Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beyond Actress-dome: Round 2 Begins!

64 women enter. One woman leaves.

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).

Round 2

Frances McDormand vs. Samantha Morton
Quantity: Once again, I haven't seen enough of Samantha's movies to give her a good shot in this category. Not that I'm sure it would even help when stacked up against Frances, who seems to kick in a superlative performance in something every year.
Quality: This is a tough choice. Really tough. Neck-and-neck. Is McDormand better in Fargo or in Almost Famous? Oh, I'm supposed to compare her with Morton? It's no contest, no matter which Frances performance I pick.
Fake Oscar Nods: McDormand: 3 (Fargo; Almost Famous; The Man Who Wasn't There); Morton: 1 (Jesus' Son)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: McDormand is a tough, flinty woman. Lord knows I wouldn't want to run afoul of her. But Morton's blessed with a touch of the crazy, I think. Something behind her eyes. She's waiting to freak out. Morton takes it.
Winner: Frances McDormand 3-1

Natalie Portman vs. Parker Posey
Quantity: In between my two favorite Portman performances (Beautiful Girls in 1996 and Closer in 2004), she went to college or something. Something which only allowed sparse opportunities to make an impression onscreen. In that in-between time, Parker Posey hooked up with Christopher Guest, stole the show in a good movie (The House of Yes), stole the show in a bad movie (Scream 3), and chain-smoked like a champ on Will & Grace. In the end, both women ended up with fine bodies of work. Enough for a push.
Quality: Parker was brilliant in The House of Yes. Unfortunately, here she runs into one of my top performances of the decade -- Natalie's in Closer.
Fake Oscar Nods: Portman: 2 (Closer; Beautiful Girls); Posey: 1 (The House of Yes)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: The only time I've seen Natalie be even close to scary, the only thing at risk were emotions. Meanwhile, when Parker's around, no stuffed dog toy or Barney's window display is safe. She can be scary.
Winner: Natalie Portman 2-1

Patricia Clarkson vs. Alison Lohman
Quantity: Here's where Lohman's age works against her. She's managed to rack up some impressive credits in the past few years, but Patricia's been working steadily -- getting better and better every time -- for almost twenty years. In the past ten years, she's really come into her own. Advantage: Clarkson.
Quality: Clarkson in The Station Agent trumps Lohman in White Oleander.
Fake Oscar Nods: Clarkson: 2 (The Station Agent; High Art); Lohman: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Here's where Lohman's age works for her. She's younger, more energetic, and she's yet to have been dealt the harsh consequences that life tends to mete out for youthful recklessness. Patty's in some trouble.
Winner: Patricia Clarkson 3-1

Laura Linney vs. Julia Roberts
Quantity: Julia's on and off with me, but in ten years, she's still managed to rack up a good half-dozen performances I've enjoyed (even less likely stuff like The Mexican and Michael Collins). However, Linney went the full dozen, flawlessly going from supporting (The House of Mirth) to lead (P.S.) and back again.
Quality: Once again, Linney finds herself in the middle of a 2000 Oscar race re-match. This time, her You Can Count on Me performance takes on the woman who won the actual award, Julia's Erin Brockovich. This time, however, the best woman wins: Linney takes it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Linney: 3 (You Can Count on Me; The Squid and the Whale; Primal Fear); Roberts: 1 (Erin Brockovich)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Tough one. Laura's got a fierceness to her, but it tends to come in a more buttoned down package. She tends to let others get their hands dirty for her, be it her husband (Mystic River), the legal system (Primal Fear), or the rigid and unforgiving social hierarchy (The House of Mirth). It's still marginally tougher than Julia, whose power mostly resides in that ugly face she makes when she cries. Scary, but not scary enough. Edge: Linney.
Winner: Laura Linney 4-0

Rosario Dawson vs. Meryl Streep
Quantity: Not really a fair fight. She's Meryl Streep! She puts a stellar performance on film before her second cup of coffee. Rosario's good, but not good enough often enough. Edge: Streep.
Quality: Time to give credit where credit's due to Dawson's fine work in a fine 25th Hour ensemble. Doesn't mean it tops the best in Streep's last decade, which I think I've decided is indeed her work in Adaptation.
Fake Oscar Nods: Streep: 3 (Adaptation; The Hours; One True Thing); Dawson: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: I have much respect for the grappling advantage held by the cagey veterans. But -- and you'll forgive me for sinking into the abyss of stereotype for a second -- her IMDb bio says she's "of Puerto Rican, Cuban, African American, Irish and Native American descent." Dudes, come on. That's like hitting the ethnic brawler lotto jackpot. She could use some Italian in there to make it a truly flawless combination, but she's certainly got enough to win this one. Advantage: Rosario.
Winner: Meryl Streep 3-1

