Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mad Actresses: Beyond Thunderdome

So, you all know that my boy Nathaniel is my first stop for all things movie obsessed. And you may also know that when it comes to making lists, I have what could be considered a psychological condition. It's pathological, really, this affinity I have for making lists. So when Nat decided he'd list his 100 favorite actresses, and then actors, of this brand new millennium, you knew I'd have to eventually get in on that action. Of course, I'm not an outright thief. And ranking my favorite actresses of the '00s from 1 to 100 would be...well, unseemly. Whereas picking my 64 favorite actresses from the past ten years and having them duke it out, tournament-style, until one emerges victorious? I see that as more of a loving homage.

Before I get to the first batch of opening round match-ups, a few words on the criteria. I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1996 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actress have received since '96 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actresses have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen); and (5) who would win in a physical brawl between the two (girlfight factor).

We'll do this in groups until we get down to quarterfinals. Jesus, I'm a huge movie dork. Anyway.

Round 1

Catherine Keener vs. Brooke Smith
Quantity: Closer than you'd imagine. Keener tends to be choosy, while Smith doesn't get as many chances to shine as I'd like. Keener wins out.
Quality: Keener's best performance (Being John Malkovich in '99) will trump a whole lot of her competition. Even Smith's fine, fine work in 2001's Series 7: The Contenders.
Fake Oscar Nods: Keener: 1 (Malkovich); Smith: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Dude, this fight would be awesome. Especially if Brooke brought her Series 7 persona. Catherine looks like she wouldn't be afraid to cut you, but Brooke wants it more. Needs it more. And after spending all that time at the bottom of Buffalo Bill's well, she's got some rage in her. Give it to Brooke Smith.
Winner: Catherine Keener 3-1

Sandra Oh vs. Natalie Portman
Quantity: While her Grey's Anatomy and Sideways performances were killer, Sandra hasn't had the chances to show her stuff on screen that Natalie has. Not close.
Quality: Portman's blistering performance in Closer beats out even Christina Yang.
Fake Oscar Nods: Portman: 2 (Closer; Beautiful Girls); Oh: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: No contest, Sandra Oh mops the floor with our lispy waif.
Winner: Natalie Portman 3-1

Shirley MacLaine vs. Naomi Watts
Quantity: Shirley's most prolific period is well behind her, even though I did appreciate a pair of fine performances in 2005: her unexpectedly warn turn in In Her Shoes and her welcome scene stealing in the otherwise crappy Rumor Has It. On the other hand, in five short years, Naomi Watts has amassed quite the collection of memorable screen turns, from the art house (I Heart Huckabees; We Don't Live Here Anymore) to less kudos-baiting fare like The Ring.
Quality: Shirley did very good work last year with In Her Shoes. But it's nothing like what Watts did with Mulholland Dr., maybe my favorite single performance of the decade.
Fake Oscar Nods: Watts: 2 (Mulholland Dr.; 21 Grams); MacLaine: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Shirley presents a boozy-old-broad front, sure, but I suspect she's a Lucille Bluth-like high-functioning alcoholic. Naomi is spry, and I suspect there's some ferocity buried in there, but I think she loses this fight.
Winner: Naomi Watts 3-1

Patricia Clarkson vs. Kate Hudson
Quantity: Maybe the biggest mismatch of the first round. Since 1998, Clarkson has amassed almost a dozen performances I thought were truly impressive, whereas Hudson makes this list on the merits of one performance alone, in Almost Famous. Clarkson in a walk.
Quality: Here's where Kate makes up some ground. I keep waiting for her to do something as good as Penny Lane again, but she remains steadfast in denying me. No single Clarkson performance is as high in my esteem.
Fake Oscar Nods: Clarkson: 2 (The Station Agent; High Art); Hudson: 1 (Almost Famous)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Kate's energetic but ultimately harmless, whereas you always get the sense that just beneath the surface, Clarkson's a wild cat ready to pounce. Don't you? You can't trust her.
Winner: Patricia Clarkson 3-1

Annette Bening vs. Nicole Kidman
Quantity: Honestly, I expected Kidman to win by a bigger margin here. Bening's only working with The Seige, American Beauty, and Being Julia. But Nicole's career didn't get goosed until 2001, at which point she began to amass one dazzling performance after another; half a dozen keepers, by my estimation.
Quality: Bening's American Beauty performance should have won an Oscar. Kidman in The Hours did. It's a close call, but I am a big, big fan of Nicole in The Hours. She takes it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Kidman: 3 (The Hours; Dogville; The Others); Bening: 2 (American Beauty; Being Julia)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Oh dudes, it's a massacre. Nicole doesn't stand a chance. Frankly, I'm worried about her. With all that Botox as of late, how are we even to know if she's grimacing in pain? Bening tears her limb from limb.
Winner: Nicole Kidman 3-1

