumstance. "Changeling" was directed by Clint Eastwood, who is an Oscar machine (though perhaps not so much this year) and many feel Jolie was not given her due for "A Mighty Heart." Finally, just imagine the potentially nuclear reaction that would accompany a Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie dual victory photo. The National Guard might have to be called out.
Melissa Leo's performance in "Frozen River" was an industry favorite and the academy occasionally likes to bestow a big honor on a first-time nominee. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum is Meryl Streep, the grande dame of American cinema who has single-handedly proved that a few well-earned wrinkles don't mean you can't do big box office.
So it's far from a sure thing for Winslet, despite her cheerful willingness to go on "Oprah" and discuss the mobile nature of her silicone-free breasts or her rather embarrassing double-decker emotional breakdown at the Golden Globes.
If she doesn't win this year, she will certainly be the first actor under 40 eligible for and deserving of a lifetime achievement award. But only if she promises not to say things like, "I'm so used to not winning." Because sometimes in this life, talent, and the stellar body of work it produces, must be its own reward.
Mary McNamara is the author of "Oscar Season."
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