Sunday, August 27, 2006

Beyond Actress-dome: Semifinals

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).


Quantity: Frances is one of the most consistent women in this competition. Not a whole lot of City By The Seas or Aeon Fluxes on that resume. In fact, those two are just about it. Unfortunately (for Frances, not for us), Streep's just more prolific. In case it hasn't been mentioned yet, only Streep could turn a movie like Music of the Heart into a check mark in her favor. Edge: Meryl Streep.

Quality: Sherriff Marge Gunderson versus author Susan Orlean. They're both incredibly confident and layered comic portrayals. They were also both career turning points, as McDormand became a viable female lead, while Streep began a late-career renaissance that could end up in her third Oscar if things go well with her Devil Wears Prada campaign. I've gotta give the nod to McDormand, though. The defining performance in one of the defining movies of our generation? Yep.

Fake Oscar Nods: McDormand: 3 (Fargo; Almost Famous; The Man Who Wasn't There); Streep: 3 (The Hours; Adaptation; One True Thing). PUSH

Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.

Girlfight Factor: I have to say, this could be a fight for the ages. No pun intended. Think of their roles for a second. McDormand's been a scary-ass mom in Almost Famous, an unscary sherriff who nonetheless got the job done in Fargo, and a tough-as-nails mine worker in North Country. I wouldn't mess with her. Streep's got the Anna Wintour analogue in Prada, as well as the steely double dip of Mormon and Jewish widows in Angels in America. But just as often, she plays characters that fall to pieces: in The Hours, in Adaptation, in Lemony Snicket. It's a weakness you can't have when Frances McDormand is looking for the killshot. Edge: McDormand

Winner: Frances McDormand 2-1

Quantity: Linney's résumé has been fairly unstoppable throughout this competition. What performances of hers haven't I commented on? Her conflicted mom in The Squid and the Whale? Loyal wife in Kinsey? Fiercely determined prosecutor in Primal Fear? Coldly judgmental townie in The Laramie Project? Acidic socialite in The House of Mirth? Hysterical actress in The Truman Show? Lady's done a lot in a decade. Allen's awesome, but she can't keep up in this category. Edge: Linney

Quality: Terry Wolfmeyer versus Sammy Prescott. Battle of the single moms, not that they have a whole lot in common beyond that. Allen's a blast to watch in Upside of Anger; absolutely balls-out hilarious. Linney in You Can Count On Me is a bit more special, I think. It hits an emotional spot few performances do. This, by the way, is one more rematch where Laura dispatches a competitor from the 2000 Best Actress race. Edge: Linney

Fake Oscar Nods: Allen: 4 (The Upside of Anger; The Contender; Pleasantville; The Crucible); Linney: 3 (You Can Count On Me; The Squid and the Whale; Primal Fear).

Spotlights Stolen: Both starred in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Allen played the young chess prodigy's mother. Linney had a small role as a schoolteacher. Small role or not, it'd be tough to top Joan's work in the film. The entire cast is great, and she's no exception. Her big scene that everyone remembers -- the "you think that he's weak" scene -- is enough to win the category for her. Edge: Allen

Girlfight Factor: Wow. You know, I did not see this one coming, I'm going to be honest. That's the beauty of arbitrary and not-necessarily-fairly-calibrated categories like these. I've tried to wank my way out of this, but it's not happening. The truth of the matter is Joan Allen kicks the everloving CRAP out of Laura Linney. I'm sorry, but you and I both know she does. Dammit, Laura. You couldn't have taken ONE role as hard-nosed CIA director? Ah, well. I love Joan to pieces anyway. As many pieces as she's left Linney in. Edge: Allen

Winner: Joan Allen 3-2

Okay, so here's the deal. We already know our matchup for the finals. Joan Allen versus Frances McDormand. We also know that they've never been in a movie together. So I figure, why not get the reader vote component on this ahead of time? That way this doesn't end with an anticlimax. So hit up the comments here. It's pure preference, so don't feel that you're bound by any criteria. Who do you like better? Vote wisely and once...for the last time!


par3182 said...

meryl and the lovely laura linney left behind? damn, i didn't see that coming.

my vote in the final goes to frances - for her many great performances and especially for one of my favourite line readings ever - "i know what's going on" (almost famous)

Kamikaze Camel said...

WOW! I didn't see that happening at all.

For the final decider, I gotta go with girl Allen. While I routinely really like McDormand (LOVE in Fargo and Lone Star) with Allen I just happen to think she's routinely superior to most actresses. I consider Pleasantville and The Upside of Anger to be two of the finest performances I've ever seen.

So my vote? JOAN ALLEN

Angie said...

This causes me deep, deep pain because both of these women are utterly remarkable, but I'm going with McDormand, and I'm basing that solely on how in love with her I was as the mom in Almost Famous. Such a terrific movie. Sorry, Joan, love ya mean it!

DL said...

Hands down Frances McDormand.

adam k. said...

WHAT!? I never EVER thought this would come down to Frances McDormand and Joan Allen. It's like that insane olympic gymnastics women's all-around when all the favorites like Shannon Miller kept inexplicably f**king up, falling on their floor exercises and shit, leaving the title to random unknowns. How did both Meryl and Laura lose?