Amy Adams vs. Meryl Streep
Quantity: It's not really fair to expect Amy Adams to compete here. She's the new kid on the block, with really only that fantastic Junebug performance from last year. We can't exactly expect her to put up with Streep, who manages to score points even when the movie itself is bad (Music of the Heart) or the role is super small (A Series of Unfortunate Events).
Quality: I'll reiterate that Adams in Junebug is truly fantastic, and would win out over many an actress on this list. Just not Meryl "Adaptation or maybe The Hours" Streep.
Fake Oscar Nods: Streep: 3 (The Hours; Adaptation; One True Thing); Adams: 1 (Junebug)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: I don't know enough about Amy to tell if she's a scrapper, but Meryl's a tough lady when she needs to be, I suspect. Not as genteel a rumble as you might expect.
Winner: Meryl Streep 4-0

Frances McDormand vs. Amanda Seyfried
Quantity: Allowing TV performances, like Seyfried's in Veronica Mars and Big Love, lets her to stay competitive here, but McDormand is just too good. Seven performances of note, including seldom-lauded turns in Laurel Canyon (propping up a bad movie earns extra brownie points) and Something's Gotta Give (a resonant cameo does the same).
Quality: I hate to say this, because I really do think Amanda Seyfried is one of the best younger actresses around, but Frances has a good half-dozen performances here that beat her. No contest.
Fake Oscar Nods: McDormand: 3 (Almost Famous; Fargo; The Man Who Wasn't There); Seyfried: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Okay, this one was just a mis-match on all sides. I'm sorry. If we're talking NCAA basketball terms, this would definitely be a 1-vs-16 Duke-vs-Sam Houston State matchup. McDormand wins the girlfight.
Winner: Frances McDormand 4-0

Ellen Burstyn vs. Laura Linney
Quantity: If this were the 1970s, Ellen might have stood a chance. But seeing as it's the last decade we're talking about, Linney's near dozen most excellent performances (lady's a favorite to take this whole tournament, I'll say that now) beat the hell out of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Quality: Burstyn makes this list for Requiem for a Dream and Requiem for a Dream alone. And up against Linney's You Can Count on Me, it's the closest call we've had so far. This same battle took place in the 2000 Oscar race, where the prize was finishing second to the Brockovich juggernaut. Linney wins by a razor-thin margin.
Fake Oscar Nods: Linney: 3 (You Can Count on Me; The Squid and the Whale; Primal Fear); Burstyn: 1 (Requiem for a Dream)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: They both seem so serene. I think you'd have to scrounge up Linney's Mystic River Lady MacBeth and set Burstyn on a diet pills bender and maybe we'd have some fireworks. Drug-fueled desperation wins out.
Winner: Laura Linney 3-1

Coming soon: Blanchett! Spacek! The collected remains of Renee Zellweger! The first round continues!


Judi said...

Yes! This is awesome. And, "the remains of Renee Zellweger," hahahahah! Thanks for doing this.


i think i just had a multiple O

Nick Davis said...

What, you didn't have the balls to put Bening against Swank? ;)

Good times, good times. I also wanna see Maggie Cheung kick Zhang Ziyi's ass.

DL said...

Please let me see Lindsay Lohan vs. Evan Rachel Wood. Maybe someone will be able to choose who's the better actress...


i was so amused at each "girlfight" moment that I couldn't pick a favorite but now that it's been a few hours since I read this here's my takeaway best-moment.

In my minds eye all I can see is like an animated short of druggie pillpopping Burstyn kicking Linney's Mystic Lady Macbeth moment.


Kamikaze Camel said...

God, this was brilliant.

Although if you're including Seyfried's tv work then what about Oh's? Plus, she was amazing in Dancing at the Blue Iguana (sorry, I'm a huge Sandra fan)

Still. Brilliant.

Sticky Keys said...

Joer are you trying to KILL ME?!

Amy Adams vs. Meryl Streep
Frances McDormand vs. Amanda Seyfried?!

That's not even fair, man. Amy Adams is the future, and Amanda Seyfried is a DOLL, but they can't be expected to stand against the power houses of Streep and McDormand! The rest I was with you, but these were just so unbalanced to me.

What's your criteria for the matchups? Are they random, or are you doing an old school vs. new school thing?

I am so in love with this it's ridiculous.

Joe R. said...

Thanks for the kindness!

K.C.: I actually did take Sandra's "Grey'a Anatomy" work into consideration. I love her, too, believe me.

Stickey: Yeah, I fully admit those were mismatches. This group in particular would have to be considered the top "seeds" versus the bottom ones. If I ever got into the process of how I ranked the 64 and chose first round matchups, y'all wouldn't respect me anymore. Suffice it to say: there's some organization to it.