Nicole Kidman vs. Gwyneth Paltrow
Quantity: Closer than I thought it'd be. I've been as big a fan of the Kidman renaissance as anyone, but even as strong as the performances have been, there hasn't been a truly overwhelming number of them. Still enough to beat Gwyneth, who, as we've discussed, has only really impressed me a small handful of times.
Quality: Loved Gwyneth in Tenenbaums, but it doesn't really stack up against Nicole in The Hours.
Fake Oscar Nods: Kidman: 3 (The Hours; Dogville; The Others); Paltrow: 1 (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in Malice, which was before either of them really stepped into their own. But Kidman wasn't bad, and I don't really recall Paltrow much, so...Kidman.
Girlfight Factor: Dudes, what a shitty fight this is gonna be. I'm torn as to whether neither will have enough strength to lift their limbs and throw a good punch, or whether their frequent trips to the plastic surgeon (Kidman) or the holistic spa (Paltrow) will leave them prone to an easy knock-down. I'm giving Gwynnie the edge, mostly because I think she'll wear that fugly Oscar dress and frighten Nicole into submission.
Winner: Nicole Kidman 4-1

Mary McDonnell vs. Naomi Watts
: Poor Mary. Just not enough quality credits to properly keep up. You had your chance, Hollywood! She's television's all-star player now. Naomi's been a consistent performer for the past five years and it carries her here.
Quality: You know I love me some Laura Roslin. But Naomi in Mulholland Dr. was something else entirely.
Fake Oscar Nods: Watts: 2 (Mulholland Dr.; 21 Grams); McDonnell: 1 (Donnie Darko)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: Airlock! Still in effect. When you've got the political clout and relaxed restrictions on executive power to blow your enemies into the vastness of outer space, well, blonde Australians are no longer much of a threat. Edge: McDonnell.
Winner: Naomi Watts 3-1

Catherine Keener vs. Tilda Swinton
Quantity: Keener's one of my favorite screen presences, mostly because she's so discerning with her work. Of course, that bites her in the ass here when Swinton's collection of excellent small roles and inspired bits of casting (think Constantine; think Chronicles of Narnia) end up edging out Keener's small but tight resumé.
Quality: Keener's awesome Being John Malkovich performance definitely trumps Swinton in The Deep End.
Fake Oscar Nods: Keener: 1 (Being John Malkovich); Swinton: 1 (The Deep End). Push
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in Adaptation, even though Keener played herself. But it was a Charlie Kaufman-type playing of herself, which means it was indeed a real performance. I still prefer Swinton's literary agent, though.
Girlfight Factor: This is one to watch. Swinton still scares me, don't let anyone ever tell you different. But I have confidence in my girl Keener. She's not going down without a fight, and I think she's smart enough to think of something to get her by.
Winner: 2-2. HOLY CRAP IT'S YET ANOTHER TIE! This is funny, because I have such a clear preference for one over the other. Readers, it's all on your shoulders now. You know what to do. Vote wisely and once.

Up next: Two battles of Oscar winners and, oh the humanity, a clash of the titans.


wolfchick said...

I swear, I must check this site twenty or so times a day now, praying that this amazing saga continues. I can't believe how much you like Laura Linney, dude. I don't have a problem with her besting Julia, but your Linney love seems off-balance.

ANYWAY ... I vote for Keener.

Sticky Keys said...

Keener, come on man, you know better.

Some very bold choices (Linney over Roberts, Portman over Posey), but I agree pretty much with them all. Except the new school kids are getting whooped! It's going to look like a meeting of AARP in here pretty soon.

Judi said...

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the blurred line of reality in your girlfight battles. Awesome!

I vote for Keener, because she is apparently working on "Where the Wild Things Are!" And it wasn't her fault that her storyline in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" sucked the life out of the movie.

adam k. said...

Oh man, give this one to Keener. You know you want to. She's awesome.

I was really afraid she'd lose, though. I couldn't believe she beat Swinton in the girlfight. That would take some serious ingenuity on her part. Possible, but really tough. I think you had her win that just so she could win the round. But I don't blame you. I prefer her, too.

adam k. said...

And hey, if you're counting television performances, wouldn't Streep's best maybe be Angels in America. I think she was even better in that than in Adaptation... certainly better than in The Hours.

adam k. said...

I also really love the two pics you used to Linney and Roberts side by side. Linney looks very pleased with herself for having swept the round, and Julia just looks pissed. Perfect.

OK, I'm done now.


surprising myself again and going for Keener.

Mostly because she keeps getting better and I fear that Swinton's best (orlando, etc...) are behind her.

adam k. said...

I don't know if I'd say Keener was getting better, per se. Will she EVER top BJM? Though she is demonstrating a lot of range, even as unique and off-beat as she is.

But still, I'd pick her over Swinton any day. She's just so much easier to love, whereas Swinton's just sort of mean and angry-looking. All the time.

Jeff Hansen said...


Kamikaze Camel said...

"Oh, I'm supposed to compare her with Morton?"


I'm gonna go against the grain and say Swinton. I absolutely loved her Deep End performance (and it handidly trumps anything Keener has done this decade) and while I loved Keener's Being John Malkovich I think Swinton deserves total brownie points for being the only good thing about Narnia plus her ace Adaptation cameo.

Adam, "Swinton's just sort of mean and angry-looking. All the time."

That's choice, man!

Anonymous said...