Allen managed to break the ever-running cycle of former tie-breaking competitors losing in the next round. Good for her. She has the secret weapon combination of the 4 fake oscar nods and mad ice queen girlfighting skills.

And Frances of course has Fargo, and some mean fighting skills of her own.

Honestly neither of these two immediately jump out at me as "best of the decade"... so I don't know who to vote for. Frances has really been around the block, delivering one iconic lead performance and lots of varied supporting gems all decade long. But part of me really wants to throw Joan a bone to make up for all the shit treatment she gets at awards shows. Her best perfs always get ignored.

I am going with Allen. Not only does she never get enough respect, but she's proven she can do the heaviest of drama and then spin it all on its head for comedy. Joan Allen gets my vote.

NYOne said...

Wow, I was all set to go for Frances with no hesitation until I considered the "Actress of the Decade" mantle that this competition will ostensibly bestow. Heavy stuff. Still, all things considered, Frances gets my vote. I absolutely respect everything Joan Allen does, but after seeing Fargo I spent a week doing Marge's voice to the point where new people I met thought that I was from North Dakota. You betcha.

adam k. said...

I know it's too late to make any difference now, and it might not apply since it's from 1985, but have you seen Meryl Streep in Plenty? Susan Traherne is definitely one of Streep's more formidable characters. When she falls to pieces in a breakdown, she takes it out on others, like her husband. Lady'll throw a glass at your head, and not care how much damage it might do. And then she'll slam the door in your face and make you bleed. Plus she was a special agent in the French resistance.

I'm just sayin', Streep is a lot tougher than she looks, yo. I wouldn't wanna mess with her at all.


My heart is with Allen but my head says Frances McDormand. Primarily because I think the Fargo performance is one for the all time lists (seriously) whereas Joan Allen is merely incredible at any given time in just about everything.

But I can't even hate on McDormand in movies I hate like Almost Famous and North Country so with a tear in my eye for Joan (who is more of a "draw" for me to buy a movie ticket) I give this to Frances.

Judi said...

I'm voting for Joan Allen, partially out of support for "The Upside of Anger" (thank you, Joe, for being one of the only other people I know who saw it), and partially because she seems more gracious at awards shows. I think McDormand's a good actress, but it bothered me that she kind of rolled her eyes at the Oscars this year.

Oh yeah! And I thought Allen was AWESOME in "The Ice Storm!" The scene where she's having sex in the car with that random guy -- she's brilliant.

So there is my scientifically formed vote! Joan Allen!

adam k. said...

Maybe Frances rolled her eyes at the oscars cause she knew she shouldn't have been nominated.

kc and the sunshine state said...

That's what I'm talking about, adam k. Freakin' stupid-ass North Country. I hate it when the Academy phones it in.

Henley said...

Hi joe, long time reader first time commenter here...

I just had to put in a vote for Frances McDormand. I know this is a cheap shot to make, but it seems to me that ever since Joan started with the botox (circa the Contender I think - or was it a full forehead lift?), her performances have really seemed one note. She appears to be the same character in that film, the Notebook and the Bourne Supremacy to me. Meryl, Laura and even nicole have shown that a little (or in the latter case A LOT) of work doesn't necessarily stunt your range.

Looking at Frances' roles in the same period (since Almost Famous), I just don't think there's any competition anymore

adam k. said...

Really? Joan in Upside of Anger is totally better than anything Frances has done this decade. That doesn't count Fargo, of course.

I don't think Meryl has had much done. Other than good skin surface treatments, peels, or whatnot (she has great skin). She gets a lot of praise for being natural. And I don't think Laura has had anything done, really. In Squid and the Whale, she looked her age (like, 40... she's not that old).

Joan definitely had some things done after The Contender, but I don't think it hindered her, as she was great in Upside of Anger and her other 2005 work. I stand by my vote for Joan.

Henley said...

I guess I should caveat my vote with a shamefaced admission that I have yet to see Upside of Anger... I promise to watch it and give Joan a fair go.

On the less-important note of fine actresses maintaining their appearances - yes Meryl has great skin, but it is suspiciously greater than it was prior to Music of the Heart. As for Laura, I don't think she's done anything permanent but her forehead was noticably de-creased in the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Here I really do have to swear that I normally watch performances, not merely facial features.

Jenny said...

This is a tough decision. My first thought was immediately "Frances, of course" but now I don't know. She and Joan are both awesome, really. So I tried to imagine them in each other's roles. Could Joan have played Marge Gunderson? No, I don't think so. Could Frances have played Joan's character in The Contender? Uh, it's hard to envision. But I think Frances could have played the Pleasantville mom...but probably not the Upside of Anger mom...damn, this method isn't helping at all.

Screw it, I'm voting for Frances.

adam k. said...

Oh, Meryl's definitely done peels to improve her skin. But I don't really consider those "surgery" for the purposes of "Ha, she's had something done!". They're just, like, intense, painful exfoliation. But maybe she's done more, I'm not sure.

In other news, why do I care?

Looks like Frances is a winner.